Malaspina's residences get new look from salvaged wood

October 9, 2000 - 5:00pm

Salvaged hemlock from the bottom of Vancouver Island lakes is being used to give student residences at Malaspina University-College a new look.

New, modular shelving units, desks and cupboards have been installed in 14 student residences so far. All 180 rooms will be refurbished as funding becomes available.

Malaspina instructor Mike Culverwell designed the new furnishings, while interior design graduate Jing Fei Wang, graduate of Malaspina's Diploma in Applied Arts: Interior Design program, came up with the colour scheme.

Culverwell, who teaches interior design, has been designing and building modular furniture prototypes from salvaged wood for about four years. His designs are gaining international attention in Japan, Switzerland and elsewhere in the world.

Culverwell gets much of his recycled hemlock, birch and pine from a Victoria-based company, Triton, which retrieves wood from lake bottoms.

"There's tons of wood underwater and we've developed ways of accessing it," explains Chris Godsall, president of Triton.

Sonar technology and a grapple and crane mounted on a barge are used to retrieve wood that has sunk to the bottom of B.C. lakes.

"Retrieving this type of wood is a fantastic and efficient way of accessing wood," adds Godsall. Once retrieved, the wood is cut, kiln-dried and then sold to various markets.
A value-added wood facilitator from the B.C. Government first put Triton in touch with Culverwell. Triton donated about 300 board feet of hemlock which Culverwell used to make value-added prototypes, including tables, chairs and other furnishings.

His modular furniture units consist of solid wood tops and hinged frames. When stacked or grouped together, they form a variety of products including tables, shelving, folding screens, display modules and seating. The system is easily assembled and disassembled for flat pack shipping and storage.

Last fall, Culverwell was asked to design modular units for Malaspina's student residences using salvaged wood.

The University-College wanted student residences re-done to provide students and conference delegates with better furnishings.

A market analysis was completed and the University-College purchased enough wood for 14 rooms, which were refurbished over the summer.

This isn't the first time Culverwell has designed furnishings for a university. While completing his Master's degree at the University of Alberta, several years ago, he was commissioned to design 600 white oak tables and 2,500 chairs in the student residences; the design was modular and emphasized minimal wastage in production.

"When we have a chance to recycle, reclaim and salvage wood and use it to manufacture something unique, we should do so," adds Godsall. "It's about smart resource management and understanding how valuable our forest resources are."

"The wood quality of salvaged logs is excellent," adds Godsall. "The wood is distinctive and there's a unique story behind it."

Godsall says students at Malaspina may find it interesting to know that their desks, cupboards and shelving have been made "from wood that's been underwater for more than 60 years."

"This wood sank long before chainsaws were used," adds Godsall. "So these huge trees were cut by axes in another era."

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