Jill Fehrenbacher

WOODEN BATHS & BASINS

by , 10/12/05
filed under: green Interiors

William Garvey makes the most beautiful wooden bathtubs and water basins. The products are inspired by the Japanese Ofuro, which is traditionally used for a long soak that warms the body and relaxes tired muscles and nerves. Timber is warm to the touch and an excellent insulator, thus helping to keep hot water hot.

William Garvey’s products are so lovely in fact that I really would like to overlook the fact that they are made from Burmese Teak. Sadly, my conscience won’t let me get away with this. So I must state for the record, that although William Garvey’s website claims that their products are all environmentally sustainable, I am little suspect of anything that is Teak, and especially anything that comes from Myanmar.


In fact according to Wikipedia, Burmese Teak is an endangered species. The William Garvey website claims that Teak is the necessary choice for baths due to its water resistance, and their Burmese teak is grown on plantations and harvested in an environmentally friendly way. According to the manufacturer “It is no exaggeration to say that Myanmar teak is the most environmentally protected timber in Asia.” This may be true, but the fact that it promotes trade with Myanmar is socially and politically problematic, if not environmentally suspect.

I encourage anyone who likes the aesthetics of these as much as I do to get in touch with the manufacturer and ask him about the specifics of his production, possibly encouraging him to consider another source of plantation grown teak.

Via Treehugger

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13 Comments

  1. amy April 30, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    It’s a very interesting article. Well, I am a Burmese and I thought not many people know well about Burmese teaks including me :). Thanks for sharing knowledge Jill.

    There are many types of Burmese teak. Not every type is susceptible to water. But the most precious Burmese teak called “Kyun” is definitely susceptible / resistance to water as the tree grows very very slow and needs to wait at least 80-120 years to use it. I got some furniture made by “Kyun” last for about four generations now and they all stilling shining with beautiful texture.

    I’m not sure when and where http://www.earthrights.org got the information. I know there are a lot of political problems exist in Burma, especially at “Karen” and “Shan” States. But I am not politician and I would like to talk about only the truth facts of the Burmese teak.

    Most of the Burmese teaks are extracted from the midlands of Burma rather than the “Karen” and “Shan” states, located at the south and the north east of the Burma respectively.

    Also there is no doubt that elephants are the main vehicles used to log the teaks. I believe even a 3 years old Burmese child know about that and the teaks are much much bigger than UK/EU teaks.

    It is also true that most of the extracted logs are then flooded down to Rangoon (Yangon), which is the capital city by using a main river called “Irreweddy” which running north to south of the country. It takes months to get to the desired location. You all are more than welcome to Burma (Myanmar) if you don’t believe it. :)

  2. Jamie February 9, 2008 at 3:18 am

    Dear Jill,

    I was reading your article on WOODEN BATHS & BASINS and your
    mentioning of that you are suspect of teak and Myanmar. Please see
    the following work we are doing here, I am English, with reclaimed
    timber which I can assure is not suspect.

    http://www.burmachindits.com

    For the people and the forest please don’t suspect us.

    Jamie

  3. chummun caroline May 23, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    I have the wooden bath displayed in your pcture above i bought a house from a tv company i am very proud owner but please please tell me how to care for it. The bath is such a great feature in my humble little house i want to cherish it forever please help. caroline.

  4. Marc June 20, 2006 at 10:55 am

    Si nos ponemos a revisar todo lo que no es correcto no se podria fabricar nada en madera de ningun tipo, la question es si todas estas empresas deberian de hacer algo para que todo sea lo mas claro posible, en los paises nordicos se trabaja todo con madera y no tienen problema .

    el problema no es la madera es el trato que se le da a la industria, creo que como decimos en españa “quereis matar moscas a cañonazos” creo que la opinion de alguno es algo cinica y demagogica.

    perdon por no escribir en ingles , pero mi ingles todavia no es lo suficientemente bueno como para usarlo.

    Gracias, Marc.

  5. Leyla Ayoubpour December 16, 2005 at 12:20 am

    Where can I buy your Bath/Soaking Tub in the USA?
    Thank You, Leyla

  6. Jill Fehrenbacher November 3, 2005 at 6:31 pm

    Hi Gaeten – If you read my post I think you would see that I am pretty critical of William Garvey. I think its better to call attention to the problem with a post, rather than just ignoring it completely.

    Thank you for doing the backend research which highlights the contradictions in William Garvey’s mission statement on sustainability. This further supports my point that this company is NOT sustainable (neither socially nor environmentally). People interested in the aesthetics of this design, but who want a more sustainable alternative, should check out “Driftwood” – the company that Brendan pointed us to in his above comment.

