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On Disposable Furniture


furniture, consumerism, design

Since moving to Portland, I’ve been thinking more about the disposability of contemporary furniture. During my walks, as the rainy months set in, I see cheap particleboard shelves and tables delaminating on street corners. Their fates unsealed, so to speak.

The American home is glutted with cheap, disposable furniture. Furniture that is so cheaply made it can barely withstand a move to a new home without breaking. Its value fades quickly. So that after a season or three, the only option is the landfill.

Though mass producers have introduced modern furniture designs to a wide market, they rely on a cycle of unsustainable and destructive production. I imagine the various materials – steel, wood, glue, paint and plastic – shipped across the globe – crisscrossing each other in a complicated dance, until they’re finally assembled together in factories far away from where the customers will eventually buy, use and discard them.

All this movement: frenetic, destructive, and job creating.

I think of all the amateur woodworkers. Across the nation, in both unincorporated areas and big cities, there are thousands of woodshops – shops fully capable of producing quality furniture. Some are more professional, dedicated solely to production, while most are amateur affairs, which share the garage with storage and a family car.

I keep thinking, what about another way? Something that retains what capitalsm discards and connects what it fractures. What if there were a way to employ the workshops of America to build sturdy, local, and well-designed furniture without “disrupting a market” with a startup or exploiting a new set of task rabbits?

We often leap to technological solutions, but I’m not so sure that’s the answer. We have everything we need locally, we just need to make use of it. What we need is a change in mindset.