Meet The RISD Grad Pushing Pastel Pulp To The Forefront of Sustainable Design

Twenty-two-year-old Mike Ruiz-Serra grew up in Westchester, a great vantage point from which to peer in on New York’s constantly evolving design scene. And for his first collection as an industrial design graduate from RISD, he cites barely-older-than-him contemporaries like Zach Martin and Thomas Barger as people whose work helped him to understand the full potential of his favored medium: paper pulp. Ruiz-Serra’s aptly named Pulp collection makes use of a non-toxic paper pulp that’s pulverized and applied in additive processes: Flat surfaces are built over OSB (a type of engineered wood similar to particle board) while parts with compound curvature are constructed over inflatable molds that Ruiz can later deflate and reuse. (For example, each leg of his coffee table is hollow as it was molded over an inflatable ball.) Once dry, the material is structurally similar to a composite, like fiberglass, though it sands like wood. “When I’m done forming and sanding a piece, I’m left with a white surface that has the same absorbent properties as paper,” says Ruiz, noting that the coloring options are effectively limitless — “as long as it doesn’t require any toxic processes.”

Ruiz’s personal preference for muted colors is reflected in the subtly shaded prototypes shown here, dyed naturally using indigo, coffee stain, and India ink (an exception is Ruiz-Serra’s Kusama-esque cherry-red polka-dot table). Ruiz, who told Milk late last year that he sees Franz West and Scott Burton as the work’s aesthetic forebears, sounds wise beyond his years when he reflects: “I think my greatest takeaway has been the idea that sustainable production is much more attainable if we stop embracing modern standards of refinement.” 

Photos © Mike Ruiz-Serra; bottom photo (group) © Harshvardhan Shah.

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