Seattle's Sustainable-Seating Renaissance
What’s the purpose of the split down the middle of Henrybuilt’s Wood Bench 3? “It helps the seat to hug your bottom,” says Lisa Day, Seattle-based Henrybuilt’s director of marketing. The split divides the bench into two long slabs of wood, which angle down slightly toward the center, making it more comfortable than a standard bench. It’s the kind of detail that distinguishes this solid wood, handmade creation from mass-produced models. And it’s one of several handcrafted seating options from woodworkers and metalworkers in the Seattle area, where small-scale furniture making seems to be enjoying a renaissance.
Henrybuilt's Wood Bench 3
Henrybuilt, which got its start filling a demand for well-designed, handcrafted kitchen systems, added stand-alone furniture to its line in early 2011. The company makes all products to order in its Georgetown workshops. Like most of the tables and chairs, the split seat bench can be built from a range of FSC-certified (approved by the Forest Stewardship Council) solid woods, including quartersawn walnut or rift-cut white oak, and is available in several lengths, up to 9 feet (from $1,500). For a more industrial-modern look, there’s Henrybuilt’s Steel Bench 3, made of powder-coated steel with a cushion for the top. Available in several lengths, fabrics and steel finishes (from $3,600).
Interbay furniture maker MeyerWells has found a steady stream of customers for its handcrafted dining room tables, many built from salvaged local trees. But chairs are a different story. “So much goes into a finely crafted wooden chair that it puts them in a fairly rarefied price strata,” says co-owner Seth Meyer. He says many customers often don’t want to spring for that extra cost after investing in a table. As an alternative, MeyerWells sells several flat-seated, backless benches, such as the minimalist Vander Bench. (The name is a tip of the hat to green-architecture pioneer Sim van der Ryn.)
“It’s a cheaper way to get locally made seating around your locally made table,” says Meyer. “Also, I love the clean and minimal appearance of a table and benches; I find it serene.” Meyer is also interested in the jostling and adjustment that goes on as friends and family take their seats on a bench, which he suggests is a more intimate experience than pulling up a chair. The Vander Bench is made from reclaimed wood and available in a range of lengths, widths and finishes ($2,475–$2,875).
Also clean and serene are the offerings from Semigood Design on Capitol Hill. The Rian Cantilever Stool has garnered attention in design circles for its tricky, overhanging cantilever design. The frame comes in FSC-certified walnut, white ash or oak. The seat is wrapped in a Danish cord made of recycled paper ($995). Another option: the Cantilever Bench ($1,995) or Cantilever Bar Stool (from $1,195). Prefer to pull up a pop of color? Semigood also makes the Rian RTA collection—the same cantilevered design, but with stool and bench frames made of aluminum powder-coated in one of 50 custom or stock colors and a hardwood seat (starts at $695).
The stunningly suspended Rian Cantilever Stool from Semigood Design
The guys at design firm Graypants are known for turning recycled cardboard into chic, planetary light fixtures. Now the SoDo-based group is transforming FSC-certified plywood into Slice café and dining chairs. Only one sheet of maple or walnut plywood is used to make three sinuous, armless chairs with a low-VOC finish and a choice of eight tints. The conservation-minded construction also keeps the price surprisingly low for a locally made chair ($295–$400, depending on material).
At the opposite end of the price spectrum is the elegant Codor Design Brass Planar Armchair by Seattle’s Tamara Codor, crafted of steel, brass and salvaged wood, for sale at Capitol Hill mercantile NuBe Green. This perch appears as airy and angular as an elegant sculpture, but the steel gives it a surprising heft—just try to lift one. “It’s not a chair you want to sit in for hours,” says NuBe manager Abra Handler. It is, however, one you want to give a prominent place in your home ($4,500).
The spare elegance of the Codor Design Brass Planar Armchair from NuBe Green
Finally, if all this high-concept seating leaves you yearning for a bit more cush for your tush, NuBe Green’s own Seattle-made line of redesigned vintage furnishings are a welcome and whimsical option. “Anything we can find that needs a new life is fair game,” says Handler. Owner Ruth True scouts the old furniture and vintage textiles herself. NuBe’s team then works with local designer Maresa Patterson to “reinvent” the pieces, all of which are one of a kind. The unexpected combination of antique shapes and graphic coverings feels subtly bohemian.
For example, a pair of Swiss Army club chairs ($2,400) upholstered on the seat and back with red and blue plaid blankets, or the “Very Victorian” settee upholstered in a pink and gray wool blanket ($2,700)—each offers snug seating, with a sweater-like embrace. Perfect for sitting out Seattle’s coldest winter days.
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