The latest startup to hit the consumer furniture rental market ZZ Driggs is offering savvy, design-minded urban dwellers an alternative to rental furniture styled after big box trends. After three years renting its signature combination of restored antiques and sustainably produced contemporary furniture to enterprise clients such as Virgin Hyperloop, Lincoln Center, 30 Rock in Rockefeller Center and the New Museum; ZZ has launched to consumers living in and around New York City. Now available for consumer rentals via white-glove delivery service are a curated selection of designer-approved and artisan-made items ranging from three weeks to 300 years old, all meant to last a minimum of 50 years. Of the contemporary design studios that ZZ partners with, 100% pay all staff a living wage, 80% create furniture with recyclable materials and 60% from biodegradable materials. All design partners try to source materials as locally as possible, with many sourcing all materials locally.
Most important to Founder and former financier Whitney Frances Falk is that each piece of furniture have both ‘a history and a heart’, and holds strict ethical and ecological standards when it comes to the sourcing, restoring and life cycle of its products. Falk shares the journey from stockbroker to sustainable furniture champion, what to look for when assessing furniture’s eco-consciousness and the rising furniture design stars the brand is working with.
What inspired the move from Wall Street to antiques?
I started out as an administrative assistant and eventually became a lauded equity salesman as Vice President in Institutional Equity Sales at the global investment bank, Jefferies, all with a self taught education in the markets. In my work understanding the economics of a lot of these companies, I discovered that the majority of furniture being produced today was intentionally built to last only a few years on average — a planned obsolescence.
This was all astounding to me. All in all, furniture from my memory was at its core a vastly sustainable practice of use and reuse, of care and researched restoration, and what I was witnessing with some of these behemoth companies was a wasteful — and ultimately desecrating — practice for both people and planet. When did we no longer look for the lifetime guarantees that were a necessity for furniture purchased by previous generations?
A number of years ago I took on some side work helping friends with creating space in their own apartments or growing companies. Time after time, friends and clients of mine would ask “Whit, I’d love to graduate from Ikea or West Elm, but I don’t know what the size of my next apartment will be, or even where I’ll be living a year from now, so why would I invest in something I have to keep forever?” This was ultimately the lightbulb “genesis moment” where it became apparent to me that we needed to create a platform that bridged the gap between ethical, independent, emerging design, and the customer’s need for flexibility, inspiration, truly sustainable furnishings, and convenience.
How is your sourcing different from the more ‘fast furniture’ players in your space?
Sourcing our furniture is one of my greatest joys. We source furniture that is both contemporary and collectible. Our contemporary furniture is derived from 12 acclaimed American design studios and manufacturers who are all from many backgrounds and ethnicities. All of our designers and fabrication partners are required to complete ZZ’s rigorous Ethical Manufacturing & Sustainability Questionnaire, developed in tandem with an industry expert in sustainable and regenerative manufacturing and design. We also continue to work with each of our designers after they join the ZZ family in order to collaboratively explore and engage in more cost-effective and ethical means of transacting & producing at scale.
Beyond that, our collectible furniture consists of works that are antique, vintage, rare, or hard to come by. We work with some of the most acclaimed and revered antique suppliers in the United States who are, in our minds, true historians. It’s taken me a number of years to find consistent sources of certain types of collectible or antique furniture, so that we always have a steady stream of gorgeous farm tables for rent, for example.
Lastly, our restorers are an important part of the conversation around sourcing, too. I’m proud to say we feature some furniture at ZZ that is almost three hundred years old because, when it comes to furniture, if we take care of it, it will take care of us. We are proud to work with exceptional restorers who work on the likes of ZZ furniture to even the Pope’s bed and George Washington’s desk!
What types of artisans produce your contemporary furniture?
One studio we partner with, Yvonne Mouser, designs their Bucket Stool collection in Oakland, CA and the Amish in Pennsylvania handcraft all the works out of hardwood ash. It’s an incredible symbiosis working with one of America’s oldest woodworking communities with an exceptional collection of products to boot. Beyond that… Amigo Modern in Long Beach, CA uses only upcycled steel for their chairs, Cisco Home offers lifetime warranties on all their upholstered goods, Patrick Cain Designs in Downtown LA has invented a proprietary formula for creating lightweight cement table tops which uses post-consumer recycled foam and TRNK in NYC offers lifetime warranties on their sofa and chair frames and utilizes post-consumer recycled polyester for their upholsteries.
With delivery, each customer receives a limited-edition signed and numbered art print from an emerging local artist. Our inaugural artist, The Love Child, created a print that we’re giving out to the first 250 customers during our launch, and we’re proud to describe he was just featured in Christie’s recent sell-out exhibit Say It Loud.
Lastly, ZZ recently made a commitment to the 15% Pledge created by Aurora James. The Pledge describes that 15% of the U.S. population is Black Americans, so retailers should designate at least 15% of their shelf space to Black makers and craftspeople.