SUSTAINABILITY & CONSTRUCTION

An Introduction to Our Choices

According to the EPA, in 2017 (the most recent data available), Americans sent 12.2 million tons of furniture to landfills. That’s up from 2.2 million tons in 1960. To wrap your head around that number, let’s drop tons and make it pounds. In 2017 we Americans threw away 2,440,000,000 lbs of furniture — almost 2.5 BILLION pounds of furniture thrown away!

When making decisions about how to build our furniture, what materials to use, etc., the fundamental crux was this: furniture that ends up in the landfill has the most significant environmental impact of all. Beyond that, it’s all about tradeoffs and compromises.

So instead of telling you that Saltwolf products are “green” or “environmentally friendly,” our goal is to tell you about the choices we’ve made, so you and your clients have all the information to make the right decision for you and them.

Construction

As our furniture is hand-made, we build it in stages. Each layer of the process is integral to the quality of the finished piece. When short-cuts are taken in multiple steps to save money: paying less for labor, using lower-quality materials or pre-making components overseas, the result is a piece of furniture that may look good from the outside but has no substance inside. At Saltwolf, our furniture is both beautiful and well-built. In our case, maybe you can judge the book by its cover.

We make our frames from a combination of solid US kiln-dried Maple and Russian Birch. We do not use any particle board or MDF in our frames. Why do we add Russian Birch? Because it is a very strong and renewable hardwood, so the environmental impact is lower. We use traditional dovetail construction, interlocking joints that are glued or screwed, vs. a stapled construction in lower-quality frames. For the seating suspension, we use a traditional 8-way hand-tied steel spring system; this is the way most furniture used to be made when it was designed to last for generations. It creates a supportive and comfortable seat that springs back into place and holds its shape over time. However, it is laborious and takes real skill, which is why most modern furniture companies don’t do this anymore. Most manufacturers use webbing or sinuous springs for their suspension. Both are sub-quality systems that will break down over time and need to be repaired or, more likely, the whole piece is thrown away. Trust us: it makes a difference.

We exhaustively explored options for the foam we use to wrap the frame. The three choices we honed in on were: 

– Soy-based foam

– 100% Natural latex foam

– Traditional high-density foam made of polyurethane

Many companies are utilizing soy-based foam. Conceptually they seem like a great option. However, upon more in-depth exploration, three issues emerge:

– Soy-based foams only contain about 10% of materials derived from soy. Meaning 90% of the content is traditional foam ingredients. 

– Using soy, a food crop, in product creation is not without its issues. Soy production has been a leading driver of deforestation as lands are cleared to plant new soy fields. 

– Because they are relatively new, we don’t yet know how they will hold up over time.

The combination of these three means that manufacturers get to claim a “green” benefit while not making much of a dent in their environmental impact and are including content in their products without knowing its performance over time.

We also explored utilizing 100% natural latex foam. However, this too has challenges:

– Latex, or natural rubber, is harvested from a variety of tropical trees, dominantly rubber trees. To do so at scale requires planting rubber plantations which involve the clearing of native forests and planting a monoculture of trees.

– Because rubber trees only flourish in tropical environments, it means rubber plantations tend to exist in second and third-world countries (e.g., Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, and Myanmar) where environmental regulations and oversights are lax.

– Because natural rubber is both dense and heavy, the environmental and carbon impact of transporting it from South and Southeast Asia to the US significantly offset the benefits of using natural material in the first place.

– Latex allergies, while not widespread, present a challenge for some clients. But beyond outright allergies, to process natural latex sulphuric acid is used, which results in the material off-gassing hydrogen sulfide. And while many love natural products, no one wants a sofa that smells like rotten eggs.

– And lastly, all of the above aside, because there is little historical data in using natural latex in upholstered furniture, we don’t know how it will hold up over time. Indeed natural latex is susceptible to degradation by a wide range of bacteria.

All of this led to our decision to use, for now, traditional high density foam. Our next question was how little high-density foam can we use?And this led to the strategy of using inner-spring seat cushions. By building our seat cushions around an inner-core of fabric-wrapped steel springs, we can eliminate an estimated 50% of foam required versus traditional all-foam cushions. Even better, because steel springs are so durable, our seat-cushions will far outlast conventional all-foam ones. The result is a twofer: less foam and longer-lasting. Plus they’re more comfortable, so maybe a threefer?

All our seat cushions have an inner-spring support system. The center of the cushion is built with individually fabric wrapped steel springs which are sandwiched in a layer of high-density foam. The entire cushion is then wrapped in goose down and feathers. This creates a sit that is luxuriously soft on the surface with solid support underneath. The springs return the cushion to its original shape again and again. The center support means its easier on your body, easier to get up and down and won’t sag or wear like solid foam cushions. This seat cushion construction layered on top of the 8-way hand tied base provides the perfect seat. And just may ruin cheap furniture for you forever.

