- The universe of eco-friendly materials for building and decorating is expanding, and fast. Stores are full of products for the home that are made from recycled, renewable and sustainably harvested materials. You can find carpets made with fibers manufactured from recycled plastic soda bottles, flooring made with wood reclaimed from buildings slated for demolition, tiles and kitchen countertops made with recycled glass or aluminum. One company makes countertops from recycled glass that they pick-up right from recycling centers.
One material that seems to be everywhere these days is bamboo. A group of tall plants belonging to the Grass Family, bamboo can be turned into lumber or plywood. It's milled into solid material, ply-bamboo (sheets used like plywood), thin veneer sheets or flooring planks. Bamboo is also spun into fibers used to weave textiles. It's a renewable material that regrows far faster than hardwood trees. If you've ever planted bamboo as a privacy screen, you know that it spreads like wildfire and is almost impossible to control. The qualities that make bamboo so tough to deal with in the landscape are the very attributes that earn it such high marks as a renewable resource. And unlike a hardwood tree, you can cut bamboo down to the ground and it'll regrow from the roots
. Fast. A large, mature bamboo stalk is ready to use in just six years. Smaller canes can be harvested sooner. Bamboo can be harvested over and over without replanting.
No wonder forward-thinking designers and artisans have seized on bamboo for eco-friendly furnishings.
Modern kitchen that has used bamboo throughout from flooring to cabinets and counter tops. Images provided by Karamel Cabinetry Corporation
Bamboo is durable, and it looks every bit as good as wood. It's being turned into flooring, kitchen counters and cutting boards, furniture, plates, flatware and chopsticks. Bamboo also makes wonderfully soft and lustrous sheets (I know because I've got some - they're heavenly), towels, robes, shawls, even baby clothes.
Large corporations have of course begun to manufacture home goods from bamboo, and sell them through department-store chains and big-box retailers. But plenty of small companies are also making terrific furnishings from bamboo, and selling them directly to consumers or through local shops.
One small Brooklyn-based furniture company, an exhibitor at the recent Hamptons Home and Garden Show, is Karamel Cabinetry Corporation. Karamel has been fabricating kitchens, bathrooms and other built-ins from bamboo for New York apartments for five years. Joe Camilleri, who designs all the furniture, has always had a passion for furniture design and building, and he decided to see if he could design a line of furniture using renewable and recycled materials in the same way as traditional wood. He's created a bedroom set, he explained recently, using a combination of solid and ply-bamboo. The dresser has sliding doors with inside drawers.
Furniture made from bamboo is growing in popularity. This piece by Karamel Cabinetry Corp.
Camilleri's latest piece is an entertainment cabinet made with natural strand bamboo (bamboo panels made of several long strips glued together in random patterns for a natural look). The cabinet has doors of recycled glass, available in several colors. Camilleri likes the combination of materials. "One is renewable and the other recycled," he says. He likes combining different-colored glass with different bamboos.
Karamel finishes their bamboo furniture with natural tung oil with a citric solvent. The finish is nontoxic and, after curing for 30 days, is safe for contact with food. They also apply an all-natural beeswax finish.
The company's line of bamboo planter boxes is put together without any glue whatsoever. The sides are pegged with a mortise and tenon joint. Camilleri learned this and other classic cabinetry techniques in Malta, where he started his first woodworking shop. Now he's in New York, and all the company's furniture is made in their Brooklyn workshop.
In addition to the bamboo line, Karamel also uses woods certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering responsible management of the world's forests (fscus.org). And they incorporate cork, natural linen and other sustainable materials into their pieces.
The furniture has been shown around the New York area, at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (www.icff.com), the Brooklyn Designs show (www.brooklyndesigns.net) and the Hamptons Design and Décor Expo. A bamboo dresser with green recycled glass was included in the 2008 Hamptons Cottages and Gardens Idea House,and another model with tea-colored glass is on display at the Design Studio in Bridgehampton (www.designstudio-ny.com). Bamboo pieces can be ordered from the Design Studio, and other pieces directly from the company (www.karamelcabinetry.com).
The web has lots of sites offering bamboo furniture and building materials. A search will turn up www.thebamboosite.com (flooring), www.totallybamboo.com (countertops), www.berkeleymills.com (furniture) and many more. Looks like bamboo is in our homes to stay.
Anne is a writer, editor and professional gardener, and the author of 17 garden, home and nature books. She lives in Hampton Bays.