Posted in Giving Back, Green Design, Outdoor Kitchens, Sustainable Design

How to Choose Patio Furniture: A.K.A. The Education of a Kitchen Designer

It is summer time and the news papers are full of ads featuring patio sets for sale. I want to remind you about the importance of avoiding tropical hardwoods for your patio furniture.

It’s funny the way things come about. Life is circular in so many ways. A cause and affect motion is set into place in our lives, like it or not, the same way a pebble hits a pond of water and has a ripple effect.

For me, my ripple effect was something as simple as shopping for a new patio bench last year. It brought my attention to the destruction of tropical rainforests. I was aware, yes, but it didn’t really impact me, so I thought, until it was about to impact me in my own backyard, literally. I felt small really on what impact I could have. Ultimately, I did not purchase a bench from Target made from nyatoh. What could I do, I am just one person among billions on our planet. Nevertheless, I researched this and wrote about it for the first time here in my blog October 15, 2007, Woods to Avoid and Alternatives. The impact to the environment is too big to ignore.

As far as my work as a kitchen and bath designer, well this is where I can have a bigger impact. Specifying materials for a project, I have an obligation to inform my client and my team on alternative options to exotic woods in a project. Where can these materials show up: hard wood floors, cabinetry, bannister’s, windows, timber, decks, siding and patio furniture.

As far as my patio bench realization, it was literally a benchmark in my education as a designer. Choose to take action, avoid local and global apathy, make good decisions when selecting materials for your own home improvement project.

Since my patio bench story last year, I am happy to check back with you and tell you who is making a difference and who is not. Source: Rainforest

  1. PROGRESS MADE: Significant progress had been made with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation over the last decade, in moving the agency away from the use of old growth tropical hardwoods. For the full article, read the New York Post article, Wood Free Boardwalk
  2. PROGRESS MADE: Watch dog groups like FSC-Watch were founded to highlight problems within FSC and help move FSC to clean up its system.
  3. PROGRESS MADE: Barnes & Noble ends the use of mahogany and other rainforest wood in new store construction. In 1996 Rainforest Relief targeted this bookselling giant for their ongoing use of mahogany and other tropical hardwoods in store construction. At the time, B&N was building approximately 100 stores a year using mahogany for foyers, doors & railings, jatoba for flooring and Shorea sp. for furniture. They now use domestic second growth for foyers, railings and flooring, and steel doors. Way to go Barnes and Noble!
  4. NO PROGRESS MADE: Banana Republic is not making the grade: Banana Republic, owned by GAP, has used Sydney blue gum for flooring, a temperate wood logged from the old growth forests of Australia. Banana Republic is now using jatoba (Brazilian cherry) for flooring in new stores.
  5. NO PROGRESS MADE: This Old House gets a failing grade. The PBS show, This Old House (TOH), promotes the use of tropical and temperate rainforest woods, thus encouraging the destruction of rainforests — the world’s oldest “house”. On October 23, 2005, TOH aired a segment promoting the use of tropical and temperate rainforest woods for siding in their current project. The materials suggested for replacing siding included only tropical and temperate rainforest woods, with the host never suggesting the use of more sustainable alternatives, such as recycled materials, salvaged or reclaimed lumber, or even certified domestic woods.
  6. PROGRESS MADE: Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware, Linens-n-Things and have announced that they will no longer carry nyatoh furniture and they are working with organizations to find more environmentally sound alternatives.


  1. Send a message to Wal-mart, Sears, K-mart, Target, Pottery Barn, Cost Plus and Vons. Tell them it’s time to join with other forward-thinking companies like Ikea, Improvements and others and cease selling furniture and any other products made with wood from endangered forests.
  2. Plant a tree. Look for service organizations to get involved with. Tree People. Trees for the Future
  3. Join Rainforest Relief. Donate to a worthy cause making a difference.
  4. Bring Rainforest Relief to Your School, Civic Group or Event.
  5. Watch video information on the rainforests to see what is happening.

You Tube Video:
Tropical Timber Imports.
The Destruction of Our Forests.
Rainforest Destruction and Human Apathy

I can answer my own question on what difference one person can make.

If I can have an effect on one person this summer to avoid purchasing these beautiful patio furniture sets made from wood cleared from endangered forests, then my small contribution has made a difference. If you are on the fence, I challenge you to open up your patio catalogs and look at these while watching the video links I list above. It is pretty dramatic. What legacy do you want to leave your grandchildren. Make a difference, get involved, plant a tree, educate yourself before you buy. Apathy is not the answer.

