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Henry Horgan-Davison, 3D Design BA (Hons)

16th June 2023

Design student turns seaweed into green furniture

Sustainability is at the heart of a novel project pioneered by a talented design student at Northumbria University. Henry Horgan-Davison is investigating the potential for seaweed to be used as an alternative, sustainable material for furniture production.

Henry, who is currently in his final year at Northumbria University studying 3D product and furniture design, said: “I currently run my own business making and selling small furniture, such as wooden bowls and chairs. I’ve also been commissioned to design an office space for a company and make furniture and fittings for them.

“In the summer months I teach water sports and discovered that kelp – large brown algae that live in cool, relatively shallow waters close to the shore – feels very durable when in the water.

“I did a lot of research to find out what type of seaweed grows best along the North East coastline. Kelp grows in a vast number of places along the coast and it absorbs more CO2 than trees do per acre. All of this got me thinking of ways of turning seaweed into leather, which would be useful for my furniture business and generally for the environment.”

Henry Horgan-Davison, 3D Design BA (Hons) Henry Horgan-Davison, 3D Design BA (Hons)

Henry has devised a process that preserves the seaweed from rotting and therefore it remains durable.

“I made wallets out of the leather to prove how durable it is,” he said. “Ideally I’d like to source longer bits of kelp from a seaweed farm; then I can experiment with larger pieces of furniture. It’s amazing what you can do with seaweed and it’s highly sustainable. If you cut some kelp off a rock it will grow again. If you cut down a tree, you need to plant another one.”

As part of his degree course, Henry undertook a year-long industry placement working for Berghaus in the company’s backpack design team.

“This gave me the opportunity to see how a global manufacturing brand operates,” he said: “My remit was to create innovative and commercially viable products from briefs assigned to me – it was a great experience.

“I’ve also received excellent support from the university. The tutors have provided lots of advice and they really encourage students to trial their ideas. The REVEAL 2023 degree shows will also highlight my project and the sustainable benefits of using seaweed for furniture and other everyday products.”

Philip Luscombe, Henry’s tutor and Assistant Professor at Northumbria University’s School of Design, said: “Our design students usually work with more familiar materials, but Henry’s project explores the potential of a new option that is readily available on our coastline. He’s taken a hands-on approach to materials science, experimenting with various different ways of working with seaweed to get the most out of it. By applying the findings using his skills as a furniture and product designer, Henry’s project addresses an important sustainability issue.”

Discover more about 3D Design BA (Hons) at Northumbria School of Design here.
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