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Redefining Furniture as Part of an Ethical Lifestyle

Sustainable practices in the art of furniture making may not be a new practice, but White Hart Workshop, of Pitman, New Jersey, is taking it even further. This small, handmade business is working to produce ethical furniture that is not only uniquely artisanal, but accessible for more of us.

Manager and sole craftsman Mark Goodwin, originally from Scotland, understands how sustainability begins with the raw materials. “I work exclusively with native hardwood species found here in the Northeast, primarily salvaged trees. Any other materials are always reclaimed or repurposed. I never cause a tree to be felled.” 

Perhaps unusually for a furniture maker, there are no tropical staples like teak, bubinga or mahogany that are offered. In Goodwin’s opinion, buying exotic woods—no matter how well “certified”—inarguably contributes to de-forestation, biodiversity loss and climate change. He asks: “Where do all tropical timber plantations stand? On land that was once virgin. Even if the grower didn’t clear-cut it themselves they’re taking advantage of the clearing being done, and I won’t support that.”

Furthermore, there’s no need to. Native trees offer dazzling beauty and diversity at a far lower cost to the planet, growing and falling on our own doorstep. Species like Black Walnut, Cherry, Ambrosia Maple, Sycamore, Butternut, Elm and Oak fill the Workshop, but the jewels of the collection are the live-edge slabs. “These are special pieces of wood, works of art in themselves,” says Goodwin, and it’s this access to beautiful local materials that makes the difference to his business. 

Staying away from man-made products, like medium-density fiberboard (MDF) or particle board, is a personal mission. “The energy and resources that go into producing sheet materials is huge, and it’s all done with heavy chemicals and glues. These can leach out into their immediate environment which is your house. It’s where you eat, sleep and live, and toxins like these have no place in it.”

A conscientious choice of finish closes the circle. A sustainable company based in North Carolina called Earthpaint currently has favor. They rely on natural, locally sourced ingredients like linseed oil, pure beeswax and yellow pine resin (finishing wood with wood derivatives). Containing little or no volatile organic compounds (VOC), they use pure citrus solvent in place of carcinogenic isocyanates.

“I open up the can and the shop smells of oranges, it’s great,” enthuses Goodwin. He offers variations on this non-toxic theme, with food-safe options for dining tables, counters or children’s furniture, up to fully waterproof polyurethane substitutes made with, yes, recycled whey protein from the cheesemaking industry.

However, what is it that most makes commissioning something from a small, low-volume, made-by-hand workshop like this truly worthwhile? On the face of it, it’s the combination of exclusivity, sustainability and affordability. Everything is done in-house and by one craftsman, without the anonymity of buying from a chain or that same kind of impersonal, just another customer experience. It’s definitely personal.

Goodwin puts it like this: “You’re not buying into a brand here; you’re buying out of them. Here you can lay your hands on a raw piece of nature, see its story laid bare in front of you, and be fully involved in its transformation into something that you will never want to get rid of.” 

So it’s also about longevity.

For more information, call 856-353-0155 or visit WhiteHartWorkshop.com.

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