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What Makes Us GREEN?

PRIMITIVESaying we are committed to GREEN is a recent practice, but our commitment to ecologically safe product and practices began almost at the inception of our business, because we did not want to become sick from the work we did nor did we want our toddlers, our water well and our world harmed with toxic chemicals.

godwin primitiveIn our early days in a small farming community committed to certified organics and recycling, GREEN influences were strong in our business practice.  We discovered that practices that made sense for our world also made sense in our business and for our client’s furniture.  Of course, recycling is the nature of our business, as we repair and reuse old furniture, which might otherwise be headed for a landfill!

GODWIN PRIMITIVEIn antique upholstered objects, organic stuffings were the norm: cotton, hair, feathers, burlap, muslin, hemp, algerian, Spanish moss, sisal, and various organic twines.  Many upholsterers simply rip out the old organic stuffings and insert Dacron®, or poly-foam fills. Early in his career, Mitchell apprenticed to several European and American classically trained master upholsterers. His mentors imparted a philosophy of preservation, which became a focus of his career, leading him eventually to become a conservator.

Mitchell’s practice employs century’s old upholstery techniques that emphasize the knowledge and use of traditional stuffings, which by their nature are intrinsically organic. He is interested in recreating the insides of his projects by cleaning and reusing the original stuffings whenever possible, and this is one component of our GREEN program.  Matching old stuffings means using organic products, or what we now refer to as "natural."   Whenever possible, we also use certified organic materials. As the certified organic movement has accelerated, and also, in part, due to our constant requests, we can now obtain certified organic cotton batting and other products.

Additionally, MPFC uses unbleached cotton, hemp, muslin and burlap foundational cloths, another GREEN practice, because the lack of chemical bleaches is good for the environment and the side benefit is it allows the upholstery fabrics placed over it to last longer.

RUBY SHELLACDo we ever use non-organic material in upholstered pieces?  Yes, for our customers who are allergic to organic products, and in modern pieces that must use synthetic materials. 

In our studio, we are equally committed to the use of low-impact materials. We make over 3/4 of our own finishes and glues on site, and what is purchased is typically bought from small specialty supply houses where we can speak to the manufacturers directly, and know that they, too, are committed to similar environmental concerns.

Recently I read in a top GREEN magazine that shellac and varnishes were highly toxic and should be avoided. There is a terrible misunderstanding in our industry. Modern chemical varnishes and shellacs are not the same thing that was used 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago. Traditional varnishes and shellacs were mostly made from materials that have a relatively low impact on the environment. Traditional finishes are often made from organic materials and low impact chemicals:


In the practice of antique conservation of traditional finishes, we do not strip finishes, which means that the highly toxic chemicals used in strip shops are not leached into the air nor into the land via dumping on the earth or in the sewage system. Further, we have little to no disposal, as we make what we need for each project so do not have to send cans of excess to the landfill.

Organic resins, ready to be tied in cotton scrim, top left, and suspended in pure gum balsam turpentine to make a Dammar Varnish, top right. Waxes in their raw form, center; melted with earth pigments, bottom left, and in the final form, bottom right.

INFILLWhen do we use toxic chemicals?  A small amount of naphtha is used on a rag to clean the dirtiest of finishes, and quickly dissipates.  For the rare times when we must infill small areas with pigments using a tiny pointed brush (shown next page), or the very occasional use of anilines suspended in benzenes (whenever possible we choose anilines suspended in alcohol or water.)  Less than a 1/4 teaspoon of a chemical such as xylene is used to suspend the pigment in worst cases, and all of the product is used or quickly dissipates, and imparts no lingering toxicity. 

We are GREEN because we use traditional practices and materials mixed with a heightened awareness to make additional choices to choose low impact products whenever possible and recycle.  It is impossible for most businesses today to be 100% GREEN -- the use of technology such as computers and cameras, delivery trucks, and most any modern convenience support some practices that are not good for the environment.  However, we make the right choices whenever we can, recycle as we should in our home and office, and stay open to changing practices as new information or product becomes available.  We also speak out and support causes that can change the way we fundamentally do business in a manner that allows our grandchildren and environment to be healthy and have a future.



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Contact Information

dkatiepowell [@] / mitchellrpowell {@}
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503.970.2509 / 541.531.2383

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