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The kitchen where less is more: sustainable and healthy Miinus

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.

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.  

The design and development journey of the sustainable Miinus kitchen bioframe involved several iterations.

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. 

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).  

Traditional kitchen carcass build. Source: https://www.merit-kitchens.com/about-cabinets/cabinetry-101/

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).

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).

Less is more: the patented bioframe construction that replaces the traditional kitchen carcass.

But in my opinion, the best part is something else. We as 21st century humans spend c.90% 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.  

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).

One of the stunning technical veneer door materials from the Miinus range, shown with brushed brass pull handles.

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!

Interior Design for Climate Change: Part II

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.

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. 

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A conservatory is an obvious place where solar blinds can dramatically improve comfort levels. Source: https://www.vbcpremierblinds.co.uk/made-to-measure-conservatory-blinds/

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.

Cork flooring

Cork floor tiles in a West-facing room (warm and sunny in the afternoons, cold in the mornings).

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.

Adaptable furniture

Adaptable furniture is practical as it has a multitude of uses. Source: http://sites.psu.edu/arch311w/2015/09/27/architecture-furniture-spatial-adaptability/

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 prevention as well as treatment.

Interior Design for Climate Change: Part I

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. 

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. 

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. 

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This gets a MAXIMAL Minimalism tag from us. Clean and simple lines, oozing comfort, with beautiful colour and a few quirks. Source: https://furnish.bg/en/news/esenni-tendencii-obzavejdane.html

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. 

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DESIGN_Waste is one of several innovative waste processing projects taking shape today. The ethos of the project is viewing waste as a resource… and why not! Source: https://www.archilovers.com/stories/3330/waste-glass-transformation.html

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. 

The 3 R’s of Sustainable Interior Design

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!

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Health benefits of using natural materials in interiors

When writing, I like approaching a topic within a problem-solution framework. If the problem part of the equation is something people can relate to, then chances are they will read on. For my latest post in Designer Kitchen and Bathroom Magazine I was asked to write about natural materials in interiors. There is an obvious link between natural materials and my very favourite interiors topic – Healthy Spaces – which is what I explore here. The problem I present is poor internal air quality (important, seen as we spend some 90% of our time indoors!)

Natural materials can be a solution. I am ever more convinced that there is more to Interior Design than meets the eye. E.g. such as described in my article, the potential benefits to the health of the users of a space from the materials specified by the designer. Not to mention the principles of the fascinating and inspiring Biophilic design movement, which I am also becoming ever more attuned to. Watch this space!

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Two events, two audiences, one theme: Sustainability in interiors

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. 

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; and 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.

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.

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‘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!