Tucker Robbins: On the Forefront of the Green Movement

Designer and Greenfield Hill native Tucker creates furniture that embraces natural materials and ethnic cultures.

By mixing the contemporary 
and the historic, his designs express a 
communication among cultures.

You spent 10 years on an ashram in New Haven. What made you become a monk? I’m a child of the ’60s, and I was in pursuit of peace. Peace within, not in a place. Life in a monastery taught me that the treasure is within.

Why did you leave? I decided to be engaged, to demonstrate my experience and to make it real, not rarefied.

How did you launch your design career? Through my girlfriend, I met a man involved with weavers in Guatemala. I presented him an idea that the world is one, and that I wanted to bring this oneness to New York. So I worked with the weavers and designed a collection of safari clothing. 

How did clothing design lead to furniture design? To ship the collection to New York, I found a wooden cupboard that cost the same $50 as a crate. My grandmother lived in Southport next to Albert Hadley. He saw the cupboard and advised me to donate it; someone bought it at Sotheby’s for $2,700 to benefit the Lenox Hill Neighborhood Association. So that was my introduction to the design world. 

How did you come to work with the corporate offices of Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren? They are always looking for iconic, authentic design. Each has launched a furniture line that started with a conversation with me.

You’re a founding member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council. Why is “green” at the heart of your philosophy? From the very beginning, it’s about working with the materials at hand. Our greatest resource is the forest, and the people who know the forest know how to care for it. The forest provides the materials to build.

How does that fit your design process? I design based on stories from the regions where I am working. So the spider’s nest is from Cameroon, where stories from mythology are transcribed into form. I work in clay in Peru, where the homage to mother is expressed through mortar. It is about connecting to the deeper meaning of furnishings. 

What do the shapes and forms of furniture convey? Imagine people with no written language working to express themselves to 
the rest of the world. It’s a visual language and form expressed in furniture. The shape of our “S” 
corresponds to a snake; the zigzag is about ascension—a ladder to progress. A spiral is a form of action; lattice expresses integration.

How can we increase our own eco-awareness? By touching, 
smelling, experiencing, tuning in to our senses. By asking: Where are things made? Where do the materials come from? Who is making them? Are the pieces around you reminding you of your divine nature? I want to encourage people to live harmoniously.

What is the payoff of a green lifestyle? The benefit is to sleep well at night. And you’re partaking in a dream for a better life—you’re investing in the hope for a better future.