Root of Design

App State Students Give New Life to Mushrooms and Ag Waste

Appalachian State University students are getting to the root of design—using mushroom roots and agricultural waste to create sustainable products. Sophomores Ryan Decker, Lindsay Everhart and John Lalevee worked with adjunct instructor and furniture designer Alyssa Coletti on the project.

"All three students have shown great resolve and dedication to the field of industrial design as they have progressed through the program. Now as rising juniors, they’ll continue to be challenged to push the boundaries of industrial design in form, function and material applications,” says Michael Rall, IDSA, App State assistant professor of ID, who also has taught all three students in his own classes and serves as the IDSA Student Chapter faculty advisor at App State. “Their innovative concepts received well deserved recognition when they were displayed as part of the opening of the HOW Space."

Coletti teaches in the Department of Applied Design in the College of Fine and Applied Arts. Her Preliminary Design Studio Class partnered with Ecovative Design, a New York City-based biomaterials company that uses mycelium, or mushroom roots—and agricultural waste such as hemp and cornstalks—to create non-toxic materials that are used in the packaging and furniture industries. The company developed and patented the process of using mycelium of a mushroom as “nature’s glue” to bind agriculture salvage together to biofabricate sustainable products.

Decker created a vase using Ecovative’s MycoBoard and Grow-it-Yourself (GIY) Mushroom materials. Everhart developed shelving using Ecovative’s MycoBoard. Lalevee created a wall clock with MycoBoard and Grow-it-Yourself Mushroom materials. GIY has a styrofoam-like texture while the MycoBoard is similar in structure to a dense particle board.

“The Ecovative products differ from materials such as wood, metal and plastic in that they have different structural properties, and they are less costly for tooling and fabrication. They can also be molded into forms that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with other materials,” Coletti tells App State News. “I knew the students would be challenged to figure out how to design products that highlight the materials’ strengths, but given their limited knowledge of fabricating techniques as sophomores, it was a good point to introduce them to these materials.”

Ecovative’s design lead, Jeff Betts, was often present in class via video chat to critique designs and offer advice.

Coletti hopes that the course provided students with a different perspective and exposure to a new material while showcasing the importance of sustainability in Appalachian’s curriculum and within the design field. “I love that the students had fun with the project,” she said. “They got great results, and maybe this experience will open doors for their careers down the road.”