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From Ope to Ogoori: Lars Urheim on Saving Nature and Rethinking Interior Design

Updated: May 18, 2023

In a conversation with Ope’s co-founder, Lars Urheim, who is also co-founder of Ogoori. Urheim shares his thoughts on the importance of sustainable interior design, and his quest to reduce consumption and restoring nature.

Portrait image: Marius Vervik.

Ope is a cleantech furniture company, that focuses on building sustainable products and services at the intersection of work and private life. In 2019, Ope, together with Vestre and an environmental activist, Rune Gaasø, founded Ogoori, a Norwegian company that supplies traceable ocean plastic. Ope plans to incorporate this ocean plastic collected along the Norwegian coastline into their design products, whilst also pushing the industrial value chain for plastic to become more circular.

Self-confessed Extinction Rebel, Lars Urheim was studying Furniture Design and Interior Architecture at Bergen National Academy of the Arts (KHiB) between 2003 to 2010. There he realised that despite students and tutors cheering the importance of sustainability, when paid assignments were accepted, nobody was designing physical objects for reuse and sustainability. “Everyone went on making beautiful Scandinavian design for consumer goods without any deeper meaning,” says Urheim.

Lars Urheim and his college friend, Eirik Høvik Helgesen took the responsibility upon themselves to create something that was sustainable and reusable – Design for redesign. This led them to prototype a modular furniture system for interior spaces to reduce furniture waste.

“If you want to move a cabinet to another room, it doesn’t mean that it would survive the move. So, the modular system was designed to solve this and to change single-use furniture. Furniture stays static. The design object is static, but everything around it changes.”

Modular furniture has its own advantages, from adapting to the size of spaces and being convertible for the needs of the users. Ope’s modular system is composed of panels and connectors that act as building blocks or cubes to configure into infinite combinations. They can be created into rows and columns of shelves for displaying exquisite items or for storage purposes, and be fastened onto the walls or built as room dividers, and even be used as seating.

“Design is commercial in its nature even though they want to come across as art. So, I see the power of that tool being used. I want to use these tools for good,” says Urheim.

Ope’s modular furniture system is offered on a rental model for the B2B market. The design can be changed at any time, scaled up or down, or even moved to a new location – all offered from Ope’s service menu. Any components can be replaced and repaired. This prevents furniture waste that can end up in landfill sites.

“I want to make a difference in the world in terms of showing that there are ways to solve the [environmental] crisis that we are in. So, I wanted to make Ope an example of how we can deal with the whole environmental situation in the world, and [ask] can we solve it.”

Urheim admits that he is not a green tech or green growth optimist, but rather his focus has always been on cutting down consumption – “to reduce before reuse.” He reasons that we can’t extract anymore non-renewable resources, so we need to keep them circulating in a closed-loop system and used what we already have. It is necessary to cut down on our consumptions and unnecessary objects, so that “we can share them equally in a more sufficient way.” He refers to Ogoori, “We won’t extract more oil. We take all the plastic we have and make the maximum value out of it, so that we do not create more demand for plastic. The purpose of the plastic we collect is the stories that are collected and attached, not about using it as an abundance material.”

Adapting to a Changing World

Urheim is always on the move. He is moping the floor whilst he is talking to me on the phone. He tells me that he had just finished cleaning the table before our interview, talking to his co-founder, Eirik Helgesen, who is now located in London.

Working remote is nothing new for Urheim as his team and partners are located in various parts of Norway – Stavanger, Bergen and Oslo, as well as UK and the US.

For Urheim, Ope was designed for a dynamic, changing world, as he constantly repeats, “Change is the only constant.” He wants to see a world where there is a more balanced co-existence between humans, objects and nature. In order to protect nature, he believes that people need to change their consumption habits. One of the core objectives of Ope, is to provide products and services so people can be free by adapting to any changing environment, needs and moods.

“As a designer you are taught to unlearn what you have learned earlier and open up to the world – to see it, to understand it. To understand the motivation behind people's actions, their true needs. You can’t go out and ask - What do you need? You need to go out and ask - What do you feel? What’s bugging you? What’s your passion?” he says.

Urheim wants to design objects that both “improves and maintain the system.” What he means by this is that both circular and regenerative economy is necessary to restore nature, stop the use of non-renewables resources and minimise consumption.

Childhood Connection To Nature

Urheim holds a strong connection with nature. It stemmed from his joyful childhood hikes with his father where they wanted to visit all the DNT cabins in Rogaland. However, he remembers the time when new roads for hydropower projects were cut into the unspoiled nature, up into the mountain routes that he and his father went to, and entire valleys flooded. Urheim feels that it was an attack on nature from mankind.

“The contrast was immense. Barracks were there, and some [people] were going to the cabins and stealing food and doing vandalisms. Not large scale, but enough for me to notice,” he says.

Urheim feels emotional as he recalls the dam being built in the area. “As a child, I could feel every rock being blown up in my heart. I still feel that strong connection with nature.”

Lars Urheim and his Ope team cleaning up plastic at Flatholmen in August 2020. Photo: Ka Man Mak

Ogoori – Last Puzzle to Restore Nature

Ope is always looking for new ways to clean up nature, and Urheim believes that as long as they are working with materials and objects, they can tackle the environmental issues. He also believes that companies should take actionable responses to the life cycle of their products instead of just having environmental responsibility.

“Ogoori was the last piece of the puzzle for Ope, a way of using the material from cleaning up nature that we can make the circular object with. And also, to make it available to others and to inspire others to implement the same thinking. To share the responsibilities.”

The purpose of Ogoori was to take the marine plastic waste and store them into Norwegian design objects meant for commercial buildings and public spaces. The value chain for this plastic will be established to close the loop, so that plastic can be stopped from polluting the environment ever again. To keep everyone involved accountable, blockchain technology is used to track the plastic from cleanups to wherever the product ends up, and back into the loop.

“We are considering the impact we have been having on the environment and the exponential growth of the pollution. We said we want to take responsibility to repair nature. This is what humanity needs. That’s our role and goal. That’s who we are. We happen to create furniture, so that’s what I mean that I don’t see Ope as just a furniture company. Our purpose is not just to create furniture, but rather use it as a tool to restore nature.”

Ope Challenges

The journey of Ope has had many ups and downs as the linear market was not quite ready for their circular design of the modular furniture system. Urheim persisted for more than 8 years and only until recently their work with both Ope and Ogoori has become more recognised.

“The thing is… I had this vision for it about what it can be, that it is so strong… that I can’t just leave it behind because we were facing some minor hiccups along the routes. I had this sensation or this experience that we are always making progress even if it is small, or even slow, but always one step further.”

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