In Victoria’s reign the Industrial Revolution came of age and sustainable furniture design is one of it’s many legacies. Many significant innovations saw the light of day during this time. Trains, Cars, Telephones, Lightbulbs, X-Rays are among the many things we now see as ordinary. This gives an idea as to how important this period was. Here’s a link to a timeline showing the most important Victorian inventions.
In fact, before X-Rays, the only way people knew if they had broken bones, was by letting a doctor take a wild guess. Some patients were even cut open to confirm if they had a severe bone injury. A simple fracture often snowballed into a fatal infection back in those pain filled days. And there were no laws to stop medics from working drunk either!
The years leading up to the 1900’s were a literal explosion of Industrial innovation. Many incredible changes took place. In transport alone engineers invented the first bicycle in 1839. Rubber tires and Tarmac to make roads smoother followed quickly in 1845. They even introduced the world’s first flushing toilet in London back in 1852. Oh and don’t forget Sewing machines came along in 1850 and Cars in 1895.
In fact, all these advances predated our crucial invention of chocolate Easter eggs. Flushing toilets were obviously a bigger step forward. Like many early breakthroughs they are still, in principle, unchanged today. We’ve improved them though – by letting them into the house!
Why don’t modern products last like Victorian ones?
One thing has changed since those days though. Engineers back then, as a matter of course, made quality products which would last a very long time. Unlike say, a mobile phone today, they made products to be kept. The motto was to build something once and with replaceable and renewable parts. This was better than our modern way of discontinuing old products and issuing new models. A good example is the Kodak box camera of 1888 which was continually modified. Over time this improved capturing memories and people treasured them as prized possessions. This ongoing developmental process has over time led to Smartphones. amongst other goodies we treasure these days.
Does this mean there’s is conflict inherent in the way that we make and use products today? Are our lives improved by letting us take more photos of ourselves (during trips to our indoors flushing toilets?). Neil Armstrong only felt the need to take five photos during the entire moon landing!
Isambard Kingdom Brunel knew how to build things to last!
A famous engineer of the Victorian period who played a key role in Britain’s industrial revolution was Brunel. He designed and constructed railway lines, tunnels, ships and bridges. When only 20 years old and working for his father’s company, he created the Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe. This was one of the first to run underwater
and later became part of the London Tube network. So, we wouldn’t be riding the tube today if it wasn’t for his long-lasting design principles. It’s even more impressive when you think he wasn’t even old enough to rent a car or have a beer in America today!
In 1829, Brunel won a competition to design a Suspension Bridge in
Bristol (not too far from Ironfire HQ). He went on to mastermind around 1200 miles of railway. That included the main line between London and Bristol including many bridges, tunnels and viaducts. Imagine if those weren’t long-lasting and made from durable construction materials. We would never risk driving over a bridge ever again.
In search of sustainable products
The Victorians were non stop innovators. They showed us how to create sustainable design in the best sense. That means it lasts a very long time because it is solid and repairable. There are many of their ideas that, even today, we all still use. We have of course made changes to improve those products and make them more efficient. The essential spirit though remains the same.
In 1872, British engineer James Starley invented the penny-farthing bicycle. Starley’s bicycle had a front wheel that was six feet tall with a tiny back wheel. It looked more like a suicidal unicycle when people rode it around. The bike is a good example of great sustainable design that’s became more practical over time. We use them more and more today and electric bikes are a great modern advance. We have these days changed both wheels to be the same size! Much more efficient, even if we look less entertaining.
We live in a disposable society where we throw away anything that we don’t need anymore. We even have terms like “planned obsolescence” to excuse wasteful manufacturing.
Reclaiming sustainable Victorian design.
We should recognise that modern mass production makes things available to many people. We would just like to see manufacturers grasp the challenge of the Rs. Repair, Recycle, Restore and Re-imagine are some!
That’s why Eco friendly companies like Ironfire take inspiration from Victorian long-lived design. It’s also why we reference their beautiful, heavyweight, industrial forms in our tough furniture.
Like the Victorians, we build our things to last and be easily renewed and repaired. In fact we hope your Ironfire becomes part of your family story. That’s the essence of sustainable design and it’s in the Ironfire DNA. We only use Zinc coated steel and sustainable UK timber so our furniture lasts and lasts. Ironfire is contemporary but sustainable furniture with Brunel’s made for life design ideas in mind. They’re much smaller of course and so much more affordable!
Sustainable furniture today needs more than Victorian design.
The Victorians might have built things for the long-term but they didn’t need to think about the environment. Modern, ethical design has to think about where the materials come from too! That’s why Ironfire invests in strong, robust, and durable materials from the UK. We also avoid harmful V.O.Cs. Aside from being durable and eco-friendly, we also put a lot of effort into getting our furniture and service right. Putting it simply, we want your home to feel and look good in every single way.
Our sustainability ambition? To have members of your family arguing over ownership of our pieces! Long after you are gone.
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