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Pull up an organic chair and sink into living 'green'
By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY

First came organic food. Then, organic clothing. And now better sit down organic furniture.

That's right, upholstered furniture and bedding free of common furniture, fabric and agricultural chemicals from formaldehyde to chemical fire retardants. All the stuffing, upholstery fibers and wood in the furniture are certified to be chemical-free.

Only a handful of companies make it. One of them, Furnature, in Watertown, Mass., recently opened one of the first retail showrooms dedicated to organic furniture.

It doesn't come cheap. Some of Furnature's organic couches sell for nearly $4,000. A handmade organic hemp couch from rival Bean Products fetches $5,200.

While organic furniture sales are just a fraction of the $12 billion organic industry, the growth potential is enormous. Sales of organic mattresses and pillows, which topped $1 million last year, are expected to grow nearly 15% annually during the next five years, the Organic Trade Association estimates.

Just as organic food has become acceptable to the mainstream, organic furniture "may be seen as normal in 20 years," says Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association.

What has changed most during the past few years is who buys it. Five years ago, 99% of the organic furniture sold by Furnature was to people with chemical allergies. Today, 70% of the sales are to consumers who want a "green" lifestyle, says Barry Shapiro, co-founder.

Even Whole Foods, the natural and organic foods retailing giant, would consider carrying some organic furniture in the "Whole Home" department of its new flagship megastore in Austin that takes the Whole Foods concept beyond a supermarket, says spokeswoman Kate Lowery.

The Whole Home department carries items such as towels, sheets and pillows. Carrying organic furniture is possible, Lowery says, because, "It sounds like it goes along with expanding the lifestyle beyond food."

Two of the bigger makers of organic furniture are seeing fast growth. Furnature sold more than $1 million in handmade organic furniture and more than $5 million in organic mattresses last year, Shapiro says. Sales are growing 20% annually, he says. Bean Products is even getting requests from some corporate clients for organic furniture, says founder Chuck Blumenthal.

If the major furniture makers were willing to make organic furniture, the prices could be halved, he says.

Why organic? "We're living in chemical soup," Blumenthal says. "People do not want toxic stuff in their lives."





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