“As a child, I used to play in the factory all the time, jumping into the foam and climbing on foam blocks. It was my playground.” It seems Chrystele Karam, founder of Blocksfinj, glimpsed the possibilities of her family’s foam factory early on.
Later, while she was studying architecture at university, it occurred to Chrystele that the material her family had been locally producing for three generations could be used in industry and design. “Foam has certain specific technical qualities that make it a brilliant material to work with,” she says. “It absorbs sound, wind and water; it is robust and firm yet also soft and super light; it is compressible yet volumetric – which gives you different perspectives on what you can design.”
Chrystele was inspired by the qualities of this non-traditional material and, using an architectural approach and following some intensive design research, she started experimenting with different foam techniques at the family’s Beirut factory, Nasri Karam and Sons. She set up Blocksfinj as a design-and-manufacturing enterprise, working with architects on different projects. Blocksfinj was soon producing a wide range of innovative foam materials. Its debut collection, Moonstruck, used full-mass new foam to resemble marble stone. Another, called Bonding Blues, was a high-density block inspired by terrazzo aggregates and composed of reconstituted foam drawn from waste produced in offcuts.
“At first we called it furniture design, but then we realized it was more like open-form architecture,” says Chrystele. “Foam is a highly tactile material, so people like to interact with our pieces and move them around – and, because they are so light and versatile, you can combine them or pile them up. Foam is also recyclable; and the properties that make it efficient and sustainable to manufacture also point to it being a pretty perfect material for the future.”
The company is also introducing a programme called Foam in Progress, where clients can return, transform, or modify their old foam pieces. “It introduces the concept of circular economy in our work,” says Chrystele. “Clients can learn about unfamiliar materials that evolve. It makes our products functional, engaging, inventive, necessary and sustainable for the future.”