EcoBalanza, chosen for ILFI Seattle Headquarters

We are happy to report that the International Living Future Institute has chosen one of our pieces to grace the lobby of their downtown offices.

ILFI, headquartered in Seattle, “offers green building and infrastructure solutions that move across scales (from single room renovations to neighborhoods or whole cities),” supported by programs like their living product and living building challenges, which encourage manufacturers and builders to build with sustainable and non-toxic materials.

The piece, a two-part sectional with custom cushions and thick cushioned arms, is made entirely of 3rd party certified non-toxic and natural materials, in line with ILFI’s mission for sustainably made products and homes.

“We wanted to create something for the space that was comfortable, and encouraged people to come together—to sit around and relax for a moment. The arm width, chaise width and seat depths are all a little wider than usual to really invite people in—there’s always space for one more.”

A GREAT RESOURCE FOR GREEN HOMES

ILFI’s Declare-certified material database is free and accessible for all, helping designers, commercial clients and homeowners wade through the greenwashing for truly sustainable and responsible outcomes. It is compatible with LEED certification, and third-party verified for confidence in materials. A great resource for homeowners looking to renovate, or for developers building on a larger scale, living building challenges have led to some of the greenest construction in the world.

Our partnerships with amazing organizations like this one is just a small part of the greater picture in building safe and non-toxic spaces to live in. As a mission-based company, we think that the relationships we build with our suppliers, clients and staff contribute to a culture of caretaking, both of each other and the environment. And more and more, Seattle is proving itself to be the best place to take on these challenges together.

Commissioned by International Living Future Institute (ILFI), from now on, you can see and sit on this piece in the lobby of their downtown office in the Bullitt Center, the greenest commercial building on Earth.

How to select safe fabrics for your new sofa

Fabrics are often feel like the biggest choice when buying a new sofa. And while color and texture affect the way you enjoy your new piece, there are some other key factors to consider when you pick your fabric, especially in regards to environmental safety, both in your home, and for your planet. Consult the following guide when shopping for upholstered furniture for your home to make sure you bring home something that is both safe for your family, and a durable investment of your money.

When enjoying your new sofa, the thing you'll notice most is the fabric. You’ve chosen the color and the texture and now that this piece is in your home, you sit on it every day, whether it’s watching movies, reading books, eating a meal, or entertaining guests. You know exactly how soft it is and how scratchy, but do you know how safe it is? Because it could be that your skin and lungs have been bathing in chemicals every day.

TWO CERTIFICATIONS

In textile manufacturing, and in the certification world, there are two certifications you should know about. One is GOTS (Global Organic Textiles Standard) and the other is the Oeko-tex Standard 100 certification. Both guarantee that the fabric in your home is entirely non-toxic and completely safe. The difference between the two is simple: GOTS certifies every step of the production process, and an Oeko-tex certification guarantees safety of the post-production material.

There’s a reason to differentiate between the two: a fabric that was treated by a myriad of chemicals during production can still pass an Oeko-tex certification if when finished, all those chemicals have been treated or washed out, and the fabric is tested for off-gassing and chemical residues and found to be completely clean. For instance, bleach isn’t safe for constant contact with humans, but used once to lighten a fabric, it’s generally washed out.

WATER CONSUMPTION

When it comes to making fabric, it is this process of soaking fabrics in chemicals and then washing them that is repeated over and over. This makes a GOTS certification especially relevant. Most of the water used during fabric production is not cleaned or treated before it leaves a factory, entering directly into local water systems like ground water.

 

GOTS certification investigates the ecological and social impacts of production, ensuring that local communities aren’t devastated by water pollution.  It also ensures that workers are not being exposed to dangerous working conditions and unlivable wages. Considering that China’s textiles is definitely a goal to prioritize.

