Sustainability II

So as determined by my last post, flat pack design has a substantial impact in reducing Co2 emissions in shipping. But what about other ways in which materials & forms are reducing our environmental impact?

Moving away from 'classic' flat pack materials, such as cheap veneered chipboard with fidgety metal fixings, designer Stefan Diez has developed a range of bamboo flat pack furniture that is joined together only by string. The bamboo sections have been through minimal processing to interlock with other pieces. The finish is left in the natural green which changes to the better known golden colour as it ages.

Bamboo grows up to 5 times faster and is much lighter than hardwood. It also has great structural properties. This makes the material a much more sustainable option for furniture and modern architecture.

The bamboo in this range of furniture is unfinished, revealing the natural aesthetic of the raw material. Maybe there is something to be said in revealing the raw material of manufactured boards too? Why not celebrate the man-made materials?

"Manufactured boards are timber sheets which are produced by glueing wood layers or wood fibres together. They often made use of waste wood materials and developed mainly for industrial production as they can be made in very large sheets of consistent quality."

Plyroom is an Australian company I stumbled across through my research who take pride in bringing simple, minimal products to the flat pack market that show off the man-made beauty of plywood.

"Working with talented makers and doers from across the globe, Plyroom supports unique design with a focus on function, simplicity and timelessness. Our curated collections seek to bring unique, thoughtful design to customers who want to celebrate the origins of a product. Our makers are driven by their passion to create beautiful, functional furniture and homewares with simplicity at their core. "

When the material they use produces such a clean finish, why disguise it? Why hide these industrial boards under a layer OF hardwood veneer, when it's very obviously trying to be something it's not?

It may not always be the most aesthetic approach to furniture design, but there could be a market for "honest materials" in flat pack furniture.

I think cardboard furniture has taken it too far.

Manufactured boards can still produce quality and structural products. In the end of the day, cardboard isn't really going to be a contender when I start furnishing a new flat.

Modularity has also had a large influence in flatpack design in recent times. Improving functionality and the lifetime of products reduces the quantity of landfill furniture.

By simplifying "buying what you need", shelving systems can be custom made to the user's personal needs.

I talked to Peter Parlour, one of the BEng final years who is developing a low-cost, high-quality modular furniture system.

“As we all know, moving furniture can be incredibly awkward - one of the reasons IKEA has gained so much popularity is for its flatpack designs. The only problem with this is the inevitable breakage when re-packing and moving to another space. Additionally, peoples need for furnishing changes with time and so obsolete furniture is often discarded or sold on.”

“My response to this has been to design a fully customisable, flat packing modular furnishing system that uses basic shapes and forms to construct a variety of items. The design utilises low cost manufacturing techniques and is based on intuitive assembly/dismantling process built to last, making sustainability affordable by doing more with less.”

The current dimensions allow for a 360x720x5mm flatpack for 2 panels and 2 frames. The selling point for this is the ability to fit a desk inside the boot of a small hatchback.With an expected lifetime of up to 50 years, I feel like this form of modularity is definitely something to look out for in the future.

Looking at Vitsoe, Tylko and other inspirations for Pete's project, it seems that the up-and-coming flat pack furniture market is embracing the back to basics modular approach to design. The focus is now surrounding the quality of materials, joining method and how each piece of furniture is adapted to the user's environment. Looking at how much Tylko, Plyroom and Vitsoe charge for their products, quality design is much more important than meeting a low price point. "Flat pack" is now simply the way in which designers are delivering good furniture with minimal environmental impact.