We are delighted to have partnered up with the nation’s largest mortgage lender to talk all things interior design at their upcoming homebuyer events. Home by Halifax is their innovative new concept branch in the City, with an events space and a talk programme. It’ll be nice for Maria to return to the City, having worked there for years in her previous Equity Markets career!
Don’t expect the usual blah-blah about colour trends, curtains and cushions. Maria’s approach to interior design is much more pragmatic. She will talk about creating meaningful spaces for people; after all, us humans are an indoor species. We spend >90% of our time indoors yet give so little thought to our built environment. Let’s discuss!
Sustainability is the word on everyone’s lips now. It is so popular that it smacks of a trend. Or is there long-term mainstream potential here? In this post, I explain that yes, there is long-term mainstream potential here. But I also urge to proceed with caution: not everything that seems green, is green. A sustainable home is attainable, if you take a holistic approach and look beyond the marketing and soundbites.
I once proposed that the easiest way to achieve a sustainable home is to do nothing to a space. After all, every interior intervention will have some level of negative impact. Because of the materials that have gone into creating the new items for the house; because of the journey the items have been on (often half-way round the world) to get to you; because of the old existing items being disposed of…the list goes on.
‘Do nothing’ is not good enough
Now of course ‘do nothing’ is actually a lazy approach and not something that I really believe in. After all, we want our homes to meet our needs, to be functional, to be up to modern standards, to be safe, and to be enjoyable to spend time in i.e. aesthetically pleasing. All the same factors are equally relevant to non-residential interior design projects too.
‘Do something’ is also not good enough
However, ‘do something’ is probably also unfortunately not quite good enough. Simply, if you want to truly live sustainably, then tinkering around the edges won’t quite do it. Isolated actions, such as recycling or composting some of your waste, reusing an old piece of furniture here and there, or buying a few locally produced items, does not quite cut it on its own.
To a large extent, the marketplace of interior items has been taken over by ‘sustainability’ the soundbite, not ‘sustainability’ the concept or ‘sustainability’ the lifestyle. So if you buy hundreds of items, and a couple of them have been marketed to you as sustainable, does it make you feel good? Probably. Does it have any tangible impact on the state of the world, climate change and so on? Probably not.
That is not to say that there are no genuinely sustainable products out there, but do proceed with caution and ask questions. Greenwashing is the practice of making unsubstantiated or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a product. It is rampant in the interiors industry. Very few producers have actually done any sort of maths to be able to substantiate their claims. It sounds as if everyone is sustainable these days; but are they really?
More widespread still than greenwashing is ignorance. Producers, suppliers, retailers, designers, homeowners… they simply lack any form of knowledge or understanding of matters of sustainability. They don’t seek out the information, because it is not something they are conditioned to think about. The good news is that it takes only one person in this chain — ideally the end-user — to start asking questions. And suddenly everyone cares.
Less is always more, when it comes to interiors and sustainability. I am a proponent of considered minimalism, or more specifically maximal minimalism, as I like to refer to it. “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de St Exupery. I urge you to consider this man’s wise words.
‘Do a lot’ is better
Renovations, interior design, building projects… what comes with these is a lot of decisions that need to be made. A lot. Just in your kitchen alone, to take one example, you need to decide on the model of up to 10 appliances, the layout, the style, the colour, the worktop, the handles, the splashback, the flooring… and more. Interior design is about making decisions. For half a chance of a successful project, you need to be making the decisions in a consistent and considered manner.
Today we live a world of plenty, making our generation an exception in human history. What comes with this is abundance of choice. Choice is good, but too much choice is crippling and counter-productive. The more you are able to narrow down your selection, the easier the process will be. Why not use sustainability as an additional filter for every single interior decision and purchase that you make? By virtue of narrowing your options, it will also make your life easier.
Going back to the kitchen example, this will mean going for the most energy efficient appliances, the most thermally efficient flooring, the most durable worktop, cabinets that use the lightest and cleanest materials… And once you repeat the process across your entire project, you would have made a cumulative impact that is noteworthy and commendable.
‘Do a lot and spread the message’ is best
There are definitely products out there that deserve genuine praise thanks to their eco credentials. They may not be those made by the manufacturers with the biggest budgets, and are often more niche and less well-known. If you want to do your bit, then consuming sustainably (including anything we buy for our homes) is great. Spreading the message about genuinely responsible products, materials and producers is even better.