CHEMICAL COATINGS

While in a perfect world, everyone would get GOTS certified fabrics for their new sofas, it remains incredibly difficult and expensive for textile manufacturers to attain GOTS certification—which means the range of options in GOTS certified fabrics are still fairly limited. If you are really hoping for something non-toxic for your home, and you can’t find a GOTS fabric in the color or texture you want, you will need to be careful with what it is that you get for your sofa. The chemicals used to treat fabrics, and which coat fabrics for those stain-resistant or wrinkle-proof finishes can often leave toxic residues that you come in contact with every day.

This is where we recommend Oeko-tex certification, as a bare minimum. Fabrics that have received Oeko-tex certification have been tested for any residual chemicals that might be harmful to your health, ensuring that they won’t be off-gassing into your home and causing any number of negative health effects.

 SYNTHETIC OR NATURAL?

When it comes to the material your fabric is made of, this is dependent more on your expected use, and should be a conversation you have with your salesperson when you buy the sofa. Polyester is a petroleum product, and requires non-renewable resources for its production.

 

On the hand, there are some 100% recycled poly fabrics made from plastic bottles and industrial scrap, which can pass the Oeko-tex certification—obviously, these fabrics cannot be GOTS certified, as they could never be considered organic—but they do make steps to fix existing waste into useable products.

 The benefit to poly fibers is the durability, which can be many times that of natural fibers. The downside is that these fabrics are not naturally-derived, nor are they biodegradable when the time comes to say goodbye to your sofa. Polyester can take up to 200 years to degrade, durable long beyond its use.

MAKING THE RIGHT DECISION

It’s not rocket science to understand that the chemical processing of textiles can leave residues on fabric which will come into your home on your new sofa. It does take some extra time and research to make sure that you make a choice that is good for your family and your planet, though. Stick to certified fabrics which are guaranteed to be non-toxic, and discuss the pros and cons of materials like linen, hemp, cotton, and even recycled poly blends with your sofa maker. Anyone familiar with making these pieces will be able to help you navigate the different options so that you get the color, texture and safety that you want and deserve.


EcoBalanza is on a mission to create the ultimate luxury sofa, uncompromising in comfort, beauty, healthy living, environmental preservation and social responsibility.

 

 

The pitfalls of fillings when buying a toxic-free sofa

You’ve probably never seen the inside of your sofa, so how do you know what it’s made of? There are many considerations that go into deciding what to fabricate upholstered furniture out of, and just as many considerations for you the consumer when buying a new piece. Consult the following guide when shopping for upholstered furniture for your home to make sure you bring home something that is both safe for your family, and a durable investment of your money.

THE NOT-SO DISTANT PAST

The upholstery techniques used in furniture have not changed much since upholstery started to become quite popular and available over 400 years ago. Frames, springs, and fabric covering techniques look mostly identical now to antique pieces. Filling materials, on the other hand, have changed a lot.

Before 1900, sofas and chairs were filled with straw, horse and hog hair, and moss, which provided cushioning compared to solid wood furniture. These materials are also very durable, hardly degrading over decades. Even now, old heirloom pieces that undergo reupholstery to replace worn fabrics will often reuse the horsehair and straw filling, because a century later, it still has its shape and moisture.

COLONIZATION AND THE RISE OF RUBBER

Latex is the word we use to describe the sap that comes from rubber trees, and with the west’s discovery of latex, upholstery fillings changed.

Latex had the benefit of being easy to use in its final form; it could just be cut into whatever shape needed padding. An article for National Geographic in February of 1940 described rubber as the “most versatile vegetable product”, and it quickly became the standard for use in tires, swimsuits, erasers, and of course, sofas.

Latex still has quite a long lifespan, in the realm of decades when used in upholstery. Its relative elasticity has allowed for a lot of creativity when it comes to upholstered design.

