In an era of disposability, it might be more likely that your furniture ends up on the curb if you have to move to another city than that you bring it with you. And with that fact in mind–if you know that it’s possible that you might get a job on the opposite coast next year–you probably opt to buy the cheapest furniture you can find.
“It’s the first thing that everyone leaves behind when they move,” says Stefano Panterotto, one of the cofounders of Panter & Tourron, a Switzerland-based design firm that recently launched a concept for furniture designed to be more sustainable because it can be easily moved. “There’s kind of an irony in it because the Latin word for furniture, mobilis, means literally to be movable. But it actually became the most sedentary object in our house.”
A growing number of startups are trying to make flat-pack, easy-to-dissemble couches and chairs designed for a more nomadic lifestyle. But Panter & Tourron’s concept is even more minimal. “The whole collection fits in a car,” says cofounder Alexis Tourron. On a recent trip to display the collection at Milan Design Week, the team had 20 items and three people in the car. “This huge armchair basically fits in a big envelope.”
Each piece is designed to be lightweight, packs flat, and assembles without any tools, using tension to hold it together. The lounge chair, for example, uses two flexible parts that are zipped together, and a lightweight mesh fabric instead of foam. A large, low table made from aluminum has a base made by bending thin sheets of steel; because it’s so low to the ground, it can accommodate a lot of people but doesn’t require chairs. Two room dividers use simple frames and a 3D-knitted sheet of fabric. It doesn’t take much energy or money to ship everything, both when the furniture is first sent to stores or when consumers later move. “If I can transport 1,000 tables in a container instead of 100, I have nine fewer containers on the road and on the sea,” says Tourron.
The designers also wanted to make the furniture durable–both because the materials and simple construction make it physically stronger and because they want to create an emotional connection that makes furniture owners less likely to throw it away. Part of the theory is a higher price than, say, Ikea. The other is designs that are unique from the mass market furniture that may be in the apartments of everyone else you know. “If you put €4 into a table, you obviously get less attached that if you put maybe €400,” he says. “The idea of this company now is also to find the right price that any young person can still afford, but they’ll buy this table and really think twice–make a conscious, important decision and start putting more value in the object on the emotional side.” In theory, the pieces will last long enough that they can be passed on the next generation, but if something breaks, they can be easily recycled (unlike a foam-stuffed armchair).
Each piece can be manufactured without complex machinery, using sewing and tools like laser cutters. The designers envision that it could be made locally to help shrink the initial shipping distance. Panton & Tourron created the collection in part as a way to suggest a new direction to other designers, and plan to continue exhibiting it in design shows. But they also plan to select some pieces to produce, and are now in talks with some brands about larger production.