With the aim of finding alternative materials that are both renewable and non-toxic, designers are turning to a variety of surprising possibilities. Mycelium -- or the vegetative part of fungi that branches out in thread-like structures -- is one of these curious candidates. We've seen mycelium as an integral element for building blocks, furniture and structural frameworks; now, design team Sebastian Cox and Ninela Ivanova are creating a collection of mycelium-based accessories that have a soft, leathery feel, without actually using leather.
Dezeen shows us their Mycelium + Timber series, which was made using coppiced strips of goat willow wood from around Cox's home, woven to form moulds. To these moulds were added fomes fomentarius, a kind of fungus that feasts upon the wooden scraps. After a period of time in the mould, the shaped mass of interwoven threads is taken out and dried, creating something that's handmade and lovely in a naturally raw way. Says Ivanova:
What really excites us both is how you take this material out of the conceptual phase and put it into people's homes. How do you craft the aesthetics to make something that is really beautiful, as you would with any other material?
It's not just about the fungus, it's about the marriage of the two materials. It's not sustainability for us – it's just what makes sense. These two materials have a natural relationship in the woodland, so let's see how we can exploit that.
The designers believe that this method of combining wood with mycelium might help replace glues in engineered woods like MDF. Says Cox:
In our workshop we don't use composite wood materials because I've never been quite satisfied with the binding agent holding the wood together. As a result, I've always had a kind of fantasy interest in 'reinventing' a type of MDF and finding new ways to bind wood fibres into either sheets or mounded forms, ideally without glue.
Mycelium is a versatile component of nature: it makes our soils healthier, it sequesters carbon, and now, seems like it could be someday soon developed into a renewable building material for our structures and furnishings. While there's still some ways to go before mycelium-made objects can be mass-grown, it's nevertheless a tantalizing idea to ponder. The duo's collection is now being exhibited at the London Design Festival exhibition Design Frontiers until September 24. To see more, visit Sebastian Cox and Ninela Ivanova.