PLASTIC TAKES THE WORLD BY STORM

Then in the 50s, plastic was suddenly introduced as the much cheaper alternative to almost every material. Polyurethane entered use as a cushioning material because of its amazingly low cost: synthetic plastics like polyurethane could be produced at a fraction of the cost of naturally-derived latex. But using polyfoams comes with risk:

A DANGER FOR FIRE

One of the surprising, or maybe not so surprising, by-products of filling upholstered pieces with petroleum-based plastics like polyfoam is the danger they pose to homes in a fire. “Polyurethane foam is so flammable that it’s often referred to by fire marshals as ‘solid gasoline.’ When untreated foam is ignited, it burns extremely fast. Ignited polyurethane foam sofas can reach temperatures over 1400 degrees Fahrenheit within minutes,” shares Patty and Leigh Anne of Two Sisters EcoTextiles.

If a polyfoam sofa is at the center of your house fire, the response time a firetruck has to get to your home isn’t enough anymore to get flames under control before they spread, and the likelihood of survival for you and your family drops dramatically.

A DANGER TO WORKERS

Worse yet, the process of producing plastics like polyurethane is a much more toxic one to workers than latex production, and has been criticized by the EPA and OSHA for exposing workers to carcinogenic substances. A 2013 article by the New York Times found that workers manufacturing polyurethane pillows in the US were suffering from severe nerve damage thanks to glues that had been used-- nerve damage that led workers to lose feeling in their limbs, unable to walk.

A DANGER TO HOMES

While production of polyfoams has been shown to be toxic to workers, consumer worries lie in the safety of post-production polyfoam. Polyurethane continues to show toxic effects even post-production on household air quality. While straw and horsehair underwent almost no change in quality even after over a hundred years, polyfoams change density in matter of years, becoming lighter as they break down and catch a ride on dust particles in the air. As Len Laycock, CEO of Upholstery Arts, explains, “research […] indicates that toluene, a known neurotoxin, off gases from polyurethane foam products.”

EVALUATING THE SOY ALTERNATIVE

What soy foams don’t mention is the fact that polyurethane still makes up more than 50% of this product. In some soy foams, soy actually makes up less than 5% of the cushion. Buying soy foam doesn’t address the concerns of flammability, because all that polyfoam will still light up. It doesn’t address the breakdown of those poly materials into dust. It doesn’t go far enough when it comes to decreasing use of petroleum products. And it raises serious concerns over the cultivation of soy: increased focus on soy production in South America has been a serious cause of deforestation, species endangerment, and social policy concern as indigenous groups are chased out of ancestral homes, or exploited for labor.

WEIGHING THE OPTIONS

Polyfoams are still the primary filling in sofas being produced today. Production of polyfoams is dangerous, and polyfoams themselves provide a serious risk to your health and home. Despite all of this, polyfoams dominate because they are cheap. When you pay less than $2k for a full-sized sofa, you’re getting that price because plastics are cheap to produce, and cheap sofas sell.

But if you are convinced of the hazards of polyurethane, consider turning back the clock and getting a piece made with organic naturally-derived latex. Not only does this send a message to furniture manufacturers that dangerous and unsustainable materials aren’t welcome, it provides you with a piece that is of higher quality and more durable than the alternatives.

 

BUYING A SOFA? CONSIDER THE FRAME

You’ve probably never seen the frame on the inside of your sofa, but do you know what it’s made of? There are many considerations that go into deciding what to fabricate upholstered furniture out of, and just as many considerations for you when buying a new piece. Consult the following guide when shopping for upholstered furniture for your home to make sure you bring home a piece of furniture that is both safe for your family, and a durable investment of your money.

 THE HISTORY OF HARDWOODS

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For timber producers and wood-users, hardwood is expensive in time and money. When a tree is cut, the wood produced must be dried before it used; otherwise major warping and cracking occurs in your furniture. Even after it is dry, wood has a tendency to expand and contract with seasonal temperature and humidity changes, though this fluctuation lessens over time.

In the past, wood would have to rest for many years before it could be processed and crafted into something to avoid this sort of heavy warping in a piece of furniture.  This potential for warping was also a big factor in design, and even now, hard-wood furniture must be designed with this behavior in mind. These days, drying is usually a process that happens in a kiln, rather than in storage over many years.

