This Furniture Is Made Of Fungus

There’s a fungus among us—and it could invade our homes. But that’s nothing to worry about.

K5 Furniture in Melbourne commissioned the design department at nearby Monash University to craft furnishings from fungus as part of the company’s push to create inventive sustainable goods made in Australia. The result? Phenomenal Fungi, a collection of lighting fixtures, wall tiles and space dividers crafted from mycelium, the subterranean network of single-cell fungal threads that grow into mushrooms.

Don’t expect to see shroom caps dotting these 100% biodegradable objects. They do, however, have a decidedly organic look that reflects mycelium’s varying hues and textures.

“Most of the time, they feel velvety,” Gyungju Chyon, director of spatial design at Monash and lead on the project, said of the items, speaking in an email interview. “Some of them feel like human skin, and some feel leathery.”

The eight-piece Phenomenal Fungi collection made the longlist in the consumer sustainable design category for the 2023 Dezeen Awards, run by online architecture and design magazine Dezeen. Winners will be announced in November.

To create the prototypes, the interdisciplinary Monash team mixed mycelium spawn with organic waste the fungi could use as nutrients: rice husks, charcoal, wood chips, used coffee grounds and discarded textiles. They cultivated the mycelium in a lab in temperatures between 68 degrees and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

“One of the exciting characteristics of mycelium is that the texture and colors vary depending on their growing temperature and substrates,” said Chyon, whose work explores the relationship between design and the environment, with an emphasis on natural, living materials.

After the Monash designers grew hunks of mycelium, they placed it into molds made from foam and, in one instance, reused fabric. “In this case, the textile was both the form and substrate,” Chyon said. They then baked the structures at 194 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the mycelium from growing further.

The design prototypes are “visually captivating and innovative,” K5 Furniture CEO and founder Erna Walsh said in an email. The Monash team wants to advance its fungi furniture beyond the prototype phase, according to Chyon, and is currently looking for a manufacturer.

More and more furniture designers are turning to sustainable materials to reduce the amount of furniture that clogs landfills, increasingly in part, due to popular “fast furniture” made from low-quality, non-recyclable materials. There’s also a health component. Furniture constructed from wood and textiles emits harmful compounds such as formaldehyde from glues, dyes and surface treatments for fire protection.

“Mycelium, on the other hand, is naturally fire-resistant, water-resistant, and microbe-resistant and also has naturally great acoustic performance,” according to a statement from the Victorian Premiers Design Awards, which named Phenomenal Fungi as a finalist last year. “Because of these natural properties, the surface of the mycelium furniture does not need chemical treatments. Thus, it is much healthier for both the environment and humans during its lifespan.”

But for all its benefits, sustainable furniture still battles the perception that it isn’t as stylish or modern as its non-sustainable counterparts. That’s changing as the range of products made from sustainable or recycled materials grows. These days, those can mean anything from tables and chairs made entirely of cardboard to shelves made from scavenged red sports cars.

K5 introduced the mycelium furniture to the design and architecture sectors last fall at an exhibit titled Metanoia+. Metanoia means to change one’s mind and gain a new perspective, something K5 hopes will happen when it comes to eco-friendly products designed with novel materials.

“With education, open minds, quality design and an increasing demand for non-standardized products, the future of fungi design is bright,” K5 said in a description of the Monash collaboration. “It is precisely the type of material we need to be open to for a future that genuinely works to minimize waste.”

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