Using the disposed wood from the Amazon, Cristiano Ribeiro do Valle found the raw material for his wonderfully imperfect pieces.
The smell of wood has a special place in the childhood memories of Cristiano Ribeiro do Valle. When he was a kid, the designer would hang out with his grandma in São Paulo’s Ibirapuera Park, playing around, hugging the huge trees that stand there to this day. Nowadays, he follows that same nostalgic wood scent on the forays he makes into the Amazon in search of trunks, roots and other arboreal remains to transform by hand into furniture and luxury items.
Graduating in Agricultural Engineering, Valle switched careers 14 years ago after returning from a work season in the Amazon. "My mother advised me to,” he says. “I'd tell her about all the abandoned disposed wood that I saw there, and she asked if I could reuse it to make furniture. I started everything from there on my own.” So began his transition from agricultural engineer to designer. Now, Valle’s luxury pieces take pride of place in upmarket restaurants, designer stores and hotels across Brazil and out in the wider world. With unfitted raw material, he creates unique, imperfect and monumental furniture.
The designer’s USP is the way he’s able to reveal the unexpected beauty in certain raw materials he has near-exclusive access to. Cristiano has a close connection with forest management, who have gifted him special authorisation to collect Tora Brasil, a special type of wood found in the area, with certification from the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC has a presence in many countries, and sprung up in Brazil at the start of the 90s to fight illegal deforestation. The certificate they issue is a way of guaranteeing that the material was extracted in a way that causes minimal damage to the environment, and encourages producers and businesses to work closely with the communities that make their homes in the forest.
Credit: Mel Coelho Ribas / VICE
Today, 7 million hectares of Brazilian forest have been certified by the FSC. Of these, around 1 million is comprised of native Amazon forest. Although these numbers can seem overwhelming, they pale in comparison to the extent of forest management needed in the north of the country, where a lot of areas are deforested and adapted to host extensive livestock farms.
"We also want to incentivise the expansion of other vegetation species with an eye on making ourselves more sustainable,” explains Aline Tristão, executive director of FSC’s Brazilian operation. “In the industry, only 20 types of tree have their wood reused, but we know that the Amazon has the biggest forest diversity in the world. That would reduce the pressure on the species that are over-exploited.” But diversifying exploration and investing in more sustainable techniques would not be enough on its own. Even in managed forests, the job of clearing leftover debris remains overwhelming and far outstrips the labour capacity of furniture makers.
Credit: Mel Coelho Ribas / VICE
Mil Madeiras, or Thousand Woods, is a company also working to manage forests in the Amazon. The wood chips generated by its sawmill are used to generate 60 percent of the electricity needed by Itacoatiara, a municipality home to around 100,000 people. Besides that, left-over production waste is donated to an NGO in Manaus called the Amazon Lutheria Workship, which turns the waste into musical instruments for young people from low-income, high-risk backgrounds.
The furniture that comes from these preserved forests carries a lot of history, as they have trees that have fulfilled their natural cycle. It is a treasure of ours that deserves to be perpetuated.
“There's still a lot of prejudice when it comes to the use of waste wood,” explains Tristão. “But it is a raw material that keeps you warm and cosy, and carries a unique scent. The furniture that comes from these preserved forests carries a lot of history, as it’s made from trees that have fulfilled their natural cycle. It is a treasure of ours that deserves to be perpetuated.”
Credits: el Coelho Ribas/ VICE
For Do Valle, Brazil still needs to make a greater commitment to sustainability. Certified wood is relatively expensive, as it must go through a series of formal processes. As ever, and unfortunately for the Amazon, the wallet often talks loudest.
"The correct harvest is the one that keeps the forest standing as a whole,” argues the designer. “We have a duty to preserve not just the trees, but also the lives that are tied up in them, of the people and animals who call the forest home. I do not want to be someone that only sells tables; I want to help build a more sustainable country.”