Sustainability is an integral aspect of Edina-based furniture company Room & Board, whether sourcing materials from Minneapolis companies such as Wood from the Hood, or using recycled plastics, fabrics, or steel in its products. Recently, Room & Board has been branching out, expanding its Urban Wood Project, a national initiative that sources wood otherwise destined for landfills and reclaims it into unique furnishings, to cities including Baltimore and Detroit—and now, New York City.
In partnership with Tri-Lox, a Brooklyn-based millwork and design operation, Room & Board has launched new sustainable decor made from upcycled California redwood and Alaskan cedar culled from decommissioned New York City water towers. “The Tri-Lox folks are environmentalists who love woodworking,” laughs Gene Wilson, vice president of merchandising & vendor management at Room & Board, “and turned that into a business. Our collaboration with Tri-Lox preserves and extends the life of these beautiful woods by manufacturing and integrating the material into products, and ultimately creating a circular wood economic system that utilizes the most climate positive practices.”
One of the new lines is Millbridge Tabletop Frames, made not only from the water-tower cedar and redwood, but also oak salvaged from the New York City park system. The latter, Wilson explains, is “a pilot program to prove out the viability of making a transition from trees that are struggling with rising water levels and won’t thrive in the long term, like oak and sycamore, with trees that will thrive.” More recently, Room & Board introduced a line of Stanley Wall Shelves constructed from oak salvaged from New York City parks.
More sustainable products are in the works. In April, the company will offer a new bath collection, The Artemis, including wood bath mats made from cedar and redwood salvaged from the New York City water towers. Room & Board is also transitioning from South American ipe wood in its Montego modern outdoor furniture to thermally modified ash provided by Wood from the Hood. “We’re also working with Tri-Lox to see if their cedar or redwood could be an additional option,” Wilson says. “We’re committed to diverting a lot of wood from the waste stream.”
Room & Board’s Director of Sustainability, Emily McGarvey, explains that every year, Americans discard more than 12 million tons of furniture. “While fragments of tossed furniture can be recycled, the majority ends up in landfills, resulting in a profusion of waste that has grown 450 percent since 1960,” she says, citing the EPA. “Most of the furniture piling up in landfills is fast furniture. Similar to fast fashion, fast furniture, which is mass-produced and inexpensive, is quickly acquired and then abandoned.”
She adds that “every city is unique in the opportunities provided with salvaged wood, and provides us unique design and supply chain challenges. Using wood that’s considered waste in new furniture and decor is a design challenge, while creating a circular wood system with that wood is a supply chain challenge, as in how do we help build that supply chain to divert material back into our stores?”
Wilson adds, “We’re moving from our original positive grass-roots efforts to a more robust strategy under Emily’s leadership.” Having rescued more than 180,000 board feet of lumber from landfills since undertaking this effort in 2017, Room & Board is doing its part to “protect the one world we share,” McGarvey says.