With an ever-growing contact book of sustainable suppliers, we at Bright Designs can help you navigate an eco renovation. You may consider using us if, as many of our clients, this is something you just don’t have the inclination or time to manage yourself.
As your kitchen will be the largest single purchase by far that you will make for your home, it is a good place to start if you want to do your bit for the environment. As suppliers of sustainable and non-toxic Miinus Kitchens, we can help with this too!
We enjoyed seeing a news story on our involvement with Miinus Kitchens in industry leading publication KBBDaily. The story highlights not only the benefits of this unique product range, but also our design ethos and our approach to sustainability.
Earlier this year, an opportunity came my way which I took on with great pleasure: designing and supplying Miinus kitchens, from Finland’s leading kitchen manufacturer Puustelli. These are not any kitchens. These are kitchens where less is more, quite literally. Unique in several ways, Miinus represents a genuine innovation in the slightly stale world of kitchen design. Read on if you are looking to create a sustainable home.
The alternative kitchen research project
Here’s the problem with the highly fragmented home improvement and interior design industry: R&D budgets are virtually non-existent. Big respect is due, therefore, to Finland’s leading kitchen manufacturer Puustelli for spending 2.5 years developing a new model for the decades-old kitchen design template. Their aim? To create a kitchen that would be more sustainable as well as better for the health of its users.
Scandinavian eco mindset
Scandinavian countries, you see, are lightyears ahead of us here on the British Isles in all things to do with environmental sustainability. Have you heard of their elaborate recycling systems? Bike friendly cities? Alternative energy generation projects? The plogging craze? The list goes on. This mindset surely has something to do with the thinking behind Miinus kitchens.
Goodbye traditional kitchen materials
In order to understand why the new model is better, it helps to first understand where the old model went wrong. Traditionally, kitchen units are made of a carcass (a box of sorts), with a door on the front. More often than not, the carcass is made of one of the popular composite wood products i.e. primarily MDF or MFC. These materials have various problems associated with them. For one, they are heavy. They don’t like water (you can see how that can be a problem in a kitchen…) The small wood particles making up these boards need to be held together somehow. Strong and toxic adhesives tend to be used (e.g. MDF can contain up to 10% formaldehyde).
Enter the patented Miinus bioframe with a 30-year guarantee. Instead of the cumbersome boxes, the kitchen is propped up by a ‘skeleton’ of sorts. The frame is made using an injection-moulding technique, and combines the best that natural and manmade materials have to offer (wood fibres and plastic no.5 polypropylene — strong and safe).
Flexible and recyclable innovation
The result? A frame that is robust yet light, water-resistant, and can handle both hot and cold. The development means that the volume of material used in the construction of a kitchen is cut in half, as is its weight and therefore transport footprint (think CO2 emissions). You can recycle the biocomposite frame, or better even, repurpose it as much as you please. Ready-made holes for assembly and fitting of mechanical parts make this a breeze. They don’t deteriorate with time, meaning hinged cabinets can turn into drawers or open shelving units (and vice versa).
But in my opinion, the best part is something else. We as 21st century humans spend 90-95% of our time indoors. It’s a stunning stat that the media and authorities have seemingly not yet caught onto. Who cares about diesel car fumes when we barely spend any time outdoors? Surely we should be discussing indoor air quality instead. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates indoor air quality to be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air, on average. This is even the case in some of the largest most industrial cities in the world. Yikes.
There are many materials and products that contribute to the quality of indoor air, and among them are the composite wood materials that traditional kitchens are made of. Volatile organic compounds (chemicals that linger in the air around us and find their way into our bodies) are among the main polluters, and ones that have been drastically cut in Miinus kitchens.
Not just ultra sustainable, but also ultra stylish
So there’s plenty of substance to these kitchens, but they don’t exactly lack in the style department either. Materials and door styles are unique and exciting. For the young urban dwellers there is the cost-effective FOSB door style that is both funky and on-trend. My personal favourite is the technical veneer (and judging by the reaction of the House and Garden Festival visitors, where we displayed, it’s the public’s favourite too). Brushed pine is a high-end material that sits stunningly in luxurious spaces, while more traditional oak and birch veneers in a range of colour ways are also available. Too many options to choose from! (Tip: we’ve picked a few favourite schemes that can be viewed here).
I’ve said this before, but at Bright Designs it’s all about the ethos of design. Style comes second. It is indeed the ethos of the Miinus kitchen that prompted me to get involved with the range. My verdict: better for people and better for the planet. It is genuinely hard to come across products and materials for an eco home renovation or build, but this one ticks the right boxes. Drop us a line if you’d like to hear more!
