National Recognition

October 2021 | Norfolk native Susan Pilato was awarded Gold at the National Commercial Furniture Design Show (NeoCon) for her Ellis Benching System.

“[Winning gold is] surreal for a company like us—a new one. The judges, if they feel like no one is really qualified to win that year, just won’t give out an award; they don’t come easily,” said Pilato, owner and principle of PC&A Business Environments and Mantra Inspired Furniture. “[The award] was a great nod that we’re doing the right thing and that we’re being received well by our industry, and it gives us a lot of confidence that we’re headed in the right direction.”

Currently carrying a line of desks, benching systems and conference tables, Mantra Inspired Furniture is the only solid wood desk manufacturer at this time. All of Mantra Inspired Furniture’s pieces are made from two materials only: wood and steel.

“We don’t have a lot of ingredients, and [our products] will go to the earth as they came,” Pilato said. “We’re not poisonous to the earth, and we’re really the only furniture line that can say that. Most furniture is veneer or made using particleboard or MDF—we don’t use either.”

Pilato explained that every year, 11.8 million tons of furniture go into the landfill, and 8.9 million tons of that is office furniture made from a poisonous material known as MDF, or medium-density fiberboard, that can take years to break down. With veneer getting thinner and thinner, furniture becomes harder to repair over time, and the fiasco that is “fast furniture” is worsening.

“There’s a lot that our industry could do to be a part of the solution as opposed to continuing the problem which is just unsustainable for this earth,” Pilato said. “The commercial office industry really has a lot of responsibility, and we want to be part of that solution.”

Mantra Inspired Furniture has become part of the solution to lessen furniture ending up in landfills by working with Amish workshops out of Ohio and with two Mennonites, Jonathan Miller and James Zook, who have been immersed in the furniture-building industry for generations.

In addition to being a sustainable company, working with only wood and steel components has allowed Mantra Inspired Furniture to detail their furniture in ways that are impossible to do with a generic product or plastic laminate.

Along with her recognition from NeoCon, Pilato recently received Interior Design magazine’s HiP Award for Greater Good in the manufacturing category.

“I would have never imagined that I would receive that award,” Pilato said. “To be recognized by your colleagues and at such a high level with an interior design magazine is just an extraordinary place to be in my career; it’s an extraordinary compliment.”

Pilato is hitting the ground running after receiving recognition for Mantra Inspired Furniture. She is scheduled to speak in New York in December and believes there is a groundswell mindset shift on the rise within the furniture industry.

“I’ve been a designer for 30 years, and we know the importance of longevity in furniture. The core message of Mantra Inspired Furniture is that we’re built to last,” Pilato said. “You hear people say, ‘I wish, they built furniture like they used to,’ and that’s what we do.”

~Grace Hobson