One of the great things about being part of a company like the Supple Collection is that we get to meet a lot of amazing people. So many of our partners are doing great things to make the world a better place. It’s really awesome and inspiring to be able to talk with educators, librarians, and business owners about the things they’re doing to make a difference in their community.
During these conversations, one thing that naturally comes up is that people want to know how our company got started and how we got the idea for Supple. So, we thought we’d share a little bit about our story and how we became inspired to start making furniture for learning environments.
How It All Started
The idea for Supple came from a seed that was planted a long time ago. Before I started my own company, I had an awesome job working at Burton Snowboards. It was there that I met and got to know my (now) business partner, Mike Artz. Mike and I hit it off right away. We became roommates, best friends, adventure partners, etc.
While we were working together at Burton, we started to share our thoughts on business. We thought it would be great if there was a company who had marketing experts who also understood engineering, or engineers who understood branding.
So we came to Colorado and started an awesome business called The Public Works. We rented a garage in Evergreen and built our own shop. As two people who formed a friendship based on our love and appreciation of nature, we wanted everything to be eco-friendly. We put up solar panels for the shop. We created our own biodiesel so we had fuel for when we needed to pick up materials and make deliveries. We were literally living the dream that we had talked about years before and it was fantastic.
Later, I moved to Denver, so we started looking for a new building. After searching for a while, I found the perfect spot. It was an abandoned building on a corner lot and it was available for rent. The problem is, I didn’t want to rent a building. I wanted to buy it. So I called the real estate agent, but he didn’t want to sell it. But I wasn’t ready to give up. Even then, I knew that my business was meant to be in that building. So I kept calling. I called about once every four months for years, but the answer was always the same, No.
Then, one day I got a call from the real estate agent. He was finally ready to sell the property. We went under contract in 2009 and moved into building the next year.
How We Got into the Furniture Industry
Meanwhile, when all of this was happening, Supple was beginning to form as a company. Earlier in the year, we had been contacted by an architect named Justin Martinez who worked for a company called Studiotrope. Studiotrope is an amazing design firm that specializes in architecture, interior design, and graphic design. So naturally we were excited to talk with them. Justin was in the beginning stages of working on library designs for Studiotrope. He had seen some of our work in local bars, restaurants, and businesses in Denver. So he called us to ask if we wanted to be part of his library project. It was an amazing opportunity, so of course, we accepted.
We started working on our first project, which was creating designs for Council Tree Library. Their main concern was that, because of the internet, libraries were becoming irrelevant. People visiting the library had different needs than they used to. They no longer needed to search card catalogs. They needed places where they could socialize, browse, and interact. Float rates (the amount of time a book is off the shelf and in circulation) had also been affected in recent years because people were no longer picking up books. So our goal was to create these spaces and increase engagement with reading materials, and, in doing so, make libraries relevant again.
The library was also interested in becoming LEED certified to reduce their carbon footprint. So it was also important that our designs used eco-friendly materials and were sustainable.
With this criteria in mind, we started working on the design of the library and creating furniture that would help them reach their goals. We paid special attention to traffic patterns and flow. The designers at Studiotrope had the idea to create a walkway through the library, which they called “the river”. Our pieces would be set in the middle of “the river” and become “boulders”. This meant that they had to be round and four-sided. In this way, the shelves were placed strategically so that they were in the middle of traffic patterns, which would encourage people to look at the books.
We also made sure that all of the items were mobile. This would give the librarians the ability to rearrange and adapt pieces as needed. During busy hours, the librarian desks could be set directly into the traffic patterns and then moved away later so that the librarians could focus on different tasks.
In the end, I think we were all super proud of and amazed by what we had accomplished. The goal was to get the library enough LEED points to become Gold certified. But we actually exceeded this and were able to help them earn a Platinum certification. This was the first time that any U.S. library had ever received a Platinum LEED certification. Once the library was reopened, their float rates tripled and became much higher than any other library in town. And lastly, the librarians loved that they could move the furniture.
Essentially, this is how Supple got started. We thought that our work with the library was going to be a one-time project. But it actually led to many more. Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to work with so many amazing people and be part of some awesome projects involving learning spaces. In addition to libraries, we’ve manufactured furniture for coworking spaces, schools, and makerspaces. We are excited to see what the future holds for our company and the learning communities that we serve!
— Frank Phillips, Co-founder of the Supple Collection