Project UDesign- Sustainable AND Sexy?

25 Sep

Project UDesign.  Simply put, it’s a brilliant concept. BiOH® polyols Project UDesign teamed up  with Century Furniture, and Toray Eco-Design Ultrasuede and challenged 15 Savannah College of Art and Design students to create an upholstered wing chair that would be both sustainable and salable.  The contest with the help of YOU will crowdsource “the next generation sustainable wing chair.”  That’s right, you get to vote on who should win. None of the participating partners have any input in who wins, only you the voting public does.  I love it.

And here’s the beauty of it—each participant is contributing a very important factor to this wing chair. BiOH® polyols are soy-based ingredients that replace a portion of petroleum chemicals for flexible foam in products you use daily – furniture, mattresses, carpet cushion, and more. For every 1 million pounds of BiOH’s soy polyol ingredient sold to the major foam manufacturers, 84,000 barrels of petroleum are saved.

Toray Ultrasuede (America), Inc. (TUA) is announcing the debut of EcoDesign™, an environmentally responsible line of products that utilize 100% recycled ultra-microfiber that will be used to upholster the chair.

Century Furniture, a leading manufacturer that produces incredible furniture including collections from Oscar De la Renta and Kelly Hoppen will manufacture the winning chair!

And of course, the talented and fortunate student designers from Savannah College of Art and Design will contribute the winning design. You can see videos of students and their designs here.

I find all this incredibly exciting and hope you will take the time to vote.

What does the winning designer receive?

1.$1000 from BiOH immediately
2. Their winning design will be produced and put into Century’s regular line up for intro at the Spring 2011 High Point Market.
3. The winning student will be paid royalties by Century on all sales of their winning chair once it’s produced.
4. A lot of publicity!

How can you vote?

There are currently 6 designs and 5 semi-finalist students. Between now and Oct. 3rd at 11: 59 pm, all can vote for the 3 finalists.   They will be selected only by those who vote online and the 3 finalists will be announced on Monday, Oct. 4th on  

The voting for the three finalists announced on Oct. 4th will end at 11: 59pm , Tuesday, Oct. 19th and that person who has the most votes will win. The winner will be chosen only by online votes. It is completely the public’s choice so don’t forget to put in your 2 cents.

The winner will be announced at High Point Market on Wednesday, Oct. 20th in the Century Courtyard at the start of Withit’s student mentoring day-approx. 9:15 am.

Now, I have to admit, I was quite impressed by all 6 designs, but one really stood out to me:  The Alifair Chair by Ryland Quillen. It is a sensual silhouette, a mixture of modern and traditional lines with an innovative use of cut-outs in the wings.  I find an understated and sophisticated glamour to it, which if you know me, you know I’m sold!  Here’s what Ryland had to say about his design…

Alifair is shown here upholstered in Charcoal Ultrasuede with contrasting Black Onyx piping. The legs on the chair are tapered and shown in dark mahogany. Alifair will utilize Cargill’s environmentally conscious BiOH foam.

“I thought about the concept of a wing chair, the wings providing comfort and a sense of enclosure. I realized, however, that if the wings are too imposing, they can block vision to the right and left when sitting in the chair. To cope with this, I decided to employ cut offs, creating a window large enough to see to either side when sitting. The gently swooping curve on either side suggests the feeling of warmth and comfort without hindering sight.”

I find this incredibly insightful because Wing chairs, which first appeared in English manor homes somewhere around the 17th century, were often called fireside chairs, and for good reason.  Their design was perfect for enjoying the warmth of a fire while your back and sides were protected from chilly drafts.

Wings were a practical design element, especially before we had indoor heating to depend on and didn’t have to rub two sticks together to heat ourselves.  But, nowadays we have the advantage to be more social during the colder months instead of shivering behind the wings of our chair!  The open wing concept acknowledges the warmth and comfort of the original design while embracing modern technology, our need to be social and they also make it easier to see if the killer is coming!  Okay, I jest,  maybe not the killer (I’ve seen a few too many horror movies),  but it IS nice to see the world around you while feeling warm and cozy.  Besides the practicality of the design, let’s be real… I think the sensual curves of the wings are just stunning.

Shown in Kagan Red Ultrasuede

I chose the Alifair as my favorite for all of these reasons but most importantly it was the chair that I could best envision in our home and in The Century Furniture Collection.  In my inspiration board, I chose to demonstrate this by not only using pieces that I would personally own  (and some I already do),  and mix in some of the beautiful furnishings already existing from the Century line–The Signature Sofa (upper left)  and “The Classics” Drawer Chest (bottom center). The Alifair is an effortless fit,  blending beautifully with the other pieces and even adding a little extra modern flair.   Of course,  I had to throw in a dash of  Zia-Priven lighting to up the glam quotient–The Solano Chandelier and The Omega Table lamp , which are both housed with a choice of energy efficient low voltage LED’s, Halogen or CFL bulbs.

