Paulo Bacchi on the Future of Furniture
By Bill Kearney
Just as a demanding teacher will better prepare you for a world with teeth, so too did the interior designers of Brazil prepare Artefacto, one of Miami’s top high-end furniture companies, for the future of the US market. “If you don’t [follow sustainability standards] in Brazil, designers won’t buy from you,” says Paulo Bacchi, president of Artefacto, from his Coral Gables home. “It’s the first thing they ask. In America, we don’t see this yet.” But as the world gets smaller, those questions will surely be on the lips of US buyers as well.
Bacchi had the foresight to bring Artefacto, which now has 18 stores in his homeland, to the US in 2002 in order to tap into the global audience that Miami delivers. The result was an against-the-grain success: Despite our nation’s roller-coaster economy as of late, Artefacto has grown exponentially. “After 10 years [in Miami], Artefacto became the leading revenue company in high-end furniture in South Florida. Great relationships with interior designers, real estate developers, and also with the brokers helped.”
The foresight that brought Artefacto to Miami now applies to sustainability. The company first became environmentally focused 20 years ago, when the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) put out a checklist of how factories could be eco-friendly via logistics, packaging, operations, and minimizing materials. But what of the cost to the company? “At some point, we have to make the world better for our kids and grandkids, especially as a leader of a company with 1,500 people,” says Bacchi.
In addition to production standards, Artefacto uses sustainable materials such as rattan and bamboo, and adheres to IBAMA (an environmental arm of the Brazilian government) standards for all its pieces, whether they sell in Brazil or the US. Those guidelines help protect existing rain forests. “Basically, you have two kinds of eco-friendly woods,” Bacchi ex plains. “The first kind comes from plantations of reforested woods [as opposed to existing rain forest]. For example, the trees take 10 years to grow to the cutting stage. [Plantations] do it so that every year they cut down 10 percent, so they have a cycle. This wood is used for the structure of sofas.” Artefacto, like many in the industry, also does quite a bit of veneering. “We can use the same piece of wood 100 times or more,” Bacchi says enthusiastically.
But the most drastic step of IBAMA certification has to do with the grand, old-growth tropical hardwoods for which the Amazon is famous, and which make gorgeous tabletops. “When you want to go to hardwood and the wood that comes from forests, IBAMA certifies [that these trees] went down [in a storm] and were not cut from a protected area.” Bacchi notes that there are wood poachers who break these rules, but that the situation would be much more dire without the certification.
The Curves chair, made of recycled wood and fashioned into a languid, sculpturally ribbed statement piece, is the eco-friendly design of which Bacchi is most proud. He says the environmental ethos is inculcated into Brazilians from a young age. “I was born and raised in Brazil, and nature is all around us—the beauty of the waterfalls and the forest. It’s natural from a Brazilian standpoint to save our forest.”
Although the famously booming Brazilian economy has slowed in the last year, Artefacto’s expansion to the US places it at what Bacchi sees as the nexus of the New World economy. He launched in Miami because the rest of South America shops in the showrooms here, and he can then ship to those customers directly from Brazil. “Miami is the most important city of South America and Latin America—the shopping center. That’s what saved the Miami economy. That made the difference between Miami having the real estate prices going up and the economy booming while the rest of the country is still struggling.”
As for the future of the industry, Bacchi is high on both sustainability and our hemisphere. “I just came from the Milano show, and I didn’t see anything new from Italian manufacturers. I think the European crisis is really affecting the ability to create. South American companies are developing new products and raw materials; they are surprising the world. We are going to see a lot of these organic and sustainable natural fibers from South America and Asia, and this is going to make contemporary living more human and warm.”
photography by sergi alexander