It is undeniable that there has been an increasing concern for ecology shown widely in different social strata. Starting from community initiatives for the collection of waste, up to social responsibility programs developed by well know local companies. But among all this green, from which foot do dominican ecological furniture limp?

What is green furniture?

The foundations of eco(logical) furniture are, well, logical. Some can be inferred by common sense; others have to be analised with precise software that take into account a wide range of details that one must tabulate. To see whose furniture can be truly called green furniture, let’s consider some of its characteristics:

Durable, but not eternal…

All objects have a life cycle that will vary depending on the reason that justifies its existence. In the case of furniture, sometimes it can be as banal as a fad, where, for example, violet prints are no longer popular and you decide to change yours. In other situations, it can be a clear indication of significant technological changes that affect our way of life. Today, who buys a cabinet to store their television? The slim style of today’s televisions makes it unnecessary to buy this kind of furniture. Moreover, they are no longer fashionable. When the time comes in which we want to get rid of a piece, materials should be manufactured to decompose. Ecologically speaking, durability is better than immortality.

With more green chemistry than the Hulk

Most Dominican furniture is manufactured from imported wood. Furniture manufacturers must ensure that the chemicals used to prevent pests are not toxic. The same principle applies to the paint or furniture lacquer.

Designed to self-destruct in 7, 5 and 3 years…

For Dominicans it is best if furniture lasts a lifetime. So, yes, our idiosyncrasies match being some what eco, but it’s unlikely that something could or would last forever. This is one of the legs on which Dominican furniture limps, since it’s usually assembled and glued. The ideal scenario would be that furniture could be separated into parts to be reused or recycled according to the material of which they are composed. Two predominant examples would be the rubber between pieces of plastics and screws, slides or hinges.

Maximize the matter, energy, space and time efficiency

This principle is so vast that it could easily apply to the rest of your life! The smaller your house, for example, the less energy and time required to clean or illuminate it. The same applies to furniture. For us, it is difficult to do without sumptuous and large furniture. Dominicans take pride in the close relationship between the size and the luxury that most of our designs exhibit, but furniture that fulfil its function and have the minimum requirements to be manufactured are greener and will continue to be for the rest of its life. These more environmentally friendly furnishings will be easier to transport to their final destination (which means less time and fuel), will demand less maintenance and, since its size is relatively small, will be easier to dismantle.

Furniture of rice and beans

Ecological furniture must integrate materials and local energy for their manufacture. At first glance, this principle seems the most accessible. Our national dish is rice and beans, in an ideal world, we’d make furniture with these staples.

It would seem inevitable that materials used to construct Dominican furniture were local, however this is only true in a few cases. Most wood is imported. The same applies to slides used to make drawers and the rest of the hardware (knobs, pulls, hinges). Then, what becomes of the Dominican green furniture?

Some local efforts

Since the beginning of the 1990s, “Mission Taiwan”, a non-governmental organisation, has been teaching and promoting the manufacture of bamboo furniture in the Dominican Republic. This delegation has achieved what no other manufacturer has previously; they’ve planted all the bamboo they need.  Once the bamboo is ready, they teach the population to create bamboo furniture with tools and techniques adapted to local conditions and to the peasants and artisans who will work with the bamboo. Their most recent contributions have been in collaboration with industrial design students of established colleges in our country:  Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo (INTEC) and our state university, the first in America, Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, (UASD).

In 2006, an article introduced the entrepreneurship of Rattan Dominicano, a local company founded in the early ’80s. Its owner, Porfirio Peralta, after years of buying and importing fibers from Asia decided to try weaving guano, a natural fiber from his hometown in the north of the Dominican Republic. This resulted in the showcasing of the first Dominican factory that promotes organic furniture. Minolma Peralta, a community leader, directs the school of women weavers of Mata del Jobo in Santiago Rodriguez.

Some of the seeds of Porfirio Peralta have already germinated. Enrique Arneda, a workshop dedicated to the manufacture of Dominican contemporary furniture, presented their collection “Basics”, including upholstered furniture, wood panels and details in guano. The set of “Panorama Verde “, a local television program dedicated to ecological issues, was also designed by the firm and built with panels of guano.

Dozens of students of INTEC and Universidad Iberoamericana (Unibe) have already visited the school of women weavers of guano and have began to incorporate this material into proposals of their future furniture designs.

One could argue that Dominican furniture is not yet green in the ecological sense, but it is green in another way – not yet ripe.
Angélica M. Rodriguez Bencosme is a furniture designer and teacher at the School of Design of the Universidad Iberoamericana in the Dominican Republic. After obtaining her degree in Interior Design, she specialised in furniture, attending a postgraduate at Barcelona’s Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña and a master’s at the Universidad de Nebrija in Madrid. Arriving to the conclusion that furniture production is all-inclusive and a possible country brand, she has conducted independent research that has been published in local media.

For more information on green furnishings in the Dominican Republic contact Angélica M. Rodríguez Bencosme on Twitter @EnriqueArneda

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