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With their ingenious lights made from recycled materials, the American-Dutch design company, graypants, is creating rather a stir. Simple yet consistent ideas, a great feel for the effect of light, sustainability and social responsibility are the hallmarks of these young designers.

They hang from the ceiling like countless glowing suns, emitting a soft, warm, atmospheric light reminiscent of liquid honey. Whether hung in restaurants, living rooms or conferences rooms, the scraplights pendant lights are bound to look great. They even hang on the ceilings of environmental groups or eco-conscious design fans. These lights are made from recycled cardboard, treated with a fire retardant and stuck together using a non-toxic adhesive. Sustainability and the responsible use of materials is of the utmost importance at graypants.

The lights are produced in South Holland as part of a social project for, as they say, “people a long way from the employment market” – i.e. the long-term unemployed and the physically and mentally handicapped. Thirty of them have since become scraplight specialists. They cut out the parts from cardboard using a laser and then stick them together by hand. This makes each and every light distinctive and unique. “They start working at exactly 8:00 am every morning”, says graypants manager Wouter Smit. “We can rely on our employees 100%!”

The lamp makers are proud of their products. They hold the finished lights in their hands and know that they are destined to be hung all over the world – maybe in a hotel in Amsterdam, but just as likely in New Zealand or Australia and sometimes they see the lights they made on television. They are so proud that they even sign the lights, right at the top. And via social media platforms such as Facebook they often receive feedback from the buyers. One customer recently posted: “Thank you for the beautiful light, Mariska!”

The architecture and design company, graypants, was founded in 2008 in Seattle and has had a branch in Amsterdam since 2012. Eight designers work in Seattle and this is where the ideas come from. In Amsterdam these ideas are implemented by a five-strong team of designers. The old grey trousers of the two founders, Jonathan Junker (32) and Seth Grizzle (33), were the inspiration behind the company’s name. When they first met at university they were wearing almost exactly the same pair of trousers. And years later – to the consternation of their friends – they made a habit of turning up to official events wearing those trousers. “While we were trying to think of a name for our company, we remembered the infamous old, grey trousers”, laughs Wouter. So graypants it was.

Jonathan and Seth are actually architects by nature, but as early as their student days they found it creatively unsatisfying. From the discarded materials they found on the street, they used their evenings to make a chair – sometimes made from wood, sometimes from old newspapers and sometimes from cardboard. When they were finally permitted to exhibit different versions of the chair they realised that they seemed slightly lost in the large hall, so they decided to hang a light above them. A cardboard light. The light immediately outshone the chairs. “Everyone was interested in the light and not in the chairs”. And so the scraplights pendant light became a signature piece for graypants.

The scraplights are now available in various designs, not only round but also cylindrical or ellipse shaped. There are also new ranges such as the colourful Kerflights with their bold, striped shade panels that play with light and shade. The Steplight series is also new. These lights are made not from cardboard but from mainly recycled aluminium rings. The first piece in the furniture collection, the “slice chair” (see photo), has recently been launched. Up to four chairs can be made from a 1.5 m x 2.5 m large multiplex wooden panel. “Only sawdust remains”, says Wouter Smit.

Graypants grew up on commissions from large companies. For Starbucks they made a light featuring coffee mug elements which is now hanging in 250 branches in North America. For Amazon in Seattle they furnished an entire office and for the headquarters of airbnb in San Francisco they stuck together 25,000 ping-pong balls by hand to create a light named “The Cloud”.

The graypants designers made their architectural debut in 2013 with the “Garage Project” which saw them win multiple architecture prizes. For a private customer, an old, post-war garage – magnificently located on the Puget Sound, an estuary near Seattle – was turned into a multifunctional, light-flooded mini residence. Instead of simply demolishing the old building, the supporting structure was left intact and a glass box was placed inside it – simple yet brilliant. The building is suitable for parties, meditating, working or simply taking time out. The interior and the exterior seem to melt into one another.

The beds and the new floors were fashioned from the wooden cladding boards and even the wash basin was cleaned up and reused. The LED lighting creates an exciting contrast to the old, wood-fired stove, which of course remained in place. “It’s used for cooking!” says Wouter Smit proudly. “And you know what? It still works perfectly!”

Text: Kerstin Schweighöfer

Graypants

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