On a farm in Derbyshire, rows upon rows of chairs are growing in a paddock. Designer and horticulturalist Gavin Munro trains saplings to grow into the shape of chairs and lamps before finishing and selling them as Grown Furniture.
Munro says he first thought of growing furniture when, as a child, he noticed a bonsai tree that resembled a chair. Later, he went through a number of surgeries to straighten his spine and spent time in a frame which supported his neck as the bones healed.
“It’s where I learnt patience. There were long periods of staying still, plenty of time to observe what was going on and reflect. It was only after doing this project for a few years a friend pointed out that I must know exactly what it’s like to be shaped and grafted on a similar time scale.”
Munro went to art college and gained a degree in furniture design, apprenticing as a cabinetmaker before coming to specialise in making furniture out of driftwood. From there, it was an easy step to Grown Furniture.
To make the furniture, oak, ash, willow and sycamore saplings are trained and pruned as they grow over plastic formers. They are then grafted together so that the piece grows as a solid object. The tree is cared for over several years as it thickens and matures, then it is harvested, dried and finished.
“I’m interested in the way that this is like an organic 3D printing that uses air, soil and sunshine as its source materials,” Munro says.
He says the chairs are superior to conventional furniture, not just because their production is eco-friendly, but because they contain no joints that could loosen over time.
Each chair takes between four and eight years to grow from start to finish. The first commercially available chairs are expected in mid-2017, and Munro’s geometric pendant lamps and mirror frames will be released next year.