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This Startup Is Conjuring High Design Out Of Garbage

And with a buy-back guarantee, Pentatonic is aiming to make sure its furniture never ends up in the trash again.

When it comes to the problem of waste, the writing’s on the wall: we’re drowning in junk. Humans produce upwards of 1.3 billion tons of waste globally every year—and that rate is due to skyrocket to 4 billion tons by 2100, according to the World Bank.

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Pentatonic, a new London- and Berlin-based furniture startup, wants to close the gap and sees the global trash crisis as an opportunity ripe for disruption. Producing home and lifestyle goods made entirely from 100% post-consumer industrial waste—everything from CDs to cell phones, plastics, textiles, food, and even cigarettes—the company touts itself as “the world’s first truly circular consumer brand.” Ahead of its initial product launch last September at London Design Week, it was backed by nearly $6 million by investors, as the Telegraph reported.

[Photo: Snarkitecture]
Sourcing waste locally as much as possible—and forgoing the addition of toxins, glues, or additives which prevent a material from being recycled again, as many manufacturers do—the brand implements a precision manufacturing process, honed from 15 years of research, to transform trash into furniture that can be completely hand-assembled. All of its pieces are designed around a combination of standardized, mix-and-match components, making for simple repairs and single-part replacements. It’s basically the opposite of planned obsolescence.

For its new capsule collection, the brand tapped the New York studio Snarkitecture to turn an artistic eye towards its material palette. “It’s a company that’s thinking very progressively about the future of material. The approach, for us, was to bring our design language into that range of materials,” said Snarkitecture cofounder Daniel Arsham, as he shared prototypes of the resulting Fractured coffee table and bench seating.

Launched this week, each of the pieces looks as though it’s been torn asunder and linked back together, like two puzzle pieces. Thick, jagged cuts reveal the tensile strengths of the materials used—extruded, anodized aluminum, and a soft yet sturdy felt-like composite for the seat—while evoking the look of a craggy cliff or topographic rupture. From a functional standpoint, “You can have a bench or two chairs, sit together or sit apart,” as Alex Mustonen, also a cofounder of the studio, says of the modular pieces. “It’s a little bit about individual versus shared experience.”

Pentatonic’s product page also includes stats on “your trash savings,” which in the case of the Fractured bench includes the equivalent of 240 plastic bottles, 0.1 shoe sole, 120 food packages, and 45 aluminum cans (though as noted, “exact trash items will vary”). And in case you want to know what those exact trash items are, each item comes engraved with a unique product identification number which the company uses to track the lifetime journey of its components, where and when it was made, and what was used to make it.

[Photo: Snarkitecture]
Beyond the apparent environmental benefits, the bench is also surprisingly comfortable to sit in. The seats are made from sheets of Plyfix (a felt-like material created with recycled plastic) which are then heat-formed and pressed into ergonomic contours. The chairs even have a bit of give, similar to an Eames fiberglass chair.

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Made to order with a six- to eight-week lead time, the Fractured coffee table and bench run for about $3,500 and $2,800 each. In other words, these are investment pieces. But the company backs each product with a lifetime buy-back guarantee to ensure it’ll continue to have multiple lives. Now that’s good karma.

About the author

Aileen Kwun is a writer based in New York City. She is the author of Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations On a Lifetime in Architecture and Design (Princeton Architectural Press), and was previously a senior editor at Dwell and Surface.

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