How can a workplace furniture collection inspire connection—while respecting the earth? That was the rough brief assigned to Rockwell Group when British manufacturer Benchmark cold-called the architecture and design practice. Benchmark’s request was that the AD100 firm co-design a new range of furniture in the manufacturer’s signature material: wood. The Sage Collection, which combines Benchmark’s decades-long experience with Rockwell Group’s irreverent sensibilities, is the fruits of these labors.
Benchmark cofounder Sean Sutcliffe makes the pairing between the two companies sound almost inevitable. “Part of trying to do something that makes your working life better is bringing a little bit of fun, a bit of theater, and a bit of drama in,” he says. “So we were interested in Rockwell Group because they have a kind of theatricality about their work.”
Another example of the transformation that Rockwell cites is the collection’s credenza, which can display and contain objects while serving as a low room divider. It can also be paired with shelving to form a taller partition for privacy or demarcation within an open office arrangement. “That’s been an obsession of mine for 35 years: how to create space within other spaces that feels protected but is connected,” he says.
The line also solves a sourcing problem that Rockwell Group had encountered in the firm’s own work. “One of the things that [Rockwell Group] found very difficult, in trying to do WELL-certified buildings, is that of the range of furniture that’s available, only a tiny proportion of it satisfies the WELL standards,” Sutcliffe explains. “And so it restricts their choice of what they can specify. Luckily for us, all our timber furniture, our solid wood furniture, intrinsically satisfies the standards.”
It’s not just the wood that makes the line sustainable—although Sutcliffe can wax poetic about the particular feel of Sycamore’s soft, tactile grain. The rest of the materials used in the collection also contribute to its nontoxic, certifiable makeup. The woods are treated with natural oils in lieu of paint or formaldehyde-based stains, and the upholstery is made of coconut fibers and graphite-infused latex in a plastic-free, nontoxic combination that has zero negative emissions. “There’s a generation that’s much younger than me that will make choices about where they work [that are] dependent significantly on what the working environment’s like,” Sutcliffe says. “It’s not just always going to be about the money or whether it’s got a pool table or a free bar but if it’s a healthy place to work.”