It makes sense that the material we have in greatest abundance on the West Coast — wood — is also the most preferred by local furniture designers.

“It’s alive, it’s in its true form, it’s just such a beautiful material and it’s so versatile,” says Romney Shipway of Vancouver’s Shipway Design, who designed the new store for lifestyle brand Sitka on West 4th Avenue.

Shipway grew up on Cortes Island, learning the woodworking trade from his designer builder father, and received his first contract at eight years old, making lids for the bulk containers at a local grocery store.

“I source all my wood from Cortes Island,” he says. “It comes from sustainably managed forest. All the wood is part of the community forest project on the island, it’s all harvested and milled locally, creating jobs for the local economy.”

Pairing with Sitka founders Andrew Paine and Rene Gauthier seemed a natural fit for Shipway, as they share a similar business philosophy; concerned with more than just selling product.

Sitka’s recent store opening coincided with Paine and Gautheir launching a non-profit side to their business — Sitka Society for Conservation — raising awareness about conservation issues through an online campaign at and an interactive cabin in their store.

“There are three walls, each wall represents one of the initiatives our society works on,” says Gautheir. “Each wall has a TV embedded into it, framed out like a window and next to that there’s picture frames and when you wipe your hand across the front of one of the picture frames it lights up and initiates video and sound on all three televisions. It’s like you’re looking out different windows of a cabin that’s in the middle of Great Bear Rain Forest for example.”

Shipway designed everything in Sitka’s space to be mobile, and nothing fixed (such as the shelving and counters) so things can be moved around on a whim.

“The average person coming in might not be able to put their finger on why they’re so attracted to something, or why they want to spend time in a space and a lot of times that is the design and esthetic of it and it’s very intentional and thought through,” says Gautheir.

For Shipway, sustainable building practices go further than where he gets his wood, he incorporates recycled concrete into many of his designs.

“This is overflow from when a truck is pouring one of these million dollar condos around the city and the truck is sent back to the plant and it still has about a metre or two of concrete left in it and quite often they just dump it on the ground, chip it up and throw it away or it’ll get crushed and turned into road base or some other stuff.”

Shipway is fully supportive of Metro Vancouver’s Clean Wood Disposal Ban, which comes into effect on July 1, with a 50 per cent surcharge being applied to “all loads of garbage containing clean wood if the quantity of wood exceeds 10 per cent of the garbage load.”

This initiative is aimed at keeping clean (reusable wood) out of landfills and the Metro Vancouver website lists facilities where people can drop their clean wood, such as Vancouver’s Union Wood Co, who specialize in designing and building with recycled wood.

“(It) is good material,” says Union Wood Co. founder Craig Pearce. “The reason it has been thrown out in the past instead of recycled is that it is more cost effective to just demolish it all, put it all in a big dumpster and just take that away. It’s a bit more labour intensive to save all the clean wood and separate it. So I think that’s why so much of it has been thrown out, especially in smaller quantities, like (from) a residential house demolition.”

Pearce has noticed a shift in the way local companies are embracing local suppliers, recently completing work for Lululemon, Kit and Ace and Whole Foods Market on Cambie Street.

“It’s a kind of all-encompassing community bent around trying to recycle, keep it local, keep the shipping down,” he says.

For custom furniture maker Nicholas Purcell of Nicholas Purcell Furniture, the key to sustainability when working with wood is designing furniture of such a high quality it will never end up in the landfill. Purcell’s work can be seen at the Kozai Modern gallery (Granville and 6th) and his latest designs were well received at the recent home and design show Address.

“I try and stay with local North American indigenous woods if I can,” Purcell says. “There’s a lot of great wood, and if I have to use something that’s a bit more exotic, I’m extremely careful how I use it — hanging on to the scraps so they can be put back into a piece in the future.”