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Green Design - Twig and Branch

By Sarah Van Arsdale on November 20, 2010

Fabulous design. Cutting edge looks. Interesting twists in color, fabric, and texture. These are all elements inherent in design that's ecologically sound. Yes, your creativity can have free reign even as you make choices that help protect the planet. Increasingly, manufacturers are creating products that have minimal impact on the environment, whether because they're made from organically-grown cotton or because they're made with renewable resources. We think environmentally friendly design is so important that we recently added a Green Design lesson to the NYIAD Complete Course in Interior Design.

In our "Decorating Green" column we'll look at a sustainable, low-impact element of design in each issue of "Designer Monthly." We hope these articles will help us all help the planet and the many creatures that share it with us.

If you’re thinking of re-doing a room in a rustic look, you’re probably looking at a lot of wood furniture – wood furniture such as thick-framed beds, heavy dressers, and coffee tables that could hold down a living room in a tornado. Being a thinking person concerned about the world, looking at all that wood no doubt has you wondering where it comes from, and whether or not a forest has been decimated to create it.

Fear not, O green reader, for we have found some green companies that sell furniture that lets you buy rustic with confidence.

Rustic design for decades has called for furniture that is made of thick beams, with a minimum of finishing. The Twig Furniture Directory has a listing of companies in the U.S. and Canada that offer such furniture, and they make the argument that such furniture is by definition green, as craftsmen don’t need special power tools to build most of it.

In addition, much of the furniture is made from willow, which grows year round, sprouting new shoots from the cut stump so that it naturally regenerates. In fact, willow is almost like a weed, it grows so readily - so whenever possible, try to choose rustic furniture created from willow.

One California company that sells beautiful willow furniture is California Rustic Willow. These pieces are solid enough to appear comfortable, but they’re also delicate enough that they won’t take over the whole look of a room. Any one of these pieces would be perfect in a room where you want a touch of the rustic, while still using other looks as well.

We especially like the bed frames, with delicate, rounded head- and footboards, and canopy frames from which you can hang any fabric to create a magical retreat.

California Rustic Willow

Another way that rustic furniture can be green is by buying furniture that’s made of reclaimed wood. The dressers at Misty Mountain Furniture are made of reclaimed barn word, and they look it---in the best possible way. These dressers look rustic because they are rustic; they’ve retained the look of the barn wood from which they come.

Misty Mountain Furniture
Misty Mountain Furniture
Misty Mountain Furniture

For rustic furniture that has a more highly-designed, contemporary look, you may want to consider the creations by Laura Spector, who designs – and handcrafts – furnishings from various elements found in the natural world. Her reliance on organic forms gives her furniture a whimsical charm that updates “rustic” while retaining the original intention of rustic furnishings: to bring the outdoors in to the home.

Laura Spector

Spector says that the material she uses, Oriental bittersweet, lends itself to green design. It was imported from Japan in the 19th century for decorative use in the garden, and then spread as many imported plants did during that time. Spector calls it a "dangerous beauty in that the fabulous twists, curves, braids and contortions are a result of predatory instincts."

Laura Spector
Laura Spector

"With no natural predators to keep its growth in check, the vines began to cut a lethal path, strangling trees and shrubs from Maine to Georgia," she said.

Spector thrives on working with the challenges of the forms found in nature, and her delight in them is evident in the final product.

Laura Spector

“My work is inspired by the grace and beauty of the organic form. I never pre-plan a design; rather I listen to and work with the natural flow of the material. I have far too much respect for nature to take credit for any of my designs. It's a collaborative process, one that combines the spirit of the 'tree' with the hand of the maker," she said.

Done right, with a little research into the source of your furnishings, creating or enhancing a rustic look in your home can underline your commitment to going green.