Gavin Munro: the essence of biodesign

What is the difference between a work of art and these pieces?  That is the question that Corriere della Sera asked Gavin Munro, a biodesigner.  His answer was “nothing.  Our objects are both furniture and works of art”.  The pieces by this revolutionary English designer are a mix of artisanry, nature, patience, and perseverance.

With his company Full Grown, Munro has taken biodesign to another level:  chairs, lamps, tables, and frames that literally grow themselves. This is furniture that is born from trees.


Nature creates

The story of his innovative designs began in 2006 when Full Grown was founded. Its “factory” is a farm in Derbyshire in the UK.  The “production line” consists of rows of willow, oak, and ash trees which grow around moulds.  The “worker” behind it all is nature itself.

There are no machines or raw materials that then become a chair.  Gavin Munro plants a seed and nature gives it its shape.  Industrial processes have been eliminated, as well as the high energy consumption, waste, and pollution that go along with it.  In fact, their environmentally friendly project releases oxygen and absorbs CO2.

As Gavin explained to The Guardian, “for typical mass furniture production, trees can be grown for 60 years before they are felled, cut up, reassembled and shipped to their final destination”. His method is kinder to the environment. It’s about working with, in, and for nature.

“To grow that chair, you don’t need the truck to pull it out, the chainsaw to cut it down, you don’t need the factory with the machines in it. You don’t need to build the roads into the forest,” he explains.


Unique, living pieces

Each piece is an expression of patience and collaboration with nature, which just needs a helping hand.

The process of biofabrication is really just the process of life.  It starts with the planting of a seed.  Then you have to water it, choose the shoot that grows over the mould and give them shape, moulding them and guiding them along a certain path.  Once the final form is obtained, the trees are allowed to mature and thicken, resulting in living furniture that has been grown over many years.

The result is an exclusive piece.  The quirks of nature mean that no two pieces are the same. But each is made of one solid piece of wood that doesn’t require any joinery, nails, or assembly, and which is more robust.

Lisa White, director of Life & Interiors at WGSN, sums up the concept of Munro’s designs in a few words: “I have never sat in a chair that feels so alive! Full Grown demonstrates that the future will be about bio-facturing, not manufacturing, it will be about patience more than production”.


Patience when harvesting

Nature is in charge here.  How much time does it take to create these pieces?  It can take 3 years to create a lamp and 14 years for a meeting table.  For chairs, the average amount of time is between 7 and 9 years, depending on the tree species.

After 14 years, Full Grown is ready to harvest their first crop of chairs and sell them direct to the consumer in 2022.  They have orders from five continents and a waiting list that stretches to 2029.  This is what Gavin defines as “delayed gratification”.



Chairs in museums

This harvest will be a trial by fire for this revolutionary project, which can already be seen in museums.  His first chair prototype has been in the National Museum of Scotland since 2016.

His most recent prototype, the Gatti Chair, stood out at the Salone de Mobile de Milano, where Nicole Unicoqule stated that “sometimes you see a collection which makes you feel like there is hope for the world. Full Grown has that collection”.  His last display was at St Etienne Design Biennale, where it is was presented by Lisa White.

Now, they are ready for the market.  You might have to wait to get your hands on one of these living pieces.  But Full Grown gives us the opportunity to participate in the process from the very start.  Choose a tree, see it grow, and take home the results.  It’s a unique experience resulting in a unique piece that embodies the collaboration between nature and artisans.