Debris from natural disasters and old materials from aged and abandoned buildings are being used to create anew by a host of furniture designers.

Wood is the primary material being salvaged from sites as designers turn to the material for its history, warmth and authenticity.

Wood tells a story; its grain can let designers know the climate and region in which it was grown and its history. Consumers are growing to appreciate the value of wood – old wood – and where better to source it than where it is no longer required?

New York remains in long-term recovery mode following Hurricane Sandy but a Brooklyn designer is bringing light to the situation through furniture design.

Woodworker Stefan Rurak salvaged wood from Brooklyn created by Hurricane Sandy to create the Sandy Project – a  collection that includes furniture and jewellery.

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Stump stool made from Hurricane Sandy storm debris

The wood was sourced from the damage caused by the hurricane to create a stool, an end table and a pendant, items described as Rurak as possessing “beauty and utility.”

“Wood is alive even when it’s been cut down from a tree,” he said in a BIO video. “It’s always changing and it’s always teaching you something because it’s always changing.”

As the salvaged wood dries, larger pieces became available to fill the orders. Rurak describes the project as a “unique opportunity to aid in the continuing relief effort and own a part of history.”

The stump stool features slices of sugar maple that has been repurposed. Each piece is uniquely shaped and has a scooped out seat for comfort. The stool’s legs and the base of the end table are made of walnut.

A portion of the furniture sales will be donated to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.

Rurak is also looking to repurpose derelict sites with waste as demonstrated in his 72 India Street project. He collected rare antique pine boards and beams from the brownstone building, which was being gutted, to create a  furniture collection that includes two tables, two chairs, a desk and storage box.

“These pieces that once grew in the same forest hundreds of years ago, then supported the same old structure on India Street are now given a third life,” Rurak said. 

Fashion label J.Crew also impressed at its 2014 Spring/Summer Runway, where models walked a salvaged wood boardwalk that was also sourced from Hurricane Sandy debris.

In Toronto, Design by Nature, a group of local design professionals and community enthusiasts, run an annual design competition which received 118 innovative furniture, public art and sculpture pieces made from discarded city wood and salvaged materials this year.

The judging panel was keen to see “creative re-imagination of pre-existing and ‘resource-based’ materials.”

The Best in Show Winner was Cayuga, a project by artist Miles Keller. The modular outdoor/indoor public seating system offers multiple configurations. The seat deck was made of salvaged wood from The City of Toronto following the winter’s ice storm and ongoing issues with ash borer beetles, while the base was made of a lightweight com positive of cement/wood chips and straw.

Sleep Shapes, a concept by Matthew Blunderfield, was also a winner. The innovative public sculpture furniture was created from furniture-grade off-cuts, and construction waste including lumber and plywood.

Down under, Australian Wood Design Studio (AWDS) creates contemporary furniture and architectural joinery where all solid timber pieces used salvaged wood wherever possible.

“We are conscious that timber is a resource that takes many years to grow so we feel that the pieces we make need to live longer than it takes to grow the timber resources to maturity,” the AWDS website reads. “That is the true objective of sustainable use of resource.”

Wood’s carbon sequestering qualities are also gaining attention as climate change concerns increase. Forest Learning notes that when trees are harvested and manufactured into products, this carbon remains stored for the life of the wood product and can continue to reside in the wood for a considerable time once the product’s service life ends, depending on how it is disposed of.

The fact that 50 per cent of the dry weight of wood is carbon also encourages designers to continue working with wood – particularly of the reclaimed type.

From debris to would-be construction waste, each of these designers demonstrate a very viable up-cycling furniture industry. While the material’s environmental credentials speak for themselves, it’s the history behind these pieces that are greatly appealing to consumers.