As a consumer, and as someone closely tied to the design/build remodeling industry, I know it is real easy to be swayed by the sale and the beauty of nyatoh, available at many retail stores right now, but ask yourself this: is it really worth it? I hope you join me and answer no.

What to watch for when selecting Patio Furniture.
A fantastic source you need to know about is Rainforest Relief. They have a wealth of information on what to look out for when selecting wood.

From their web site, I have captured the following information from their outdoor patio furniture campaign:
Rainforest Relief began campaigning on outdoor furniture in the mid-1990s, starting with municipal and institutional site furnishings. They did this by engaging towns, cities and educational institutions, attempting to persuade them to end their purchases of benches and other site furnishings made mostly from teak and ipê.

More recently, as teak supplies have begun to dwindle and teak has become more expensive, other woods have come into vogue as replacements. As well, Rainforest Relief began to engage companies selling outdoor furniture to the home market. They began this phase of the campaign targeting those companies selling nyatoh, as they saw the popularity of this material rising quickly.

The demand for teak, mahogany, nyatoh, balau, kapur, keruing, jatoba, ipê, garapera, western red cedar, jarrah, cypress, redwood and other woods is driving the destruction of endangered rainforests in Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Brazil and the dwindling old growth temperate forests of Australia, Canada and the United States.

Rainforest Relief has begun to engage a number of retailers about their sales of furniture made from nyatoh. These entities include Wal-mart, Target, Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, Cost Plus World Market, Vons (Safeway) and others.

Nyatoh, balau, kapur and other woods are being logged from rainforests mostly in Indonesia but also in Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam. Logging in Indonesia is a nightmare of illegality, unsustainability and conflicts with indigenous peoples. In Malaysia indigenous people such as the Penan are being displaced by loggers. A recent study showed that much of the wood exported from Vietnam was being illegally logged in Cambodia.

Jatoba, garapera and ipê are coming from the Amazon rainforests of Brazil, where 80% of logging is being done illegally and loggers even employ slave labor. Loggers are bulldozing new roads into pristine rainforests, thus paving the way for their total destruction.

Jarrah is being logged from old growth temperate forests in Australia. Western red cedar is logged from old growth temperate rainforests of Canada and the United States. Cypress is logged from old growth sub-tropical forests of the southern United States.



Laurie Burke, connected to the design and construction industry since 1996. A seasoned residential kitchen and bath design specialist , Laurie has designed thousands of kitchens & baths as well as other cabinetry projects requiring technical precision in design drafting utilizing state of the art 2020 software for creating accurate plans and elevations. Through on- going product knowledge training and a desire to always stay current with an evolving marketplace, Laurie Burke maintains a strong command of knowing the appropriate Fit & Finish materials required for a residential remodel to meet the budget, the timeline of a project and a client's need for a finished product that meets their satisfaction. Kitchen Designer by trade, foodie, techie, weekend traveler for fun. For more information contact me at

2 thoughts on “How to Choose Patio Furniture: A.K.A. The Education of a Kitchen Designer

  1. Thank you. While Pottery Barn agreed to seek alternatives to Nyatoah as of April 2007, I checked their catalog tonight and found they are still selling solid teak. While beautiful and tempting in the catalog pictures here are some eye opening facts about Teak. Teak from Burma and teak products from Thailand are not only environmentally-unsound, butassociated with some of the worst human rights violations in the world. The market for Burmese teak and teak products helps keep one of the most brutal military regimes in power, as teak is one of the onlysources of foreign exchange for the Burmese military. In order to bolster its army, the Burmese military government is rapidly selling off its teak and other natural resources because the U.S. and other nations canceled foreign aid due to the junta’s 1988 massacre of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators.The Burmese government has also sold teak concessions to Thai logging companies, who then exportthe teak. Thailand has imposed a ban on logging since massive deforestation caused flooding whichkilled hundreds of people. So Thai loggers have moved their operations to the Burmese border, whichstill has large tracts of teak. This area is home to ethnic minorities who are fighting to defend their homeland. The roads built by the Thai loggers have helped the Burmese military gain access to this area. What I am saying is that consumers have to delve deeper, and spend a minute learning about where that wood came from before accepting a glossy press release. The fact is teak is in demand. People love teak and don’t want to associate human atrocities while enjoying their beautiful patio furniture. While I commend Pottery Barn for their advances, consumers have to stop buying teak and wood from endangered forests.


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