PLYWOOD AS A SOLUTION; A NEW PROBLEM ARISES

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Plywood developed as the natural solution to this problem of warping-- plywood is made of sheets of wood, either sliced or lathed off of a trunk, and then glued together for strength. Each layer is glued with the grain at a 90-degree angle to increase tensile strength and limit the amount of movement that can happen in the wood as the humidity changes. This means that would can be cut and used almost immediately, with no long drying times required to stabilize the wood. It also means each tree cut is used more efficiently—flaws in the grain can be ignored when so many layers are being glued together.

The real problem with plywood is, almost all of the glues used in this process are formaldehyde-based. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, which leaches out of the wood and into the air over time, especially in new materials or high humidity. The EPA has named formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen, and studies done of work-place exposure to formaldehyde found increased instances of leukemia in those exposed.

YOUR ALTERNATIVE CHOICES

If you’re trying to avoid formaldehyde in your furniture, the best step you can take is to go back to using hardwoods. This old-fashioned way is more time-intensive and more expensive, but you guarantee that the toxic gases that have been shown to be emitted by formaldehyde aren’t off-gassing into your home.

 If you’re more serious about wood conservation, you do still have viable certified hardwood options. The lumber industry has a notorious history of clear-cutting and similar practices that can leave our wildernesses pillaged of resources and unlivable for local wildlife.  However, some independent certifications are offered wood-producers who harvest selectively, allowing natural environments and animal habitats to thrive while still allowing for the harvest of this renewable resource.

Look to FSC certification as your gold standard; the Forest Stewardship Council seeks to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests. While other manufacturers use SFI-certified woods, frequent concerns over the involvement of lumber-industry officials in the certification process makes it a choice that comes with less peace of mind.

THE PROS OF BUYING HARDWOOD

Besides avoiding formaldehyde glues, there is one other huge advantage to owning a sofa with a hardwood frame, and that is durability. Part of the reason the dovetailed handcrafted antique pieces of the past have such value and beauty today is because they are made from hardwoods. Plywood becomes brittle over time as the glue off-gases and the boards age, but hardwoods find equilibrium, expanding and contracting less with each seasonal change.

Rather than buying a potentially toxic sofa with a short shelf life, consider investing in a sofa made with a certified hardwood frame, chosen for sustainability and peace of mind, and guaranteed to stand up to the test of time, rambunctious children, and grandchildren—without becoming brittle and creaking or breaking under the pressure.

 


To learn more, email us at contactus@ecobalanza.com

A visit to EcoBalanza’s workshop in Seattle

By Estelle Pin

It’s not a factory—that’s the first thing you need to understand about EcoBalanza. There are no machines, none of those loud repetitive industrial noises, there’s no chemical or metallic smell. When you walk into the space at EcoBalanza, there are five craftsmen and women, working together, laughing and smiling together, and creating beautiful works of art, quietly, by hand.

Some pieces are quite large: a bedframe for a king sized bed, fully upholstered, is one of the recently completed works, waiting for some finishing touches. It takes up a large corner of its own, and when it finally passes all of Aimee’s meticulous inspections, it will go to its new home, for some glamorous person in Europe, who likes their headboards 8 feet tall. The piece I fall for during my visit is also a headboard, more curved and romantic, also upholstered, but drastically different in style, and probably half the size. I imagine this client and I have a lot more in common.

Nearby, layers of wool are being stitched together with one long big needle, to make the cushion of a chaise. The fabric for this one is a rich cherry red. I run my hands over seams of finished pieces, awestruck knowing the hours of labor that go into each stage of construction—more so, when I feel the tension inside each frame. These pieces feel sturdy, solid, but soft, welcoming. I sit down in a completed loveseat that waits by the door for packaging, and Aimee raises an eyebrow at me, giving me a moment to soak it all in before asking for my opinion. My positive review leaves her glowing.

