Sleepers awake to become tables

The stuff of ... recycled railway tracks. Sally Staples visits African Trackwoods - a shop that offers the ultimate in green consumerism
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The Independent Online
This remarkable shop specialises in furniture carved from obsolete Zimbabwean railway sleepers, laid down more than a century ago.

Every dining table, coffee table, linen chest and bedhead is unique - made in local workshops by African craftsmen from teak timbers that have weathered and matured under the tropical sun.

The idea for the shop took root when the furniture maker Tony Peel set up his own cottage industry in Zimbabwe.

It proved so popular that he began exporting some of his work. Four years on he now has 80 people working for him, and his sister has set up a shop in the Buckinghamshire town of Marlow.

The furniture blends easily with many different styles, and the environmentally conscious can feel comfortable that they are buying a truly recycled product. None of the wood they use depletes the rainforest.

A round dining-table costs pounds 1,550. Chairs are pounds 185, rising to pounds 215 for carvers. A coffee table (160cm x 86cm) costs pounds 980, a double bed pounds 1,170. And the shop offers more than furniture. Offcuts are used to make small pieces including clocks (pounds 68), aromatherapy boxes (pounds 58), bridge sets, CD racks (pounds 56), even bread bins (pounds 70). There are trays of all sizes, magazine racks and bookends. For pounds 5 you can buy a wooden paperweight.

Dotted round the shop and setting off the furniture are a selection of artefacts and carvings from Zimbabwe - all made by local craftsmen.

The 5-ft-high wooden giraffes (pounds 110) are unusual and decorative examples of African art. Displayed on the walls are Batonka axes used in ritual dances, and traditional hunting spears.

There is a chief's chair from Malawi, carved from two pieces of ebony that slot into one another to form a portable seat engraved with intricate designs that reflect tribal life.

This is a shop where browsers are welcomed. But be warned: it may change the way you want to style your house.

African Trackwoods is at Crown Lane, Marlow, Buckinghamshire SL7 3HL (01628 481086) Open from Tuesday to Saturday, 9.30am-5pm