At home: Forgotten materials and building in the woods

Summer is here and our first July box launched, so this week I had the proud job of individually wrapping each and every box in recycled brown paper and taking them off to the Post Office. I was crossing my fingers for Wednesday when they'd arrive, but looks like it went fine! Some of our subscribers are already enjoying the washing up with their new resolutions and another was cheered when she came home with a cold and found our box on the doorstep.

As is summer too, I'm going from an alternating wave of new ideas - we want to invent eco products too! - and back to our two summer holidays of the year. It's a time trying to think of new ways to develop Authentic House, planning the August box and, of course, winding down...

My partner Daniel will agree I have a particular turn that means, when I organise a holiday to be relaxing, it somehow tends to end up as the kind of holiday you sink back down into your work desk in relief afterwards!

My visit to Studio in the Woods, organised by Invisible Studio, was one of those holidays.

Camped in Ruskinland in the Wyre Forest, endless oak trees swishing in the view from all sides, I had imagined a back-to-nature experience, lazily eating sandwiches in the sun and helping out towards a temporary structure in the woods that each group was to build.

What I hadn't expected was an initiation into woodland construction sites! Snipping brambles, lifting logs and working out exactly what to do with all that oak.

Because, however peaceful the Wyre Forest may seem now, or many stretches of countryside we know in Wales too, it was once at the heart of an industrial process. The oak trees towering overhead had been sown in Victorian times for charcoal making but, as with many materials that are collected for a future that doesn't go ahead, the decline in charcoal use had left the oaks neglected, untrimmed, with weak and curling branches.

England has a lot of this low-quality oak. It takes 120 years to grow and is being sold for no more than firewood. Just imagine it!

Ruskinland has its name because it was once owned by John Ruskin, the famous Victorian art critic. He had a vision that land should be 'beautiful, peaceful and fruitful'. In Ruskin's legacy, The Guild of St George, which he set up in 1870, has most recently developed into an organisation promoting craftsmanship, the arts and the sustainable use of the forest as a resource. I was interested to hear that, when spaces are cleared between trees, humans can have a positive effect on biodiversity!

Oak forests, I've learnt, are a particularly English landscape and producer of a very hard wood which is great for structural support, but a challenge to lift and cut - I've experienced it! When you next see an oak tree in a forest, look at whether the branches have been cut around the trunk. If they have, this oak is the strongest of all as knots in the wood bear weaknesses. On the other hand, oak allowed to grow curly branches is weaker, but can be used to create arches in timber roofs, historic ships and even, what I realised was a true feat of craftsmanship, viking longboats!

Photograph by Marit Synnøve Vea

Curly oak is underappreciated, but my favourite. We were working with a team of architects, a furniture maker, a photographer and a social entrepreneur and, despite all the design ideas we had begun with, we soon realised that curling oak logs have a wonderful ability to interweave themselves. Interlocked carefully, wooden logs can create a tall structure you can sit on, lean on and even climb!

But what a lot of work! I have huge respect now for the builders I see today and especially the builders of the past who created our buildings without the machinery we have now. And yet some buildings are made and demolished within twenty years or, as one Welsh furniture maker said to me, 'IKEA would go bankrupt if people weren't changing their furniture every few years'. It's time we start thinking about all the manual and machine energy that goes into our items and, as our first July resolution goes - challenge 'throwaway' thinking.

Remember our second resolution - buy less, but better? Lifting oak has made me think about that too. We have a responsibility with a material that takes over a century to grow, a responsibility to use it well and with respect in buildings made to stand for further centuries.

Then, turn from oak to plastic. Most crude oil, as the origin of plastic, is made from the organic remains of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods between 5-200+ million years ago. While this gets me thinking how many steps my plastic biro is away from a dinosaur, the reality is that we're dealing with a resource more finite than oak - one that takes infinitely longer to produce.

So how can we take a material like that, and use it in plastic wrapping for salad? It's baffling. Especially crazy when you think of how that bag, used once, will take hundreds of years to decompose in landfill and less in oceans, but only then into smaller pieces of plastic which harm wildlife.

However you've been trying to reduce plastic this July, whether you're cutting back completely or in just some areas, whether you've subscribed to our box or whether you're doing it alone, rest assured the world will thank you for it!

And lastly this week...


A special thank you to Gabriella J Photography for the beautiful photo shoot she gave Authentic House, just because she liked our values. It's made me inspired to live up to these perfect arrangements and I hope we'll work together again soon!

Roath Market

A stall we've had in the planning for months is happening next week at the RCMA Market in Roath. We'll be selling our boxes, sharing some examples of eco-friendly home supplies and also featuring beautiful Welsh weavings by Woolly Mammoth and the best house plants you've ever seen by Eartha - all Cardiff businesses. If you're local, or in the area, do come meet us!

And for everyone else, there's still time to start with a July box if you want to make sustainable changes to your everyday life. I'm really excited for the content of the August and September boxes too - we'd love you to join us!

And off on a second and final holiday now for my friend's wedding in Vienna.

Have a lovely weekend or holiday wherever it may find you!