Makers & Designers
Prevalent Projects Promises Furniture That’s Sustainable, Eco-friendly and Beautiful
A home is composed of many elements; many say the furniture you bring into it is the most important thing and should have the perfect blend of practicality, comfort and style. But there are other factors that the owners of Mill Valley’s Prevalent Projects urge everyone to consider before they purchase furniture: nontoxicity and sustainability.
First opened in late 2018, Mill Valley’s Prevalent Projects is a modern furniture store and interior design studio that’s setting out to change the furniture game in Marin County. Owners Floyd and Julia Albee are uniquely qualified for the business, as Floyd has built an impressive career in production design for the film industry, while Julia’s prolific work as a photographer has included capturing interiors. They both have an eye for what looks good, and they’re not afraid to be the first to bring their tastes to Marin.
Previously based in Los Angeles, the Albees arrived in Mill Valley for what was meant to be a temporary relocation. While here, they thought to open an interior design business. And they figured that the best way to launch an interior design company was to open a thoughtfully considered store, a move that would also address the dearth of local furniture offerings that suited their tastes and needs.
“I saw a lot of stainless steel,” says Julia of their early searches. “Most furniture manufactured in America is probably one of the most hazardous things we put in our home.” Due to an autoimmune disease and year-round allergies, Julia is particularly sensitive to typical furniture materials like formaldehyde, particleboard, toxic glue and foam containing VOCs (volatile organic compounds). For their store, the Albees prefer to source and sell furniture made from solid wood, water-based glues and natural fabrics and fibers.
“We’re also trying to provide a warm, very comfortable feel, and we just didn’t see that,” adds Floyd. “Generally speaking, a lot of modern looks are minimalist and austere. We were trying to do something different than that.”
The pieces sold at Prevalent Projects certainly reflect those ideas. Emphasizing a Japanese/Scandinavian aesthetic, the wide selection features transitional looks that can fit seamlessly into your home right alongside other styles. The warm, cozy comfort of Scandinavian style — think hygge — is also a good fit for the more temperate climates of Marin.
Of course, the production process, as well as the materials used, can lead to a higher price point, but furniture, which gets such frequent use, should be an investment, the couple says. Floyd argues that paying less for your furniture almost guarantees that you’ll end up with something that will fall apart in a few years.
“The average life span of a thing you buy in America before it ends up in a landfill is six months,” he adds. “We can’t keep throwing things away. We’re selling stuff that lasts you decades.”
Prevalent Projects currently stocks more than 30 brands from all over the world. In some instances, the store has been the first retailer to carry some of these foreign brands stateside. And while they often seek out companies that produce lines they’d like to offer, they’re successful enough that some companies have started reaching out to them. Currently, the Albees are excited to have found two lines that manufacture products at solar-powered, zero-waste factories. This, Julia says, is her dream for U.S. manufacturing — as long as it’s done in a nontoxic way.
Roughly a year after opening their doors, the Albees began the process of creating their own furniture line. They started by launching an upholstery line in 2019, then began building upon the brand with handmade goods that are primarily produced in Sausalito. Prevalent Projects Originals currently includes three coffee tables, all made from oak, and two luxurious sofas. All the furniture is designed by Floyd and Julia, but they are planning on collaborations in the future.
“It’s all based on need,” says Julia. “We saw giant, gaping holes in areas like bedside tables, small wardrobes and solid wood coffee tables. Our sofa line is just based on the sort of home that we see people have in the Bay Area.”
The Albees strive to make their pieces timeless as well as high quality and, of course, nontoxic. In order to ensure the quality of the sofas meets their high standards, the pieces are bench-made, a process that combines attentive craftsmanship with the best materials, resulting in a premium product.
“I love the concept of bench-made,” says Julia. “The order comes in, and the person building it kind of lives with it from start to finish. They might work with another artisan on upholstery or the frame, but you are essentially having one person make it in a step-by-step process.”
The personal touch that the Albees are so fond of doesn’t just come with the chairs, bed frames, tables and endless options for storage that they sell. Bringing in the interior design side of the business, they can walk customers through the process of transforming their homes. They offer both full remodels, which can involve architectural intervention such as moving walls, and less intensive redesign plans that focus more on the pieces you fill your home with.
“When we meet with clients, people fall in love with the aesthetic, and that’s the easy part,” says Floyd. “But we’ll also speak to comfort, use, entertaining, children and pets.”
In addition to the larger furniture pieces customers are bound to be attracted to, Prevalent Projects also carries a number of carefully selected home goods, like lighting options, rugs and other upholstery items, vases and even home fragrances.
“I think that if we have the luxury of buying new furniture, we should have the luxury of choosing items that are nontoxic,” says Julia. “Nontoxic and sustainability go hand in hand. The beauty is that people here in Marin care.”