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'Smart Wood' : With a little effort, consumers can find furniture whose creation didn't put a dent in the rain forests.


The sign, clearly visible from the freeway near the Johnston Road exit, proclaimed "Recycled Furniture." My wife said, "There's a story there." I drove on, smug in my immediate reaction that it must be some sort of Dr. Frankenstein place run by a mad carpenter. At that very moment he was probably attaching battered Chippendale legs to tattered Eames chairs--and calling it eco-chic.

A few days later I came around to her way of thinking. This, she convinced me, was about not cutting down trees. I headed over to the shop, Office World, to see if I could find a worktable for the kids, you see. Well, it turned out they had sold nearly all of the 50 recently acquired wooden desks for $88 each. Have you tried to find furniture for your school kid lately? That's a steal. But the size I wanted was already gone.

"Wood has become a semiprecious thing," said Geoff Stubbs, president of the company. "We sometimes buy a hundred desks at a time."

He picks them up from doctors, lawyers, schools, even banks--any firm that is redecorating or going out of business. Estate Home Furnishings in Oxnard provides a similar happy hunting ground, as does M.C. Auctions in Ventura, which holds regular auctions.

Once again I am going to assert that you can do well by doing good--environmental good. Buy "smart wood"--used wood, or wood that's from sources where replanting is going on regularly. Every used chair represents a tree that is not cut down. But a new one is OK if it's from oak, pine, cherry, birch or maple. Tropical hardwood is problematic.

Strictly speaking, the term "smart wood" originated with the Rainforest Alliance, a Washington-based group whose purpose is not to effect a total ban on tropical hardwood use, but to change our thinking about it.

Those who want modern styling and can afford it can consult the Alliance's list of "smart wood" manufacturers and dealers who buy only from environmentally managed--that is, scientifically replenished--tropical wood plantations.

Furniture bought new these days has less real wood content than decades ago. It certainly has more chemicals--like chloroform--in the cardboard and particle-board parts you don't see. It's easy to check this stuff out by opening a drawer or upending a table when you buy.

"Sometimes the old stuff is the same price as the new, but the old is better made," observed Dave Duffy, editor of the locally published Backwoods Home Magazine.

He too was looking for children's furniture recently.

"There's a lot of good old stuff available," he said. "You'll be surprised what you find at the thrift stores." He recommends you look at the Estate Sales ads in the classified section of the newspaper.

And a final "smart wood" angle. Mike Euan of our county regional sanitation district tells me that he still sees wooden furniture going into the landfill when it is "in somewhat good shape. There are enough places in the county that will accept it. Call and call (the thrift shops) until you find one."


* Recycled furniture: Office World, Ventura, 656-8733

Estate Home Furnishings: Oxnard, 642-1222

Main Street Ventura: shopping guide to dealers of antique and used furniture, 648-2075

Rainforest Alliance "smart wood" certification program, (212) 941-1900, for local sources of new hardwood furniture whose creation doesn't hurt the rain forests.

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