When we start a new project, no matter how simple the piece looks or the idea seems, more often than not we find it isn’t straightforward to make. Each new material we decide to use requires research into the industries built around it. We learn where the material comes from, how it’s harvested, milled, and processed. We learn about the machines involved, their advantages, disadvantages, and constraints. We learn about each industry’s standards, why they were developed, what they mean, and how they are regulated. We spend hours talking to experts—the people who work with the materials, the scientists who test them, and the heads of regulating boards. The research process is never straightforward. Rather, it’s loaded with terminology and decision-making that even the experts are often unable to define or clearly explain.
What we’ve learned over the years has had a profound impact on how we design our products. As we learn, our designs contantly adjust to various constraints and realities and they become better through this process. There is a constant circling back to the beginning, reworking and continually improving. When we find a better material or method, we adopt it where it makes sense, in old products and new.
While we’ve come to a better understanding of the standards, certifications, and buzzwords of the industries we deal with, we recognize the confusion they can cause our customers. FSC Certified, USDA Organic, low VOC, zero-formaldehyde, non-toxic—these are terms people trust and want to see, even though they may not know why. Over the years we’ve developed our own set of criteria for the materials and methods that we employ, and we’d like to share our knowledge with you.
Over the next few months, we’ll be featuring a series of posts about the decisions involved in designing and building our furniture, from sourcing sustainable hardwoods to giving you a glimpse of our new factory in Minnesota. We’re kicking off that series today with the standards that inform that process. These are the Kalon standards. We want to make that process more transparent so that you, our customers, can decide for yourselves what matters most to you.
These are the Kalon standards, the standards that guide our decision making through our material selection process.
We want all of our materials to be harvested or produced using responsible practices that don’t deplete natural resources or abuse economic structures. Sustainability means more than just low ecological impact—it also means supporting and sustaining the industries and communities that source and craft the product. We do this through local sourcing and manufacturing. The LEED certification board defines ‘local’ as anything sourced within a 500 mile radius. Fewer miles mean a smaller carbon footprint. All of our woods are sustainably harvested from forests and most from lumber mills within a 200 mile radius of where the products are made. Our custom metal hardware is made across the street from our factory. Our packaging and paint finishes are locally sourced.
Toxicity is the degree to which a substance can damage an organism. Basically, the dose makes the poison. Even something like water can be harmful to us in excess doses. We look to the impact on both the earth and people, and we seek out materials that have net-zero toxicity in the quantity of that material per product. These materials should also be capable of decomposing by natural means and at a natural rate, or of being reused in some way. Our products should last a lifetime, but the materials of which they are made should find a useful purpose when their time is up.
We choose natural, minimally processed materials because of their ability to age well and become more beautiful through the patina of time and use. We seek to strike a balance between sustainability and performance. This requires being in constant contact with the people at the forefront of material development. We research continually and select only the highest-performing, safest, natural materials.
We look at the conditions under which our products are made and what impact they have on the environment, to the people making them, and to the people using them. We ask ourselves, are they safe? Are they healthy? Do they serve a useful purpose? Are the labor practices fair? An important and often-overlooked aspect of this process centers around the concept of the industrial commons. Dating back to the medieval idea of the ‘commons’ as common land where all members of the community had the right to graze livestock, its core meaning still rests in the concept of resources belonging to or affecting the whole of a community. In terms of industries it’s shared knowhow. When it comes to the rapidly disappearing craftsmen and traditions of the American manufacturing industry, it’s doing work that not only sustains these traditions but enriches the knowhow, helping to ensure a competitive future for the industry. We believe this requires adapting the industry to new methods and understanding how to work with sustainable materials and methods.
And to sum it up:
We believe that the best products are made from simple, pure, natural materials. Less processing. Less waste. Less to go wrong. We strive for fewer, more essential pieces.
Read more on our Materials + Methods page or in future posts in this series.