These are my top picks of contemporary kids furniture companies who are using sustainable or recycled materials and doing good things to help others in the process of making furniture for children, which are not mass manufactured around the Globe, gimmicky and full of toxic chemicals.
Inventively handcrafted from wood, London based designer and dad, Leo O’Callaghan of Scout & Fable, designs and makes imaginative, functional early years interactive children’s furniture, with a modern retro look. Furniture prices are very reasonable and range from £50 upwards. I especially love this custom Treehouse Bunkbed with its storage. www.scoutandfable.com
Team 7 make environmentally friendly kids furniture made from solid wood, certified for their ecological and sustainable production methods. My favourite piece is this desk a simple and well designed piece, in my opinion. A fabulous desk for children and teenagers, as it adapts into a drawing board, as well as the height of both the legs and top may be increased, making it very functional with a child’s growth. With plenty of space for storage. They also do adaptable children’s furniture from nursery to teenage years, so are worth checking out. www.team7.co.uk
Another company with great ethics, design and quality, made in the UK are Bunny and Clyde. They pride themselves on using only sustainably forested solid wood and birch ply to make their functional luxury kids furniture. All the finishes they use are guaranteed to be 100% non-toxic, all natural and environmentally and baby friendly. They also offer a bespoke furniture and interior design service, as well as organic mattresses and bedding from baby upwards. I especially like the ‘three in one cot’ Coco design that adapts with a child’s growth, from a cot to early years bed to a teenage daybed. www.bunnandclyde.com
Netherlands based Ecobirdy have come up with a design solution for recycled plastic that is a prolific problem. They highlight that 90 % of toys made from plastic have a six month lifetime and 500 plastic bottle caps to make a standard plastic toy and 80% end up in landfill. They have an interactive educational program with schools to help kids learn about plastic waste and get involved in collecting and recycling plastic waste to be then be turned into products. They have many awards for their innovation and eco-design and have a permanent Exhibit in the V & A Museum of Childhood. This is a design company dealing with the C21st catastrophe of plastic pollution. Made from 100% recycled plastic. All of ecoBirdy’s products are made of ecothylene®. An innovative material – developed by ecoBirdy – that separates the recycled plastic by colour. This gives every product an original and unique look. Children’s furniture which is very tactile and collectable. www.ecobirdy.com
Things to look out for and ask for are when sourcing children’s furniture :
‘Greenwashing’ – there will be much of this now as every company claims it is eco-friendly or sustainable. Do your homework. Yes it is hard to know the origin or process when Little Johhny’s Formula One painted car bed looks so fabulous and you could be told its made from sustainable wood, child-friendly paints etc. The Key is to buy honest materials and look for transparency if the company does not carry certifications. However, do keep in mind that many young companies or small independent designer, makers do not have the financial resources for certifications, so common sense must prevail.
Low VOC paint or finishes for painted furniture if you can, like Earthborn Paints, Reborn, Little Greene , Organic Natural Paint Company are few. Their VOC paints are well below the EU regulations of 30g/L.
What are VOCs you ask? They are nasty, you cannot see them they are invisible, their full name is Volatile Organic Compounds, which are organic chemicals that have a high vapour pressure even at normal room temperature. So effectively a room can become a sealed toxic box you are living and breathing in, to put it bluntly. Other nasty off-gasses and chemicals are listed at the end and their symptoms.(2) Hard to avoid especially as off-gases give off toxic gases upto 5 years from new sometimes more. So buy VOC free or low VOC paints, coverings, organic fabrics and materials. Watch out for sealers and sealants. There’s no point putting in a natural floor if you’re bunging on a chemical toxic sealant to that floor for instance, same applies to worktops. Mattresses, cushions, pillows, sofa filling go for natural. For example-wool and natural fibres like 100% cotton have a natural fire retardant. Years ago mattresses and sofas were made like this. There are companies that do and they are good for your health and the environment and they last.
MDF: Consider that fun kids furniture is often made from MDF due to its versality. However, the bonding agent is melamine urea-formaldehyde, phenolic resins and polymeric diphenylmethane diisocyanate (PMDI) highly hazardous to humans*.
A few Articles you may wish to read on the high health risks of MDF. It was banned everywhere but the UK interestingly and the feel good interior TV programmes made us all crazy for using it in interiors and thus it has been used widespread especially kids furniture.
