Maria Yee: Forest-first furniture design

BGreen’s Personality of the Month: American designer Maria Yee has sustainability at the forefront of her designs.

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Maria Yee followed her instincts to make museum quality Chinese Ming Dynasty furniture using plantation hardwood that is responsibly grown and selectively harvested. Yee’s design philosophy centres on her belief that artistic creations made with natural materials are innately satisfying. After intense research for raw material to create a range of sustainable furniture, Yee discovered that timber was exactly what she was looking for. Yee’s patented BambooTimbre™ is rapidly renewable. Even the solid hardwood used is responsibly grown and harvested. Artisans remodel these materials into beautiful works of art using BreathingJoinery™, where no nails or screws are used to join and fix the furniture.

She now owns a furniture factory in Guangzhou, her birth place in China. Yee also works with the local bamboo farmers there to utilise the entire bamboo culm – in an effort to minimise waste and help enhance her country’s economy.

Yee claims that the manufacturing stage is energy efficient and is done in ways as eco friendly as possible. Sawdust is recycled to run low-emission boilers, utilising waste and using it to generate heat for more than 35 acres and one million feet of production space. Furthermore, whole wood is used to minimise waste and cardboard and other materials are recycled, which are used in the packaging of furniture.

Maria Yee Design Group uses biodegradable products like bamboo, which is one of the fastest growing renewable resources on the planet. Unlike hardwood, which takes decades to mature, Moso bamboo can be harvested within five years. According to the US Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, it is qualified as a “rapidly renewable resource”. In addition it helps reduce carbon dioxide gases, a cause of global warming, by absorbing up to 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare, and prevents soil erosion with its extensive root system.

Yee’s creation of BambooTimbre™ as a natural alternative to solid hardwood acts as an alternative to offset the effects of deforestation. BambooTimbre™ claims to exceed steel in tensile strength and is harder than red oak, which makes it water resistant and very durable.

Also, Yee’s BreathingJoinery™ ensures the furniture will last for generations. She wants to create designs for the younger generation and help them furnish their home with eco friendly décor. In addition, she talks about new interpretations and reaching for EcoLuxury™ furnishings. Maria Yee’s introduction of RidgeBamboo™ complies with the company’s goal of consistently providing new, unique options in EcoLuxury™ home furnishings.


In 2007, Yee inaugurated a new 350,000 square-foot factory – the first industrial building in China to wholly employ hydronic heating, an energy efficient heating source according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The campus also has 14 large skylights, each one measuring more than 420 feet long, which eliminate the need for electrical lighting during the day and cut energy consumption by nearly half. At night, energy-efficient light bulbs are used.

In 2008, Yee’s factories were awarded the ISO 9001 Quality Management System certification. Also, Maria Yee Inc. received 100% Forest Stewardship Council certification on select hardwood products. In order to receive “FSC Pure” status, all the hardwood used in a product must come from an FSC-certified forest. The FSC label assures consumers that the materials come from forests that are managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations.

In 2009, Maria Yee started using a water-based coating, consisting of eco-friendly material. It contains polyurethane and it has several ecological benefits like being low in Volatile Organic Compounds and no added formaldehyde. The leather is aniline-dyed and is certified with the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System certification.

Maria Yee Design Group declares that its manufacturing services take into account the international recommendations of caring for the ecology and follow strict environmental practices to assure the same. In 2010, the Yee’s factories received the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System certification. ISO 14001 requires annual re-certification as well.

Having lived in California for 23 years, Yee incorporated the central Californian style into her contemporary designs. Maria Yee Design Group features their designs at Crate & Barrel in the region.

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