Still Troubled about Teak


Gordon M. Grant for The New York Times

We have written before about the evils of virgin teak here, and expressed reservations about reclaimed teak before as well, but damned if I can find it. I think that the reservations were confirmed in the New York Times article on the recycling of old teak buildings into new furniture and floors. Companies like TerraMai are buying up buildings-"As Southeast Asia continues to modernize, many teak-wood homes are being torn down and replaced with Western-style brick or concrete ones." Yet some preservationists worry. From the Times:

Tanet Charoenmuang, the vice president of the Urban Development Institute Foundation in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which advocates for historical preservation in the rapidly modernizing city, is worried that his country is slowly losing its identity, as old teak villas, docks, hotels, tobacco barns and granaries vanish."Houses are sold one after another after another, and, finally, all gone," Dr. Tanet said. "Finally, the culture will be gone, too." Unfortunately, the traditional house that is adapted to the climate and raised to keep cool without air conditioning, is being replaced. "At first, someone may have never thought of selling" a home, he said, but the financial incentive, combined with the growing popularity of Western-style brick and concrete houses with modern conveniences like air-conditioning, has spurred the selling off of teak. The result, Dr. Tanet said, is that "the wooden culture gives way to the concrete."


Richard Humphries/Polaris, for The New York Times

Erika Carpenter of TerraMai says that she only goes after houses and buildings that are going to be demolished anyways, but here is a description of one purchase: Approaching the home in question, one of a row of simple but sturdy wooden structures raised on stilts, she scratched a support beam, sniffing for the sharp, leathery smell of teak. A white-haired woman sitting at a table nearby pointed to garlic drying beneath the raised floor and asked Ms. Carpenter if she had come to buy some. "No," Ms. Carpenter told the old woman in Thai, "I came to buy the house."

After locating the property owner, a middle- aged woman, Ms. Carpenter spoke to her through an interpreter. The owner explained that she had inherited the house from a relative, but did not need it. Her reason for selling to Ms. Carpenter was simple: If the home were put on the local market, the lot would bring a modest sum, but traders in salvaged teak — both local buyers and foreigners like Ms. Carpenter — are willing to pay hundreds of dollars per cubic meter, or more than $50,000 for an entire house.

Many homeowners in Southeast Asia use teak "like a bank," said Philippe Guizol, a researcher who frequently works with the Center for International Forestry Research, a conservation organization based in Indonesia. "If you need cash and you have teak in your floor, you just sell it," Mr. Guizol said."


Richard Humphries/Polaris, for The New York Times

I have blantantly cherry-picked this article to make my point, but the same thing has happened in North America when every barn that we used to admire got torn down to get barnboards for some rec room, and now we have no barns and a lot of tired rec rooms. We are demolishing a cultural heritage to get a cute gazebo or feature wall in our house and we just don't need it. I think that we just have to say no to teak, full stop. ::New York Times