Furniture Painting

Making Sustainable Furniture Choices

‘I want to make good buying choices. Pick forever pieces. Use local suppliers.’ Some days a customer speaks with such poignancy, it stops you in your tracks. I truly believe it to be a thread which runs through my decisions. Be it when choosing a piece for myself. When buying or giving a new home to a ‘free to go or it’s going to the tip’ item. Or when tackling a commission. I apply a kind of ‘I hope they want to love it forever’ philosophy. Yes, I was hearing sustainable furniture – as she described her own buying philosophy.

Back in the old days – yes, that old chestnut – I can’t imagine a craftsman making a cabinet with the expectation that his customer would throw it away within ten years (if you are lucky) and go and buy another. Yet it’s what our world seems to have become, isn’t it? We get bored, we change our colour scheme, we get rid of it, buy something else.

Okay, we can kid ourselves we still did the right thing? Gave it to charity – tick. Sold it on marketplace so it’s gone to a new home – tick. Took it to the recycling centre where it will get recycled into something else – tick. But I am still not convinced. There is so much more wrapped up in that urge to change our furnishings as often as our socks. What do we replace it with?

Yesterday I heard there are a heap of sofas from a well-known sofa store which won’t make it here for Christmas – because they are coming from China and are stuck in a port somewhere between there and here. Imagine all those planet miles? But that’s okay because we are giving our old one to someone else.

Someday that chain breaks. If we keep demanding, they keep producing. And like the ten in the bed song, we keep adding another, and another, until there is no more space. We all roll over and one falls out. Or one hundred. Or one thousand. Lots and lots of pieces of furniture with nowhere to go.

It’s just maths.

We came, we saw…

You didn’t think this was all about the politics of saving the planet, did you? Of course not. You know me better than that. No – as important as it is, I actually want to show you my perfect sustainable piece.

Cast your mind back to those heady days of July 2020. The world was beginning to emerge from its Covid avoiding cocoon. Carefully. Cautiously. I was beginning to think about getting back in the studio. As a trades-woman I was allowed to enter homes with the right safety measures. It was time to start looking for furniture in need of some love.

And it’s fair to say – he needed a LOT of love.

Old brown washstand without a top

He was – almost certainly a washstand. Probably early 20th century. Definitely missing a top! And some hinges. And … oh look, I could go on and on about his faults. Even I was struggling to see how this one could be salvaged. And then Mr Smith simply said ‘I like it’.

Now that never happens. He is my voice of reason. He is the one who looks at me with a ‘really?’ when I am about to part with cash for something he can’t visualise. This was such a candidate. Yet the tables were turned. I was the one dithering. But he had a plan. A plan which would bring a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘sustainable furniture’.

We loaded it up and took it home. I fully expected it to sit in the stockroom for two years while we fathomed out what to do with it. But I clearly didn’t see the depth of feeling Mr Smith had for this one. He took it into HIS workshop and spent days with it. Any other wife might have been jealous of the attention it was getting. Not me. Because I knew that what came out at the end would be ready for my paintbrush. He was essentially doing my prep. Fellow upcyclers out there will completely relate to my excitement.

Never look a gift horse in the mouth I say.

Yee ha!

We conquered.

I cannot lie. The preparation wasn’t quick. Nor was it pain free. I swear I heard him curse those doors. Many many times. But it’s the price you pay for perfection. And he is a perfectionist. We all need a Mr Smith.

Old brown washstand in a workshop with a new wooden top

Admit it, you just scrolled by picture that didn’t you? I don’t blame you. It’s not pretty. But I want you to pop back up and take another look.

Do you see what I see?

Indeed. It now has a top. And not just any old top. Oh no – this is a very special top. Because it is made from reclaimed timbers from the washbacks – a key vessel in the whisky distilling process. Apt for a wee Artisan business that sits within sniffing distance of The Glenlivet distillery don’t you think [winking]?

All over Scotland washbacks get replaced. Be it for more modern materials. Or for more gorgeous timber. And ‘we’ had managed to source some of the stuff that is coming out.

Delicious. I mean – it actually smells delicious.

Fast forward to autumn and the cabinet was complete. Almost everything about ‘Wilson’ was planet-friendly. I chose Cornish Milk Mineral Paint for the finish – a blend of Mor and Cornish Honey. And then it seems Reece and Joe at CMMP loved ‘Wilson’ too. They featured it on their home page – Happy me!

You can read why their product is so yummy and why it’s a great choice for sustainable furniture on their website. You can also hear me talk a bit more about the cabinet, the process and all the products used in this short Facebook live video.

Green painted washstand with William Morris inspired paper lining inside to demo sustainable furniture

Wilson is now in his new home and my customer is very happy with her choice.

Sustainable furniture – food for thought

And I keep coming back to what my customer said, when she lovingly approached him for the first time. How many of us can honestly say we are making the right choices when furnishing our homes? Am I making the right choices when I decide what to do with the furniture I rescue? It has certainly made me think. If I truly want my customers to feel they are buying sustainable furniture – furniture for the present and the future – then it’s just as important to imagine the piece in 5, 10 and even 50 years time.

Food for thought.

PS: If you are admiring that fabulous elephant wildlife picture, by the way, then that’s one of mine too. It’s fair to say, I enjoy a little wildlife photography in my spare time. I also sell some of it on Smith Wild Photo.

The Artisan Bothy
Breathing new life into your tired furniture throughout Moray, Grampian, Highlands and Scotland