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Publication Date: 2013-07-17

Behind the Design

Environment: Furniture with a Conscience

For Davide Berruto, CEO of Environment, becoming a leader in the world of green design wasn’t intentional. After working on Wall Street and later as a venture capitalist, Berruto shifted into the creative field by chance when a friend challenged him to reinvent his furniture business. It was a chance to do something creative, aesthetic and unexpected for both Berruto and the design world.

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Above: Environment's Davide Berruto

“We wanted to design pieces for ourselves and our families that reflected our values,” he says. “Both from an aesthetic point of view and one of construction and materials.” Right away Berruto understood that the idea of sustainability would become an essential component to the development of the brand.

Environment comes to sustainability from “a positive standpoint rather than a punitive one,” says Berruto. Their furniture aims be a source of joy while at the same time respecting the environment. They want their experience and knowledge to be open source, a free-floating exchange of ideas with other innovative companies. It is these ideas that form the backbone of Environment’s ethos: Enjoy, Share, Preserve.

This commitment to sustainability is seen first and foremost in the company’s use of reclaimed materials, which are found in almost every one of its pieces. The insistence on reclaimed materials is more than just a green consciousness though. Environment values these materials for their visibly recorded history, which endows an authentic patina that gives them character and beauty.

Pictured: The Edge Bed

A survey of the company’s pieces makes it clear that wood is a favorite medium. Brazil’s Peroba wood finds its way into many products in the line and is prized for its naturally worn texture. Peroba’s talents are clearly seen in the Edge Bed, one of Environment’s best-selling pieces. Combining functionality and design, the unique patina of the wood makes the bed’s minimal and modern lines warm and inviting.

The company primarily uses two types of wood in their current furniture collection. While coming from opposite ends of the world – South America and Australia, both have been salvaged from old buildings and both come with their own particular difficulties and set of challenges during the productions process.

“You play on the strengths and weaknesses of the materials and design accordingly,” says Berruto. “It’s a holistic approach.”

Indeed, working with what’s recycled or repurposed means that you’re not necessarily getting the sizes or quantities that you need. Instead it’s the materials that dictate the usage until the relationship balances out in the process. “There’s a long learning curve,” he says. “You get what’s available and figure out how to use it.”

Pictured: Pacifica Wing Chair by Aldo Cibic with Lotus 3 Door Console and French Pole Sconces

For the upholstery pieces in the collection, Berruto wanted to find a reclaimed fabric that fit well with the wood they’d been using. He wanted something that had “recorded the passage of time” in an authentic way that was still durable, beautiful to look at and soft to the touch. “The denim industry is really good at aging things, creating different washes to give the illusion of vintage,” he says. “I didn’t want to go that route because of the wasteful aspects of the process.”

He started to think of other industries where he could find this type of ready-worn fabric and searched until he stumbled upon a cotton canvas used for U.S. Military tents. “The numbers that were produced were staggering,” says Berruto. “But they’ve since been decommissioned.”

The canvas turned out to be the perfect material for their needs and so began the process of sourcing, selecting and treating the canvas while creating an ad hoc supply chain with various gatherers all over the country.

This reclaimed army tent fabric is available for most of the upholstery in the collection. The Drift Chair, for example, stands out as much for its design attributes as for its comfort and simplicity. “We wanted to make a chair that was modern and light in terms of design but also in the materials we used, all the while remaining incredibly comfortable,” says Berruto. The canvas, naturally worn to perfection, compliments the clean lines of the chair.

Pictured: The Drift Chair

The company has built their extensive inventory by commissioning designs from established designers as well as up-and-coming ones. “They have to grasp our mission,” says Berruto. “We like design but we don’t go for novelty.” Environment designers understand that modesty and functionality are key without sacrificing beauty and comfort. “We spend a lot of time with our designers making sure that the products are very functional and comfortable,” says Berruto.

Both from an aesthetic perspective and one of construction, many of the Environment furnishings are in development for up to 18 months. Berruto believes that experiencing each piece is key to creating the best possible product for their customers.

Often during the development process, while trying to maximize the yield of a particular material, a new item is born. Discarded pieces of wood or fabric are repurposed again into another product. This type of thinking is at the forefront of the Environment consciousness and without a doubt positions the company as a leader in green design and innovative thinking.

As part of the company’s broader approach to sustainability, they’ve focused on bringing as much of their production as possible back to the US. As a result, all of the upholstery and a great deal of their other products, ranging from lighting to seating and certain case goods, are produced domestically.

At Environment, Berruto creates beautiful, durable and sturdy products that promise to last for generations to come. What better materials to use than the ones that have already done just that?

Pictured: Studio Sectional Sofa in reclaimed Shelter Half tents Santomer Block Coffee Table

-Written by Danny Kaplan

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