The Green and the Dead

What is furniture for today, and how is it caught between the green and the dead? With the advent of the industrial revolution, the forces were in place to render the consumer and the laborer more vulnerable to the machine. Machines could make things more cheaply (and sometimes more precisely) than they could be fabricated by hand. This seemed especially true for furniture and home furnishings in general. Furniture was caught in the crosshairs of, on the one hand, makers being subordinated to the machine and, on the other, consumers having to accept choices which could be machine-made until today factory manufacture is considered best by many people seeking to buy furniture.

William Morris (in Great Britain) and Gustav Stickley (in the U.S.) tried to overcome the predicament of making furniture for the market by focusing on the craftsperson. Both tried to market furniture that was made from the beginning to end by one person (rather than by an assembly line in which each person did one thing again and again). Both ran into the same problem: their furniture turned out to be too expensive. Stickley managed to dodge this problem for awhile by making all his furniture out of oak (a cheap resource). In his effort to keep sales up, however, and thus maintain the work load for his craftspeople, he over invested in stores and eventually bankrupted the company. Morris simply sold to people who could afford his work until it went out of style.

As it was then, freedom and integrity is an uphill battle for the craftsperson and the consumer. The consumer, often having to make difficult financial and stylistic choices, is caught and loses the idea of investing in their home and family where he or she has something to hand on to future generations (it’s not like people don’t make purchases of vehicles for the status they give). Craftspeople are struggling to make furniture as cheaply as they can. The most common solution is to make furniture using machinery while at the same time being involved in the whole process of manufacturing.

Thus, furniture is stuck between the green and the dead, and like the tree in the picture is struggling to live. Both the consumer, making positive contributions to their homes and families and the maker, finding processes that help him or her to maintain a position whereby they can remain a functioning entity.