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Gorgeous, sustainable furniture

Out of devastation came creation.

Fierce Santa Ana winds shocked Los Angeles County, shredding roofs, downing power lines and leaving thousands of trees felled on the night of Nov. 30, 2011, and causing more than $40 million in damage.

The gale-force winds left heaps of natural detritus in its wake, but to Box Collective, an L.A.-based group of sustainable furniture designers and makers, the debris was the beginning of inspiration.

Rather than see the fallen trees carted off to the nearest landfill, Box Collective worked to transport some of these massive trees — the hard-hit Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden — into their workshops. There, they transformed the fallen trees into thoughtfully designed furniture with a unique history.

Their efforts comprise “Windfall,” now on view at the Craft and Folk Art Museum until Sept. 4. (And yes, items on exhibit are for sale.)

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Unlike the flawless furniture in retail shops, Box Collective’s exhibit showcases the marriage of human hands and nature’s hands in functional objects. “Our job is to find the beauty in the wood,” said collective member Andrew Riiska, “make it so that faults are no longer faults, but become a way of getting to know the wood better.”

In designing a lounge chair from a piece of persimmon wood, Riiska took into consideration the gradient of color inherent in the wood, which moves from cream to light gray and then black. He designed his chair so the color would be dark on the ends and blends into light cream toward the center.

Another collective member, Casey Dzierlenga, designed a Scandinavian-influenced maple coffee table with a sleek silhouette that becomes even more pronounced because of a raw fringe on the tabletop — as if something had taken a bite out of its edge.

Designer William Stranger, on the other hand, contrasted the organic and the industrial by using paulownia wood that he had charred, brushed and oiled on top of a scrap I-beam, salvaged from a neighbor. On the table’s edge are inscribed Haruki Murakami’s words “The wind knows everything that’s inside you.”

Every piece tells a story — from hand-finished bowls made out of a eucalyptus tree that knocked out the power in Chinatown (by Robert Apodaca) to a media console in a blushing pink cedar salvaged from the arboretum (by David Johnson).

The understanding of a material’s history is part of what keeps the designers coming back to the felled trees, said Stranger. “I love looking at trees, seeing them healthy, knowing their names, but also knowing that after they’ve died, their stories will go on.”

“Windfall by Box Collective” is on view until Sept. 4, 2016, at the Craft and Folk Art Museum at 5814 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. cafam.org Items on exhibit are available for sale.


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