2.01 Circular Sofa Platform 

Stefano Maffei
Maggio 2023
Ottobre 2024
Politecnico di Milano

Università degli Studi di Firenze, Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna, Politecnico di Torino, BertO S.R.L, Hanapa S.R.L., Consorzio Conciatori Società Cooperativa, Romagna Tech S.C.P.A.

2.01 Circular Sofa Platform 

The furniture industry plays an important role in the Italian economy and represents a considerable portion of global trade, being one of the world’s leading exporters. With reference to the production and consumption of furniture in Europe, according to Eurostat, Italy is the most important producer of furniture, as well as the most significant in terms of value (17.5 billion euros). In particular, according to data provided by Federlegnoarredo, after the pandemic, the upholstered furniture sector shows steady growth, both in the domestic market and in exports, registering a +13% over the previous year in 2022, of which about 7,6% related to apparent internal consumption. However, the upholstered furniture category is one of the most impactful in terms of circularity because the final product uses very different and almost always non-recyclable materials, plus non-reversible assembly systems and there isn’t a specific disposal chain (in 2017, the environmental impact of furniture waste in the EU28 was 10,78 million tonnes, and about 2,5 tons are composed by mattresses and upholstered furniture). As well, according to Europur, Europe’s upholstered furniture is disposed of in the generic municipal solid waste or “bulky” chain. The necessary circular renewal of upholstered furniture entails the implementation of new design solutions to reduce the impact of upholstered furniture, implementing a holistic approach (typically of design as a discipline) that involves all the constituting elements and related construction and assembly processes. In particular, Circular Sofa Platform aims to design and implement a new version of upholstered furniture, working on all its parts to encourage: (i) the selection and use of circular materials and raw materials for the various components; (ii) the functional designing of alternative components to reduce or eliminate the consumption of materials that are hardly recyclable; (iii) the definition of a modular system to facilitate the assembly and disassembly of all components; (iv) the use of smart, biobased and bioinspired solutions; (v) the integration of B2B and B2C services; and (vi) all of these to extend the lifespan and reduce the energy footprint of the final product. In detail, the systemic project involves the intervention on:

1. the replacement of polyurethane foam through the development of a new auxetic geometric structure with inherent and controllable flexibility, made of biobased or recycled material (POLIMI task);

2. the redesign of the base that hosts the upholstered part, to encourage configurability/customization and extension, as well as assembly and disassembly, working on the selection of alternative materials and from certified supply chains (UNIBO task);

3. the expansion of the textile upholstery catalog, through the use of natural fibrous material or fibrous waste resulting from various production chains, for the development of new textile materials with low environmental impact, according to a systemic design approach. These will be tested in virtual/physical labs, to boost social enterprises active in textile and textile repair, as well as in the reuse and recycling of natural fibers (POLITO task)

4. the development of alternative leather (animal and vegetable) coverings, which are based on the recovery and recycling of processing waste and using sustainable processes for tanning and dyeing (UNIFI task).


Circular Sofa Platform focuses on the development of a new upholstered furniture construction paradigm based on circularity, enhancing and implementing the craftsmanship knowledge of the various districts in the country, not losing sight of potential medium-term economic returns. To do this, the aim is to implement a POC of TRL 3-4 based on 4 tasks: 1. Replacement of polyurethane foam padding with an inherently flexible auxetic structure made of recyclable and/or biobased materials (task1 POLIMI); 2. Redesign the sofa frame according to principles of modularity and extensibility to facilitate assembly and disassembly of the finished product (task2 UNIBO); 3. Usage of textile materials for coverings and connective structural elements (such as belts) based on textile wastes and derivatives from production chains working with natural fibers (task3 POLITO); 4. Creation and application of alternative leathers for revesting, which use waste and employ environmentally non-impactful dyeing processes (task4 UNIFI). The resulting POC aims to effectively demonstrate the potential offered by the new systemic design approach in a supply chain that connects different types of actors (suppliers, producers, users) and materials (textile, wood, polymeric, as well as natural and artificial). Following the mapping and creation of an abacus of the different family and types of materials and forming elements of upholstered furniture, we aim to achieve as a result the mutually reinforcing development of solutions addressing the four listed tasks, so that the establishment of a replicable strategy for making circular sofas can be ultimately reached. Specifically, Task 1 aims to achieve a significant reduction in the use (about to 70%) of polyurethanes and foams in the production of upholstered furniture by creating a modular formal alternative that reimagines an auxetic structure capable of giving back the same effect of different densities of polyurethane. Task 2 focuses on redesigning the sofa structure with a modular perspective and with the use of sustainable and certified materials; thus, all upholstery elements and assembled components will benefit from the positive effects of modularity to be easily assembled, disassembled, upgraded, and/or disposed of. Task 3 and 4 both deal with upholstery elements, but with two different material focuses. Task 3 aims to create textiles from secondary cycles of natural fiber processing in order to make recoveries, but also connect elements that can work in synergy with the solution of task 1. Task 4, on the other hand, works on new leather cycles and recycles, both for revetments and for creating parts to support the solutions of task2, it works on the topic of vegetable leather and functionalisation capable of extending product life. Each task has as its overall goal the creation of the proof of concept of the validated solutions. The prototypes made in each task should be considered a forming element of the final Circular Sofa Platform project.