Sebastian Cox is spearheading a movement within design, art and craft where ancient techniques are being resurrected to build quality products, built to last, in an environmentally conscious manner for the contemporary consumer.
When industrialisation began to develop at the turn of the last century, rapidly growing in the 60s and onwards, houses became filled with far cheaper wares, mass-produced to counteract the growing cost of living and acted as an entry for many to furnish them in the only way they could.
What happened was that the way we look at furniture shifted. It was no longer something built for a long life-cycle, but to fit a specific need at a specific time, before being discarded for something else. Just as the same thing was happening in high-street clothing outlets, powered by sweatshops, so too was furniture becoming ‘throwaway’.
Feeding an increasing demand causes a great deal of strain on the environment. Firstly, the production side is of such huge scale that fossil fuels are used, rather than sustainable sources, and the factories keep growing to meet an insatiable demand. Secondly, once the furniture is actually produced, the shorter life-cycles mean that they’re often discarded as waste. The furniture’s only value, in the eyes of the consumer, is that it’s cheap.
Sebastian Cox is a furniture maker who is determined to progress furniture making by borrowing heavily from the past, in terms of designs and techniques, to help educate consumers in reassessing how value is determined in contemporary society. Cox’s background is interesting. It’s as much about the wood he uses as how he uses it.
Experienced in woodland management, Cox has been taking care of an ancient woodland for the last five years and, as a part of his brand, is committed to doubling the area of woodland around Britain by 2040. Beyond the source materials used, Cox’s processes involve aiming towards complete carbon neutrality and zero-waste, an emerging philosophy and practice that people are adopting to minimise their own impact on the planet.
Cox’s furniture and home fittings are as diverse as garden seats, beds and bookshelves. There’s something of the mad scientist about him and his crew. From injecting the ‘veins’ of wood with ink to provide a subtle hue to the grain, to developing experimental furniture shapes that utilise ancient techniques, such as coppicing, in the earliest stages of the tree’s growth.
Not all techniques could be considered ancient, though. Each furniture piece is calculated regarding its net carbon. In a feature for Seedlip, the process is described as, “The studio actively combats biodiversity loss & regularly assesses Sebastian Cox products to measure the carbon value of their work by calculating the amount of CO2 emitted in the creative process and then stored in finished pieces.”
Further elaborating on the ethos behind his designs, the English furniture maker said that, “Our ancestors used a relatively limited palette of biodegradable and renewable materials creatively, to make objects that were functional, simple, understandable and as a result, beautiful. Together with his team, Sebastian immerses himself in our material history and reinvigorates traditional materials and ways of making to drive change in our material culture."
Cox is aiming to create a new culture that reshapes what value means. It’s not tied to price, time or anything fixed, but a more philosophical idea that dictates when something has permanence, when it’s built to stand and withstand in defiance of trends, leaning on age-old techniques that, most importantly, are good for our planet and will be for thousands of years to come.
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