Gürsan Ergil on Designing Furniture from Reclaimed Wood: 'The Trees Tell Me What to Do'

gursan ergil chair photo

A walnut chair from Gürsan Ergil Design Studio in Istanbul.

When Gürsan Ergil started making furniture from reclaimed wood back in 1991, he says, "people were laughing at me for using old wood -- it was a crazy thing to do." Almost 20 years later, the idea has become the height of eco-chic in other places, but Ergil's chairs, tables, and other pieces remain unusual in Turkey.

An electrical engineer turned landscape and interior designer, Ergil spent six years living in the United States and studying landscape design, history, and preservation at Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum; today, he splits his time between crafting furniture and planning gardens. He calls his style "environmental modernism," a synthesis of contemporary style with "the traditional craftsmanship of wood shaping and joinery."

Salvage From Old Grain Storage Depots
The more geometric pieces from his Istanbul-based Gürsan Ergil Design Studio, including a clean-lined day bed and a low-slung credenza, are made with oak, chestnut, and pine boards salvaged from demolished grain storage depots around Turkey that date back 150 to 200 years.

gursan ergil daybed photo

A daybed from Gürsan Ergil Design Studio

More organically shaped chairs and benches retain the curved lines of their source -- fallen tree trunks, many also more than 100 years old, that had been carved out and used as wine vats and storage bins before being abandoned. "I find the wood in gardens near village houses, pushed off to the side like rubbish," Ergil says. "By bringing it from there into the interior [of a home], I feel like I'm helping reincarnate the tree in a way."

Minimizing Toxins
Each handcrafted piece is finished with natural, plant-based oils to avoid the use of toxins such as VOCs. But it's not just concern for the environment that drives Ergil's choices. In addition to helping protect forests, he says, using reclaimed wood adds a unique character to his designs.

"It can be difficult to work with, but what comes out is unbelievable," he says. "I go with the tree; I don't design things that fight with the trees. They tell me what to do, so each piece is another adventure."

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