It wasn't about style.
Make something well, it can survive anything
Wilton Carlyle Dinges creates the Electrical Machine and Equipment Company (Emeco) in Hanover, PA, and employs local steel workers. World War II brings a big uptick in business. Specifically, a government commission for a particular kind of chair. A chair to withstand the US Navy. The 1006 Navy is born.
Life on a ship is tough. Salt water. Salt air. The occasional torpedo blast. Survival will require a very resilient material. 77 steps turn ordinary scrap aluminum, extraordinarily strong. And what works for one demanding environment will eventually suit many, many others.
From gun boats to martini bars
Gregg Buchbinder takes over. Faces the problem of a nearly indestructible chair. If you want to keep that chair and the company making it alive, you will need new uses. Gregg sees the writing on the wall. He also notices some orders for cool hotels, very different from the usual US army and government applications.
Obviously, the Navy chair is getting some very un-Navy usage. Gregg pursues this. And initiates partnerships that will take Emeco from ships to showrooms.
Design minds take a seat
Gregg bumps into Philippe Starck in New York. They click. Together, Gregg and Starck work on new ways to sit. The Hudson Chair in 2000, for the NYC Hudson Hotel, is their first collaboration and Emeco's first new design in over fifty years.
This opens doors. Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Ettore Sottsass walk in. Gregg is leading Emeco to make waves the Navy chair could never imagine.
Wasteful turned to hopeful
Coca-Cola and Emeco collaborate to solve an environmental problem: Upcycling consumer waste into a sustainable, timeless, classic chair. Sensible on many fronts. But easy? No. It takes four years, new science and a lot of hard work.
In 2010, the 111 Navy chair is ready. Made of at least 111 recycled PET bottles, it is a story of innovation. Each year, the 111 Navy chair helps divert millions of waste plastic bottles from landfills and oceans.
Leftovers become the main course
Inspired by the innovation of recycled PET, Emeco pursues other waste streams that can be diverted from landfills and turned into long-lasting products. Emeco and Philippe Starck come together to create a chair from recycled polypropylene and discarded wood - essentially the leftovers from plastic factories and lumber yards.
”Imagine”, says Philippe Starck, “a guy who takes a humble broom and starts to clean the workshop and with this dust he makes new magic. That’s why we call it Broom."
Emeco's exploration of sustainable materials continues. Oki Sato of the Japanese design studio Nendo, works with Emeco on a collection of stools. During a visit to the factory he discovers samples of eco-concrete, natural cork and reclaimed barn wood.
"Which one would you like to use?" asks Gregg. "Why not use them all?" Sato responded. The result is SU - a family of stools with seats in a range of eco-conscious materials.
Gregg's daughter Jaye grows up watching her dad flip over chairs at every restaurant and café they pass. She also follows him into the ocean to start swimming and surfing at a young age. Passionate about sustainability and engineering, just like her dad, she joins Emeco as a Product Developer.
Gregg and Jaye still flip over chairs in restaurants and surf together every Friday.
Circular by design
After a decade of continuous engineering, our recycled PET material is now at a point where it's 100% recyclable without loss of strength. Meaning we can turn old chairs into new chairs, on and on. So that's what we do.
On & On breaks new ground with a circular way of thinking. Longevity of design, durability, and the use of recycled materials that can be recycled again are brought together beautifully by Barber & Osgerby. A step on our path to closing the loop.
Own your impact
We've always believed in sitting lightly on the planet. To fully own our impact, we decide it's time to measure and declare the carbon footprint of our products.
Whilst 'carbon neutral' sounds great, the fact is that all products have an impact on the environment. Our goal is to to minimize our impact in the first place, not to compensate for it by buying carbon offset credits afterwards. Measuring it is the first step towards reducing it.
We open the doors to Emeco House in Venice Beach, California - our latest project in turning what's left over into something that will last. In this case a neglected 1940's sewing shop, converted into a modern, zero-energy space where architects, designers, and the local community can connect. Here, nothing is flashy but everything is thought through. The focus is on humble, honest materials that will stand the test of time. Just how we like it.