If the originality and artistry of custom-built pieces doesn’t already draw you in, consider the fact that the alternative, “fast furniture,” is hurting our bodies and the environment.
Times have changed, haven’t they? Not too long ago, custom furniture pieces were a point of pride in the home: dining tables that had been passed down through generations, couches that had been re-upholstered countless times over the years, and bedframes with hand-cut bridle joints would stick around for decades. But today, the common mentality around furniture is starting to resemble the way we think about fashion. Ideas about “the latest trend” or “what’s in style” motivate consumers to get rid of pieces they’ve had for only a couple of years so that they can keep up with the times.
Behind this trend is a wasteful industry, led by companies like Wayfair and Amazon, that’s more commonly referred to as “Fast Furniture.” Cheaper, less versatile materials go into mass-produced pieces that last only a few years, if that. But the pieces are cheap, and the aesthetics, though not built on craftsmanship or genuine care, can be superficially pleasing to the eye. This has catalyzed a new, seemingly insatiable appetite amongst homeowners, who are happy to get rid of that dilapidated bureau that’s only three years old for another appealing but flimsy piece.
Sales of desks, chairs and patio equipment alone jumped by more than $4 billion from 2019 to 2021 in the United States, and signs are that the fast furniture industry is only continuing its furious ascent: according to this report, the industry is expected to grow by $9 billion over the course of this decade. Below, I will go through the reasons that fast furniture is harmful for both your health and the planet’s, and why custom furniture that lasts is a worthy investment.
It Only Lasts a Few Years:
We don’t call it “fast furniture” for nothing – these pieces take very little time and resources to fabricate, and a proportionally short amount of time to deteriorate. That’s because most fast furniture is built on flimsier particle board, also known as “manufactured wood,” instead of solid timber. Made of compressed wood chips, resin and various chemicals (I’ll get into that later), particle board has never been known for its resiliency: when exposed to moisture, it’s likely to swell and rot; and when it’s under enough pressure, it can split or chip. And when anything like this happens (hint: it almost definitely will within five years), there’s nothing you can do to repair or replace the broken part. Instead, you’re simply expected to throw out the old, no longer functional piece and replace it with a newer one. Particle board is fast furniture’s most common denominator – no matter how much shiny laminate or veneer manufacturers use to cover it up, it’s always there.
It Ends Up in Landfills:
Obviously, people aren’t likely to re-sell that Wayfair table that’s starting to crack at the seams three years after they bought it, since they can’t just sand it down or tighten a bolt. Instead, fast furniture pieces like this one are being sent en masse to landfills as soon as they show the slightest sign of wear. The EPA estimates that 9 million tons of furniture are thrown out every year, accounting for 5% of all physical waste. Most of it, unsurprisingly, is fast furniture.
Custom furniture is intended to last for decades, if not longer, since it can be easily repaired whenever the wear-and-tear of life comes along. By buying more durable pieces, you’re ensuring that less furniture ends up unnecessarily rotting in landfills, while giving your custom home its own inimitable flair.
It Contains Toxic Chemicals:
In addition to damaging the earth, fast furniture can also threaten your health. Particle board’s copious use of formaldehyde as an adhesive is just the beginning: neurotoxic and carcinogenic chemicals like polyurethane, acetaldehyde, benzene, and vinyl acetate are commonly found in the fabrics and finishes of mass-produced furniture, especially in upholstered pieces like sofas and beds. These kinds of chemicals, typically classified as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), can be released into the air of your home, often causing serious health repercussions.
It Uses Precious Natural Resources:
I’ve talked a lot about where fast furniture ends up, but what about where it comes from? Every day – yes, every day! – 20+ million hectares of forests are cut down or razed, 50+ million tons of PVC plastics are produced, and 20+ million tons of cotton are processed…just to meet the global demand for furniture. Obviously, if furniture were built to be more durable, there would be far less need to replace those couches, tables, and dresser drawers that cannot be repaired. So while buying fast furniture contributes to a crisis of accumulating non-recyclable waste, it also feeds into the overconsumption of our planet’s most vital, fast-dwindling resources. Custom furniture’s longevity helps reduce waste on so many levels.
The benefits of going custom are multiple. Our furniture is perfectly customized to the scale of our homes, which is especially important for a sofa or sectionals. Producing our pieces from a local workroom minimizes or eliminates delivery charges and most importantly you can get the exact color, texture, and look you want. We make sure to prioritize materials that are built to last in every element of our designs, from foundation to the furniture.
Please reach out if you’re looking to furnish a custom home with tasteful, original pieces that will stand the test of time. As fast furniture continues to surge in popularity, let’s do what we can to practice care in our everyday choices: for each other, for ourselves, and for the earth.
Below are some of our favorite custom furniture pieces we have designed for our clients. Thanks for reading.
Hawlie Ohe heads White Sands Interiors, and she and her husband are raising two boys along the South Bay coast. Hawlie brings the curiosity that fueled her first career, as a journalist, to her interior design approach: Who are you, who do want to be, and how can this space get you there? Great design makes you feel present and engaged, and Hawlie is here for it. Because she wants to help you be “here” (in this space, in this moment), too.