You can’t help but fall in love with wood – it’s seriously alluring, but after feeling miserably guilt-ridden for using chunky new wood on a few projects, we realized the need to seek alternatives to furniture fabrication, one that didn’t necessitate felling beautiful rosewood trees.
When Neanderthals realized that boulders weren’t the most comfortable things to sit on, they almost certainly turned to wood. Furnishing our homes and offices with real wood furniture doesn’t mean we have to log trees to get it. If wood is seasoned, and sometimes even if it isn’t, it can last a long time – so, shouldn’t we make good use of all the wood that’s already out there? It was obvious that our way of doing things wasn’t really working, we needed to change our thinking for the future.
Across the world, scientists, environmentalists and concerned individuals are calling on everyone to take action to reduce their ecological footprint, which drew our attention to the fantastic world of wood pallets. A wood pallet is a flat structure, used as a base for storage and transport of goods by forklifts. Wood pallets are made of lumber that is strong and durable, though low in cosmetic value. At least 95% of wood pallets in the world are produced from commercially managed forests, where it is obligatory to replant trees after felling. As a result, wood pallets are basically carbon-neutral with little impact on the environment.
Making use of reclaimed wood was a natural progression from using newly cut wood and our experiments with wood pallets proved to produce interesting results. The ‘de-characterizing’ of the previous object’s image and transforming it into a new object was most stimulating.
The product trail of the shipping pallets used in our furniture fabrication shows it’s from regulated forests of soft pine in Europe and the US. These pallets bear the CP3 and European Pallet Association (EPAL) quality mark and are stamped with the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) logo, certifying that the pallets are compliant with all ISPM-15 regulations and standards. All pallets used in the making of this furniture are pesticide free, bearing the Heat Treated (HT) mark.
Our wood workshop in Karachi, initially a makeshift structure with very basic tools has since been upgraded with a few power tools. This is a body of work designed and fabricated by a team of designers and in-house carpenters, using only reclaimed wood from industrial pallets. While prototyping, we sought to keep within the material constraints while attempting to embody aesthetics, functionality and sustainability in each piece of furniture.
We collaborated with Jamil Afridi, who had spent many years as head of the design department at Pakistan Television, Lahore, and Karachi in the early 70s before going into designing and manufacturing wooden toys for children. In the recent past, he has occupied himself as a painter, freelance stage, and graphic designer. The result of this collaboration are pieces of furniture with clean modern lines highlighted, not only by the natural texture and grain of exposed layers but also by ostensible ‘defects’ on the wood surface.
In the design and fabrication of the furniture, distinct phases for each piece of furniture were taken into consideration according to the need for dismantling the wood pallets, mulleting and gauging of planks, sawing and pressing, fixing with nails, sanding and finally finishing with stains or wax. The phase of selecting appropriate dimensions for minimum wastage demanded meticulous watchfulness, making it necessary at times to assemble many combinations until achieving desired results.
The process of fabricating furniture pieces from pallets showed a surprising range of possibilities of reuse for functions that are different from the original. In some pieces, the character of the original object has been deliberately retained while some designs generate forms that remotely suggest the initial function. This new reading of the components of a pallet aims to upcycle rather than just recycle the object at a new aesthetic value, enlarging the old object’s utility on one hand and reinforcing the idea that design can be an important tool in revaluing and renewing objects that are not deemed valuable any longer.
The intention of the exercise was, since the beginning, to cause a striking impact, through the valuing of characteristics that primarily have a negative connotation such as old nail holes, uneven edges, resin canals and knots. It was these natural aspects of the material, which were fundamentally used to enhance aesthetic character, offering a different outlook that changes the traditional way of looking at wood that would otherwise stand rejected for such use.
This furniture line is made from a combination of reclaimed wood, formaldehyde-free glues, non-toxic stains and low VOC finishes. In sum, we have worked earnestly to make each Prefigure piece as eco-friendly as possible, giving something old a new lease on life.