We fill our back pillows with a mix of 50% blown polyester fiber and 50% feather and down. Our experience and testing have proven that this is the perfect balance between wonderfully soft but still supportive. Too much feather/down and the pillows lose support and require fluffing to maintain their shape. Too much polyester and they become stiff and artificial feeling. We think we’ve hit the perfect mix.

All our seams are reinforced for extra stability. Our linens and leathers are top-stitched as well for extra hold and beautiful hand-made detail that is the icing on the cake.

At Saltwolf, we don’t believe in veneers. We like real, solid wood, and so our exposed bases and legs are all made of solid American white oak or walnut, which means you will get a beautiful natural, honest grain that will vary in color and patterning based on the section of wood that used. While veneers can chip or stain or wear over time, our solid wood bases can always be sanded or re-stained if damaged. Age will only add patina and history, and ensure they can be handed down to future generations, re-upholstered and reused for years to come.

Upholstery Materials

After an exhaustive process, we selected three in-stock upholstery materials. Our goal is to provide materials and colors consumers want, from responsible producers with as little environmental impact as possible. With that in mind, not all of our materials are 100% natural to ensure greater durability and longevity. We believe furniture that doesn’t last has the biggest environmental impact of all.

We source our top-grain, 100% aniline Italian leathers from the finest tanneries in Northern Italy.

The highest quality leather, pure aniline, is the most natural, soft, and gracefully supple of all leather types. Aniline leather is generally the most expensive of all leather types as only the very best rawhides can qualify for this type, which attracts a higher cost.

The highest quality rawhides are sourced from European cattle, as they are raised in small herds on farms with no barbed wire and no branding. With minimal processing, aniline hides proudly display the hallmarks of genuine leather such as fat wrinkles, growth marks, healed scars, insect bites, and scratches.

This leather becomes more beautiful with age, with the natural patina developing a deep character over time. Like a good piece of marble or a beautiful piece of timber, aniline leather will change, mark and stain, softening into its rich patina with age. “If you use a great aniline leather, you have a piece for life, something that will age gracefully and naturally,” says Richard Munao, founder and director of Cult. “With good quality aniline leather, if you put a finger on it, it retains the nail scratch, but over time it works itself out.”

With no protective layer or coating on the surface, aniline leathers boast superior seating comfort as they can breathe and absorb moisture. “Aniline leather naturally allows the heat from the body to be absorbed into the leather because there is no pigment or polyurethane barrier (as used on lesser quality leathers). This is the sign of a top-quality aniline – it feels natural – you can feel it,” says Craig Jones from Instyle.

This type of leather can work well in selected commercial projects as long as it is embraced and cared for as any other artisanal material.

Aniline leather features:

– The most natural, most beautiful leather with an ultra-soft handle

– Most comfortable seating comfort due to breathability

– Develops a patina and improves with age

– More sensitive to sunlight and requires more maintenance

FOR YOUR CLIENTS
When working with your clients, please be aware that pure aniline leather requires a willingness to embrace the natural beauty of leather. Because it is so natural and minimally processed, our leathers will show all of the slight natural imperfections and variations within each hide, and it will patina gloriously with age. We think this is as it should be.

However, we know that some clients want more bulletproof leather. Or they are uncomfortable with the early days after installation when they’re breaking in their new sofa, and they can see every scrape and bump. For those clients, we’re always happy to work with you on a COL (customer’s own leather) basis.

We source our linen from one of the oldest, most well-known family run linen mills in the Flanders region of Belgium, an area world renowned for their linen.

Linen, made from flax, is naturally pest resistant and, therefore, requires no pesticides to grow or process. As a 100% natural product, linen tends both stain and wrinkle more easily than synthetics. To ensure a better longterm result, happier clients, and a longer-lasting piece of furniture, we offer a linen blend of linen, viscose, and nylon. The viscose adds softness and a luxurious hand while retaining the look of natural linen. A touch of nylon increases the durability and adds a bit of stain resistance to the overall result.

FOR YOUR CLIENTS
The texture of our linen is not uniform, but we believe the imperfections, natural bumps, and visible threads add to the depth of beauty. Pilling should not occur, but if a favorite pet (such as a cat) wanted to use this as a scratching post, it would snag. For cleaning, see our attached PDF with furniture care and cleaning instructions.

 

Our velvet in an 180-year-old family run mill in South Carolina.

We selected a polyester velvet, instead of cotton or silk, for durability and stain resistance. Clients who demand performance fabrics with a stain-resistant top coating on which liquids simply bead off, our velvet fits the bill. Without sacrificing color options, richness, or sheen, this is a durable, more economical, and incredibly beautiful choice.

FOR YOUR CLIENTS
100% solution-dyed polyester means the color will hold much longer than natural dyes. However, please note this is not intended for outdoor use or high sun locations. Given enough bright sunshine, the color will inevitably fade over time. The stain-resistant top-coating acts as a barrier to liquids and spills and gives you time to grab a towel to wipe messes up with no stain. If spills are left for a long time, they will eventually seep in, although the polyester fibers will act as a second barrier for stain protection. For cleaning, see our attached PDF with furniture care and cleaning instructions.

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