The Apprentices

MANUFACTURER: West Elm
www.westelm.com

Last year, 12 members of Pratt’s graduating class were immediately offered that rarest of commodities in today’s economy: a job. And not just any entry-level, coffee-fetching job but an opportunity to design a collection of furniture to be sold in West Elm stores across the country. After they were broken into two competing groups, the recent grads were asked to present coordinating pieces for a green home office. The winning proposal—a desk, chair, file cabinet, and table lamp with delicate profiles and midcentury overtones—was a clear departure from the company’s chunkier aesthetic. (A wall accessories unit was later chosen from the other team’s offerings.)

“The experience set the stage for them to go out into the workforce in a more intelligent way,” says Deb Johnson, the director of the Pratt Design Incubator for Sustainable Innovation. “Not only do they understand how to collaborate, how to flex to the client’s needs, criteria, and restrictions, but also look at what sustainability means.” For this project, sustainability translated into using FSC-certified woods, nontoxic glues, water-based stains, and energy-efficient LEDs—but also accepting compromises: to keep costs down, the pieces are imported from China. “Sustainability is about moving things forward,” Johnson says. “You solve as many issues as you can.”

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