Acknowledging relations between the furniture sector and environmental standpoints, Tacchini Italia has been merging design with sustainability since its founding in 1967
A vat of recycled cardboard soaking into pulp might seem bizarre for any modern manufacturing process. In the Tacchini Italia factory on the outskirts of Milan, it was just another day in a company rethinking traditional approaches to materials. Once the cardboard is transformed into pulp, it is molded by hand, dried in the sun, and reconstituted as vases with consistencies ranging from pumice to coarse grain.
Designer Domingos Totora takes his inspiration from the Mantiqueira mountains in southeastern Brazil where he grew up. The ridges, colors, and junctures of the mountains are reflected in the vases, using material typically thrown away as derivative, returned to its origins. «I dialogue with the mass of cardboard until the moment that only it speaks. Then I let myself take until I finish the piece. I do not design, I look for the emotion before the function».
The Mantiqueira series, a highlight of the 2019 Salone del Mobile, are one of the many projects Tacchini Italia has undertaken which demonstrate its commitment to a reimagining of design-conscious furniture objects. «All products follow a ‘zero miles’ policy and are manufactured in the area of Brianza between Milan and Como, with its tradition of Italian manufacture and craft», said Federica Bencivenga, press officer at the company. «All materials and semi-finished products come from about fifty kilometers around the company’s headquarters, an area rich with wood and other natural resources of quality».
Tacchini was the creation of Antonio Tacchini, who founded the company in 1967 in Brianza. Originally focused on sofas and couches, the company expanded into the design and manufacture of tables, chairs, mirrors, and other home objects with the industrial designer Pietro Arosio in the 1990s. The company is now headed by Antonio Tacchini’s two sons, Giusi and Maurizio Tacchini.
One of the company’s unique aspects is the merging of design and sustainability, where both go lockstep into the final product. The calls for design companies to pay attention to sourcing material, labor practices, and carbon emissions from global supply chains has been met with opposition, derision, and warnings about a reduction in craft. Academics from the University of Urbino in Italy published a study in 2019 heralding the growing awareness of Circular Economy within the furniture industry, but lamented that its practical application still remains unrealized.
«The furniture sector appears to be important from environmental standpoints since it is characterized by an use of virgin raw materials and because the use of adhesive, dyes and coating materials in furniture production results both in the emission of volumes of volatile organic compounds and waste production». In 2017, 10.78 million tons of furniture waste were produced across the European Union, accounting for four percent of the bloc’s total solid waste pollution. Eighty to ninety percent of the EU’s furniture waste is either incinerated or sent to landfills.
In contrast, Tacchini follows certification processes that guarantee the use of recycled and reusable material that is in proximity to their manufacturing site. «We want to simplify the production process because more the raw materials are mixed together and more difficult it is to dispose of. Our philosophy has been to produce by km. Zero, therefore in the process of industrialization of the products we choose materials available in our territory».
This consideration is exemplified in Giorgio Bonaguro’s Joaquim table series, which Tacchini manufactured last year, and which was awarded a 2020 Wallpaper Design Award. The tops of jagged and scarred Patagonia and Elegant Brown marble were not sourced from fragile mountainous ecosystems, but from the waste of other industries located in northern Italy.
«With Tacchini’s owner, we visited a marble company and we were choosing among the types of marble, and we saw in front of us a pile of scraps. We decided to try to develop a product that would in some way be able to salvage these scraps. And from this experience was born the idea for the Joaquim table series, above all the use of three types of recycled marble together».
The name of the series, Joaquim, is in homage to Joaquim Tenreiro, an important Brazilian furniture designer of the last century. «Italian and Brazilian design are both close and far apart», remarked Bonaguro, who is Italian and Brazilian. «There are many common references between the two cultures in design, but Brazil has its own characteristics which you can see in Brazilian designers. I am proudly Italian but at the same time, I am enamored by Brazil. I try to combine curvy shapes associated with Brazilian architecture, with the elegant structure of Italian design».
Tacchini adopts an internationalist approach, employing designers from all over the world to craft furniture objects which flirt between art and utility. There is a grounding in the traditions of the company’s origins, its usage of material sourced from the Brianza region of northern Italy, and its commitment to pushing its competitors and the industry at large.
«I see projects from small brands and from large companies both in our sector, and attention to research into green materials and the reuse of recycled material». The Swedish retail giant IKEA recently pledged to use renewable and recycled materials in all of its products by the year 2030. There are startups, like the German Roomovo, which hopes to capitalize on a trend of consumers renting up-scale furniture, instead of buying cheap and more expendable objects.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a disruption to global supply chains, and is accelerating a trend of companies trying to source material and production as close as possible to each other. «We like to think that this moment helped everyone realizing that the local community and small businesses are valuable assets and identity of our society, and need to be preserved, celebrated and valued», said Bencivenga.
Tacchini in this way exemplifies trends that could be adopted both by niche furniture design companies, as well as by larger retailers. Even if creativity and design powered by a global exchange of ideas do not have a carbon footprint — materials, production, and supply chains do.