In Part I of this article, I wrote about the link between Interior Design and climate change, and about ways in which Interior Designers can help prevent it in the first instance. But let’s face it, renovation and refurbishment is expensive business (especially if there is an element of retrofitting involved — e.g. heating systems, glazing, insulation etc). What if all that your budget, timeframe, building status or other constraints allow is to treat the symptoms? Not the preferred option, but far from an inconceivable situation for a designer to find themselves in.
Designing for comfort
Worth recalling is this: we as humans started designing in the first instance, millennia ago, in order to provide ourselves with a level of physical and psychological comfort. It is this idea of comfort that needs addressing in the context of interiors and climate change effects.
The surfaces, finishes, furniture and lighting used in an interior affect our level of comfort in a given space. For instance, we are used to seeing tiled floors in warmer climates, and other flooring alternatives e.g. fitted wool carpet in cooler climates. I am sure many a UK house dweller would have been cursing that dense wool carpet underfoot in the recent heatwave.
Sisal, jute and seagrass are less popular but might all be more appropriate alternatives. Hard floors (e.g. wood or engineered) with rugs on top, or tiles with underfloor heating might also be more appropriate… as well as more flexible.
Window treatments are another way of regulating whatever is going on outdoors (temperature, light etc) for the purposes of indoor comfort. Windows can account for 30% of energy losses in the colder months, and can substantially amplify the effects of sun rays in the warm months.
Thermal and solar blinds are more energy efficient than conventional window treatments. They keep the cold out and the warmth in, as well as diffusing sunlight and keeping harmful UV rays out of your home. Considering the direction of your windows and the use of the space will help determine the appropriate solution.
Beyond the fitted carpet…
Versatile and sustainable materials such as cork (used as flooring, wall covering, in furniture, accessories and more) should be high on the designer’s list given how well it adapts itself to different climates and conditions.
Less trendy, natural rubber and linoleum (a natural material, not to be confused with its synthetic equivalent vinyl) are totally under-appreciated but have many similar characteristics to cork, and numerous potential applications.
Not to mention various new composite materials; this is an ever evolving field. Even wood — not a new or fancy material — is hugely versatile and can be sustainable if appropriately sourced and certified. All of these can find numerous applications in an interior, and take you through the seasons with relative ease and comfort.
The benefits of flexible furniture
Furniture on castors, or that which folds, rotates, is light and easy to move around etc, can be helpful in case of parts of a home drastically changing temperature or natural lighting conditions throughout the day. Even though the task is the same, you may want to vary the location of where you carry it out, for maximal comfort (working from home is a good example).
Adaptable furniture items with multiple uses are also in this category of climate change friendly items. In fact, I believe that flexibility is the number one criterion for the vast majority of Interior Design specifications, not the least in the context of drastically changing climate patterns.
Light, air, colour, and more
When relief from the elements is required pronto, low energy consuming cooling and heating devices, in particular those with air quality sensors and cleaning ability, can come in handy. From a sustainability point of view too these are better than traditional power guzzling aircon units. Meanwhile powerful and efficient extractor fans in kitchens and bathrooms can markedly improve the comfort of the users of these spaces.
Other ways of dealing with the impact of climate change on our homes include variable lighting (self-adjusting, dimmers, sensors…) and seasonal home accessories. Certain materials and colours can amplify or regulate the effects of the heat, cold, drought, rain and so on. In the summer, I would prefer a cotton throw or rug over a wool one, light silk cushions over rich velvet ones, playful bright towels and tablecloths, and so on.
These are just some of the specific ways in which Interior Designers can help their clients cope better with the effects of climate change. There are others, I am sure. Importantly, new innovative interior products and materials are increasingly versatile and adaptable, helping create interior comfort irrespective of outdoor conditions. Comfort may be a trivial discussion in the context of the real issue at hand; and ideally, we would participate in the prevention (not only treatment) of climate change.
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.
My latest guest post in Designer Kitchen & Bathroom Magazine discusses sustainable design practices. Talking about Sustainability is certainly increasingly mainstream, but how about actual design practice? In addition to introducing the issue at hand, I offer some practical advice in the form of the environmentally conscious designer’s mantra – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This is a topic I have written on in the past; even if still very much just scratching the surface. Much more to research in this sphere, the work continues!