I've been lucky enough to visit Emeco's Pennsylvania factory where their iconic chairs are made by hand. It was a religious experience for me, a person with a sick chair fetish. I've also been lucky enough to befriend Gregg Buchbinder, Emeco's Chairman and the man responsible for the brand's reinvention. This week in Milan as Emeco debuts the 111 Navy Chair, a take on the classic Navy Chair but made with 111 recycled Coca-Cola bottle, I tracked Gregg down and asked him a few questions about Emeco, working with a brand as big as Coke, and his love affair with Philippe Starck.
The 111 Navy Chair fits into the Emeco story perfectly. Who had the idea first, you or Coke?
Coke had the idea of producing something significant using discarded RPET plastic bottles. Coke had a short list of design companies and designers for consideration.
Are the chairs made in your Pennsylvania factory?
The 111 Navy chair is injected molded, which is not a process done at the Emeco factory. Because this is a project intended to have the least impact on the environment, we selected an injection molder close to the RPET recycling center.
Collaboration is nothing new to Emeco as Philippe Starck, Frank Gehry, and Ettore Sottsass have all designed chairs for you. But I don't think you've collaborated with a brand before, and certainly nothing as massive as Coca-Cola. What is the difference in working with them as opposed to an individual designer?
A collaboration with individual designers or a huge company like Coca-Cola is way different. We work very closely with every designer who is designing a chair for us. We eat with them, we visit their homes, we meet their families, we travel with them, we hang out and have fun with them… we fall in love and chairs are conceived. What we love about working with Coca-Cola is the opportunity to help make the world a better place. Coca-Cola has the size, financial wherewithal, and voice to be heard all around the world. They have given us the support to make a very high quality iconic chair out of garbage, something we believe people will love and keep for a long time. It is our hope that the 111 Navy Chair becomes the poster child for good design-design that is focused on life cycle not lifestyle.
I've heard that the butt print on the Navy chair is Betty Grable’s. Is this true? And does the new chair use Ms. Grable's behind too?
Back in the 1940’s when Emeco was making chairs for Navy Ships and Submarines the men were out at sea for long periods of time. Betty Grable’s bottom was probably a great fantasy for most of the men. The new 111 Navy Chair is an identical clone using a new material.
Most Emeco products, though available in colors, are usually seen in brushed or polished aluminum. For this project, that was not an option. How were the colors chosen?
The colors and finish were of major importance to us. We were fortunate to be able to work with one of the top color and finish experts in the country, Laura Guido Clark. She researched everything and created a palette of earth inspired colors for this collection.
Like the Aluminum Navy chair, can this new chair be thrown from a window?
No chair in the world is as indestructible as the Emeco 1006 Navy Chair. Our goal for the 111 Navy Chair was to make the strongest RPET chair on the planet.
You're launching the chair in Milan and then in NYC at the design shows. When will the general public get a chance to have seat?
Design Within Reach will begin retail sales the middle of May. Shipments will start the first week in June.
I must admit I am a giant Emeco fan and I adore almost everything in your collection. So I know how hard this question is, but, if you had to choose, what is your favorite chair in the Emeco catalog?
This is like asking a parent who is their favorite child…I love all my children equally.