Worms in our furniture: Student-designed "Vermiculture Furniture" for home composting

Amy Youngs / Ann Silverman
© Amy Youngs / Ann Silverman

Wasted food is a serious global issue -- each year, about one-third of all food, or 1.3 billion tons, goes uneaten, meaning that all the water, energy and fertilizer used to grow it is squandered too, not to mention the greenhouse gases produced as these scraps languish in our landfills.

Composting is one way to recoup these losses, by turning food waste into something that will nourish the soil again. Many urban dwellers like the idea of home composting using worms, but may balk at implementation, asking, "Where would I keep the worms?"

© Amy Youngs

Hoping to use design to bridge the gap between worms and humans in the home, Kay Bea Jones, Associate Professor of Architecture at Ohio State University, along with artist Ann Silverman and Associate Professor of Art Amy Youngs, recently taught a "Vermiculture Furniture" course that got fourteen students of different disciplines to come up with their own idea of what it means to "design with the compost cycle in mind, and invite worms into the home." On the course page they explain how a thoughtfully designed kitchen could do much to integrate and "normalize" composting in our daily lives:

The opportunity for urban dwellers to turn those refrigerator science projects and past-term leftovers along with vegetable trimmings into fertilizer for their gardens or potted porch plants calls for a new asset to the well-designed kitchen. Composting natural waste products indoors provide for at home recycling and useful by-products. We are calling for designer kitchen cabinets for vermiculture—hosting worms (red wigglers) at home for year round food waste decomposition.

© Amy Youngs

The ten-week course progressed through the conception and construction of novel habitats for red-wriggler worms in the home, aiming to mainstream the idea of daily composting. Some of the innovative ideas ranged from a sink that would grind up leftovers prior to going to the worms, a portable chopping block that would collect food scraps in a worm bin directly below, a "VermiClock", a "Worm Tumbler", vermicomposting pottery and a "vermi-coffee" shelving unit. All of the ideas explored how to "link domestic functions with beneficial environmental cycles," says Silverman.

© Amy Youngs
© Amy Youngs
© Amy Youngs
© Amy Youngs

People who are not familiar with vermicomposting may be reassured by Youngs' explanation of the process:

The red wigglers, or Eisenia Fetida, commonly used for vermicomposting are ideally suited to our homes; they thrive in the same temperature ranges as humans and eat many of the same foods. When provided with a dark, moist enclosure, they remain unseen, unheard and undetected, as they process waste into nutrients that can be used to grow plants. [..] Composting with worms does not smell or produce methane gas. In fact, what worms eat are the microorganisms that grow on decomposing organic waste, including the type of bacteria that emit offensive odors.

All the designs are an aesthetical and functional step above the good ol' plastic vermicompost bin that many are probably familiar with. Ultimately, if composting is to become part of our homes and habits, we have to rethink how that process will look like -- perhaps to the point that it's streamlined into our daily routines.

For more info, visit the course page and to see more of the students' design, check out the informative booklet produced from the semester's coursework, titled "Worms in your Fu[rni]ture":

Tags: Composting | Furniture | Ohio | Universities

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