"We challenged ourselves to make a sofa that was not just beautiful, with minimalist design, but also entirely nontoxic and sustainable," says Model No. cofounder and COO Jillian Northrup of the signature piece in her company’s newest collection of responsibly made furnishings. Here, FSC-certified walnut meets pure, cradle-to-cradle wool upholstery, cushions wrapped in cruelty-free down, and American craftsmanship executed on demand using clean manufacturing practices.
Since Model No. first opened its Bay Area–based factory in 2018, the direct-to-consumer design company has been turning out stylish contemporary furniture—simple yet interesting 3D-printed armchairs, benches, chaise lounges, tables, and planters—made with a single goal in mind: disrupting the industry to make it easier on the environment and our health.
"It’s both frustrating and motivating for us as a company," Northrup says of the ubiquitous consumer greenwashing that drove her to shake things up. She and her partners created Model No. as an opportunity to do the right thing well—and do it consistently, thanks to the brand’s equal investments in technology and design, and its purist ideals. "Too many companies overclaim what they are doing to reduce their environmental impact," she says. "It creates a lot of noise in the press, and makes it difficult for a consumer to know who is legitimate."
Take, for instance, 3D-printing. The technology can make objects quickly, but it’s often used to produce toxic, petroleum-based products that linger on in landfills. To address this issue, Model No. pioneered a nontoxic polymer derived from plant-based materials like corn husks, yucca, and sugarcane to render, layer by layer, the brand’s truly eco-friendly furnishings. Better yet, when the pieces have served their purpose, they can be returned to the factory and made into different pieces of furniture, bringing recycling full circle.
Model No. furnishings are also more user-friendly. "Most people hardly know that their furniture off-gasses—and if they do, they just kind of ignore it, or we call it ‘that new smell’ and decide not to think about what it really is," says Northrup. "Now is not the time to lose interest or ignore. It’s more imperative than ever to focus on the health impact of what furnishings we buy."
CEO Phillip Raub’s helming of the company’s nimble strategy has greatly contributed to its success. "If a product isn’t resonating with the consumer, we sunset it and move on," he says. "And because we manufacture our goods domestically and on demand, we deliver in a matter of weeks, and this eliminates waste."
In just a few years, Model No. has found itself on the fast track to growth, with expansion into the B2B space and now the introduction of its gorgeous Platform collection, which complies with the brand’s exacting environmental standards. "Our mission is to create furniture that is healthy for people and our planet," adds Northrup. "For us, this means timeless design and adhering to clean materials and manufacturing technologies."
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Head of product design Kevin Wildes adds: "Our approach is a continual balance of sustainability, quick delivery, and elegant, human-centered design." He points out that the new collection’s aesthetic is inspired by the clean, right angles and nature-inspired materials seen in the work of legendary modernists Charles and Ray Eames and the great Frank Lloyd Wright. The organic, cashmere-soft wool upholstery and GOLS-certified organic latex cushions, for instance—which are naturally flame retardant and therefore need no chemical treatment—are integral to the design philosophy.
Wildes reiterates the company’s ethically driven MO: "Many pieces on the market today can make you sick over time. We challenged ourselves to design and build the healthiest sofa on the planet. I think we are pretty close."
Learn more about Model No.’s environmentally responsible goods for the home at model-no.com.
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