1928 Willcox & Gibbs Automatic Sewing Machine with original manual

While in Seattle this week visiting my sister, I took some photos of this beautiful Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine, a family heirloom purchased new in Boston in 1928 by our great-aunt for $118.00.


The machine is tiny by today's standards - the pencil gives an idea of scale

The manual makes reference to use of a treadle – this model has been updated with an electric motor.

Pages from the original manual name the parts and show quilting set-up


Bozeman’s new Starky’s Restaurant opened on Friday April 9, 2010. Diners can now experience the unique surroundings conceived by Comma-Q Architecture along with work by many local businesses, including comfortable built-in seating designed and built by Casulo Studios:

Starky's Benches - sprung seating for optimal comfort

Bench wraps around the corner

Booth seating and tables

Booths are situated in an alcove

Gunlocke Chairs

1978 Gunlocke Chair with beautiful solid wood construction

Here’s a beautiful example of a 1978 Gunlocke chair we recently acquired – the wood is solid walnut and the upholstery is in good shape.

Here’s a bit of history on the company (read the entire article here):

William Henry Gunlocke entered the chair business in Binghamton in 1888 as a wood finisher and rose to the position of factory superintendent. He and four other men came to the village of Wayland in western New York in 1902 in response to a newspaper advertisement placed by the civic fathers seeking to fill a vacant factory building. The W.H. Gunlocke Chair Co. began production there with less than a dozen employees.

Gunlocke’s reputation for quality designs and craftsmanship was due in part to its extensive use of steambending. By 1912 an entire department had been devoted to this time-honored but exacting process, which had been abandoned by many manufacturers in favor of less costly bandsawing. Gunlocke’s practice was to air-dry wood for six months to one year before using it. This process, plus kiln drying, was essential to producing the company’s durable furniture, including seating made to last for decades.

Although the company’s furniture was initially designed, manufactured, and merchandised primarily for household applications, it found a growing market in business settings and began to specialize in furniture for business and government offices, as well as for the nation’s schools. Woodrow Wilson became the first of a long line of presidents to use one of its chairs.

In 1972, Gunlocke added a full line of high-quality library furniture. In 1973 it had showrooms in Los Angeles, New York City, and Dallas, as well as Chicago. Its product line in 1974, aside from seating, desks, credenzas, and library furniture, included conference and side tables. These products were made primarily from solid walnut, maple, and white oak, as well as veneers of these woods. In 1977 Gunlocke introduced a new desk series and three chair styles by leading designers.

Penny Bonda revisits some small ways we can all choose to live a more sustainable lifestyle:

1.    Turn trash to treasure, or at least, not be so quick to throw it away. There is no away. Today’s aging furnishings will soon become vintage. Think about it.
2.    Avoid toxic materials. Viable alternatives exist. Go find them.
3.    Support FSC certified wood. Write it into every specification. As we increase the demand, supply and price reductions will surely follow.
4.    Participate in the process. Join USGBC, comments on the rating systems and credit revisions, vote in the elections. Activism works! Speaking of which…
5.    Sign on to the 2030 Challenge, which commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions for all buildings by 50% right now, and…
6.    Remember this number – 350 – and pledge to redouble your efforts to build a global climate movement strong enough to get the world back to 350.
7.    Switch out every incandescent light for a CFL or one of the fabulous new LEDs.
8.    Search out and discover innovative ways to install renewable technology strategies in our projects, and/or…
9.    Purchase carbon offset credits. Get a list of reliable providers here.
10.    Avoid greenwash by learning more about what’s truly green. Third party certifications are a great place to start.
11.    Support the triple bottom line by giving your business to manufacturers and suppliers that equally value ecology, social justice and economics
12.    Eliminate paper use – and plastic. Go digital in the office and polyester or canvas at home. (Penny’s) favorite reusable is by ChicoBag.
13.    Boycott bottled water – at the office, home, on the road. Install water filters or use a water delivery service. Tote your water in a stainless steel BPA-free bottle (example here).
14.    Eat healthier and exercise more – everyone’s inevitable resolution. This year it’s yours by eating locally grown organic food and leaving the car at home. Walk or bike to work.

Here is an article I recently wrote for our local Ecozone newspaper:

Anyone who has ever purchased a new piece of furniture might recall a distinct odor brought into the home or office along with the happily anticipated new addition. After a while the smell dissipates to a point where we no longer notice it, but many of us wonder what it is, and some may even experience unpleasant physical reactions in the form of dizziness, nausea or more severe symptoms. As people are becoming more aware of all things environmental, the home and office, where most of us spend more than half of our lives, are no exceptions.

The worst pollutants today are brominated flame retardants (PBDEs) which infiltrate our indoor environment as dust filtering out of our furniture (and certain other household items), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which “off-gas” harmful chemicals into the air from formaldehyde-based glues used in plywoods and wood composites as well as in many textile and wood surface finishes. PBDEs — similar to PCBs and dioxins, two of the most toxic classes of chemicals — are in use today largely as a result of the California Furniture Flammability Standard (TB-117), which indicates the use of flame retardants in upholstered furniture and baby items, resulting in widespread use of materials treated with these inexpensive chemicals.

