Sitting Pretty: These Amigo Modern Snack Chairs Won’t Save the World

(And maybe that's ok)

by Tyler Watamanuk
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Sep 15 2019, 8:30am

“How do we reconcile our desire to create and make new things, with the full knowledge that we are killing our planet?” This was a question posed by designer Eric Trine in a recent blog post on his website. I’ve been following Trine’s work for a few years now and he’s openly wrestled with big thoughts like these, often on the backdrop of his pastel-hued Instagram posts. He speaks honestly, forgoing dry-cleaned language and the vague responsible-design ethos that one is used to hearing these days. But Trine asks these uncomfortable questions—all while continuing to create and make new things under his studio, Amigo Modern.

Trine has built a career on taking West Coast modernism and reflecting it through a prism of warm industrialism and playful eccentricity. There are hooks and hangers shaped like peace signs and cartoon penises, geometric planters cast in various shades of pastel, and powder-coated furniture as bright and playful as the California sun. One of Amigo Modern’s signatures is a sharply designed cafe-esque chair which the studio has been iterating for quite some time. The “Snack Chair,” as it's called, can be dressed up with a leather back or made to look slightly more unaffected when replacing the warm wood seat with a metal one. It comes in a variety of colors, from light-toned shades to dizzyingly bold hues. The chair can also double as a plant stand of sorts, and looks especially great when there is an overgrown Monstera sitting in it.

Amigo Modern isn’t some VC-funded startup. The company resembles an earlier era—a singularly focused industrial design studio, founded by designers, not entrepreneurs or growth hackers, and Trine freely quotes Charles Eames, Hal Foster, and Milton Glaser. There aren’t slick marketing campaigns or influencer events. Trine isn’t in the business trades talking about how he wants to take on Ikea or build the “Everlane of furniture.” (While writing this article, I received an Instagram ad from the furniture start-up Inside Weather with clumsy, antagonizing copy telling me to “break up with my current furniture.”) Trine knows that close to 10 million tons of furniture ended up in landfills each year, though.

His approach to that problem is to be as mindful as possible with his design and production. All of Amigo Modern’s pieces are made within a 30-mile radius of the Long Beach, Calif. studio. Trine’s goal seems to be to make high-quality furniture as affordable as possible—all while staying committed to manufacturing locally. The hope, I assume, is that timeless design and quality construction make for a chair or planter or whatever that will stay in a customer’s possession for decades. Trine doesn’t seem to have any interest in making the type of furniture that will last you a year or two, only to be discarded when it starts to wobble or you can afford something nice-looking. (I also doubt he wants you to “break up with” your current furniture.)

I imagine it’s daunting to design with the nagging feeling you’re contributing to environmental damage, and Trine is wrestling with concerns that his predecessors likely didn’t worry about it. But then I think of the power of well-made, well-designed furniture and the effect it can have on people. Earlier this year, the novelist Rumaan Alam published an essay in The New Yorker on the three chairs that defined his childhood. Alam writes how many objects “will be unloved, thrown out or handed down,” and in particular a yellow plastic child’s chair made by designer Marco Zanuso, a chair he grew up with and then bought as an adult for his own young son. “I wonder what my parents would say, if they came to my house and saw the little yellow chair that they gave me four decades ago.” I think Eric Trine and Amigo Modern are striving to make chairs with a similar quality: enduring and evocative enough for its owner to desire and cherish for decades and decades—until the chair breaks or the earth explodes. Whichever comes first.