This is how we give our chairs a second chance

13 May 2019 14:11

For Michelle Goudbeek from Thereca, it all began with a chair.

chairs, moving boxes and an armchair wrapped with a noose on the side of the street

Profile of Thereca | Michelle Goudbeek

Thereca, originally a family-owned business, began supplying theatres, cafés and restaurants with furniture in the early 1900s. Over a period of more than a century, they have evolved to become what they describe as a ‘project interior designer’; nowadays they take care of the entire interior design process, from advice to concept, production and implementation.

But the fact that a business has a long history doesn’t say anything about its capacity for renewal.

Michelle thought that the Circular Business Challenge would be a good opportunity to develop a circular product. The product would be a chair. Originally she thought that, when applied to furniture, circularity would mean using materials that were both sustainable and strong enough to last a long time.

With the help of product developers, the design for the Tim was born: a chair with a metal frame, Bakelite arm rests and environmentally friendly upholstery. The whole construction was strong enough to last for a quarter of a century.

But during the Challenge, Michelle says that the concept of circular took on a whole new meaning. ‘Someone asked us: how could you give the chair a second chance?’ And Michelle thought: you could do this by retaining ownership of the chair. A customer can lease the Tim for a period of, say, five years. After that, Thereca will come along and collect it, refurbish it and then supply it to another happy customer.

‘We noticed more and more demand for corporate social responsibility (CSR), particularly from the government. As a company, we think it’s very important to participate in this.’ But, she says, it turned out to be quite a big step.

The first, cautious step for Michelle was the Challenge. ‘That’s when you discover how much new knowledge is required for such a circular process. For starters, just think about the foam in the seat: should it be made recyclable, and if so, how?’ Michelle and her colleagues consulted a range of experts with their questions. For instance, they asked a long-established mattress manufacturer about the foam.

At the start, a few of Michelle’s colleagues took some convincing. ‘Not everyone was familiar with circular enterprise and some of them found it a pretty nebulous idea. But when I explained how the Tim chair would work, most responded with enthusiasm.’

Michelle says that the chair marks the start of a new chapter at Thereca. Gradually she and her colleagues are learning to look at business operations as a whole. Recently Thereca was asked to supply new furnishings for a healthcare institution. ‘The institution asked us: what can we do with our old interior furnishings? Because it’s all still in good condition.’

Thereca’s furniture manufacturing takes place in Hungary (with the exception of the Tim, which is made in the Netherlands). Michelle says: ‘We contacted a psychiatric hospital there and asked if they could use the furnishings. So then we transported them all to Hungary and installed them in the hospital. The people there were delighted!’

Now when Thereca’s project developers visit clients, they have a great story to tell them. ‘The idea of “circular enterprise” might sound a bit abstract, but an example like this brings it to life.’