There are a lot of things previous generations got wrong — driving without seatbelts and an obsession with mid-century gelatin recipes to name a couple. But one thing our foreparents had on lockdown was making things last. Everything from steel cars to hand-made clothing to high-density solid-wood furniture was built for longevity. That’s why Great-Grandma’s antique armoire is still being passed down in the family. It also explains the inverse: why the cheap chest-of-drawers and lounge chair you bought at Bargain-Mart for your living room will not make it into the hands of the next generation.
Why does our current model of consumerism differ so drastically from the old way, particularly in the furniture industry, where 9.8 million tons of furniture per year wind up in landfills? Can this be changed?
Before the global economy existed, local resources were limited. Scarcity meant people lived within their means, producing many of their own goods and purchasing the minimum. What they did buy they expected to last. Buying a piece of furniture was an investment. If you baled hay for three summers to buy your five kids a bed to share, you’d want that thing to be around for a while and stand up to heavy use. So of course, people went for quality — it was crazy to do it any other way.
Now, with the availability of the world market, easy access to resources and cheap labor, furniture retailers can provide low-cost versions of whatever we may need or fancy — a bed for each kid for every growth stage of life, or dining tables and family room chairs to be thrown away and replaced every time we change apartments. They may not be high-end, but they are inexpensive. It’s oftentimes not only easier, but cheaper, to replace a broken or worn-out low quality sofa than to repair or reupholster it, when one durable sofa could've done the trick. Convenient? Yes. Sustainable? Not so much.
Mass-produced modern furniture, particularly that of the low-cost, made-in-China variety, has become like “fast fashion” — disposable and environmentally challenging. Production of textiles (both for fashion and furniture upholstery fabrics) pollutes water resources, particularly in China where 40% of the world’s textile industry is centered. 72 different toxic chemicals originate from dyeing fabrics alone, 30 of which cannot be removed from the water supply.
Chopping down trees for wood has additionally led to deforestation and soil depletion in Central Africa’s Congo Basin and the Solomon Islands. Add to this the fact that marketing and consumer culture encourages people to buy more than they need, where over-consumption leads to over-trashing and filling of landfills, and we’ve got a looming planetary crisis.
Doomsday predictions aside, consumers and interior designers are wising up. And so are furniture makers.
Enter Whom, a new contender in the direct-to-consumer quality furniture and home décor markets offering sustainable products across the continental USA. Design and furniture construction is close to home in California, Arizona and Mexico, limiting waste in transportation and allowing tight control of chemical-free and environmentally friendly materials, even fabric options. Founder and CEO Jonathan Bass is serious about monitoring the impact of his products on the world and has even started a zero-waste, closed-loop recycling facility to divert Styrofoam from landfills. For every one tree harvested for wood, the company replants 40. And Whom uses durable fabrics, and offers a reupholstery and repair service, giving consumers the option to make their pieces last even longer and retain their structural integrity.
We’re all on this planet together, and the idea is to encourage people — consumers and retailers alike — to make smarter decisions about products. Whom is doing its part with plans to launch its online store at the end of June 2019.
As with many issues this day and age, the solution may come with a little bit of the old combined with a little bit of the new. There’s room for family heirlooms right next to sleek and modern new furniture designs. There’s room to make decisions like your grandparents did — with quality and longevity in mind — but also with a little pizzazz. Your home furnishings should reflect who you are, and you don’t have to destroy the environment to achieve this. With options like Whom, it’s easier than ever to enact interior design decisions that will make past, present and future generations proud.