Gavin Munro’s naturally-twisted wood furniture has drawn plenty of fans from around the world, finds out Anuja Abraham
Gavin Munro is an artist, designer, innovator and visionary in true sense. He is also a quirky farmer in the same sense. He heads Full Grown Ltd, a one-of-a-kind design studio that grows furniture on their two- acre field in England. His passion for moulding plants into furniture has stemmed into an eco-friendly business model wherein he designs and grows trees in the shape of chairs, lamps, tables and more.
Sowing the idea
The crazy idea germinated in the mind of little Gavin when he noticed an overgrown bonsai tree that resembled a throne. The image left an impression in his mind and many years later he was making driftwood furniture on the beach in San Francisco. Munro draws inspiration from Vitruvious, the Roman Architect who held that a piece of design should be solid, useful and beautiful.
His farm is situated in Peak District in the north of England. The field mostly grows furniture out of Willow. The farmers are also exploring ways to grow furniture from new species of plants such as Ash, Sycamore, Hazel, Crab Apple and two types of Oak. “Rather than growing trees and chopping them and piecing them together to make furniture, I thought it is more reasonable to grow them into furniture,” Munro summarises his passion.
Growing furniture year-round
In essence, growing the plants in furniture moulds is a simple process. The farmers plant trees and as the branches begin to grow the young shoots are put in the formers/ moulds of the desired furniture shape. The farmers fasten and graft the branches together into one solid shape. During winter, when the branches have grown thick enough, each piece is harvested carefully and then it is allowed to dry slowly for six months to one year. The designers then plane and polish the outer surfaces so that there is a crisp clean geometric exterior to contrast with the organic natural forms of the tree inside. Each harvested piece is finished with hard wax oil; additional protection against termites and molds is given.
A chair, for example, can take between five to eight years to grow and shaped depending on the variety and local environment. Surprisingly, his chair designs are deeply influenced by his love for Shaker Furniture, William Morris and David Nash.
Keeping the furniture farmers extremely busy during the growing season, they tend to face the same challenges as any other farmer. The main challenge is organising all the branches. “For every 100 pieces you grow, there are more than 1000 shoots to look after and 10,000 you need to prune,” Munro explains, adding, “There is also the fact that most things we do on daily basis won’t yield results for several years so it’s been a massive exercise in faith to trust that we’ll get to our first substantial harvest.”
The farmers have also started to grow other plants that complement the growth of the trees including white clover and strawberries underneath the trees. There is also a plan to get more birds to live amidst trees that will eat away the pests and aid in fertilising the soil.
Manipulating or supporting nature
The inventive farmer-designer was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response he got. Munro adds, “It’s been a real relief that most people seem to understand that we are not trying to control nature but actually change it as little as possible in order to get an abundance of what we want, in this case—art and furniture.” According to him, the activity encourages biodiversity while soaking up carbon, emitting oxygen and perhaps in the long run, making more soil rather than decreasing it.
“This idea is more about cooperation with nature rather than manipulation; you just can’t force a tree to do anything. If it doesn’t want that, it will just die and sprout new growth lower down,” Munro emphasises. He best describes the art of moulding trees into furniture design as ‘art and design meeting horticulture and efficient manufacturing.’
The design team at Full Grown is enthusiastic with the response that they have garnered and are looking forward to deliver artsy furniture in the coming years. This year, Full Grown has introduced some small side table designs and some larger chairs, even some hanging chairs. Since the studio has begun to take commissions this year, there should be some interesting ideas starting next season. Speaking on the demand-supply surge, Munro says, “We have a few pre-orders for square lamps and 2nd edition chairs left and we are taking commissions for pieces to be started next spring.”
To the question on the lifespan of the furniture, Munro says, “I believe each piece can sustain for at least a 100 years since the furniture has no loose joints that will weaken. But I suppose, we all will have to wait and see.”