The term "hot seat" may take on a new meaning with this French furniture innovation that can help regulate the temperature in a room, no air conditioning (or energy-use) involved. The Z.E.F. (Zero-Energy Furniture) Table, a simple oak piece designed by Parisian designer Jean-Sébastien Lagrange and engineer Raphael Menard, absorbs and emits heat like a thermal sponge.
"The idea was to see how we could create furniture that could work as a solution to climate change," says Lagrange, who elaborates that the table came as the result of steady, iterative design and a long-term collaboration between friends, not a flash of inspiration. But according to Menard's calculations, the technology behind it could make a striking impact on energy use. His modeling suggests that if all the furniture in one room utilized this type of material, it would cut air conditioning bills by 30 percent and heating costs by 60 percent.
Made with a wax-like substance manufactured by DuPont, the table utilizes the properties of phase-changing material. Sandwiched between the oak tabletop and rows of corrugated, anodized aluminum—designed to increase airflow and heat exchange—the waxy substance absorbs heat at 71.6 degrees fahrenheit or above, and releases it when the room becomes colder. Imagine a crowded meeting room, says Lagrange. The excess heat generated by a dozen people around the ZEF table would be trapped and then slowly released after the meeting to help maintain a consistent temperature.
While the two designers plan to develop additional furniture pieces and lighting that utilize the same concept, Lagrange theorized that the material could be used in numerous settings, and could even be made into wall panels.
"This kind of concept could be very efficient in a home or hospital," he says. "We're trying to find out how we could make this kind of furniture for other contexts."