A designer, mycologist, industrial ecologist and bioscientist have teamed up in Estonia to create a range of designer products grown from mycelium. Beautiful, carbon-neutral and completely compostable, these products redefine how we furnish our homes and how we view the humble mushroom.
Words by Natalie Woods
Photography by Myceen
With a background in Architecture and Design, Siim Karro never planned on working with mycelium as a design material.
“It was like an accident, or by chance. I was in my first year of Masters and we were researching the Eastern Estonia Oil Shale industry. We were looking at the different kinds of waste streams and I somehow ended up reading about mushrooms and their capability to filter soil to make it usable again [after contamination].”
Siim met Erki Nagla, a mushroom grower and mycologist, who taught him about how mushrooms grow and their potential uses beyond our plates. “That was my first contact with mushroom technologies. From there, Erki and I started to experiment together.”
“We’re using nature’s own technology. A method that has been around for millions of years.”
After some early prototype chairs and stools for friends, Siim and Erki — along with industrial ecologist Karl Pärtel and bioscientist Killu Leet — launched Myceen, a range of carbon-neutral design forward products for the home. The launch range includes lampshades, plinths and acoustic wall panels all grown from mushroom mycelium and industrial byproducts.
The beautiful thing is that the production process is more about growing than manufacturing.
“First you need a formwork or mould, which can be made from plywood or plastic. Basically, it needs to be waterproof so it can be used many times. Then you prepare the raw material, which is usually sawdust or agricultural byproducts. This needs to be really clean because mushrooms like sterile raw material, otherwise other organisms can interrupt the growth process. And then you pour the inoculated mycelium into the mould and let it grow for a few days until it hardens.”
Once the mycelium has grown and hardened, it is dried out to stop the growing process, creating a stable and durable product.
“What my dream would be is that we would have mushroom plants all over the world because it only makes sense when it’s produced locally.”
Using nature’s own capabilities, Myceen can grow a product within just four weeks that is not only beautiful but also carbon negative. According to a cradle-to-grave assessment, each mycelium product captures and stores more carbon than it will emit over a lifetime.
Myceen is now researching how they can apply mushroom technologies in the building sector to create homes that have a lighter carbon footprint and are also healthier to live in. “That’s another huge positive, besides the sustainability, it doesn’t contain any glues. It’s basic pure nature. I believe that’s a huge thing that people will become more aware of; how toxic regular [building] materials actually are.”
The possibilities for mushroom technology are endless for Siim and his team. “We’re open to collaborations and working together with people who are brave enough to test new materials and technologies out.”
Myceen are growing carbon-negative materials, combining mushroom mycelium and industrial byproducts. They're currently focusing on furniture and interior products, but keeping open mind regarding the seemingly endless possibilities with fungi.