“I want to create furniture that gives us a gateway to what’s important in life and that brings us closer to the essence of life,” says Nirvan Richter, founder, CEO and designer at furniture maker Norrgavel.

In general, Richter believes that furniture should not be too intrusive. But it should be beautiful, functional and made of natural materials that breathe.

Richter has created furniture for 20 years. His inspiration comes from the peasants in Swedish Dalarna, the Shakers in the US and the Wabi-Sabi in Japan.

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that embraces the transient. It is sometimes described as beauty that is ‘inadequate, temporary and incomplete.’ Items that are natural, rough, irregular, simple and unpretentious are characteristics of the Wabi-Sabi aesthetic.

“The consistent selection of natural materials in our offering is ultimately about a deep respect for nature and its lifecycle. Our furniture is allowed to age beautifully, which is the hallmark of the Wabi-Sabi aesthetic,” says Richter. “But we don’t just sell furniture. Instead, it is a furniture mindset that we offer according to our values – humanistic, ecological, and existential.”

“Furniture is at once essential and unimportant. Existentially, buying furniture will not make you happy. But if you are happy in the sense that you understand how to live, then it is natural to treat yourself to what makes you feel good, to buy fewer but better things.”

Natural Materials

From Nirvan Richters sketch book nr 26

Norrgavel works with natural materials not just to achieve environmental benefits but also to awaken feelings and experiences. Natural materials are in many cases beautiful, easy to maintain and resistant to wear. As much as possible, Norrgavel’s furniture is produced from birch, oak, beech and ash from the Swedish woods. On some furniture, surfaces are left completely untreated. On other furniture, surfaces are treated with a variety of finishes including soap, oil and oil/egg tempera that do not clog the pores of the wood.

For filling materials, Norrgavel uses everything from horsehair to natural rubber and waterfowl feathers. The fabrics are mainly made of linen and wool and are sometimes mixed with silk and cellulose fibers. Leathers come from reindeer and sheepskins, which are tanned in an eco-friendly manner. One of Norrgavel’s basic ideas is to use as few materials and material combinations as possible. This facilitates maintenance, repairs and makes the furniture easier to deal with it in its total lifecycle.

The idea is that Norrgavel furniture should have a long life and be used for generations. But if the customer tires of his dining table, or thinks that his chair is too large, it is possible to sell them on the Norrgavel Vintage site.

Eco-labeling and a holistic approach to environmental impact

In 1998, Norrgavel pioneered the practice of eco-labeling its furniture. And in 1999, the company received the furniture industry’s environmental award awarded in cooperation with the World Wildlife Fund. Today, all furniture produced by Norrgavel is eco-labeled which guarantees high quality and durability. Norrgavel furniture has the least environmental impact on the market. (See box about the Swan label)

Norrgavel uses transparent finishes for several reasons. The oil, soap, and tempera paint allows the wood to absorb water vapor if the ambient air is moist and emit steam when the air is dry. These movements decrease with time but never stop completely. Tempera means ‘mixing’ in Latin and it consists of eggs, water, linseed oil and pigments. The brilliance and deep color of tempera gives furniture a special character. Another characteristic of egg tempera is that it does not dry by evaporation like other finishes, but instead oxidizes with the surface. It is a slow process that means that the finishing stage can take a very long time. In the beginning, the tempera finish is shock sensitive, but as it continues to oxidize over time the surface eventually becomes almost indestructible.

Norrgavel was the first furniture maker in Sweden to use organic cotton. A selection of fabrics is labeled with the EU Flower. The organic cotton is marked with the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) label, or the Oeko-Tex label, which guarantees that there are no chemical residues in the fabric. The leathers used in the furniture are vegetable tanned.

Some of Norrgavel’s furniture has been awarded the Excellent Swedish Design prize, where environment benefits were factors taken into account by the jury.

This article was published in May 2011