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Monday, July 15, 2013

Turning shipping pallets into architecture and furniture

When I was in college and needed to spend $0.00 on furniture for my first apartment, I came across some peach crates. They were made of wood slats and had fun labels with peaches on the ends. Stacked together, they became an instant and free bookcase. Decades later, those same crates are stacked in my garage (aka storage shed) and filled with stuff I probably should get rid of.

I don't know how many peach crates are being used these days, but 700 million wooden shipping pallets are produced in the U.S. every year, and 150 million of them end up in landfills. According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, there are more than 33 million refugees in the world, and the Pallet House Project has found a way to provide housing for refugees while diverting shipping pallets from landfills.

A 250-square foot house can be constructed of 100 recycled pallets by five people within a week using hand tools.

The basic structure can be covered with taurpulin to create an emergency shelter. Later the walls and roof can be finished in materials available locally: debris, stone, mud, earth, wood or corrugated metal. It's a great way to help people in need while preserving the environment. If it could happen on an immense scale, 84% of the world’s refugees could be housed with a year’s supply of recycled American pallets.

Architecture that uses pallets for everything from poolside bars to trim on commercial buildings has been spreading like crazy in the last two years. Other designers are coming up with ways to keep pallets from landfills by using them to construct furniture.

Photo by Rogier Jaarsma. From
This great conference table was designed by the Dutch firm Most Architecture as part of a temporary space for the company Brandbase. They also designed desks for their client's space.

Then, there's the rustic look of DIY pallet furniture like this sofa made by The Ironstone Nest. She includes how-to directions on her blog.

This sofa was built by the owner of The Ironstone Nest, a home decor and re-finishing blog.

In an ironic twist, the look of pallet furniture has become fashionable, so that designers are now building furniture made out of new pallets for a cleaner look or out of materials meant to look like pallets. The Modern Bed by Fabian Gatermann looks like it's made of pallets, but it's constructed of beech wood and rubber. The design is based on the cube forms in Piet Mondrian's paintings. It was created for rooms in a German hostel.

Photo from
Of course, using the pallet form as a design inspiration may lead to interesting furniture, but it rather defeats the original inspiration of up-cycling a disposable item into a functional and even stylish product.