SUSTAINABLE INDOOR/OUTDOOR FURNITURE – FROM DAVE & SHARYNNE WILDER
FROM NATURE TO MAN AND BACK AGAIN
As a child I always thought of trees as “slow explosions.” I’d seen a time-lapse film of the growth of a tree from seedling to sapling, then full-grown. I never realized exactly how long-lasting this conceptual explosion was until I grew older, and learned that the life span of many trees is about the same as that of humans. As trees become diseased, are attacked by insects, or simply get too old, they begin to age, and die. Nature’s process continues, as the dead wood provides home for woodpeckers and other birds, food for myriads of insects, mosses, lichens, and even bacteria. Not to mention firewood for cold or hungry people.
From time immemorial, trees have fascinated men with their beauty and majesty, whether the stateliness of an ancient spreading oak, or the graceful waving of a weeping willow’s leaves in a fall breeze. It’s no wonder that pre-historic people worshipped them, or believed they were inhabited by gods. At the same time, they have been a source of material for making almost anything, from houses to furniture to paper, and the pencils we use to write on it. A wonderful combination of flexibility, workability, and beauty make it an ideal material.
There’s a process in the relationship between humans and trees, from the time the tree begins to grow, until it has been used by man to create something useful or beautiful, and when that object itself is finally the victim of nature’s process. It’s something like this:
The Dockwood Furniture concept
We’ve always been fascinated by nature’s process of aging. In wood it takes so many forms: the lichen-covered log lying in a forest; a battered, shipworm-eaten piece of an old dock on a beach; the worn, ridged, silvered look of old outdoor furniture; or the smooth striations in the trunk of a dead pine without its bark.
Living in a seaside community, with thriving maritime and yachting activity, we were brought in touch with a certain kind of natural aging and deterioration: that of wood in the context of salt water, the seashore itself, and sea creatures. Being right on the water, we were constantly finding wooden flotsam, in the form of pieces of lumber from which docks and piers were built, or wood from wrecked boats, and even lawn furniture.
The wood we found had most often been in the sea for years. It was extensively battered and worn by the action of waves and the rocks and sand of the shoreline it washed up against. Nature had “sculpted” these pieces of wood into fascinatingly beautiful shapes, often wearing away softer parts of the wood while the harder-grained portions survived. Most interestingly, sections of lumber from old docks, which had been submerged in salt water the entire life of the dock, were riddled by tiny holes bored by countless thousands of shipworms.
Some experimentation led to the ability to construct sustainable furniture from the salvaged wood we found, and that’s how Dockwood Furniture was created.
We have essentially added a repeat to the pattern of the process described above:
Many of the Dockwood Furniture creations comprise a product line we call RtN©, that is: Return-to-Nature©. These pieces are for outdoor use, and are intended to gradually decompose due to weathering, and wood rot. The process described above is further extended thus:
Dockwood Furniture is not a “fine furniture” maker. We are not cabinet-makers or joiners. We eschew the painstaking techniques of these crafts. Rather, in keeping with the nature of the “distressed” materials we work with, we use simple, informal construction techniques. We are not interested in guaranteeing the life span of the pieces – in our view they are actually still subject to the natural process of decay from which we rescued them. Many pieces are fastened with nails only. Pieces that are large, heavy, or are heavily load-bearing are put together with screws or bolts.
Every piece of Dockwood Furniture is a totally sustainable one-off, made from found materials. We design the pieces in a traditional, carpenter style, using the natural shapes created by age and weather in the wood, always avoiding being arty or cute. We focus on pre-used lumber, and very rarely use driftwood. The planning of each piece is a process of selecting various pieces of wood and visualizing ways they can be combined – what will work as the legs, or the seat back, or the seat of a bench, for example. We leave the pieces together for a while, contemplating the design before initiating the construction process. Months might pass before we’re satisfied that we have the right combination of elements to start making a piece.
Obviously, each piece must be engineered to hold together. When we’ve settled on a design concept, it’s sketched in pencil, with key measurements, often with multiple revisions, enabling us to pin down the actual carpenter-style construction.
The first step in construction is the sawing out to size of the individual components. Then we proceed to the dressing of the pieces of dockwood. Initially, any rot is filed off with a rasp, or cut away. Any frayed or extremely rough edges are rasped, then filed smooth with a coarse file. Then a grinder is used to remove the oxidized, “silvered,” surface of the wood, exposing a natural unfinished surface, and at the same time “sculpting” it into a refined version of the shape nature’s deterioration process gave it. Next, the surface is hand-sanded, with increasingly finer grit paper.
The piece is then assembled, using either nails or wood screws, with fine-tuning of the sculpted shaping done as needed for tighter construction or aesthetic reasons.
Finally, a sealer coat of thinned polyurethane is applied. This is followed by three to five coats of clear satin polyurethane, giving the surface a smooth, soft appearance, highlighting the wood grain differences and the myriad dark holes left by the teredoes.
The finish is a gleaming matte, sort of strawberry blonde in color – typical of softwoods such as the Douglas fir and pine used for maritime construction. With time the color deepens and becomes more red.
The pieces are designed for use in more-or-less informal settings. We see Dockwood Furniture pieces in beach houses, covered porches, decks, and mud rooms. The RtN© furniture pieces are for outdoor use, where they are most often planted in soil or on stone bases, and allowed to weather as they will.