Anthony Bronza crafts one-off and custom furniture pieces from hand in his studio a few blocks away from the Eco Supply Center.What started as an ideal turned into a business venture that reaches into the greater community and beyond for Anthony Bronza. Over the last few years, this successful artisan who creates eco-friendly furniture has settled in Richmond and founded the Eco Supply Center as a distribution resource for green building.
Originally from Connecticut, Bronza first came to Richmond to study in the sculpture department at Virginia Commonwealth University. After graduation, he spent some time studying in Europe before settling in New York. It didn’t take long, however, for Bronza to move away from the art scene as he searched for a way to design pieces that were functional and integrated workmanship that he felt was lacking, especially in New York.
“There was a lot of stuff that was façade,” says Bronza, who was doing a lot of work for the fashion industry at the time, creating pieces for window displays. “You build these surfaces for people to experience, but they’re not real.” Meanwhile, most of what he saw that represented “high-craft” came from Sweden and other countries that have artisan guilds.
A strong advocate of sustainable design, Bronza decided to set up a woodworking shop, intending to work with salvaged wood and natural finishes. However, relying on salvaged materials limited the scale of what he could build. “You couldn’t go out and build kitchens. But you could build furniture,” he says. The world of handcrafted furniture captured his interest. “With an heirloom-quality piece, you make it, your client takes it home,” he says. “It sustains itself in their family for, hopefully, a few generations.”
Initially working out of a small space in Brooklyn, Bronza began crafting custom, one-off pieces, focusing on the craftsmanship of simple lines and dovetail joinery. As he started gaining recognition and his clientele grew, he was able to open up a small showroom in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Once bamboo plywood hit the market, Bronza began to consider larger projects, such as cabinetry and millwork. It was at this point in 2004 that he decided to move back to Richmond. “I had established what I wanted to up there, with showrooms and clients, in terms of my furniture making. So I could be anywhere to build,” says Bronza.
As more and more green materials were becoming available, he soon realized that he was doing a lot of traveling and shipping just for materials. Bronza started getting larger orders of supplies and selling bamboo out of his shop to local builders who also wanted to work with green materials that weren’t available locally at the time. Finally, he “took the plunge, got a bigger space,” and launched Eco Supply Center—a distribution center serving local builders and green retailers. Bronza orders the Center’s inventory of environmentally friendly wood, flooring, surface materials and paint by the container, which “offsets the energy consumption of shipping,” he says. “Instead of bringing a pallet or two across from California, we’re bringing a whole container load directly into Norfolk.”
But Bronza hasn’t given up on being a furniture craftsman. Throughout the Eco Supply Center, among the paint samples and flooring displays, are a variety of his graceful furniture designs. Located a few blocks away, in the Planet Zero Art Center, Bronza’s studio is where the design/build of the Eco Supply Center’s furniture collection, ecoline, takes place.
Ecoline reflects Bronza’s dedication to creating green, sustainable furniture that is also elegant and long-lasting. It is comprised of 10 designs at a mid-price point. The pieces are designed so that they can be machine-cut from bamboo boards, and then Bronza and his team finish them by hand. “You’ve essentially compressed the amount of time it takes to make a piece of furniture, but you’re not compromising any of the integrity or the strength,” says Bronza. “There’s a mixture of machine and hand work in the line.”
Eco Supply Center is a family- and community oriented-business. The company has been run largely by Bronza, his father and his business partner, Greg Lohr, with part-time help from Bronza’s wife, plus staff in the shop. On larger projects, Bronza collaborates with builders and craftsmen in the Richmond community.
Bronza points out that all of his furniture is made in the community, “within a mile of the supply center, or directly out of my shop. To me that’s essentially part of the green mentality; you’re building a network, you’re building a circle of people,” he says. “There’s almost no reason not to be green. And I think that’s what’s clicking with people,” says Bronza. “It’s just common sense that we’re thinking about the way we produce and manufacture things.”
In the last year, Bronza has also taken on larger-scale green-design projects, as he and his company recently completed the interiors of a house in East Hampton, in which they fabricated almost all of the furnishings from salvaged materials. They are also in the process of working on two residences in the J.P. Morgan building in New York, recently renovated by Philippe Starck, in which all of the built-ins and a significant amount of the furniture is being designed from salvaged and green materials.
Through both his furniture and his company, Anthony Bronza is striving to show that good design can be green, and that green design can be both stylish—and affordable.
One of Bronza’s hand-crafted salvaged wood pieces shows his attention to traditional joinery.
This kitchen island is built from bamboo and covered with a bamboo butcher block.
Eco Supply Center’s furniture is upholstered with eco-friendly fabric by Q Collection.
Eco Supply Center is located at 403 Stockton Street in Richmond, Virginia; (804) 232-8116, www.ecosupplycenter.com