The Naked Table Project: Sustainable Furniture Bringing Communities Together
Most of us know that buying local, sustainable products is the ‘right’ thing to do, but rarely do people get to engage in the process of making these products from beginning to end. Charles Shackleton, co-founder of ShackletonThomas is changing that through the ‘naked table project‘ in Woodstock, Vermont. The project is designed to bring people together and to create connections to community and the environment through the experience of making a dining room table.
A table is very often the center of the home. It is where families and friends gather to eat, do homework, read the newspaper, talk about their day, or just connect with others. So, when Charles Shackleton was thinking about an object that would be functional and symbolic for this project, nothing seemed as fitting as a table.
He began the ‘naked table project’ by inviting a group of local people to attend a weekend workshop to build their own table. The group spent a day each assembling their own table made from sustainably harvested sugar maples. The trees themselves were sourced from sustainably managed forest lots and were chosen by a local forester, Pat Bartlett. Then there was a field trip for the group to head out and plant their own sugar maple seedling and to take a photograph next to their tree. The GPS coordinates were taken, and the location marked on the base of the finished naked table so that future generations can always return to that exact location to see where the wood had come from.
Before the workshop attendees assembled their tables, Charles Shackleton found and worked with a local forester, logger, trucker, miller and finishing company. All of this was possible within a 20 mile radius. Once sugar maples were harvested, they were sawn and kiln dried at a local family farm.
The wood was then machined and brought to the workshop where the Naked Tablemakers went about assembling the pieces. To finish the tables, Shackleton selected a product from Vermont Natural Coatings made in part of PolyWhey. The whey is a by-product of the dairy industry and acts as a low VOC bonding agent. The finish is healthier as it reduces off-gassing and it helps reduce waste by repurposing a by-product of cheese making.
Once the tables were put together, a local meal was held for all those involved in what Shackleton calls the ‘chain of custody’ from the logger to the families that will eat around the tables. They enjoyed a meal prepared almost exclusively of local foods. The finished tables were put end to end in Woodstock’s covered bridge, which stretched out 80 feet long. Everyone at the communal table had a hand in the making of those tables, and a story to share.
Two workshops have been held, and a third is scheduled for mid-october complete with a celebratory local meal. Each table costs $650, most of which goes to production costs, but any additional proceeds benefit Sustainable Woodstock, a group promoting greater energy-efficiency, local food, and the local economy. Shackleton hopes that this model will expand to other products and will enable communities to be more engaged with where and how every day goods are produced.
The beauty of this project is that it can be adapted for virtually any community interested in producing local products and engaging people with their environment. It encourages responsibility from all involved parties, and creates a shared sense of joy in the process of making something from, for, and about the community.
To hear more about the project from Charles Shackleton, listen to an interview with Deborah Shapiro from the Edible Communities publication on Heritage Radio here
photographs by Jon Gilbert Fox, courtesy of ShackletonThomas.