Monday, May 25, 2009

furniture, chickens, architecture and sustainability

What do chickens, architecture, organic gardening and sustainable furniture have in common? We are committed to green or sustainable furniture at work, but we also take those principals home with us. Our ideals are not an 8-hour a day job. This is a little story about what happens after hours at home.

Building furniture takes a certain kind of mental planning and rigor. For one thing, plans have to be made and each cut on the saw or pass on the shaper must be set up to get the precise result. I was trained as a sculptor, and so I occasionally look for the informal process of building with a goal in mind, but in a manner that allows for improvisation along the way. Backyard architecture is one of the activities that I enjoy for this reason. I would not plan a house this way (at least I don't think so) but a chicken coop seemed like a perfect project to tap into that energy. After clearing the legal isssues on keeping chickens in a city, the only hurdle was how to satisfy the requirements of these birds that I had never before kept.

I wanted to create a triangular structure and also be able to reuse playhouse components that were no longer needed when my kids had outgrown their little "house" that I had previously built. The mental plan included a sloped triangle and a post-modern feel. But it also had to be useful. One of the features I thought to build in was that the front wall where the chicken entry door was located would swing open entirely so that my daughter could get access to the interior for cleaning. The free range chickens bed down on wood shavings that come from my shop. We don't have to dump the wood waste in our trash which is an important component to our sustainable pledge. If we were a much larger operation we could sell our wood waste, but we don't create that much.
The coop has an interior room that contains the roosting bar and a nesting box with a lower level where the droppings drop for easy cleaning. My wife "plastered" the interior with a mud plaster over an insulation board so the chickens are safe inside over the Ohio Winters with only a light bulb as a heat source. The floor is raised off the ground to be resistant to rodents and easy to insulate. I wanted to reuse as much material on hand as possible so I utilyzed scraps of wood from a demolished deck, corrugated roofing leftovers from a storage shed project and the before mentioned playhouse parts like a window and siding. It also had to look "decent" and "neat" to fit into our suburban property as much as possible, and cause minimal distraction to the neighbors (not sure if we have achieved this).
(Egg access door is small but visible just under the roof above) The exterior room contains the feeder and waterer with room for the girls to walk around if we want to secure them behind the chicken wire fencing. But there is no grass or plant matter growing "inside"the pen and they love to roam outside in the garden and on the lawn looking for seeds and bugs. They provide fertilzer to our organic garden as well. The eggs are a deep shade of yellow-orange. I understand that the dietarily important omega-3's are naturally high in eggs from chickens who are allowed to range over green plant matter like grass. Not all free range eggs are created equal!

Perhaps the greatest benefit to raising chickens, designing a coop, recycling wood waste and obtaining organic free range eggs rich in Omega-3's is not any of those issues but the fact that my daughters take care of these chickens as pets. They have learned where (some of) their food comes from and have taken a role in contributing to the house hold. Having the "job"of taking care of "livestock" gives them a sense of responsibility beyond the care of a dog or gerbil. They have a pet who performs a useful role in their lives, which they especially appreciate when I serve them Challah French Toast on Saturday mornings.
We started out with three hens; a Rhode Island Red, a Barred Rock (pictured with my daughter) and an Americauna. The Red died over this last winter from some sort of infection at the age of two but the other two have just been joined by four peeps who are still living inside under a heat lamp as they are only about a week old. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by some time for some eggs!

Friday, May 1, 2009

HighPoint Furniture Market

I just returned from Highpoint, N.C. after spending two days visiting the furniture market held semi-annually there. I went there for the first time to check out the market and see if it is right for our Company to show there in the Fall- October market. Unlike Las Vegas, one of the chief benefits of the Highpoint market is there isn't anything else to do there other than attend the market. No gambling and shows. So the buyers who attend are serious about checking out the possibilities. This was a significant lesson in why Highpoint should be a good fit for us. As this was my first market, I had nothing to compare it to but all of the veterans said "it is nothing like it used to be". That may be, but I found the traffic in the "Interhall" area to be significant and interviewed several of the companies that exhibited there. All were reporting solid sales and leads. They were universally encouraging. My interest was piqued. There is a strong possibility that I will be exhibiting there in the Fall and was invited to the Interhall area. There was a nice sense of camaraderie.

The other factor that was hard to miss was the surge of popularity for Sustainable and "Green" products. The Sustainable Furniture Council, which we are members of, planned several cool events and many vendors are now members and are using their logo. (See our environmental policy on our website for more info:

There was a "green drinks" social networking evening held at Cisco brothers showroom in a renovated mill building and which is a very cool space.see Cisco renovated a 100 year old mill into a series of showrooms. Their furniture is all sustainable and has been very successful. I met financial planners with environmentally friendly investment strategies, a major lumber company executive who is encouraging sustainable forestry within their company, a contract furniture company president who talked to me about potential for working towards sustainable projects, and a free spirited veteran of the industry who has been constructing scenarios for the Sustainable Furniture Council to vault into the next level of popular consciousness. And the hors d'oeuvres and drinks were fantastic too.

I also listened to a panel on social networking and sustainability. All the electronic forms are inherently sustainable as they don't necessitate the cutting of trees. I learned from their anecdotes how Twitter especially (which I can attest to as well) can network you with like minded companies and people in your industry. All Twitter is is a conversation, just like you might have at a cocktail party with others, except that it is taking part on the web. Because it is digital and available on the net, messages can spread at a geometric rate. That can be both positive and negative, but it is incumbent on a company to monitor and participate so that they can have some control over their company's reputation. All messages on Twitter are stored and searchable through Google, so they have a life beyond the moment of the "Twit". Companies need to be in control of who is putting out their message and never "trust" it to someone who has no investment (spiritually) in the Company.

Lastly, as a Northerner, it is a lot of fun to travel through the South and listen to accents from Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama. These are sounds I don't normally get to hear and they remind me that our country really still has regional cultural differences despite the national penetration of Target, Wendy's, Pier 1 and ToysRUs among others. On my way back I stopped in a little diner near the Blue RIdge Parkway in Virginia and had a biscuit and great tasting grits. I could barely understand the fishing talk overheard between the chef and the patrons, but the food and atmosphere couldn't be beat.