An Indoor Furniture Line Built Entirely From Compost

Based on a research project on ancient techniques, Terra borrows knowledge from a long history of organic building.

Just in the last year, we’ve covered designers working with materials as diverse as blood, metal shavings, coal, and bones. Oddly, though, we’ve yet to feature a designer working with good old-fashioned, foot-smashed, field-plucked, all-inclusive organic waste.


Terra, a line of furniture made from bio matter by Israeli designer (and TED Fellow) Adital Ela, is just that. Each piece is made from soil, fibers, and plant matter from fields nearby her studio, where Ela, a self-described “designer-gatherer,” culls them. According to her, the project began with her first cup of Chai, served the traditional way in a disposable clay cup. “I was absolutely fascinated by the way those sun-dried clay cups were tossed to the ground and blended back to become earth again within minutes,” she explains. “Seeing this, I started asking myself, ‘How can products, like people, come from dust, and to dust return?’”

What ensued was a long, in-depth research project that at times bordered on archeology. Building with earth was once ubiquitous across continents and peoples, and Ela drew from sources nearby: Palestine, Iraq, and ancient Persia, where some of the most sophisticated techniques emerged. Working in her own studio, she developed the perfect recipe and mixing technique (foot stomping, of course) based on her findings. Each piece in Terra, which includes stools, lampshades, and soon, a nightstand, is made using zero energy and can be produced, by hand, anywhere on Earth where organic waste is available. Each piece, like Ela’s clay Chai cup, can be smashed and returned to the earth when its useful life is over.

To someone who lives in a 100% particleboard apartment, Ela’s technique seems mysterious and ancient. Yet as she explains, it wasn’t all that long ago that our ancestors were building this way. In fact, during her research, she discovered that her own grandmother used a similar method to build ovens in her hometown in Iraq. “I was amazed to discover that this knowledge was actually in my family one generation away,” she says. “It reminded me again how crucial it is to find ways to lean back onto the heritage taught to us by our ancestors and take it forward by applying current scientific and technological knowledge, towards a future in which also our products have grandchildren.”

Check out Terra here.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.