When I went last year to the furniture and design fair here in Paris, I was really excited to discover what’s new on the interior market and very quickly then shocked about the amount of objects I found there which design was just very similar to famous designs and most of these were out of plastic, produced in Asia. Don’t get me wrong as an architect and interior designer I really love beautiful furniture and I get that people want to change their interior more often but this development the last years makes me really sad. After fast fashion are we now having fast furnitures? I was hoping to discover more furnitures made out of sustainable or recycled materials. For sure there are a few, but as the case in the fair, it’s still the minority and you really have to search for it. After this experience I really felt the urge to research more about it. I mean in my opinion big brands and known designer have a responsibility these days, not only in fashion as well in furniture and interior design. Good design will always have a big influence on people and will get copied, so at least the material should be sustainable and not made out of virgin plastic coming from the other side of the world.
So I had a closer look into the development of chairs made out of recycled plastic. I’m presenting you here a few furniture brands and design studios who luckily took on the challenge some years ago to invest in this development and manufacturing some beautiful chairs.
One of the first ones was Danish design company Komplot (Boris Berlin & Poul Christiansen) who in 2007, for furniture brand Hay, designed the “Nobody Chair” out of recycled plastic, which was entirely moulded into one single piece. The chair is the first one made with the textile alone as construction. The material is an industrial felt made out of recycled plastic bottles.
Few years later the sustainable furniture brand Emeco partnered in 2010 with Coca-Cola to launch the “111 Navy Chair”, a plastic version of its famous aluminium “Navy Chair” just built out of 111 plastic coke bottles. The objective was to rescue tons of scrap plastic from landfills. Their original “Navy Chair” from 1944 was already manufactured out of recycled aluminium, so the plastic version transports it into our time and shows the issue we are dealing with today.
The same company continued in 2012 its mission by launching the “Broom Chair”, which was designed by french designer Philippe Starck. A chair made of discarded material found in lumber factories and industrial plastic plants. These famous creations made some waves and inspired more designers to work with recycled plastic. In 2013 the Australian studio DesignByThem released another with the “Butter Chair”, a beautiful example made out of 80% recycled HDPE plastic mostly out of milk and drinking containers.
And with the collaboration of Swedish design studio Form Us With Love and IKEA in 2016, the topic suddenly became visible to a way bigger audience. The result was chair “Odger”, made out of reclaimed wood chips and recycled plastic. After this, a few chairs using that material mix by other brands followed into the market.
A holistic recycled design was launched this year by Norwegian architectural studio Snohetta. The so called “S-1500 Chair” is a beautiful homage to the classic and popular “R-48 Chair” from the late 60s. In collaboration with manufacturing company Nordic Comfort Products (NCP), Snohetta transformed the original design into a sleeker version and therefore entirely used recycled materials. The shell was moulded out of waste plastic and the subframe made from repurposed steel both from local ﬁsh farming companies in northern Norway that produce large amounts of waste.
The discarded ﬁsh nets, ropes and pipes were processed and ground into a granulate substance that was injected moulded. The result is a beautiful green marble-like surface which gives every chair a slightly unique look despite being mass produced. Next to private use, the chair is intended for public use like institutions, so due to its modern design and eco-friendly background we will hopefully see it more often. Furthermore its design has one of the lowest carbon footprints on the market. A great example that not only contributes to the circular economy but creates a good way to educate consumers, show them the possibilities of reusing materials and seeing waste more as valuable resource.
This year at Salone del Mobile in Milan, Emeco launched another chair collection called “On and On”. The “On and On” chair was designed by London designers Barber & Osgerby, inspired by a classic cafe chair with a round seat, which makes it easily stackable. Made from the newest engineered version of rPET, which can be recycled again, the chair was designed to be very light, ensuring lower carbon emissions when shipping. It comes in six beautiful colours, which are all obtained naturally, the black colour for example, comes from car tyres. The launch of this chair, again shows the brand’s commitment to the circular economy.
But beside these big furniture brands a lot of small and local ones are already following the trend and have released beautiful creations.
A great example for also closing the material loop is Maximum a startup from Paris, who have been creating since 2015 beautiful chairs out of recycled plastic. The difference here, they use colored plastic powder waste from French factories which were used before for plastic prototypes. They give the powder a second life while melting it into cool seat shells, which will be put on two different frames, similar to the famous Eames plastic chairs. Here the metal frame is made out of spare tube parts from local industrial locksmiths, already coated, so ideal for indoor and outdoor use. The wood frame option is made out of oak spare parts from french barrel fabrication rescued from becoming firewood.
So I hope I’ve aroused your interest in that topic and next time you look for chairs, check out recycled or sustainable options and say no to virgin fossil based plastic.
Title picture: ©Emeco, from left to right: Navy Chair, Broom Chair, 111 Navy Chair
Read also my article about sustainable furniture ideas