Living in a material(s) world: eco-minded design firm adapts quickly to change

From guitars to office furniture to accessories that enhance the home office, Lingrove shows resilience in its product line and its sustainable materials.

March 8, 2022


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Joe Luttwak, CEO, Lingrove: Ekoa is better for the planet because it is made from rapidly renewable plants. Most things that we have in the world today are made from extracted materials. It is our view that wood is part of that because, like ivory, you ultimately don’t really know where wood comes from.

My real focus came when I started working at Ferrari, and that’s where I learned about composites and stuff like carbon fiber. From then on, I became a composites nerd and applied that same thinking that Ferrari was using to make their Formula One cars toward musical instruments, which also need to be very light and stiff to make them sound good.

I started to understand how carbon fiber, which is what we’re using, compared with old-growth rainforest wood, which is what is normally used to make musical instruments. We had this “eureka moment” where we understood that carbon fiber was worse—from a life-cycle assessment, from carbon embodiment, from energy composition—than old-growth rainforest wood. That changed everything and from there, we started pursuing more sustainable versions of carbon fiber.

Gwyneth Jones, Prototyper and Finisher, Lingrove: Ekoa is a natural composite made of flax linen and resin, and it has a very interesting wood-grain aesthetic without any of the ecological issues that come up with wood. But also just on its own, it is a very unique, very beautiful product.

Yvonne Mouser, Designer, Lingrove: It has a very wood-like characteristic, but it’s like this hybrid that is like plastic or fiberglass but without the environmental impacts.

Luttwak: Even huge companies that have great governance keep getting sidelined by the fact that their supply comes from primary forests—so, old-growth forests. We only have 10% of those left. We need them to sequester carbon. They’re the best land-based carbon sequestration that we have. In fact, we need to regenerate more forests.

Jones: My first impressions working with Ekoa were, “How is this possibly going to look good and work in the way that we want it to?” Watching the progression and the evolution of the material, seeing that process and realizing, with each progression and each evolution, how much of those sorts of ideas and hopes and dreams are possible.

Mouser: We were thinking about, well, “Where does this product end up living?” And we were thinking about more public spaces, office spaces. That led us to thinking about the chair as a module.

Luttwak: The idea through the pandemic is that office and home are no longer two different things. Communal seating, space-defining modular seating pieces are not what the world needs right now. What does the world need? Well, people are working from home, or they’re going to be. We said, “Why don’t we work on some pieces that can enhance the work-from-home experience and also have applications that are multifunctional.”

Mouser: Where we landed was the shelf, but it’s really one of many parts that are part of a system. It’s almost like thinking about the material becoming this continuous form that breaks to be different things, like a wall treatment or lighting or a shelf or other kinds of wall furniture. What we ended up actually making now ends up being, in a way, the most simple version that allows us to explore a certain way of molding.

The core and the middle is a honeycomb cardboard. The 3D modeling is a big part of the process, and Fusion is a really good tool for building that model and then being able to go into the CAD programming and then being able to take that onto the physical tooling.

Luttwak: We’re utilizing tools to accelerate and realize our ideas without having to spend huge amounts of money on molds or huge amounts of time. It’s like the foundation for good products is the building blocks, the materials that go into it. That’s something that I think is often lost on the end user, but my hope is that people start paying attention to that stuff more because, of course, there’s the function, there’s the performance, but there’s also the sustainability component of knowing where the materials that go into your products come from.

Mouser: When it’s set up for production, it’s something I could do in my shop by myself, potentially. The way that we worked out how to make it is complex, but once that is set up, it’s really efficient.

Luttwak: What I see now is that we are the vanguard that other people are following, and we want to create that movement. We don’t think that Lingrove is going be the only player in the space, but we want to show people that you can make better products using clean chemistry, using carbon-negative inputs, and it’s not a compromise. That shift has to happen so that we can use the market-driven mechanism so that people will start choosing the better choice—because it’s better for them and it’s better for the future.

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