The Genteel
October 26, 2020


Source: Custom Design Bali.

A number of companies around the world are exploring the use of recycled wood to make furniture. In some cases, it's not just the designs that are turning heads, but the wood itself. Eco-friendly companies using Indonesian reclaimed wood - taken from old jukung fishing boats no longer fit for threading tropical waters - are flourishing.

The recycled wood is full of good energy and rich in history.

Reclaimed boat furniture is special for many reasons. Perhaps the most obvious is the character the wood brings to the pieces. Traditional fishing boats in Indonesia are often painted in a variety of colours, so when designers create a single piece of furniture, such as a table or stool, the result is a rainbow of weathered reds, blues and yellows. Each piece of furniture is unique and a piece of artwork in itself. "All the pieces we produce are made with original wood from boats that are 50 to 70 years old," says Dwi Hariani, owner of Custom Design Bali. "The story of the boat and the people who owned it gives a special aura to the furniture."

In Indonesia, traditional jukung (fishing) boats are about five metres long and built using hard woods such as intaran (mahogany), teak and ulin, a rare tree native to the Malesia region. Ulin wood is known in English as Borneo ironwood and it's not only highly exotic but also very sturdy and resistant to humidity. The bold colours used in painting the boats are meant to be auspicious and bring prosperity and good luck to those sailing the seas. "We don't need to cut down trees from the forest for our pieces," says Hariani. "The recycled wood is full of good energy and rich in history." 

Each piece of furniture made using boat wood tells its own story. You can see the cracks and peeling on the paint, the holes where the nails used to be, the scratches and patches of rust that are the result of decades of sea sailing. As designers build a piece of furniture, they match parts and pieces according to their colours and textures. Most designers choose to keep the wood intact - no additional paint - except for a coat of sealer to avoid further damage. According to Australian-based company, From the Sea, part of the charm of these pieces is that each one has its own character and texture that exposes the many past lives of the timber. Other companies, such as dBodhi, feel the untouched wood tells a tale of work and dedication.

Source: Custom Design Bali.

Because of the uniqueness of the wood, most designers working with recycled boat wood produce each custom-made piece by hand. This type of artisan-crafted furniture is not only artistic, but sustainable. Each piece of wood that's made into furniture is one less tree cut down, less wood burned and less carbon monoxide released into the atmosphere. In some cases, the pieces are also a reminder that everything and anything can be rebuilt and thrive.

Monarch Furnishing, a Canadian design company, is teaming up with Indonesian craftsmen to create furniture using wood from boats destroyed in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and other tropical storms that came after. Wood salvaged from destroyed boats has been piled up and stored for years with no useful purpose. By recycling these pieces into furniture, craftsmen are preserving the history of the islands. And buyers benefit as well: some trees, such as ramin, are currently protected and can no longer be harvested to make furniture. Reusing old ramin wood from salvage boats gives the wood a new life and buyers a chance to own an exotic piece.

Companies using recycled boat wood as a source of timber are also having a big impact on the economic outlook of the local population. Usually, jukung that become too expensive or difficult to repair are simply burned or discarded. With the advent of recycled furniture, fishermen can now opt to sell their boats to manufacturers and make enough of a profit to buy a replacement boat. In a region impacted by recent natural disasters and financial hardship, the boats are becoming a livelihood for families even after they can no longer sail the seas.



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