Have you ever thought about growing your own furniture?
That’s precisely what Gavin Munro and his Full Grown team are working on. As a child, Munro noticed a bonsai tree growing in the shape of a chair and was fascinated. He initially began to create furniture from driftwood, pleased with their organic shapes but frustrated that so much would end up going to waste. He was finally inspired to grow trees directly into functional and artistic shapes. Forming the Full Grown team with the support of his family and friends was the start of a grand journey, turning his vision of grown furniture into reality.
Since starting 10 years ago, both the furniture and team have grown. We spoke with Ed Lound, who works on the Full Grown team as Field Manager, to share their work and tell us about what they’ve accomplished so far. Despite coming from a non-artistic background, he immediately became passionate about the idea when Gavin got in touch about joining him in the field.
What’s the philosophy behind Full Grown?
The philosophy for Full Grown is a combination of Vitruvian manufacture (designing products that are solid, useful, and beautiful), as well as our own ideas of people, planet, profit. That is, the process must look after the people doing it, the planet around us, and to allow us all to profit, all whilst producing some beautiful, long-lasting pieces of furniture.
Can you elaborate on what you call “Zen 3D printing”?
The idea of Zen comes from being connected to the world around us; working with it, rather than against it. This is essential, as unhappy trees will not grow. The 3D printing bit is basically how trees grow – replicating themselves from the tip. With a 3D printer, the computer module controls the shape of the desired object. We play that part, gradually shaping the final product. Put the two together and voila, Full Grown Ltd.
How does it work?
Despite the 3D printing analogy, it’s actually based on ancient crafts. We coppice trees, then train the new shoots around specifically designed and made frames in the shape of whatever it is we wish to grow. We graft shoots together in place of traditional joints, and then, when the shape and form has been acquired, simply allow to thicken, monitoring the piece closely along the way. We then harvest, dry, and finish.
How does the treatment or method differ on the type of tree grown?
There are a number of different criteria that we need to look at before putting a wood into production. Trees, whilst following many of the same rules, are entirely different to each other, just like animals. We have to look at strength, likely weight, flexibility, the properties of the bark, the size of the leaves, how likely the wood is to pull upwards, how much sap is likely to be produced, how easy is it to graft, and so many more. It can often be a bit overwhelming! We like fruitwoods, because many of these aspects are already tried and tested!
The different woods are treated differently based on these properties. For example, a strong hard wood such as oak or ash needs to be visited more regularly, as when the shoots on these trees set or lignify, they are far harder to correct than those of a willow, or a crab apple. There are several of these different properties that all have some input into the growing of the piece. The method, however, remains largely the same.
Lound puts forward the argument that the Full Grown method is much quicker than conventional ways of furniture making. Traditional methods use standard plantation trees that are grown for 40-60 years, cut down, then pieced together into their new shape. In the Full Grown open air factory, it takes 6 – 10 years to grow a fully formed piece of furniture without any of the traditional joints or components. The process could even be called carbon negative, as throughout the process they’re absorbing more carbon than would expel from cutting down large trees, shipping, and processing that wood into something useful.
Imagine satellite sites across the world, all creating oxygen for our world, absorbing carbon dioxide, providing work for the locals, and a habitat for animals. And we can leave more of our established forests and rainforests to be wild, protecting so many more of our endangered species. It’s just a good idea.
Full Grown began creating lamps as a functional prototype to demonstrate their method, picking up from John Krubsack’s the “Chair That Grew”. The team began growing chairs to show how it can be done quickly, efficiently and on a large scale. The core of their product development process is to design pieces that work best with the tree’s natural growth patterns – attempting to grow any furniture in your home that you can think of!
What are you hoping to do with the Full Grown next?
Next will, hopefully, be our very own Full Grown Farm. Our orchard is currently rented from a friend, so to have a base of operations from which to expand would be very positive for us. And that’s the long-term plan – to expand. Not necessarily in the standard model for today – we want the idea to be available to as many as possible, and to benefit the people, the animals, and the environment, of that particular area. This method can be applied wherever there are trees, and can be used to battle deforestation, desertification, and many other challenges posed to the world.
With the time it takes to grow the furniture, how do you feel about your first batch selling out?
It’s a brilliant feeling, and it was also incredibly necessary! That first batch has funded several successive batches, which have in turn sold out, and funded the next batch. But it does show that the interest is there, and when this becomes more accessible, it will be even more so.
Who are your biggest fans? What kind of people buy Full Grown furniture?
Our biggest fans, and our biggest supporters, are our friends and family. There is no way we could have done this without them, and they remain ever supportive.
Worldwide, we’ve had a lot of interest from Hong Kong, Singapore, and especially the USA, so our demographics are quite wide-reaching. We’ve also had an incredibly positive reaction from the design world, with Gavin being invited to perform the keynote speech at the European Academy of Design Conference in Rome this year. The people who seem to be purchasing either appreciate art, design, or nature, or a combination of all three. But the idea is that soon, there will not be a type of people buying it, but rather a diverse melting pot located across the globe.
What’s your personal home style?
Personally, I go for classic/antique design pieces – wingback armchairs, leather, and wood. Victorian lamps and torches are where we drew inspiration for one of our new lamp designs.
Gavin is a fan of clean lines, especially in places where they don’t belong, such as trees or birds nests, and this definitely finds its way into his home, and into our workshop! Nature is a key point, but again so are antique design pieces. Gavin truly does follow the mantra of solid, useful, and beautiful.
With Full Grown’s prototype Willow armchair featured at the National Museum of Scotland and pre-orders due for release later this year, we’re witnessing the shifting forefront of a greener furniture industry. If you’re interested in supporting them or finding out more, check out their Kickstarter campaign. While for now the chairs, lamps and tables are still only produced in small batches, you can get your hands on a book detailing their process, or a print with the designs on them.
It’s amazing to see beautifully crafted furniture developed in sustainable ways. Would you be able to wait five years for your own furniture to grow? Let us know what you think!
*This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.