Furniture Builders Aim Beyond Birkenstocks
In a dusty warehouse off Southeast Powell Boulevard, Lisa Grove, Stephen Becker and Tim Tracy have furniture dreams.
Someday they'd like to deliver style and sustainability to the masses with a business like IKEA, only greener.
"First, this has to go beyond the Birkenstock crowd," Grove says. "The only way to get prices down is if more than Birkenstock wearers are buying our products."
Grove, Becker and Tracy launched the furniture company IF Green in July. So far, they have received close to a dozen commissions for furniture pieces made of sustainable materials.
Grove is a political pollster. Becker, her husband, is a designer, and Tracy is a builder. The trio started the business to promote Earth-conscious furniture making and because they saw a market for sustainable and stylish in Portland. They also plan to sell their pieces nationally on the Internet.
"Working in the building business, I've seen huge amounts of waste," Tracy says. "I wanted to build without the waste."
The company aims to keep prices "in the Pottery Barn range," Grove says. Chairs, for example, vary from the stripped-down kitchen variety for $250 to a plush club chair for $1,500. The biggest problem is that sustainable materials are 25 to 50 percent more expensive, Grove says.
They plan to absorb the expense by selling direct to consumers and avoiding furniture store markups, Grove says.
One of the most common materials the company uses is fir reclaimed from old buildings. "Portland is built with fir," Grove says. "It was used for beams and old warehouses; it's part of the infrastructure."
The trio also uses palm wood, bamboo and "wood" made from compressed paper, wheat chaffs and sunflower parts. Organic cotton batting comes from a small rural supplier in New Mexico, and recycled polyester upholstery comes from Europe.
The market for sustainable furniture in Portland follows the growing market for green building materials and techniques in the city, Grove says.
"In a way we are creating an industry," she says. "People are thinking about how their houses are built, but we are telling them it's also what's inside the house that's important."
The biggest challenge for the company is to educate consumers, who may seek the company's products more for design than sustainability.
Many people don't know that traditionally built furniture may be put together by poorly paid workers or made from wood clear-cut from forests in developing countries, Grove says. Furniture also may have toxic finishes or glues.
IF Green uses exclusively nontoxic finishes.
"Ultimately, we as the builders are the ones who bear the brunt of the toxins," Becker says.
Terry Pancoast, a Lake Oswego attorney, recently bought a club chair from IF Green. He says the price was comparable to similar pieces at higher-end furniture stores. He was most attracted to the company because of the contemporary design.
"For me, sustainable is a plus. I wouldn't limit myself to it, but it's a definite plus," he says.
To contact IF Green, visit www.ifgreen.com or make an appointment to visit the factory at 3318 S.E. 16th Ave. 503-771-5730.
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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News