Making the Q Collection Green

For their Q Collection line of chairs, tables, and sofas, Jesse Johnson and Anthony Cochran rigorously scrutinize the environmental properties of the materials, dyes, and processes they employ. But their sustainable furniture isn’t meant for the granola set: the pieces are designed for the high-end market.

In this Web exclusive, the pair discuss their methods, their customers, and why some green interior design is better than none.

How did you determine if a material was really green—or at least green enough?
Cochran: There were certain filters we used that were black and white, like “no known carcinogenic or toxic materials.” There was a lot of pulling of teeth to get that information from some suppliers, getting MSDs (Material Safety Data sheets) and looking up in chemical databases what is known to be carcinogenic or toxic. And then we were trying to eliminate all suspected chemicals, which is much a grayer area.

There a lot of gray areas when it comes to making these decisions.
Cochran: Absolutely. A great example is that people assume natural dyes are the way to go, and that’s great except that in a lot of the darker colors you have to use very heavy metals to get them to adhere to fabrics. So yes, the natural dye itself may be great, but not necessarily the dyeing process.

Nail heads are another good example. I know what designers ask for: they want to custom size furniture, they want custom finishes, and they want nail heads [the decorative hardware that you see on a leather chair, for example]. That’s all there is to it. A traditional decorator is going to want a nail head. That was a huge, huge research project because most nail heads are made in Mexico or China; we don’t know anything about the working conditions, we don’t know anything about the finishes they’re using, they can’t give you technological information.

It’s typically not the metal, but the antique finishes that are the problem. But find a decorator in the world that wants to use a shiny, raw brass nail head! They all want antique, and they want it to be antique today. So we said, “Okay we’ve got to find the best option.” We ended up going with a European company.

Johnson: It’s a German company, so they have very strict environmental standards and everything is fully disclosed. You know what their emissions, if any, are; you know what chemicals they’re using to stain. It’s full transparency.

Cochran: There were a hundred options. We used the one that had the least amount of antiquing we could aesthetically stand. You can be a purist, but then you’re not giving people what they want.

Johnson: We’re not here to tell people, “You can’t have that.” We’re trying to find the best available material to meet the demand of the market.

And who is that market? Who’s your customer?
Cochran: We primarily target the trade, because the client doesn’t usually walk in off the street in the high-end market. But we wanted to look at whether our customer was a decorator or a client off the street, or an architect or somebody who saw us in a magazine. We looked at them as three different kinds of people.

One is the staunch environmental- and health-conscious customer or decorator. For example, there’s a firm in Denver that focuses only on high-end sustainable design. They will seek us out. They’ll see us in a magazine and come find us.

There will be other people who will come to the showroom and couldn’t care less about sustainability. They see that something’s pretty and that’s all they care about.

And then there’s what we think of as the vast middle ground. You put two dining chairs next to each other that have a similar style and price. One is better for you, your home, and the environment than the other. Ninety-nine percent of those people are going to say, “Why wouldn’t I buy that one?”

But if someone walks in and they like our furniture but they want to put other fabric on it, we’re not going to say, “No, you can’t do that.” We are not the environmental police. It’s about giving people options.

A lot of people get stuck not even trying to incorporate sustainable furnishings because it’s too overwhelming to research.
Johnson: Right. At the presentation we did yesterday, the designer Celeste Cooper made a great point in saying it’s the responsibility of the designers, who are in a position to have access to more information about sustainable design, to get up to speed, recommend [options] to their clients, and educate them. I think everyone somewhat agrees that there’s not a lot of knowledge out there in the interior design community on these issues

Cochran: I totally agree, but I’ll argue that for a moment. The reason designers aren’t addressing thee issue isn’t because they don’t care, it’s because they don’t know. No one had ever asked me about this before Jesse. I didn’t know anything about it, and it turned out there was no option anyway.

So now there is an option, for decorators especially. It’s a major educational process. Someone asked us, “How do you make an entirely green room?” And I said, well, if you want to stay with the aesthetic of the high-end market, you can’t. You could buy everything from here and we’d love it, but we have one aesthetic right now because this line is very specific.

The next line that we bring out will have a different idea behind it, which will mix up things aesthetically a little bit more. But right now we don’t have fringe, so if you want to do a house with fringe, you have to mix it up.

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