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Fig40 designs chair to “induce social change”


Photo courtesy of Fig40

Photo courtesy of Fig40

When Lee Fletcher and Terence Woodside of the industrial design firm Fig40 endeavoured to create a chair that could stand up to use at drop-in centres for those who are homeless, they ended up designing something else as well—a social enterprise.

It started with a familiar joke: “Does the world really need another chair?” But instead of laughing, the contract furniture design specialists decided to explore what kind of chairs are used in shelters. The operators Fig40 met with explained that they’d never seen one that lasted much more than a year.

The challenge Fig40 took on was more than just building a durable chair that’s also affordable and features an aesthetic that’s more homelike than institutional. They wanted to go a step further and create an employment opportunity.

“Community is designed to be more than just a chair,” says Fletcher. “It offers people who are homeless a seat at the table, so to speak.”

Not only did the Fig40 team make sure Community provides the durability, cleanability and affordability necessary for those centres, they designed it to be built by the very individuals who come through the shelters. Each chair is comprised of two main parts—a shell made of moulded plywood with a beech veneer, and a steel tube frame. With an Allen key and a hammer, the chair can be simply assembled by hand in a very short amount of time.

Photo courtesy of Fig40

Photo courtesy of Fig40

“The people building these chairs are not going to be the same day after day, and they might not want or be able to work full time,” explains Woodside. “And the question then is, ‘Can they do something meaningful with it?’”

That’s where Street Soccer Canada comes in. A nonprofit that organizes friendly games for those who are homeless, the organization also provides peer mentorship and opportunities for employment. Every Community chair that is purchased will have been built, packed, and shipped by Street Soccer Canada participants.

“When you’re in a shelter, you figure no one will ever hire you,” says Steve McGrath, mentor and logistics personnel with Street Soccer Canada. “Even a little bit of work can be both a stepping stone and a great encouragement. Sometimes, all it takes to get the ball rolling for those in dire circumstances is the encouragement to embrace the opportunity to do something positive.”

Photo courtesy of Fig40

Photo courtesy of Fig40

Community’s pilot run supplied Toronto’s Salvation Army Gateway drop-in centre with a dozen chairs. “The chairs are really comfortable,” says one of the program’s participants. “They’re designed so that your posture is good yet it feels nice to sit in them for a long time… they feel really solid and they look sharp, too.”

While Community’s design takes into account the needs of a drop-in centre, its contemporary look and quality manufacturing will also appeal to a wide range of institutions, companies, and individuals. The chair’s 11mm-thick shell is a moulded plywood with a beech veneer and is clear-coated. Its frame is made from a powder-coated 3/4″ diameter steel tube. A sled base option is also available.

Photo courtesy of Fig40

Photo courtesy of Fig40

For every five Community chairs ordered, one will be donated to a local drop-in centre. Community can be ordered online at communityforopportunity.org.

The Community Chair can be seen at the Craft Ontario Gallery in Toronto until October 7th 2017 as part of the Teaching Materials Exhibit.


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