We speak to Ian Burden, founder and owner of PGT-Reclaimed, on being a pioneer in his field and what he loves about designing and manufacturing reclaimed timber furniture
1. Tell us about the sort of work that you do, and what it’s like being a designer and manufacturer of reclaimed furniture?
At PGT-Reclaimed we manufacture functional, stylish and durable lifestyle furniture for Bedding, Dining, Living and Office, using 100 percent solid reclaimed wood, previously used mainly in old buildings, shipping containers and pallets.
When I started PGT-Reclaimed 20 years ago, no one was using reclaimed wood, so at the beginning it was a challenge to work out how to use the resource, and secondly, to convince the market ‘furniture with nail holes’ would work.
Now the market truly accepts our product and we’re proud of what we produce and how it contributes to environmental conservation, while inspiring others to live more sustainably.
Over the past 20 years we’ve developed the perfect way to treat the wood and manufacture it. All processes are done by hand; we use old-English carpentry methods and finish our products with a multi-step French polishing technique to showcase the wood’s imperfect beauty.
Designing and manufacturing furniture using reclaimed wood is incredibly rewarding. We’ve gained Forest Stewardship Council certification and are proud to provide sustainable employment to around 700 people in Vietnam, while working indirectly with around 2,000 people throughout the world.
2. What attracted you to becoming a manufacturer? What do you like most about what you do?
Growing up I was always a practical person. As a youngster, I made many miniature furniture pieces and when I was 16, I built a model ship and a Scalextric car track. I remember putting an ad in the paper to sell the ship and track and the offer I got helped me buy my first car!
My first foray into manufacturing was when I started a toy company in Sydney, which later moved to Cootamundra, where I’d make wooden toys honouring days gone by, such as ‘Shoe Fly’ rockers, rocking horses, Walker Wagons with blocks, Victorian style dolls houses, miniature cars, trains, trucks and more. Manufacturing toys also allowed me to be involved with the community and help the local economy. In the late 1970s, I developed a mythical character called Billy Bunyip as a marketing drawcard to help keep spending in Cootamundra around Christmas time.
During this time, I was learning about how to run a business and manufacturing as I went, and usually just applied common sense in the processes I developed for each toy.
What I learnt in toys, along with a number of short courses I completed in Sydney, including in carpentry, allowed me to build my skill set which I would apply to furniture manufacturing later in life.
One aspect I like most about manufacturing is being able to produce good quality products and that is one of my passions. I always steer clear of the ‘close enough is good enough’ mentality, and my employees know they must do the same.
Being a manufacturer has also enabled me to form incredible relationships with people throughout the world. I’m proud of the family-like distribution network that’s been created where everyone, including distributors and retailers, are proud of PGT’s products and eagerly share our story as passionately as we do.
3. What is your business philosophy?
We constantly adhere to the mentality of ‘doing everything right’, while being focused on innovation. I believe we’re often ahead of the market by about four years and highlights of this have been our IP protected Quick to Assemble beds, our engineered, easy to manipulate butterfly extension tables, and overall, our unique designs, manufacturing methods and finishes.
Our philosophy extends further though in the way we work with our resources and communities. Since the beginning, we have focused on respecting the local culture in South Vietnam and ensuring our local employees are happy. We continually look at how we can enhance their lifestyles and this has included establishing a formal compassionate policy, “For a Greener Future”, and initiating cultural activities, such as a company choir.
We place just as much importance on respecting the environment and our resources and on valuing customer service, and striving to exceed our customers’ expectations every time.
4. Where do you take inspiration from – what inspires your particular style?
PGT-Reclaimed’s furniture is timeless in both durability and style. Our products are designed to be solid and functional, with loads of character which comes from using naturally distressed wood, a look consumers often describe as ‘rustic’.
Inspiration for designs either comes from places I’ve travelled myself or with my wife, Yung, who is PGT-Reclaimed’s Brand and R&D Director, or moments from my youth. Some examples which reflect on my youth include our new collection, Bohemian, which reflects the multi-cultural suburb of Earlwood in Sydney, while another collection, Old 55, celebrates the rock n roll era of the 1950s.
During our travel over the years, I’ve developed a love affair with Italy, from its architecture, to its music, to food. From this we designed the TuscanSpring collection which honours multi-generational celebrations in this beautiful region.
Another collection I’m particularly proud of is WoodenForge launched in 2013 which honours the pioneering days of the first railways. This industrial look, achieved by combining wood and metal was about four years ahead of its time, but is now our most popular collection.
5. What advice would you give to anyone looking to buy furniture and are undecided about which style they should go for, and which best suits their space?
As a manufacturer, my key advice for consumers is to first of all know where the furniture you are interested in has come from, what materials have been used and where they have been sourced. Our constant concern is how some manufacturers use new wood and pass it off as reclaimed wood through distressing it. This significantly weakens the material and goes against all of our manufacturing and environmental principles. We encourage consumers to be discerning in their purchasing; ask lots of questions and do your research.
Regarding styles to choose, industrial looking furniture is very much on trend, but we recommend selecting a piece that is built to last, with a timeless style. Some of our collections we’ve had since the beginning, such as Cornwall, Irish Coast, Bahama and Lifestyle remain some of our most popular collections 15 – 20 years later.
6. What do you think are some of the average consumer’s most common misconceptions around reclaimed furniture?
One misconception about reclaimed furniture is that it is not strong. This is definitely not the case with PGT’s furniture. We use solid wood which is kiln-dried over 21 days before being manufactured using old-English carpentry. We’ve developed techniques to ensure strength including a floating panel method with a tongue in groove method to lock the wood together, allowing the product to adapt to varying climates.
We back our products’ quality with a five-year warranty, but we do believe our furniture can last a lifetime as we hear from consumers wanting to buy a new piece to match with a piece they purchased many years ago!
7. What are some of the emerging trends you’ve most recently noticed in your field?
We constantly listen to the market, so we can, in a sense, ‘design with our ears’.
We believe consumers are becoming more interested in a product’s environmental integrity, while being more conscious about what they bring into their homes and any effects products might have on theirs and/or their family’s health.
One of the ways we’ve responded to this trend is through evolving our finishes. Yung has been leading a program to move our finishes to using 100 percent water-based materials, away from Nitrocellulose (NC). While NC isn’t toxic, using water-based finishes is a much better option and ensures a more comfortable environment for both our workers and the end user. This is an incredibly important program and is ahead of the industry.
8. What’s next for you?
We had a special 20-year gala celebration in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on 10 March which was a wonderful chance to catch up with all our customers from the years.
On 1 April, marking the exact day I incorporated the business, 20 years ago, we had a second celebration, this time to thank our workers for their commitment and devotion.
Coming up for us, we plan on continuing our efforts to manufacture environmentally sustainable furniture and hope we can further encourage more eco-friendly living throughout the world.
We’re extremely happy with the reach we have had over the past 20 years and thank those who have been a part of our journey.
To read more, visit the PGT-Reclaimed website