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With their ingenious lights made from recycled materials, the American-Dutch design company graypants is creating quite a stir. Simple yet effective concepts, a great feel for the effect of light, sustainability and social responsibility – these 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. Be it in restaurants, living rooms or conferences rooms, the scraplight pendant lights look great on most any ceiling. Environmental groups and design-conscious individuals with green values are also fans. For good reason – these lights are made from recycled cardboard, treated with a fire retardant and glued together using a non-toxic adhesive. Sustainability and responsible use of materials is a top priority at graypants.

The lights are produced in the south of Holland as part of a social support project for “people a long way from the employment market,” such as the long-term unemployed and physically and mentally disabled persons. Thirty project participants have since become scraplight specialists. They cut out the parts from cardboard using a laser and then glue them together by hand, which 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 light makers are proud of their product. They hold the finished lights in their hands with the knowledge that they will hang all over the world – maybe in a hotel in Amsterdam, but just as likely in New Zealand or Australia. Sometimes they even see their lights on television. They are so proud of their work that they sign each light with their names, right at the top. And through social media such as Facebook, they often receive feedback from 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 operated an office in Amsterdam since 2012. Eight designers work in Seattle, which is where ideas are generated. In Amsterdam a team of five designers gives shape to these ideas. The company’s name can be attributed to the two founders’ propensity of wearing old grey pants. When Jonathan Junker (now 32) and Seth Grizzle (now 33) first met in college, they were wearing almost exactly the same pants. And years later – much to the consternation of their friends – they had a habit of turning up at official events wearing those same pants. “While we were trying to think of a name for our company, we remembered the infamous old grey pants,” laughs Wouter. So graypants it was.

Jonathan and Seth are architects by trade, but already in their student days, they felt that the field was not creative enough for them. They would spend their evenings making chairs out of discarded materials that they had found on the street – from wood or old newspapers and sometimes from cardboard. When they first got the opportunity to exhibit all their chairs, they realized that their furniture looked slightly lost in the large space. So they decided to hang a light above them, a light made out of cardboard. The chairs were immediately upstaged. “Everyone was interested in the light and not the chairs.” And so, the scraplight pendant light became a signature design for graypants.

The scraplights now come in various designs, not only round but also cylindrical or ellipse-shaped. There are also new ranges such as the colorful Kerflights with their bold, striped shade panels that play with light and shade, or the new Steplight series. These lights are mostly made from recycled aluminum rings instead of cardboard The company also recently launched the “slice chair” (see photo) as a first design in its furniture series. Up to four chairs can be made from one 1.5 m x 2.5 m plywood panel. “All that’s left is sawdust,” says Wouter Smit.

Graypants’ growth was fueled by commissions from large companies. For Starbucks, graypants designed a light with materials from coffee cups that now hangs in 250 of the chain’s stores in North America. They furnished an entire office in Seattle for Amazon. And for airbnb’s headquarters in San Francisco, they glued together 25,000 Ping-Pong balls by hand to create a light named “The Cloud.”

graypants designers made their architectural debut in 2013 with the “Garage Project,” which has since received multiple architecture awards. A private customer commissioned them to convert an old garage – magnificently located on the Puget Sound near Seattle – into a multifunctional, light-flooded mini-residence. Instead of simply demolishing the post-World War II 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 feel as if they melt into one another.

The beds and the new floors were fashioned from wood siding and even the wash basin was cleaned up and reused. LED lighting creates an exciting contrast to the old wood-fired stove, which naturally remained where it was. “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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