Please click on the photo to enlarge.

The Charcoal grey UltraSuede was the perfect tone for me, especially with the black piping.  I chose to pair it with a deep magenta and dark taupe with accents of gold and white. I find the color combination  smokey and sexy, yet timeless and classic. Moving clockwise, I chose the delicious plum and cream “Feather” rug by Thomas Paul, a shapely Laura Kirar Jolie Mirror for Baker and a vintage Fornasetti plate (it can  also be purchased new here).  The Gold Rorschach painting by Andy Warhol is my new obsession (if you’ve been reading this blog,  you’ll know I plan to do my own for our Living Room… I know, yet another project…).  And to prove that good design can be affordable, the graphic brown wallpaper is by Target (called Mode Illusion) and the Norwall Colored Plains wallpaper is by Lowes.

This was my take on my favorite chair from the competition, what’s yours?  Take a moment and check out all 6 chairs and vote for your favorite–you’ll make one design student very happy and get a chance to take a peek at the exciting new direction in eco-friendly design.  Remember, you can only vote online-

If you have the opportunity, please check out Wanda S. Horton’s Interior Concepts and Maybelline Te’s Frou La La blog entries about Project UDesign and see what chairs they selected.  They have some fab ideas, great input and insightful comments about the competition and green design plus some beautiful inspiration boards!


8 Responses to “Project UDesign- Sustainable AND Sexy?”

  1. Leslie Carothers September 26, 2010 at 3:58 am #

    Dear Marcia~

    First of all, thank you a hundred times over for the incredible attention to detail that you paid to the tiniest facts about Project UDesign! I can only imagine how much time it took you to research this to get each detail nailed as perfectly as you did!

    I can now understand why the collection you designed for Oscar de la Renta would have been a bestseller- attention to detail and your exquisite design sensibility! Even though, ultimately, it didn’t get produced, YET!

    Your headline that furniture and product design at the highest levels can be sustainable AND sexy at the same time is SO true!

    Having BiOH as our social media client has been such an honor for our business and I’d like to use this opportunity to educate everyone that’s going to see this beautiful post on what foam made with BiOH is-and isn’t-and what the true green option is and what it all means so everyone will know.

    Many people think that foam made partially with BiOH’s soy ingredient is being touted as *green* and I am going to nix that idea right now. Foam is NOT green. (read further for what is, truly, green and the positive and negatives of that choice.) Foam containing a percentage of BiOH’s soy ingredient is, simply, this: a better choice (costing the same as all oil based foams)since a percentage of the currently all oil based foam is now being partially made with a renewable resource: soy.

    Our agency has been working with BiOH polyols on educating designers, retailers, manufacturers and consumers since January of 2009 to do one simple thing: ask for foam made partially with BiOH’s soy ingredient in order to help cut down on our industry’s use of oil.

    I often hear this, *There’s such a small percentage of the foam that’s made with BiOH’s soy ingredient-it won’t really matter if I specify/ask for it or not, will it?*

    My answer is: “You’re right, it won’t matter if you, by yourself, ask for it. It only matters when ALL of us, working together, ask for it. THEN,(as you shared so beautifully in your article, Marcia) THEN, it REALLY matters because, for every 1 million pounds of BiOH’s soy ingredient sold to the foam manufacturers, 84,000 barrels of petroleum are saved!

    Imagine if the defacto standard became foam made partially with soy vs. foam made (as it is now) with 100% oil derived ingredients.

    With one tiny *ask* for the foam we specify or buy to be made with BiOH’s soy ingredient , working together, we can make an enormous difference-at least within our industry-in our consumption of oil.

    One thing, many people ask me this, too. “If foam is not green, what IS green?

    In honor of full transparency, this is what is green: 100& natural latex. Latex is another word for rubber and rubber comes from the rubber tree and cushions made 100% with latex are fully biodegradable.

    Why isn’t the entire industry,then, converting to latex cushions vs.foam based cushions? Here’s why:

    1. The number one reason is that latex cannot be molded into shapes like foam can so the style choices are extremely limited for consumers and designers. Furniture you might see made with 100& latex will normally be quite blocky since latex is a slab material.

    2. Latex is very hard-making it uncomfortable for consumers/clients who prefer a softer seat.

    3.Latex is very expensive for the average consumer. For designers, this is not so much of a consideration (lack of style options and the comfort issues mentioned above are bigger obstacles) but for the average consumer, this generally makes 100% latex sofas out of reach.

    4.Latex is heavy. What this means is that it is harder for the consumer or client to move around their room if they like to switch things up once in a while.

