When Gavin Munro was a young boy, he saw an overgrown bonsai tree that resembled a throne. Soon after, he got a spinal graft, requiring him to wear a back brace to heal and align his bones: “There were long periods of staying still, plenty of time to observe everything going on,” he says on his website. Over 25 years later, Munro is creating a farm where planted trees can be grown around braces and harvested as fully formed chairs, sculptures, lamps, and tables.
“As I studied art and design, we also studied how and where those materials we worked with came from and what would happen to them after they’d finished their useful life,” Munro tells The Creators Project. “This started a lifelong interest in simplicity and efficiency in processes from 'cradle to grave.'” The material of wood, in particular, caught his eye: “It never fails to amaze me that wood is essentially solid air and sunshine.”
While working on a series of tables and chairs made from driftwood, Munro began to wonder about the cycle of waste. What if instead of chopping down a 50+ year old tree into small parts, expending more energy along each step of the way, he could grow the trees directly into their forms? Munro imagined a more efficient process: he'd plant trees, train and graft their shoots around frames, leave pieces to thicken for a few years, and then harvest, plane, and polish.
In England in 2006, Munro planted 30 trees to experiment with grown furniture prototypes. Two days after planting, he says, cows from a farm next door trampled the entire patch. They began again from scratch the following year. “The first breakthrough was realising that you can’t force the trees – a tortured branch just dies and another pops up elsewhere,” he writes. But according to The Guardian, later this year and into early 2016, he’ll be harvesting around 400 pieces.
It's a project already over 10 years in the making, and Munro is excited to showcase the fruits of his labors. Pendant lamps, mirror frames, and arm chairs are all available for preorder. Says Munro, “I hope that our work highlights what it takes to make the objects we surround ourselves with, and that no one looks at trees in quite the the same way again.”