From Fire Hose ... to Furniture?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you’ll sit better knowing your chair once saved lives.
By Christine Ciarmello
Move over salvaged wood. A new material needs a second life. Fire hoses. Yes, the ones that gush water, extinguish flames and save lives. Made with synthetic material built to be indestructible, fire hoses become somewhat of an environmental nuisance when they are decommissioned after 10 years. They are landfill-bound and non-biodegradable.
A pity really, considering their heroic history as well as their pretty darn nice aesthetics. Chances are you probably haven’t had a moment to notice. But they come in primary colors and are often stitched with letters, words and symbols. To the touch, the material is rough like canvas. To the eye, kind of exotic snakeskin.
And when you sit in a chair made out of it, specifically Oxgut’s O-Type chair, it just works. That chair was one of the first fabricated after LauraLe Wunsch had the mother lode of hose dropped into her lap.
The firemen showed her 1,000 feet of material. ’If you don’t take it, it’ll go to the dumpster,’ they said.
It was about 2011, and Wunsch was working on a commission to help build Apple accessories from Montana wood that had been destroyed by the pine beetle. “I began to think, ‘What other discarded materials could be repurposed?’” She considered denim and leather. Until her business partner, Kevin Riley, suggested fire hoses, after seeing the work of British company Elvis and Kresse, which has been making belts and bags and candle holders out fire hoses since 2005.
The more she investigated that material, the more drawn to it she became. Then came the phone call from a tipster about some decommissioned fire hose available to her at a station in Marin, California.
“I expected to leave with a sample,” Wunsch recounts. Instead, the firemen showed her 1,000 feet of material. “If you don’t take it, it’ll go to the dumpster,” one of them said. “At the time, I lived in an apartment in San Francisco, and I didn’t even have parking.”
Well, if life hands you fire hoses… it’s best to make Kepple stools and O-Type chairs. Those Marin fire hoses became those chairs, with Oliver DiCicco designing and David Potenza fabricating the prototypes. The chairs are sculptural with strong steel lines—and price tags over $1,000. Not cheap, but, hey, they once saved lives and will last a lifetime.
The look was important. “I wanted this to be an example of what a fire hose can live up to. We didn’t want to be kitschy or look DIY,” she says. “When I saw how the material ended up in a high-end beautiful application and how it lived against the steel frame, that upped the ante for me,” Wunsch explains. She formed the Emeryville, California-based Oxgut Hose Co., then launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2013.
The Shanes Lounger that followed, however, is named after fire captains where the hoses came from. It is so modern and strongly shaped that it’s distantly reminiscent of the famous Frank Gehry Wiggle Chair. People really connect to Oxgut because of its history, she says.
Oxgut refers to the very first fire hose of Ancient Greece that was made from ox intestines. (Ew.)
At their studio, Wunsch and her team are experimenting with all sorts of possibilities for fire hoses. Thinking beyond chairs to even bigger stuff, like building materials, she says.
For now, though, take your pick of, truly, durable stuff: a dog bed, or one of Oxgut’s chairs, log carriers, wine carriers, iPad covers, welcome mats, even eye glass cases. All of which you can buy here. It’s worth noting that you can clean them by hosing them down—gently.