By Lisbeth Levine
FilzFelt is a company based in upstate New York that uses top-of-the-line wool felt milled in Germany (fittingly, its name marries the words for “felt” in German and English). This fall, Skagen has started using its material on products ranging from watchbands to wallets.
Wool felt uses no chemicals in its manufacturing process, only water, pressure, heat and water-based dyes. The felt used by Skagen has an even greener profile: These relatively small products are made from upcycled end rolls or “narrow stock” that is left after large panels are cut from the bolts to make room dividers and wall coverings for architects and interior designers.
Felt is a favorite in Denmark, where its understated aesthetic fits the landscape. This humble material dates back to Sumerian times and has been used for centuries to make everything from footwear to yurts. Yet it is somehow right at home sheathing sophisticated 21st-century electronics like cell phones and laptops. “As a handmade, protective, natural material, it belongs in Denmark,” says Skagen chief creative director Mariza Scotch. “It speaks to the values of the company.”
FilzFelt’s products are made in a German mill that has been producing the material since the 19th century, first for hats and then largely for industrial purposes. It isn’t woven, but made from wool fleece that’s heated and moistened, tumbled, dyed, shaved and pressed. During the process, steam lifts up scales on the fibers that then lock together when agitated to create a durable, dense material.
“Its physical properties are amazing,” says Roger Wall, president of FilzFelt. The lanolin from the wool makes it water- and stain-resistant and the dense, compacted material has proven to be durable enough for rugs. The quality starts with the finest merino wool from New Zealand and South Africa and continues throughout the manufacturing process with top-notch dyes and precise finishing techniques.
Felt has myriad industrial uses, but Traci Roloff, an interior designer, and Kelly Smith, a product designer, saw its broader potential and founded FilzFelt to market color-saturated design felt in 2008 in Boston. In 2011, the company was acquired by Spinneybeck, a leather enterprise owned by Knoll, the furniture and textile company known for its iconic modern furniture.
In recent years, leading architects and interior designers have embraced FilzFelt for room-dividing panels, ceiling tiles, wall coverings, rugs and upholstery as the wool takes color dyes brilliantly.
“The simplicity of it is what is so beautiful,” says Roloff. “You can let the felt be itself and not overdesign or overcomplicate it.”
Photo, top right: Michael Stavaridis