  7. Gaetan November 3, 2005 at 10:18 am

    According to William Garvey
    “Is Myanmar teak grown sustainably?
    Over an area of 338,000 sq. km. the forest has been divided into sections. Under the Burma Selection System, trees above a girth of 7’6″ (2.3 mtrs) at breast height are harvested on a 30 year cycle in each area. This way of doing things has been in operation since 1881. In the words of the Burma Forest Act that set the system up, the intention was “to protect and, as far as possible, to arrange the cutting so as to keep well within the productive power of the forests and to ensure a permanent & sustained yield from them”. It is no exaggeration to say that Myanmar teak is the most environmentally protected timber in Asia.”

    According to Earthrights (http://www.earthrights.org/teak/index.shtml):
    “Burma holds some 70% of the world’s teak forests, and accounts for about 80% of the teak on the global market. At the current rate of logging, most of Burma’s teak trees will be gone in just one generation.”
    “The Burmese government is notorious for its widespread use of forced labor. Villagers, especially ethnic minorities such as Karen and Shan, are forced to carry heavy loads, clear roads, and grow food for battalions of soldiers, who often torture, rape and even kill villagers who do not comply with their demands.”

    According to William Garvey:
    “The Myanmar Government uses 6000 elephants to transport felled logs from the forest to river bank. The logs are then floated down river to Rangoon for processing. By contrast with what is happening in many other parts of the world, this is an ideal way to extract the teak without causing damage.”

    According to the Indigenous Peoples directory (http://www.ratical.org/ratville/IPEIE/Burma.html)
    “The military also has impressed large numbers of Asian elephants into the teak logging trade, pumped them full of addictive methamphetamines, and work them literally to death.”

    Jill, please don’t support Burmese products on your site!

  8. Jill October 28, 2005 at 4:37 pm

    Thanks so much for that tip, Brendan. This Driftwood stuff is lovely. We’ll get on a post about them shortly.

  9. Brendan Goggins October 25, 2005 at 8:34 pm

    Jill,

    You can get beautiful wooden baths and ease your conscience if you visit another company, Driftwood wooden bath – http://www.driftwood.ie/

    I was reading about them in the paper at the week-end. They use environmentally friendly woods such as wind-blown local timber if you like. Their stuff is really stunning.

    I’m 100% in agreement with your comments about Burmese teak. Using it is paramount to supporting the oppression of the Burmese people by the incredibly cruel military dictatorship there. When will the EU get off its rear and ban all Burmese imports that fund the Burmese military.

    Bren.

  10. Chap October 22, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    One more thing: Teak plantations have been around for centuries–it was one of the first sustainable tree sources. The designer’s website mentions “sustainable forestry” so they may well be more green than you mention. Link: http://www.williamgarvey.co.uk/page/coteak.shtml

    On the other hand, doing business with Burma/Myanmar is pretty icky and a showstopper for me politically…

  11. Chap October 22, 2005 at 5:36 pm

    Teak is used on ships (I’m a submarine sailor and we used teak in places) because the high oil content and high density make it very durable in a marine environment. With much sun and no care the teak will turn gray, but it is still dimensionally stable over time compared to other woods. Older ships used teak, pine for masts, and oak–USS Constitution is teak and oak, mostly, IIRC.

    I like to do woodwork and would like some wood when I retire. As a result I own a few trees as an investment in a Costa Rica teak plantation. Those folks buy tapped-out slash-and-burn fields and unimproved rainforest and maintain the rainforest for the bunnies and flowers, and on the rest plant sustainable plantations of exotic hardwoods. I highly recommend sourcing from a place like this for woodwork. Link: http://www.tropicaltrees.co.cr/

    They don’t do ebony, which is a shame, but folks like Agroforestry.net have companies which can sell one or three year old ebony or koa in buckets for planting if you want a little DIY. Link: http://agroforestry.net/index.html

    In the United States the Smartwood Alliance is an organization that brands participating members as a way of assuring that the wood you get is from sustainable sources. This is also a great way to source wood that will be there fifty years from now.

  12. Jill Fehrenbacher October 16, 2005 at 6:07 am

    Hi Vineet-
    I can’t say with absolute certainty (not owning anything like this myself) about how well they hold up with ten years of water exposure, but supposedly teak is very water resistant and often used in boats, docks, outdoor furniture and other applications where water resistance is required. So I assume these must hold up pretty well.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teak

  13. vineet_sc October 16, 2005 at 12:27 am

    interesting, how is this not susceptible to water damage? how do these things look after 10 years of use i wonder…?

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