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.
Part of the challenge on the supply side is timing and quantity. When you're working with reclaimed fabrics, you sometimes have to deal with a limited supply, so in cases like that, we'll do limited editions.
What are some other materials you've been working with recently?
Right now, we're experimenting with hemp. Hemp is great for outdoor use, since it's naturally antibacterial. So, we're working on a collection of accessories — including beach blankets, throws, and scarves — made from 100 percent hemp.
What else is new with Environment Furniture?
We opened our newest showroom in Milan this past April. It's open to the public, but it's also a sales office for our European dealers. Up until now, we've been centered in North America, but we're currently expanding into Europe and Asia.
The Milan furniture fair was really inspiring for us. At these shows, you can find young designers and new trends that you don't see elsewhere — you come away very energized.
Can you give an example of a young designer you discovered through a show?
At Salone in Milan, for instance, I met a group called Outofstock — the name comes from Stockholm, where they met, but they're based out of Singapore and Barcelona. They're a collective of young designers, and we're working with them on a stool, a dining table, and a light fixture — all made from reclaimed wood.
Do you do a lot of design in-house, or do you work mainly with outside firms?
Our design process varies. Sometimes it starts from a material; sometimes it starts with a request from a customer. People often come to us with ideas for products and materials. For instance, a little company in Italy came to us with twenty-five patents for unique uses of cork, and we're looking at the possibility of working with them on a collection.
We're also continuing our collection of private label products with Crate and Barrel. We've been working with them for about eight or nine years — designing collections like Paloma and Siguron — and we work very closely with them to hit their price points and their aesthetic.
We try to make our products accessible — we're not super high-end or super cheap; we're in the middle. Most of our beds are between $1,000 and $1,500. Our most expensive bed is $4,000.
What are your future plans for Environment Furniture?
We want to expand it terms of our geographic reach and in terms of our product range. We also want to focus on more local manufacturing here in the US.
Environment Furniture currently has five showrooms worldwide: Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta, Orange County, and Milan. Their New York showroom is located at 876 Broadway and is open on Mondays through Saturdays from 10am to 7pm, Sundays from 11am to 6pm, ph 212-780-0051.
Images: Photo of Davide Berruto by Nick Maggio, All other photos courtesy of Environment Furniture