Authenticity is a casualty of mass production. The current rebellion against mass-produced furniture, products and environments has created new opportunities for re-thinking how we build and use furniture. At WorkShop, our approach has been to reconnect to the environments that we inhabit every day. This means urban furniture utilizing the natural environments of urban life. Urban environments are neither artificial nor natural – they’re a mix of both. They’re city streets and parks, businesses and landscapes, parking lots and beaches. In creating an authentic office environment, we need to be realistic about the kind of world we inhabit: a world of human-adapted environments that are always entangled with nature.
An overlooked area of manufacturing is material sourcing. Our approach has been to use the native materials of the urban landscape. For our surfaces, we source from reclaimed urban woods. Urban lumber brings a story to each piece, a history that we can relate to. After all, the wood in your desk may have once been a tree that lined your street. Perhaps your coffee table was made from a cottonwood in Balboa Park under which San Diegan families once picnicked. Maybe your beloved conference room table was made from a Pacific Beach tree that fell during a storm.
Urban lumber is harvested from dying or diseased trees, trees that have been removed for environmental reasons, or as a result of new construction in the area. The amount of lumber waste created by the removal of urban trees is staggering. According to the U.S. Forest Service, five billion board feet of usable lumber — about 1/3 of all hardwood lumber harvested in the U.S. — was cut from urban areas. Nearly all of it was used for firewood, chipped for mulch or buried in a landfill. This destruction of our urban history is a tragedy. These are the trees we grew up under.
In a popular and business culture often too interested in short-term, surface connections, we build environments that have depth. Our sourcing and manufacturing process is sustainable. It’s a paradigm that focuses on giving back instead of taking, inhabiting a genuine world instead of alienating ourselves from our surroundings, making real connections with local artisans instead of impersonal contracts with people we have never met.
In a new era of sustainability and full-cost accounting, furniture manufacturers need to ensure that their products add more than they take away. That means ensuring green finishing and minimizing or eliminating the toxicity of manufacturing byproducts. For WorkShop, we now use environmentally-friendly finishes that are non-toxic. They provide the exact same level of protection as a previous generation of chemical finishes, but do not endanger people or places. One shellac finish is so organic it is edible!
The rebellion against mass production has meant more than just rethinking what we make and how we make it. We are proud that WorkShop has supported an office interiors paradigm that emphasizes authenticity, enjoyment, creativity and peace. There has been a long-standing notion that we either have to choose between nature and progress, the organic and the technological, our origins and the future. We reject these dichotomies as false.
As the trend of rethinking our relationships to people, things and places, furniture manufacturers must design pieces that bring something more than a table to the table. We are a manufacturer that offers custom designed, locally made furniture crafted from urban lumber. It allows our clients to own a part of the modern world that we live in.