I was involved in both last month’s leading trade and consumer focused interiors events — Clerkenwell Design Week and Grand Designs Live. The events shared the same unmistakable theme, that of Sustainability. Sustainability is increasingly hip in the world of interiors and design; except it’s not a trend but more of a necessity in today’s world. 

Don’t designers just fill spaces with stuff? It’s tricky…

To date, sustainability efforts in the Interior Design industry have been disparate and spontaneous at best. The subject is understandably tricky to approach for an Interior Designer; it is multifaceted and not at all black-and-white. Sustainability has hardly been front-of-mind historically for most of the leaders in this industry.

To put it very crudely, filling spaces with stuff (the caricature of Interior Design, once you strip it down to the very basics) is hardly environmentally sustainable practice. Our planet’s resources are stretched, and by and large this industry is not helping. The issue boils down to balancing the wants of our planet’s current inhabitants with the needs of future generations — a delicate balance indeed. Approaching the matter through this lens makes a designer feel very small, leaving them to wonder what exactly they can bring to the table. However just like every challenge, this one too presents an opportunity.

Sustainable design: the inflection point

Of course in reality there is much more to Interior Design than filling spaces with stuff, but this does often seem to be the general public’s perception of this industry. Attitudes can be painfully slow to change, both towards what we do and how we do it. However, we seem to have reached an inflection point, both among industry practitioners and the end users of our products and services.

I could not help but notice a common theme running through this year’s leading industry and consumer focused interiors events: Clerkenwell Design Week and Grand Designs Live, respectively. Sustainability is increasingly mainstream. There are signs that this is more than a passing trend, but in fact a new paradigm that will dictate the direction of this industry for years to come.

Clerkenwell Design Week: installations and more

The Reform installation from Bakers Patterns together with TDO, StudioDA and Studio 8Fold challenged the visitors’ understanding of sustainable materials. The sculptures produced as part of the installation were made of polystyrene. Often considered a ‘bad’ material as it cannot be recycled through regular municipal recycling schemes, it is in fact near-on fully recyclable if sent back to the manufacturer. It is unveiling facts like these that changes our perception and understanding of materials used throughout our projects; and can help create more sustainable spaces and products.

Reform installation
Reform installation at Clerkenwell Design Week by Bakers Patterns: polystyrene is not always ‘bad’.

Behind Closed Doors was a thought provoking and intriguing miniature interiors installation — a collaboration between Hakwood and Shape London. Conceived as a showcase of design styles, I noticed that in fact a number of the architectural practices that took part made a point on sustainability, in one way or another. A focus on sustainability is not entirely new for architectural practices; however Interior Designers too appear to be catching up in increasing numbers.

Behind Closed Doors
Part of the Behind Closed Doors miniature display at Clerkenwell Design Week, by Grey Griffiths Architects

There was the GCSE students’ pavilion design, within the scope of Scale Rule’s Next Generation Design Pavilion project, which also focused on the theme of Sustainability. Meanwhile the Your Tote Counts installation made many people question ingrained conceptions about what is and is not environmentally friendly. Visitors were told that totes are only more environmentally friendly than plastic bags if used literally 100s of times, and were encouraged to bring along unwanted totes in order to have these reprinted with new designs.

There were biodegradable water pouches made of seaweed handed out (a surreal experience of ‘eating’ water, but a fantastic idea if it can be made to work on a larger scale); talks on plastics, sustainable materials and approaches, and more. It is clear that visitors were being steered to think about a broad range of subjects through a certain lens, that of Sustainability.

Nip & Sip
‘Eating’ water at Clerkenwell Design Week: Nip & Sip

Grand Designs Live: Green Heroes

This year’s Grand Designs Live, the end-consumer oriented self-build and home improvement event, also had a firm Sustainability focus to it. GDL patron Kevin McCloud’s own passion for innovative eco-friendly and green building products dictated the spirit of the event; including a spotlight on Kevin’s Green Heroes.

Ranging from eco-friendly fuel sources (eco briquettes made from recycled coffee grounds) to self-build bamboo bicycles, and recycling of plastics (THE hot topic of the day); there was plenty on show at the event to engage the visitors’ imagination in respect of all things sustainable. Among the designer installations, the winning room set design by Finch London was a sustainability and health-focused kitchen. Topics of public talks at the event included sourcing sustainably and an introduction to natural building techniques.

Finch London Wellness Kitchen
Winning room set design at Grand Design Live: Wellness Kitchen by Finch London

Ultimately, successful designers are those who create spaces and products that clients want to live in or buy. It may be that in the coming years, Sustainability will increasingly become one of the top priorities for consumers and as an extension, Interior Design clients. If this is the case, designers will need to adjust and respond to this shift, or better still, anticipate it through their own strategies and decisions.

I am pleased to report that Sustainability is one of my own special design interests. Constantly looking for new ways to design more sustainably, I look forward to bringing this paradigm to more client projects in the future!