When it comes to rethinking raw materials, Environment Furniture CEO Davide Berruto is more experimental than most. He's found ways to make furniture out of what other people might see as waste — from Brazilian peroba wood (reclaimed from demolished factories and barns) to vintage military pup tents. We sat down with Davide to learn more about Environment's design processes, their new collections, and their plans for the future.
What's Environment Furniture's philosophy when it comes to materials?
In terms of raw materials, we try to use either reclaimed or certified wood — at least 90 percent. Part of what we do is to create supply chains that are complex and unique. It's very important for a product to have a story behind it.
For instance, our upholstered pieces use cotton canvas that comes from military tents. They're called 'shelter halves' — they've been used in America since the Civil War. It's a small, two-man pup tent made of two halves — each soldier carries one half of the tent, and then they snap the two halves together to create the shelter. From around the 1950s to the 70s, the U.S. Army made these tents from 100 percent cotton canvas.
We buy up the cotton ones and repurpose them in our upholstery. There are no artificial treatments used. First, the canvas develops its patina simply by being used out in the sun, the rain, and the weather. Then it ends up in a chain of military surplus vendors.
Making the tents into upholstery is a long production process. We select the best part of the canvas based on color and wear. We wash it. Then, using vegetable dyes, we overdye it to get colors like black and charcoal. The cutting is also a complicated process — we have to cut around seams, patches, and hardware to get the right bolt of fabric.
Each piece is unique — the dye takes to the fabric in a slightly different way each time. It's like an old pair of jeans — a little bit irregular, but strong. It holds up very well, and it's great for kids or pets. It's a very tough fabric.
Is it challenging to work with green and reclaimed materials that might not be as readily available as more conventional ones?
At first we thought that, in order to be as sustainable as possible, we would have to deal with certain limitations and restraints. Over time, that thought process has changed. It's not a disadvantage; it's an advantage — it's helped us to think outside the box. We're not doing what everyone else is doing, and it gives us that extra push we need to differentiate ourselves.