Is this is a bizarre topic to write on? Given most of us across Europe have spent the summer sweltering (both outdoors and indoors), it seems rather pertinent to me. Unless you are the 45th US President, you have probably noticed more extreme and less predictable weather patterns affecting your daily life. We are increasingly feeling climate change through colder winters, longer more intense heatwaves, excessive rainfall, drought and wildfires. Over time, all of these effects are predicted by scientists to intensify further, and to do so faster.
Buildings consume energy
So what can and should Interior Designers do? Why should we care and how can we help? Buildings — the very fabric that Interior Designers work with — are substantial energy consumers (while being built, when in use, and once demolished). BP estimates that globally, Buildings consume 29% of total energy; in comparison to 20% consumed by the much maligned Transportation sector. BP also predicts that the relative energy demand of Buildings will grow further over time.
The statistics are even more alarming in the world’s largest economy, the US, where Buildings currently account for 48% of the total energy consumption. Direct energy use includes heating, cooling, lighting and the use of electrical appliances within buildings. Indirect energy use is more complicated: how and where was everything that is in my home made? How did it get here? There are many nuances (and unknowns) to answering these questions.
More sustainable thinking needed in Interior Design
I appreciate that the practice of Architecture and the standards and regulations associated with new buildings are increasingly focused on Sustainability. The field of Interior Design is, in my opinion, light years behind. Little thought is paid to genuine environmental considerations, greenwashing is rampant, and frankly, there is very little understanding of this complex topic (understandably so, I suppose).
I think of the issue at hand, and Interior Designers’ involvement with it, similarly to how I think about an illness. You can either treat it, or make efforts to prevent it in the first instance. So Interior Designers can either propose ways of making interior environments more comfortable and enjoyable to occupy, despite climate change. Or indeed they can contribute to preventing it from happening in the first place.
Part I: Prevention
Members of the Design community are increasingly, if slowly, becoming aware of their responsibility to consider climate change throughout their work. Most of the building stock globally, and certainly in the UK, is old and inefficient. The refurbishment of a home, office or commercial space provides an opportunity to not just make it look better and in tune with the latest trends, but to also make it more efficient and sustainable. For an Interior Designer, the 3 R’s of Sustainable Design are a good starting point: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
In my book, Reduce refers to specifying less, not more. I make a point of focusing on the essentials in a space. My design ethos, MAXIMAL minimalism, is about employing fewer items (less 3D), but creating more impact by 2D means. This may be through colour, pattern, texture or detail. Any or all of these, even when used sparingly, can have a big impact. Using fewer finishes, or specifying materials and items that can serve a dual purpose is good both for a client’s budget and for our planet.
Reusing can mean repurposing existing items within the same space, or going down the salvage and reclamation route. There is no easier way to create original interiors bursting with personality than reusing a 50 years old school desk, original Victorian doors, Edwardian ironmongery etc in new and unexpected ways. As I recently wrote, reselling bathroom fixtures, kitchen cabinets and the like can be easy and lucrative.
Recycle is the 3rd R. Both recycled content and recyclable materials and items are becoming more common. There is a clear (business) opportunity here given the nature and speed of consumption in today’s world, not the least in the sphere of interiors. As people grow ever more aware of the problems associated with landfill waste, recycling efforts in this sphere are bound to grow over time. The use of post-industrial waste is fairly common; but I have also come across materials and products made of recycled tyres, carpet, yoghurt pots and more. Needless to say, providing recycling opportunities when designing spaces goes under this heading too.
Energy efficient LED lighting is widespread nowadays, and further innovations in the area of lighting are emerging all the time. Energy efficiency of appliances is a big selling point, and ever improving. Various smart controls and home automation methods are also helping address some of the issues by e.g. controlling cooling and heating more efficiently, as well as automatically switching off unused lights. Other interior elements are catching up — if slowly — with what has happened in the sphere of electrics.
There are numerous ways of integrating sustainable elements and practices into interior projects. However, sometimes prevention alone is not enough. Come back soon to read the sequel to this article, Part II: Treatment.