It’s clear that for her, it’s a labor of love. Aimee moves through the workshop with an excited hop in her step that keeps her more airborne than grounded, pulling me towards this piece of wool, or that piece of leather, or this fully finished couch. She has me touch everything, feeling the materials that never see the light of day once sandwiched into layers inside fabric. Her eyes catch every detail, and when I reach for a round of wool, she quickly redirects me to another, of higher quality—the one I originally saw has to be returned, it doesn’t meet her standards.

She explains every step of the process to me, showing various stages of construction, and answers every question I can think to ask. The whole time, she’s also switching back and forth to Spanish, as she watches over her crew, and makes minute adjustments to their work.

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I excuse myself to explore a bit, though the space isn’t so huge that exploring takes me very far. There are shelves piled high with materials all the way to the ceiling, some 20 feet above us, and every inch of usable space is being put to work in some way or another. I find a pile of vegetable-treated leather in every color you can imagine. It’s softer than I can describe, like passing your hand through ethereal space, and the green is especially brilliant. I notice some frames for pullout couches, Aimee explains later that those come to her pre-made—metalwork is probably the only thing they don’t do here.

Before I leave, Aimee shows me one last thing. She brings it over cradled in two hands; the foot of a couch. It’s only about 4 inches long, hand tooled on a lathe and stained. She hands it to me, like a sacred artifact, and she’s beaming with pride. “Look at this, look at these colors, look how this stain has come out”. And she’s right, it’s beautiful. There are warm tones, cold tones, streaks of lights and darks, more complexities in this one tiny detail than in half of my apartment.

And it’s all like that. Every piece, every component, more varied and beautiful than you can ever really appreciate. What Aimee Robinson does, every day. In a small workshop in the heart of south Seattle, is create art in the form of furniture. At EcoBalanza, every choice is intentional, every detail attended to, and every need is considered.

Estelle Pin is a Bellingham-based writer who recently toured the EcoBalanza workshop with owner, Aimee Robinson.

Our obsession with sourcing wool locally

The wool we use in our furniture exemplifies our commitment to taking our core values as far as humanly possible. From the beginning, we have worked hard to find independent craftspeople, artisans and farmers in the Pacific Northwest who raise animals and produce superior wool batting and fabrics using sustainable and fair trade practices. Our goal is to make them part of a ‘living mission’ framework of production.

At Ecobalanza, living these also values requires that the origin, ethics of production and quality of these products is as important as the feel and aesthetic. That is why we offer our customers the ability to follow all aspects and components of the manufacturing and material to their very tangible origins.

The following farms and cooperatives and artisans with their own unique stories, methods and missions illustrate perfectly this Ecobalanza commitment:

  • A community of Decater Island in the Puget Sound’s San Juan Islands is a unique living example of a new evolving industry community.    A number of concerned local farmers organized to re-domesticate a herd of hearty feral Scottish Blackface sheep that were the surviving livestock of a farm abandoned in the 1950s.  Out of this venture formed a unique grassroots cooperative concerned for the welfare of the animals who are in turn producing a marketable product from their wool to sustain the animals and the cost of their care.
  • High quality raw wool used for felting is sourced from a business in Chehalis run by Meg and Brad.
  • We source fine Cheviots Lamb’s wool, known for its resilience and memory for use in batting from Caroline in Snohomish. 
  • Maggie and Jim are skilled needlepoint specialists in Monroe who craft wool felt for Ecobalanca.

Contact us if you would like to learn more about our suppliers of visit our workshop in Seattle to touch and smell our 100% chemical free materials.

 

 

 

 

Customer story: A special sofa for a very special boy

I have a special needs child with a medical condition that keeps him on the sofa much of the day. The family sofa is more than just a place to sit, it's his security blanket. 

As a mom, my paramount concern is his comfort and safety. When the time came to buy a new sofa, I wanted to make a change and get an organic one to prevent exposing him to toxins or chemicals found in regular sofas. 

