Can you make high-end luxury furniture with a cheap material like recycled rubber? Looking at the catalog of New York City-based designer company Slash Objects, the answer is a resounding yes. The trick is all in how you use it.
Slash Objects pairs rubber with marble, brass, and concrete to create side tables, day beds, and more with robust textures and sleek architectural lines. The company’s founder is designer Arielle Assouline-Lichten, who holds a Master of Architecture from Harvard University and has worked at iconic architectural firms like Big, Kengo Kuma & Associates, and Snøhetta. She recently received the 2019 American Design Honors from WantedDesign, a platform that promotes design and fosters the international creative community at large.
“I wanted to elevate recycled rubber, which is why I started designing marble and brass furniture so it can be seen in whole new light,” she tells me via email. “I think by giving sustainable materials a new face and decontextualizing them, it can help reframe what sustainable constitutes, and hopefully widen the appeal.”
Furniture manufacturing is a wasteful industry. It has been linked to illegal logging and rainforest destruction—about 32 million acres of timber are lost to legal and illegal logging every year—child labor, and extensive air and water pollution, during both production and transportation from remote countries. Even in the case of furniture that eliminates or minimizes some of the above, the generated waste is considerable: According to 2015 data from the EPA, American towns generated a total of 262.4 million tons of solid waste, 12.1 million tons of which came from trashed furniture.
But rubber—while perhaps not the most obvious material choice for furniture—is relatively easy to recycle. According to the EPA, 290 million tires are discarded every year with 80% being reused or recycled.
Assouline-Lichten says that her inspiration comes from the materials themselves, and how they can be combined to create different spatial effects. “A perfectly cubed piece of stone, a rubber and cast concrete side table: These are not the way we traditionally experience those materials,” she says. “I find that, in creating new spaces for materials to exist, a sense of intrigue is created.”
Her most impressive piece, a bed—an interpretation of the classic chaise longue, she says—was designed as part of a collection called Coexist, which won the Best of NYC x Design 2018 award. The bed combines a black steel frame, a brass cube on one end, and a nero marquina marble cube on the other. The frame is held in place without hardware: The pieces fit together seamlessly thanks to what she describes as “precision fitting and engineering allows for the parts to rely upon one another to exist” (hence the name Coexist). The rubber mattress is upholstered with Karakorum Italian bouclé wool. The whole thing brings me back to the ’70s, but, like much of her work, also manages to feel timeless.
The designer is not going to stop with rubber: “We are in the research and development phase of working with new materials which we hope to apply the same out of the box thinking to see what they can become,” she says.