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Toxic Furniture

Do You Know That Old Furniture Is Actually Better Than New?


If you are building a new home, remodeling your existing home or refreshing the family room, you should take some time to seriously consider which "healthy" furniture you are selecting for those spaces.

Today we can purchase whatever we want from any place in the world, which is very exciting. The majority of standard furniture and accessories available are made outside of the United States without much regard for the raw materials that are thoughtlessly used, the pollution that is created during the manufacturing process, the packaging and transport required, and the unfair wages and working conditions many factory employees withstand. Our homes are our sanctuaries where we have control over our environment, but we seem to flood them with toxic materials, making them not the healthiest place to retreat. Most wood, fabric, and plastic used in furniture is made or finished with toxic materials, making the furniture we have purchased and placed in our homes toxic, and causing indoor air pollution that is harmful to our families and pets.

New furniture can emit formaldehyde, a known indoor pollutant, which is used as an adhesive in most residential wood furniture. In small amounts, this toxic chemical can irritate your eyes, skin and throat and can cause nausea and lethargy. Through high concentrations and long-term exposure, formaldehyde is a deadly carcinogenic substance.

Other toxic chemicals to be aware of that can cause cancer in humans and animals is polyurethane, it is used as a sealant in most residential wood furniture. In addition, brominated flame-retardants (PBDEs), they are linked to brain disorders and birth defects, and are used extensively in household furniture. They are banned throughout Europe.

Before you decide to purchase anything new, consider first the furniture you already have.  Look closely at what can be cleaned, refinished, painted, repurposed, or reupholstered. Make a list of old and worn furniture you are thinking of disposing.  Visualize those pieces reupholstered or refinished with new life. Get a fresh look to match your changing interiors tastes without contributing to the removal of more trees or the mining of materials. The EPA reports that between 1960 and 2001, discarded furniture and furnishings increased from 2.2 million tons per year to 8.1 million tons. Support your local artisans who specialize in the time-honored trades. The range of new eco-friendly textiles and non-toxic finishes that are now available are limitless.

Choosing antiques, salvaged, vintage or used pieces add an elevated quality level to any interior.  Buying a used piece can be the most affordable or expensive purchase of your project but it will be the greenest.

If you do need to purchase new furniture, make sure to buy the best, most durable furniture possible.  When it comes to furnishing a home, buy items that are made to last, items that do not have to be replaced, is one of the greenest goals you can have.

Always select furniture that is manufactured from sustainable materials with low or no toxic finishes. Typically, solid wood furniture is more expensive than pressed wood because it is made of higher quality material. Many manufactures save on production costs by constructing the front from solid wood and the back, side, shelves and drawer bottom from particleboard or plywood. 

When selecting new upholstered pieces there are many components to consider – such as wood frames, glues, webbing, springs, cushion contents and fabrics.  Each piece should be consider for it sustainability and possible health hazards. All wood elements should be FSC certified from well-managed forests and fabrics be sourced from eco-friendly products. Ask to be shown all labels, read them before you make a purchase, and ask numerous questions. Do not assume anything because the retailer says a piece of furniture is green.

Improve your indoor air quality; protect your family and pet’s health by using healthy and quality furniture.

Lynn HoffmanLynn has more than 25 years interior design experience working in architecture and interior design firms nationally and internationally producing Corporate, Commercial, Civic, Hospitality and Prestigious Residential projects for Fortune 500 and celebrity clients, architects and builders. Through her in-depth experience she has developed the design ability to see potential in all spaces, and to create innovative, customized design solutions that meet the highest standards of efficiency, quality and sophistication. She has been a long-time professional advocate for sustainable and environmentally conscious design. Lynn is the principal of her firm LHD located in Stamford, CT.

Lynn Hoffman, Principal

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