ask the experts

Why Sustainably Sourced Furniture Is Worth the Investment

Alexandra Climent, the sustainable-furniture designer.

In our Ask the Experts series, Design Hunting gets renovation and décor advice from professionals in disciplines from color consultancy to landscape design.

Alexandra Climent
Founder, Sustainably Sliced

Why are sustainably sourced materials so important?
When you see an exotic piece of wood, yes, it’s beautiful, but there’s likely a bad association. We’re destroying the rain forests. The jungles are breathing with life. I can’t imagine having something in my home, that I feel close to, that has that dark side.

But don’t you have to cut trees down one way or another?
One practice I came up with was going into the jungle and digging the stumps of trees that had already been cut. Other large pieces usually come from trees that have fallen from storms — in Panama, I found a family with a tree that had fallen that was crushing their shed. I offered to purchase and remove it so they could have their shed back. In return, I got a beautiful piece of rare wood and was even able to take some seeds and plant them on my friend’s farm.

The “Amoeba Table” and box are made of wamara, a dense and heavy Central American wood. Photo: Julie Benedetto

How do you begin designing a piece?
It starts with the wood. A lot of the pieces are pretty ugly before you start working with them. You don’t know what’s underneath. Once I start to see that grain — I always start with sanding. The only outside inspiration is probably the rock opera my father wrote. All his pieces have outer-space-themed names, like “The Eye of Jupiter.” A lot of the patterns in the wood remind me of outer space, so I see where I can go with that.

Beyond good karma, why invest in eco-friendly furniture?
Practically speaking, these pieces are going to last lifetimes. The wood is almost like a gemstone, it’s so hard. They’re really hard to nick and scratch. I don’t want anyone to beat this stuff up, but you can — it’s durable. And since all of the finishes are natural, it’s easy to rub a bit of oil on once a year for added shine.

What’s the best way to approach furniture-buying responsibly?
Looking more closely into where things come from. Teak, for example, became really popular, so people started planting it all over Central and South America. But it’s from Asia. They’re planting and then clearing, so other, indigenous trees are being cut down. People sometimes say, “I buy this from a sustainable lumberyard” or “This is reclaimed,” but if you’re acquiring secondhand, from a middleman, you never really know. Buying from someone who literally got it out of the forest themselves is a good place to start.

Trick of the Trade

“I’m always nervous about small apartments — am I dealing with the elevator? Stairs? But that’s what’s cool about custom furniture: You can have things brought in and assembled.”

*This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of New York Design Hunting.

Why Sustainably Sourced Furniture Is Worth the Investment