**Dated Feb. 2019 Factual Evidence on The Harm to Health From MDF
Report Dated 2013
Report saying MDF is safe to use: http://wpif.org.uk/uploads/mdf%20the%20wonderboard%20sept%202013.pdf
*There is, however, Zero Formaldehyde MDF on the market, so ask, if you are employing the services of a designer/ builder / contractor.
I want to see clearer labelling and transparency on all products brought into the home and the built environment, from the manufacturing of those products and those bought off the shelf and I urge you to add your concerns to a new enquiry, not just about kids furniture or furnishings, but all products that are part of the indoor build environment: at home, in schools and offices. Off-gasses from furniture, furnishings, flooring and wall coverings, appliances and the risk to health is not made up or scaremongering, it is very real. Even Breast Cancer UK is calling for this regarding ‘fire retardants’ alone in this (report)**. I am personally astonished having worked in the industry how cavalier professional interior designers and tradesmen are around this. The desire for how things look has had a greater cost to the environment and the public’s health and in my opinion, this has to change. Interior designers and decorators are not regulated probably in the UK and this also must change as the trust element is open to abuse.
30 th April 2019: The Environmental Audit Committee launches an inquiry into the impact of toxic chemicals in everyday life on human health and the environment. The inquiry will focus on how toxic chemicals are used in everyday products, such as furniture, food and toys, current government regulation of these substances, and the environmental and human health problems associated with them.
Other nasty off-gasses and chemicals (2)
Formaldehyde is a colorless chemical with a strong odor that is commonly found in pressed-wood products,MDF, glues, adhesives, plywood, fabrics, and product coatings. The National Cancer Institute states that side effects from short-term exposure include: watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation. Long-term exposure could mean cancer, since formaldehyde is also classified as a human carcinogen.
Acetaldehyde is a chemical used in the production of perfumes, polyester resins, dyes, rubber production and as a leather tanning agent in production. It is classified as a probable human carcinogen. Side effects include: irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract.
Benzene found in detergents and dyes used on some furniture. Used as a solvent for waxes, resins, and plastics and in the manufacturing process of furniture.Side effects include: drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, irritation of eyes, skin, and respiratory tracts, blood disorders including reduced numbers of red blood cells and aplastic anemia, adverse reproductive effects on developing fetuses, and increased leukemia incidence.
Vinyl Acetate is a chemical used in the production of polyvinyl, adhesives, paints, films, and lacquers. Most of its effects involve the respiratory system, and include coughing and inflammation.
Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), a category of toxic flame retardants, used in sofas and mattresses. It accumulates in the environment, in breast milk, and “biomagnifies” in the food chain. It can also be transported long distances and remains persistent in its environment. It has been known to have adverse reproductive, developmental, and neurological effects.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is used in carpets, leathers and upholstering to make them waterproof and stain-resistant. Nasty as it accumulates in the environment and you. It stays in body for upto 4 years and longer where it causes: liver toxicity (hypertrophy, necrosis, and effects on the metabolism and deposition of dietary lipids), kidney toxicity, and developmental effects (survival, body weight changes, reduced ossification, altered puberty, and retarded mammary gland development), and cancer.
Trichloroethylene is a VOC used as a solvent in dry cleaning and metal degreases. Classified as a known human carcinogen. Side effects include: adverse effects on developing fetuses, light-headedness, drowsiness, headaches, and effects in the liver, kidneys, immune system and central nervous system.
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers in flame retardants, they come out of foams, plastics, and fabrics and pollute the air, while also accumulating in the environment. Health Risks: Adverse neurobehavioral effects
Phthalates chemicals used in many products, from plastics to tablecloths to furniture. Found in floor tiles, furniture upholstery, carpet backings and packaging. Health risks: They are considered major endocrine disruptors that interfere with natural hormone regulation and production. They can affect development in children, resulting in changes in male hormone production, altered sexual differentiation, and changes to reproductive organs. In addition, prenatal exposure to some phthalates has resulted in deformities of the genitals and anus.
Perchloroethylene used for dry cleaning fabrics. Side effects include: kidney dysfunction, neurological effects and behavioral changes, impairment of coordination, dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, and unconsciousness. Long-term exposure has been associated with several types of cancer including bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma.