While the future of office work is being questioned, with the reorganisation of spaces, rotating workstations and hybrid solutions involving alternating working from home and in the workplace, furniture companies are designing ad hoc solutions to intercept the changes taking place. For example, the case of Fantoni's Acoustic Rooms, islands for working alone or in a team, without necessarily having an impact on the architecture of buildings. We spoke to Marianna Fantoni, technical director of the furniture department of the Osoppo-based company specialising in the production of office furniture.
How was 2020 for Fantoni and how is 2021 going?
2020 was a particularly intense year, it caught everyone by surprise and brought a series of challenges that had to be dealt with suddenly. In terms of the market, there was a big growth in demand, partly due to media coverage, for plexiglass partition screens to contain the spread of the virus. As manufacturers of wood panels, we chose to avoid plexiglass and understand the situation to see what the possible solutions were so as to meet the new needs of our clients, but still following our tradition and philosophy. I must say the demand had an initial peak and then decreased over time. I expect that in a couple of years this type of product will be considered less relevant/ tend to be used less.
Among the transformations that have accelerated is that of working environments.
Social distancing has led to a reduction in the amount of furniture in workspaces because large companies have tried to encourage working from home a lot. When studying layouts, we tried to rationalise workstations in relation to the number of employees and favour alternative solutions, such as hot desking. The percentage of new spaces within the office has decreased in terms of single workstations, while the demand for meeting spaces as alcoves and soft seating has increased. Our Acoustic Rooms are ad hoc solutions where you can hold meetings or have maximum privacy without disturbing your colleagues. This is a very important trend we are focusing on, a trend that was already underway, and has been accelerated by the pandemic.
From a design point of view, how was the Acoustic Room born?
At first it was a request from the French market, one of the most important for Fantoni in terms of quality. The idea was to use wooden panels embedded in a a solid steel structure. Starting from a metal structure, we are able to integrate all the types of product in the catalogue, from the glazed equipped wall with single glass, double glass, hinged door, sliding door, to soundproofing panels and furniture elements. With this micro-architecture we are able to include all the divisions in the company that work on specific aspects. Recently we also heard of a supplier who installed two Acoustic Rooms in two nursing homes, at the entrances, where patients could meet visitors, an example of the flexibility and adaptability of this project.
How is it different from other products on the market?
Unlike our competitors, we have the added value of integrating acoustic comfort using sound absorbing wood panels, with a hygienic element as opposed to, for example, carpeting or felt, a legacy of past years.
And what is your approach towards sustainability, in terms of materials?
We think it's not just a question of marketing, in the face of these challenges Fantoni is objectively investing in the circular economy. Our products are made with FSC panels of controlled origin, so the legality and traceability of the raw material that is used is essential. This aspect is applied both to sound-absorbing MDF panels, i.e. virgin fibre made from wood logs, and to chipboard panels made from 100% recycled wood. Our products at the end of their lifecycle can be recycled, and so we give them a second life.
What about packaging and logistics?
We try to reduce packaging and components, and have almost eliminated plastic. To optimize logistics, we are working with floor trailers that allow us to carry the panels inside the company, deliver them to the customer and load in the same journey the material from the recycling area in order to take it back. This way, it becomes a closed circle that makes transport efficient.
Has technology helped you optimise your processes?
We are finalizing a second €25 million investment plan, following a first phase completed in June 2017 with the start-up of the Plaxil 8 plant. This will allow us to produce the world's first Mdf panel with a recycled wood component of more than 50%. In fact, we are building a recycled wood cleaning plant to remove impurities, whether they are inert, glass, stones, metals, plastics. The material thus purified will be used for the internal layer of the panel, leaving on the surfaces the virgin wood that will guarantee the same quality and performance of traditional Mdf. The goal is to reach the production of 450 thousand cubic meters per year of these innovative panels. The result is an aesthetically performing panel, light and structurally unprecedented that we are patenting. This new material will be the basic module with which we will design all our products that we will put on the market.