ZZ Driggs: 'Everything We Surround Ourselves With Has A Story To Tell'

For this furniture curator, every decision is intentional.

Courtesy Evan Crane.

How do you furnish your office or home with designer pieces that would ordinarily break the bank? Whitney Falk, the founder of start-up design firm ZZ Driggs, has been offering just the service. "If you were to buy them, they would be tens of thousands of dollars," Falk told us in a recent phone conversation. "With ZZ Driggs, it’s a few hundred a month. We’re allowing people to outfit their homes for longer periods of time."

The company partnered up with forty different fabricators and design studios in a venture Falk likened to Netflix, only for furniture. Clients can opt in for a six-month or year-long subscription, and they can choose individual pieces á la carte, or select a pre-curated collection, which range from living rooms to lobby spaces.

ZZ Driggs started as a design service for loved ones who needed adaptable furniture for their homes and apartments. “First, friends and colleagues started to ask about hiring me for designing their own apartments," Falk recently told us in an email. "I’d hear time and time again something along the lines of, 'I’d love to graduate from the IKEAs and West Elms of the world—and furnish my space with cooler, more sustainable stuff—but I don’t know what the size of my next New York apartment will be, or if I’ll even be in the city a year from now.' I totally understood this predicament.”

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Courtesy Stephen Kenn. 

Between her love of sustainable design and the demand for functionality in an ever-changing city, Falk envisioned a service that allows clients to subscribe for high-end, locally-sourced furniture for a fraction of the price to purchase. “We’re trying to change how we normally consume furniture," Falk said.

In our interview below, Falk talks inspiration, history, and where she’s headed next.

Courtesy Kim Markel.

Tell us how ZZ Driggs got started.

I started my career back in the New York tech scene in 2006, when it was all doppelgangers of Steve Wozniak and the men outnumbered the women 100:1. As I entered into interior design, I did so without a formal education in the field and had to learn a ton from the ground up. I took jobs in both residential and commercial design, and from there started to field a lot of inquiries around experience design as well–like helping create the space for a festival or event.

In addition, two fascinating things started to happen that piqued my curiosity, forming the genesis for how ZZ Driggs was created. First, friends and colleagues started to ask about hiring me for designing their own apartments. I’d often hear something along the lines of, “I’d love to graduate from the IKEAs and West Elms of the world–and furnish my space with cooler, more sustainable stuff–but I don’t know what the size of my next New York apartment will be, or if I’ll even be in the city a year from now.” It doesn’t make sense to shell out a ton of money for custom furnishings, or something sexier than the big box mass furniture retailers we all know of, when you don’t know where you’re going be living a year from now.

Meanwhile, I really jumped into the local furniture design scene of Brooklyn studios, manufacturers, and makers. There was this fever pitch of Brooklyn-made furniture–the borough was teeming with contemporary design studios…Yet, as we all know, rent in this city isn’t cheap. As I’ve witnessed first hand over the last few years, a number of studios have taken their work upstate, moved to LA, or gone out of business altogether.

This was what triggered the “aha!” moment to create ZZ Driggs. While not too many New Yorkers have the capacity to purchase a $5,000 maple-and-brass dining table outright, if you offer them the ability to rent the same piece of furniture for $150/month instead, the opportunity to enjoy great design becomes that much more real, and in turn we can create more jobs locally. Thus, ZZ Driggs was born – a new kind of curated online marketplace that allows you to subscribe to sustainable furniture and incredible design. We want to create a world without the need to make costly investments in furniture you have to keep forever, or outfitting your home with wasteful, unsustainable furnishings that only last for a few years.

Courtesy Michael Yates Design

You’ve worked with a number of high-profile celebrities and venues in the past. What inspired your move to this subscription-based platform?

We launched ZZ focused on generating brand recognition and creating an audience through short-term rentals, with the plan to expand into longer-term subscriptions as we grew. I had the opportunity to design the Big Quiet mass meditations that take place in unique locales around NYC. For instance, we hosted the first-ever meditation at Lincoln Center as well as the largest mediation to ever to take place in NYC’s history, hosted at SummerStage in Central Park.

These are impactful causes, offering our sometimes crazed city the opportunity to take a moment, chill out, and improve its mental well being. These efforts have helped ZZ expand its presence, raise awareness for sustainable design, and advance our cause. People helping people!

You put a lot of focus on local, sustainable design. How do you decide if a piece of furniture is added to the ZZ Driggs catalog? Do you have a vetting process?

Good question! We have a focused vetting process and unfortunately we can’t bring every incredible designer, studio, or item onto the platform. First off, we make sure the manufacturers we work with adhere to set of standards we’ve put in place. For instance, a lot of fabricators we’ve partnered with are members of the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and undergo a very strict certification process in order to gain admittance to their community.

Other studios we work with haven’t reached the size where it’s meaningful to be a member of the FSC, but in this case we do our own due diligence to make sure they engage in ethical practices, from giving their employees fair wages, to harvesting wood via sustainable methods from regulated forests, and more. We even evaluate a design’s construction, in order to make sure that five years down the line a piece of furniture isn’t falling apart and becoming garbage on the side of the street, thus repeating the whole vicious cycle of waste that we so regularly see on the streets of New York.

What are some of the challenges you've encountered so far?

ZZ Driggs is a startup, and falls into the category of all things tech. That being said, we’ve had our go around with raising capital in the VC and institutional environments. A lot of investors are very intrigued by our concept, and agree that the consumer is indeed moving toward a mentality of “access over ownership” that we encounter so often with companies like Airbnb with lodging, Rent the Runway with fashion, Spotify with music, Uber with transportation, and so forth. However, furniture remains mired in antiquated consumption habits, with no option to simply ‘access’ amazing design when you need, for as long as you want.

When it comes to physical inventory – we’re talking sofas, dining tables, and other large goods – some get a bit spooked and have to see a new concept play out before investing, which I understand. All the more reason why we work hard every day to turn our vision into reality.

Courtesy ZZ Driggs.
 

Can you give us examples of how ZZ Driggs has already changed the way clients think about furniture and design?

Yes! I’m excited to share that we have a number of clients who are already underway subscribing to furniture through ZZ Driggs, and we only opened up our doors for business at the end of 2016. It’s an entirely new form of consuming and enjoying furniture – essentially renting versus owning – and this alone has changed how our clients think about furnishing their homes, offices, and the places they dwell.

In addition, a huge part of ZZ is describing the story behind a piece of furniture and how it was made – which is a new experience for most consumers. For instance, one studio we work with uses wood from decommissioned Manhattan water towers to create their lounge chairs. Another studio works hand in hand with Amish communities in eastern Pennsylvania to source lumber from sustainably harvested and replanted forests. Once you describe that a chair is more than just an item for seating, but instead has a history and a heart, most people change their outlook on the items they’re surrounded by on a daily basis.

We just need a channel to educate the public, and that’s what ZZ Driggs is working on. When you look at that huge blue-and-yellow furniture retailer out of Sweden that has sold everyone and their mother some crummy particle board bookshelf, then realize that they account for over 1% of global timber consumption annually – while we face the largest existential crisis our environment has ever seen – you start to wisen up about what you bring into your home.

Everything we surround ourselves with has a story to tell, and at ZZ we are excited to jump into that wardrobe and begin this new narrative… not in Narnia, but in our own contemporary habitats.