Designer’s value-added wood product debuts on international stage

May 31, 1999 - 5:00pm

Mike Culverwell - an Interior Design instructor at Malaspina University-College - is about to embark on an international adventure.

He’s travelling to Japan in June to show twelve "ready-to-assemble" furniture pieces to prospective clients at an international trade fair. Culverwell’s furniture is unique - he makes tables and chairs out of alder.

"Canadians generally believe that alder is junk wood," says Culverwell, "but I think it has real potential. It’s an inexpensive, solid wood that finishes well."

Culverwell began designing "ready-to-assemble" furniture using scrap woo

d several years ago. He built a unique shelving unit for the Alberta government, and 2,000 chairs and coffee tables for the University of Alberta’s student residences.

Using a similar concept, Culverwell built seating and table prototypes with scrap pieces of alder after joining Malaspina’s Interior Design department in 1994. A year ago, his work began receiving international attention.

An external trade organization from Japan (JETRO) saw his prototypes and invited Culverwell to meet with a group of overseas businessmen in Vancouver. A month ago, his furniture was selected by JETRO as the North American product that is most feasible and marketable in Japan.

Culverwell’s tables and chairs will displayed at a trade show in Tokyo and at nine other venues throughout Europe.

His furniture appeals to Japanese consumers because "it looks North American and it’s solid wood with a hand-built feel, he says. "They like ready-to-assemble furniture because it’s easy to store."

"The beauty of this type of furniture," adds Culverwell, "is that it can be manufactured by low or semi-skilled workers using off-cut or scrap-wood. In Canada, we have a bad habit of sending logs to Japan and they send it back to us in the form of a table. I believe that Canadian manufacturers should be producing value-added wood products like these and sell them on the global market."

Culverwell recently issued tenders to furniture manufacturers to mass produce his furniture for retail markets.

"This is something I never imagined would happen," says Culverwell. "I’m lucky. I just happened to produce the right product at the right time."

Culverwell credits Malaspina University-College’s Technology Transfer Centre in helping him launch his unique product. The Centre, located at the Nanaimo campus, supports local industry by linking the resources of the University-College with the region’s industries.

"I was ready to give up last December," he says. "There’s no way my product would have come this far without funding and support from the Technology Transfer Centre," he says.

"The Centre provided funding that enabled me to take time off from teaching to build furniture full-time. Additional funding will allow me to hire two Malaspina University-College students from the graphics design and interior design programs to prepare a promotional package and complete the furniture line for Tokyo.

For more information about Malaspina’s Technology Transfer Centre please call (250) 741-2687.

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