The Story of the 1 Inch Reclaimed

Words by Oli Stratford, Disegno

How Emeco’s new chair design drew on the company’s past to point the way forward.

The new Emeco 1 Inch Reclaimed side chair is a perfect lesson in design economy and rigorous thinking. “The original plan was to do a one-piece plastic chair,” says its designer Jasper Morrison. But as the design process moved forward, both Emeco and Morrison began to realise that all of the qualities they would want in a plastic chair already existed in another Emeco design: Morrison’s 2017 1 Inch aluminium side chair. From this growing realisation, a new idea began to emerge:
“Why don’t we do the 1 Inch as a plastic chair?”

The result of this thought process is the 1 Inch Reclaimed, a one-piece, mono-block stackable chair that borrows its form from the original 1 Inch café chair. The new design draws out the original’s simplicity and timelessness, but pairs this existing design language with an expansion of the 1 Inch’s material palette. “It’s a surprising way to arrive at a plastic moulded chair,” notes Morrison. “Normally you would just start with an idea – what the design should look like – and then you end up a bit more restricted by thinking of it as a plastic chair. Part of 1 Inch Reclaimed’s charm is that it doesn't look like an obvious shape for a plastic chair."

The 1 Inch Reclaimed is made entirely from wood polypropylene – a material previously used for the original 1 Inch’s seat and backrest. Wood polypropylene is the product of industrial waste, produced by mixing waste polypropylene from injection-moulding plants, with waste sawdust from the woodworking industry. The result is a highly durable material, but one imbued with a warmth and tactility absent from traditional polypropylene. Equally importantly, the material is fully recyclable. The 1 Inch Reclaimed can be broken down and recycled without the need for any prior disassembly. “We’re excited by the idea of a company taking full responsibility for whatever they bring into the world,” says Gregg Buchbinder, Emeco’s chairman. “We always want our company to be sincere and transparent.”

“I was speaking to another designer the other day and asked when the last time they worked for a company that discussed issues of recyclability was?” says Morrison. “There's so little discussion in the business around these issues. But I really like wood polypropylene and the story of how it’s made. It’s waste sawdust and unused polypropylene being put back to create a material that ends up being richer than the original – it’s a sort of magic alchemy.”

The term “alchemy” ably describes much of the thinking behind the 1 Inch Reclaimed. It is a design that takes the discrete proportions and elegant tubular visual language of its forebears in the 1 Inch collection, before melding these with material research to reach a new outcome. “The reaction we got from people for the shape and comfort of the original 1 Inch was so humbling,” says Buchbinder. “I just thought that if we could do all those things using more waste material, then the final result could be really very successful.”

One aspect of that result is the price. 1 Inch reclaimed is Emeco’s most affordable design and amongst the most accessible in the market. “To offer good value is a really important part of our work as designers and manufacturers,” notes Morrison. “If a design doesn’t represent good value, then it’s not going to sell – that’s pretty basic.” It is a point with which Buchbinder agrees.  “Our primary goal is always to do something really great,” he notes. “You make something that serves a good purpose, and hopefully you’re also able to do that at a good price. I think we’ve accomplished that with this chair." //

Read Part 1: Place Making
Read Part 3: A Game of Tennis

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