    All that being said, if the consumer/client has as their highest desire: *green*, 100% natural latex is the answer for them.

    I am very lucky to work for a client that believes in 100& transparency around what their product is -and is not. Our desire is simply to educate about all sustainable options as any sustainable option is better than the current standard.

    Here is the current “ladder of choice” so everyone reading your post will know:

    1.All oil based foams. 2.Foams made partially with BiOH’s soy ingredient 3. Hybrid options which combine foam with latex and/or other materials and 4. 100% natural latex-which, if it is 100& natural-is the truest green option.

    One question I (always)get is this: “Does a foam based piece of upholstery or a mattress made partially with BiOH’s soy ingredient cost me more?” Answer: NO. “Then why isn’t everyone using it already since it makes sense?”

    Because,consumers and designers don’t know it exists and that all that it takes is that they ask for or specify that their furniture and mattresses be made using BiOH’s soy based ingredient.

    Higher end manufacturers that your readers might know that currently use BiOH’s soy ingredient are: Cisco, Lee Industries, American Leather, CR Laine, Whitewash Company, TLSbyDesign, SNUG Furniture and,of course, Century Furniture – our manufacturing partner in Project UDesign. For the full list of all manufacturers that BiOH knows of currently using their soy ingredient, please see: and look under the *partners* link.

    Now,hopefully, with the attention that Project UDesign is receiving through the wonderful women like you who are willing to take their time to write about it,all will know how easy it is to make a difference in our consumption of oil and that all it takes is to ask!

    The deeper message in all of this is: by working together to educate truthfully around sustainable options so people really know their choices and what each choice means, we can, no matter what choice we make, reduce our consumption of oil which will make a true difference for generations to come.

    Thank you again and I can’t wait to meet you at High Point in the Century Furniture showroom on Monday night, Oct. 18th when we hold our tweet-meet-greet event between design bloggers and shelter editors!

    P.S. Did you know that ALL the design bloggers writing posts about Project UDesign will have their *inspiration boards with their fav Project UDesign chair*/their names/their blog names collaged into a profesional video that will run in a continuous video loop during the entire 5 days of market in the Century showroom?

    Can’t wait to see yours there, Marcia-thank you again!

    • Marcia Zia-Priven October 5, 2010 at 10:00 am #

      Thanks Leslie for the very informative comment and for introducing me and so many others to this ground breaking contest! You truly are a gem. Marcia

  2. ChantaleP September 28, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    Zia, wow. What a project. First though, I am not a big fan of crowd sourcing. It used to be that clients would go this route to get free concept work done. Here, I’m glad to see that the student designers actually get credit and royalties! I’ve seen the other choices and it’s very hard to choose amongst them, they are so strong! I love the one that you chose though, grey with piping! So ‘le smoking’, très Yves St Laurent. Your furnishings to go with.. wow. Sumptuous! Today, so many of us wonder what our furniture is made from.. and it’s wonderful to see more and more companies consciously changing the way they make theirs.

  3. Ryland Quillen October 3, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    Hi Marcia! Thank you so much for giving my design “Alifair” some exposure. Being sustainable these days has become so important and I tried to make my design as elegant as possible without screaming “green-washing.” If my design makes it to the next round of voting, I will definitely look forward to meeting and thanking you in person! Again, thank you so much!

    -Ryland Quillen

    • Marcia Zia-Priven October 5, 2010 at 10:09 am #

      Hi Ryland,
      Thanks for stopping by the blog and congratulations on making it into the final 3! I hope you go all the way and take the prize but if for some crazy reason you don’t (I really think you will), know that you have already proven that you can create a well designed chair that can garner much publicity and conversation. And that my dear, puts you miles ahead of the game. I wish you a grand career and look forward to meeting you in High Point!

      ~ Marcia

  4. Nicole Nachazel October 7, 2010 at 2:51 pm #

    Thank you for the support of Project UDesign! We are very excited about this opportunity for SCAD students to incorporate soy-based BiOH® polyols foam with their design and furniture construction process to make their wing-chair more environmentally friendly. I can’t tell you my fave but good choice with yours!


  1. Project UDesign from BiOH Polyols | Pretty Little Green Things - September 29, 2010

    […] so if you’re interested in seeing which chair they liked, you can read these blog entries: The Studio Luxe from Marcia Zia-Priven, Interior Concepts from Wanda S. Horton, Frou La La from Maybelline Te and ABCD Design from Amy […]

  2. BiOH® takes on the Big Apple! | The BiOH Experience - October 4, 2010

    […] The Studio Luxe, Marcia Zia-Priven, Partner and Creative Director of Zia-Priven, Inc. @ziapriven Glad to finally meet Amy @abcddesigns and thank her for her incredible Project UDesign blogs. […]

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