One way to begin addressing the problem of indoor air pollution is to start asking questions. We as consumers should demand to know exactly what chemicals are in our products and any health problems associated with them. Furniture stores, designers and upholstery shops want to do their part for the environment as much as any of us, and customer interest in these important issues translates to significant “grassroots” impact as suppliers and manufacturers begin to incorporate requests for non-toxic materials into their offerings.

What are the healthy alternatives we are looking for? The purely “organic” furniture alternative may be a good choice for people with acute chemical sensitivities as well as those merely looking to create a cleaner indoor environment. This choice may include certified organic wool, an accepted flame retardant layer in upholstery cushioning and also naturally resistant to dust mites, bacteria and mold (common human allergens). Natural, non-synthetic latex foam produced without petroleum or harsh chemicals provides an alternative to urethane foam as a core cushioning element. Organic cotton, farmed without the use of pesticides or herbicides, may be used in place of standard cotton as an upholstery padding layer. There is a growing range of organic textiles as well as low-impact natural fibers such as hemp, flax, linen or bamboo. Fabric companies are adding more “green” choices to their fabric lines every year. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood products are sourced from tree farms which employ sustainable forestry management practices. Water-based glue and natural finishes such as tung oil and beeswax contain no VOCs and will not off-gas harmful air pollutants.

As our environmental knowledge expands and we begin to give voice to our concerns, our local furniture stores, upholstery shops and design services will be better able to provide a wider choice of healthy materials to suit our individual needs.

Restaurant Seating

Here are some quick shots of our current project: seating for a great local restaurant – Starky’s Authentic Americana, Bozeman, Montana – rebuilding after the devastating gas explosion of March 2009 – opening soon!

Gluing and clamping: Sustainably harvested FSC certified solid wood and non-toxic water-based glue

Shop work - parts: seat frames, springs and seat backs

Seat frames - spring clips attached

Seat frames sprung up and ready for upholstery - they're going to be comfy!

The Lola swivel chair covered with "Jetsons-style" retro wool upholstery fabric

When asked what inspired us to begin manufacturing our own line of organic furniture, my response ranges from “a desire to create beautiful heirloom-quality furniture” to “love of a design challenge” and everything in between… but the answer ultimately rests on the subject of indoor air quality.

When I first heard about people who have chemical sensitivities, I thought about my own experience, which began with a job I took as a teenager brushing a urethane-based sealer onto every wood surface of a 3-story log home. The job took me about a month to complete, and I remember being utterly permeated during that period with what I now know were very nasty volatile organic compounds (VOCs) off-gassing from the sealer.

Label from a high-VOC finish

My inexperience with such things precluded me from wearing a protective mask, and I am convinced that exposure has had lasting health effects on me, in the form of elevated sensitivity to indoor air pollutants. Although I don’t exhibit the acute symptoms that some individuals experience, the motivation was in place to find alternatives to the materials I was working with in conventional upholstery that can cause these symptoms.

The rewards of our research and development are now tangible in our custom furniture and organic upholstery services and in Casulo Studios’ Living Home Furniture™ line.

The Lola swivel chair is the newest addition to the line. Reproduced from a vintage chair circa 1940’s, the upholstery includes organic cotton batting, natural jute burlap & webbing and a custom manufactured spring system for maximum support and comfort. The base is FSC certified solid maple, finished with pure tung oil (no petroleum distillates) and beeswax.

The Lola swivel chair (side view)

Weathered Wood

A weathered tree stump in the Absaroka Mountains

This week’s inspiration came on a walk along a wind-blown ridge a few miles east of Livingston in the Absaroka Mountains. An ancient weathered stump, graying with exposure to the sun, retains beautiful streaks of auburn in the grain of the wood – a warm & inviting color reaching out as if to envelop and protect… could this be one reason we are drawn to this color and to natural wood tones to enhance our own environments at home?

A few of my custom silk textiles recall this color and its inspiration from nature, including Sahara and Primitive.

This old tree creates its own micro-climate, sheltering and capturing water for the shrubs in its embrace

The Milton rocking chair

The Milton spring rocker was the debut chair in our organic Living Home Furniture™ line in 2008. Named after my grandfather, the design recalls his favorite chair – at least as I remember it from early childhood. He used to sit in it as he enjoyed the Boston Red Sox on one of the first color TVs in the 60s. The cover fabric is beautiful hand dyed, hand woven silk from a weaver’s co-op in Thailand. Unfortunately, it is a limited edition fabric, so is not currently part of our stock fabric offering – but it seems almost meant for this chair. The upholstery includes local organic wool batting and felt, 100% natural latex foam, organic cotton/bamboo batting &  hemp canvas. The arms and base are FSC certified solid walnut, finished with pure tung oil (no petroleum distillates) and beeswax.

Yellowstone Sunrise

Trees silhouetted by sunrise

Livingston Peak at sunrise

The other morning I saw this glow in the sky shortly before 7 a.m. It seemed the perfect opportunity to try out the new camera. Since it’s just a couple of blocks to the Yellowstone River, I went down to get the full view of Livingston Peak at sunrise.

Tree shapes speak volumes about their history. Here are aspens, a cottonwood and an ancient willow, all with their roots deep in the Yellowstone’s water table. I have always taken great inspiration  from trees in creative endeavors, including my textile art.

Livingston Peak was generating a few of its own clouds that morning…