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EASY BEING GREEN

The Brooklyn Paper
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While Brooklyn furniture makers and product designers are already sought after for their clever concepts, top-notch craftsmanship and ironic wit, they’re increasingly getting a rep for an environmentally friendly work ethic, too.

At this year’s edition of the annual home decor showcase, Bklyn Designs, more than 20 of the 57 exhibitors will be showing products that are good for the earth and home.

"Some of the exhibitors who are building green now haven’t in the past," explained Karen Auster, producer of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce event, which features the largest number of participating green designers to date. "It’s part of our culture; it’s more mainstream now."

One of the designers, who not only creates furniture from sustainable materials, but is also a source of such materials for his fellow artists, is Bart Bettencourt. His Bettencourt Green Building Supplies in Williamsburg supplies designers, like those from East Williamsburg’s Brave Space, and he uses renewable resources and non-toxic adhesives and finishes in his own Bart Bettencourt furniture line.

"A couple of years ago, no one was doing it, and that’s why we started [Green Building Supplies]," Bettencourt told GO Brooklyn. "Now people are starting to see there’s a market for it.

"The wood alternatives have come to a point where they are as good or better than their environmentally damaging counterparts: those that have finishes that have heavy-metal drying agents, or are formaldehyde-based, or have off-gas or ozone-depleting chemicals in their finishes that lead to poor indoor air quality, or particle board or fiber board from virgin trees rather than industrial by-products."

Bettencourt also collaborates with Carlos Salgado to create a line of furniture fashioned from 100 percent reclaimed lumber, Scrapile.

At Bklyn Designs, Scrapile works will be exhibited as well as pieces from Bettencourt’s line.

He will also display pieces he created with Colleen Smiley, a textile designer from Williamsburg, such as an ottoman with a wood base topped with a white-hemp cushion.

"She does a lot of work with vintage and reclaimed fabrics," he said.

Bettencourt says that making furniture with green materials is increasingly necessary "as population increases and we deplete our natural resources," but New York magazine’s Ben Williams recently sniffed that the greenies are deceiving themselves.

"Given that eco-friendly furniture can have little impact on the environment at such small production levels, it cannot help but be more about the idea of saving the Earth than actually doing it," Williams wrote.

Susan Woods of DUMBO’s Aswoon showroom disagrees.

"Every contribution that people make is very important to the environment," Woods told GO Brooklyn. "I buy biodegradable dish soap and that’s a good thing.

"Some of these people are not at a point where they are able to make big runs - or they don’t want to. Many of the people in Bklyn Designs are new to the industry, like myself. It takes a while to establish oneself."

At Bklyn Designs, Woods will exhibit her metal and bent poplar wood pieces that are "on the cusp between art and functional objects."

"I do a lot of recycling," said Woods, whose work is shown in Todd Yellin’s new feature film, "Brother’s Shadow. "I get things out of Dumpsters and things that are going to be thrown away - as a result, the materials are repurposed. Sometimes I have to buy certain materials to fill out some of the found materials, but I also buy recycled things." For instance, her "Spring Line" of screens is made from upholstery springs.

Sam Kragiel of Brave Space says his company "tries to implement non-toxic, sustainably produced" materials whenever possible, and all of their furniture’s finishes are water-based or organically produced oils.

"You can’t consider one facet of the environmental movement to be irrelevant because it’s only doing a small part," said Kragiel in response to Williams. "It’s a growing and necessary movement."

At Bklyn Designs, Brave Space will exhibit its "Hollow" line of furniture, made from Bettencourt’s Plyboo, a bamboo product.

"It acts like a hardwood," explained Kragiel. "It has the strength and density of hardwood, and we like using it because it comes in a sheet. But it has a strength and resilience you can’t find in normal plywood."

Kragiel believes customers will pony up the slightly higher price tag of green materials.

"It doesn’t cost THAT much more," he said. "It doesn’t look as cheap as comparable materials; it looks more expensive and it’s durable and has the green selling point that makes it worthwhile."

Brooklyn designers like Kragiel, Woods and Bettencourt are proving that employing eco-friendly materials doesn’t mean sacrificing durability, form or function, so their pieces - and the philosophy behind using those materials - can’t help but influence even more consumers and manufacturers to jump on the green bandwagon.

"If it seems naïve now to say that green design is making an environmental impact, watch for a year or two and see if you feel the same way," wagers Bettencourt. "There’s definitely a growing trend and the supply is just starting to catch up with the demand."

Bklyn Designs takes place May 12-14 at several locations, including St. Ann’s Warehouse [38 Water St. at Dock Street in DUMBO, (718) 254-8779] and Bklyn Designs Gallery, 37 Main St. The "Blockparty" exhibit is on display at 267A State St., between Smith and Hoyt streets in Boerum Hill; a shuttle bus to and from DUMBO will be stopping there every half-hour. Bklyn Designs hours are May 12 (for trade only), from 10 am to 8 pm; May 13, from 10 am to 7 pm; and May 14, from 11 am to 6 pm. Tickets, which include admission to all show venues and seminars on May 13 and 14, are $12 and are available at the door, at the Web site and Brooklyn Industries locations. For a list of exhibitors, visit www.brooklyndesigns.net.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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