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Sustainable furniture

By Hayley Kaufman | The Boston Globe

Charles Shackleton, a Vermont furniture maker, launched the “Naked Table Project.’’
Charles Shackleton, a Vermont furniture maker, launched the “Naked Table Project.’’ (Caleb Kenna for The Boston Globe)

There’s been much hand-wringing in recent years about how disconnected we are from our food. Unless we live on a farm or near one, we rarely see it grown or harvested. And once a foodstuff arrives on a supermarket shelf - preserved, weighed, boxed, wrapped - it’s almost impossible to tell what it once was. Charles Shackleton contends the same can be said of much of the furniture we live with, and he aims, little by little, to change that. The cofounder of ShackletonThomas handmade furniture and pottery in Vermont, Shackleton recently launched the “Naked Table Project,’’ a series of weekend workshops where people can build their own dining room table from locally grown sugar maple. Participants meet all the people involved in the harvesting process - the loggers, the sawmillers, the artisans who machine the table components - and they plant a maple tree seedling in the forest to replace the tree they use. At last month’s workshop, after all the tables were sanded, finished, and assembled, they were lined up end to end on a covered bridge, and everyone gathered round to share a celebratory meal. Now that’s what we call getting back to basics.

Q. How did you get the idea for this project?

A. I got the idea back in February. I was watching an apprentice make these bowls, these green, organic, contemporary bowls. As they dry, they distort just slightly, and he was so excited. And I thought, I’ve got to design furniture that’s like those bowls: local, affordable, contemporary.

Q. Why a table? What does a table signify?

A. One reason is that it’s nice and simple to make, but you don’t have to write that (laughs). But that’s where people sit. They sit around a table every night, and maybe in the morning, and they discuss things.

Q. So we’ve all heard of slow food. Is this slow furniture?

A. Yes. It is not expensive. It’s plain, simple, and contemporary. It’s also meant to slow people down to make people appreciate what’s around them.

Q. Who took part?

A. It was a complete mix of people. We did it as a fund-raiser for [the local initiative] Sustainable Woodstock.

Q. And you planted saplings to replace the trees?

A. We took portraits of all the people with the tree they planted, and we took down the GPS coordinates of the seedlings, and put each number on the bottom of the table.

Q. So that years from now, when the table is passed down to posterity, people can go back and find the exact tree that was planted? Wow, that’s pretty cool.

A. These are the kind of things I had fun thinking up in the middle of the night.

For more information on the Naked Table Project visit www.shackletonthomas.com and click on “happenings.’’ Upcoming workshops will take place Sept. 26-27 and Oct. 16-17 in Vermont.

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