Question

Where can I purchase green furniture for my sons, especially a bed?

Asked by Sandy Siegal
San Francisco, CA

We will be moving into our first home. With two boys (4 years and 19 months old), we are so much more sensitive to living "green." I want to buy the older boy new furniture, especially a bed, and would like to know where to purchase furniture that has been made to the green standards of today. Really wouldn't want to turn to Pottery Barn Kids.

Answer

Kirsten Flynn

Answered by Kirsten Flynn

Palo Alto, CA

Sustainable Home

August 6, 2011

Dear Sandy,

There are so many great options for wood furniture that are green.

The primary area of concern in furniture is the formaldehyde that might be in glues, particleboard, and plywood that are component parts of most furniture.

  • Most beds are made of solid wood, which has no added formaldehyde. This is because beds, like chairs, support weight, and must be substantial.
  • However, the first thing to check when you are buying a bed is whether it is made of solid wood. Surprisingly, this does not always mean extra cost.
  • Many low-cost manufacturers make solid wood youth beds, and have in place strict requirements on the amount of formaldehyde that can be emitted. Ikea requires that all of their wood furniture meet the strict E1 emissivity standard, and has a policy on sustainable wood sourcing.

The second thing to check is whether the manufacturer uses low-VOC (volatile organic compound) finishes and glues. This is getting to be more and more common. I used to have to explain to vendors what a VOC was; now many manufacturers have reformulated their finishes to low or no VOC emissions. I recently was in the Grange showroom -- they manufacture French traditional and painted furniture, and all of their finishes had just been updated for health. You are shopping at a great time.

One additional point: if you are purchasing any upholstered pieces for your sons' rooms, please make sure that the foam and fabrics were not treated with halogenated flame retardants

  • These are currently legal, but are associated with enough health concerns in peer-reviewed medical studies that I do not use them in any nursery or children's room that I design. 
  • If your consumer tag says that it meets TB117 for fire safety, it probably does contain flame retardants. If you can, opt for natural latex and wool upholstery.

Your main concern is probably creating a healthy space for your family. But if you also want to do the right thing to preserve forests, you can purchase furniture made from sustainable wood sources. There are several ways to lessen the impact that furniture manufacturing has on forests.

  • First, you can buy furniture made from reclaimed wood. This is wood that was used in a building, or in railroad ties, or logged but never milled because it sank in a river on the way to a logging mill. Then this wood becomes available, for whatever reason, and is made into furniture. The Wooden Duck makes all of its furniture out of reclaimed wood from a number of sources.
  • Second, you can buy furniture that is made from certified wood. Many custom furniture manufacturers offer this as an option. The most credible certification you can look for is Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC). You can get gorgeous, heirloom-quality wood furniture made on the West Coast from the Joinery, and all of their pieces can be made from FSC-certified wood. Hardwoods from North America or Canada are a particularly safe bet, as these areas of the globe have very stable forests, as opposed to the massive deforestation being experienced in South America and the Pacific Island nations.
  • As a side point, it is VERY green to buy top quality furniture that will be handed down (or sold on Craigslist) rather than added to the landfill in a few years. If you average your cost over years of usage, it might well be cheaper.
  • Finally, buy vintage! You are reducing the demand for lumber by not buying a new piece of wood furniture. Particularly for a solid wood item like a bed, older pieces are quite reasonable in price, and better made than a comparatively priced modern piece. Quality details like dovetailed drawers on dressers and strong solid wood frames on case goods are labor intensive. Often they are found now only on expensive furniture. If you shop a reputable vintage mall or antique store, you can find furniture in perfect condition, and take it home today!

Thank you for being concerned about the environment. I hope you can find great furniture for your son's room.

Tagged In: certified wood, reuse

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