I did a lot of research on the internet, but there wasn't clear information to help me understand what the options were. I still had a lot of questions.  Are all the components truly organic? How do you read between the lines when a company promotes itself as using “all natural” materials? Are they in control of the sourcing of all their materials?

When I found EcoBalanza, it was different. They explained all the filling options - like latex, wool and kapok as well as the different fabrics, and dyes. I was also reassured that they were in complete control of their supply chain, from start to finish. Scott spent a lot of time with me on the phone. He understood our long list of requirements, including my hesitation to make an expensive purchase, sight unseen. He asked many questions, sent pictures and facilitated the process of translating our specific needs into a custom built, beautiful and lasting piece. 

Turn around time was shorter than I expected. It was shipped from Seattle to a local white glove delivery service.  They brought it to my house, unwrapped the frame and cushions and carted away the packaging. 

So today, the couch stands in my home,  and it's clearly not a piece that was rolled off a factory floor. The design was specifically tailored for my son. They made the couch deeper, with a higher back and longer zippers to make the cushions easier to clean. The extra filling makes it softer and very comfortable. It's modern, stylish, well built and best of all, has no chemical smell.  

I made an investment, it’s for my son, it’s for my peace of mind. It’s totally worth it.

- Vicky

Avoiding toxins in your home

Did you know?

Tumor-causing flame retardant treatments: Polyurethane foam burns fast and hot,[iv] which is why it’s treated with flame retardants like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), Melamine,[v] chlorinated tris (TDCPP) and chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants (OPFRs).[vi] TDCPP negatively impacts fertility and tumor growth rates kidneys[vii] of which 8,000 tons are used every year.[viii] High-level exposure to melamine causes acute renal failure, urinary stone formation, and crystalluria.[ix]

Learn more

The ABCs of VOCs

In her blog, Christie's Non-Toxic Lifestyle, Christy Begien share some great insights into the impact of living with Volatile Organic Compounds. Visit her blog regularly to see how you can learn from her experiences.

VOC? What does that mean? The Minnesota Department of Health states that Volatile Organic Compounds are “a large group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature. While most people can smell high levels of some VOCs, other VOCs have no odor. Odor does NOT indicate the level of risk from inhalation of this group of chemicals.”

I’ll bet most of you have heard of formaldehyde.  It’s a VOC and considered volatile because it emits a gas at room temperature. As it warms up, more of the chemical off-gasses into a room.  (Off-gassing is the natural evaporation of chemicals.) The top three VOC offenders in our home? Carpeting, paint, and furniture and upholstery; all can carry VOCs, such as formaldehyde, toluene, and benzene, just to name a few.

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Choosing Safer Furniture

The Washington Toxics Coalition is a great resource for understanding the importance of paying attention to what is inside your furniture. Here are a few healthy tips to guide you:

  • If you’re not sure whether a piece of furniture contains toxic flame retardants, ask the manufacturer. If they are not able to tell you, consider an alternative.

  • If you already own furniture that may contain toxic flame retardants, cover and seal any rips in upholstery and replace old items where foam is exposed, loose, and crumbling.

  • Consider replacing furniture made of manufactured wood that contains formaldehyde-based glues. You can also apply a sealant, to contain the formaldehyde.

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Toxic Chemicals in our Couches

The use of flame retardant chemicals in furniture is a classic example of a stupid use of a chemical: they are ineffective in preventing furniture fires and are linked to serious health effects. In fact, the chemicals can make fires more toxic by forming deadly gases and soot -- real killers in most fires. Unfortunately, flame retardants surround us; they are in everything, from our curtains and carpet to our couches and other upholstered furniture.

For decades, an ineffective flammability standard, California's TB 117, has resulted in the foam inside our sofas, recliners, and love seats being saturated with pounds of toxic flame retardants. Though California has been the only state that required furniture to meet the standard, TB 117 became a default standard for furniture sold across the country. A recent study found that most couches in the United States contain at least one flame retardant chemical, whether or not they carry a TB 117 label.

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