Sustainable Ideas to Adopt From the London Design Festival
Discover how the design industry is using creative and clever thinking to make our homes more sustainable
The organisers of London Design Fair in east London’s Brick Lane chose biomaterials as the material of the year, highlighting just how focused the show was on sustainability.
Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll, co-founders of Chip[s] Board, displayed the products they make from – you guessed it – potato waste, while Mexican designer Fernando Laposse showcased items fabricated from the husks of endangered species of heirloom corn.
Emerging talent at the Design Fresh stand at the 100% Design trade show included Diana Tso, who displayed biodegradable plant pots created from drift seaweed. And the lamp pictured here, also seen at 100% Design, was made from banana-plant fibre by French brand Tedzukuri Atelier.
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Sustainable timber was key for many of the craftspeople displaying their work at the festival shows. The theme was highlighted by the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) Legacy project, which British cultural leaders were asked to commission pieces for made from American red oak – a sustainable timber from the USA.
The importance of using local wood was also a focus. For example, Rodney Lomas, a UK-based furniture-maker, explained how he sources his materials from the country’s woodlands.
“We buy wood from local foresters, timber merchants or tree surgeons who might otherwise have to discard it or sell it as firewood,” he says. “By creating a market for this wood, we’re hoping to help them resource the maintenance of native forests.”
Plastic has understandably gained a bad reputation of late, as tonnes of it end up in landfill and the sea. The throwaway nature of the material is indeed a huge problem, and this theme was highlighted by Sam Jacob’s Sea Things installation at the V&A. A large mirrored cube with an animated graphic inside was suspended from the ceiling of one of the museum’s entrances to shine a light on the extent of the problem.
We were reminded throughout the week, though, that plastic can be an extremely practical material – the key for designers is to use it in the right way.
Recycled plastic, for instance, was a focus. At Design Fresh, recent graduate Milo Tonry-Brown explained how he uses recycled plastic as a joining method for oak furniture (pictured).
A key takeaway from the week was how crucial it is to increase the life cycle of the products we use in our homes. At the 100% Design auditorium, one panel discussion focused on the importance of the circular economy. The discussion highlighted the valuable skills of restoration experts who can update old furniture.
“We take a salvaged item and design a space around it,” says Adam Hills of Retrouvius, who spoke about the value of restoring a piece that tells a story.
An example from one of our London Houzz Tours can be seen here, where Convert Construction restored and fitted this garden gate, which the homeowners brought over from France.
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In another panel talk, designer and waste expert Sophie Thomas suggested it’s important to look closely at whether a product can be disassembled and recycled. She also believes it’s vital to think about the life cycle of the material and whether it matches the length of time it will be used. She pointed to typical toothbrushes, which can’t be taken apart and recycled. “Each toothbrush is only used for four months, but its life cycle is 400 years,” says Thomas.
Sustainable flat-pack brand Grain (pictured) exhibited at the show and the team explained how this idea works with their products. The flat-packed items are designed to be taken apart again, so they can either be reassembled or sent back to the firm and recycled at the end of a product’s life.
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As well as sourcing sustainable materials, designers are paying more attention to the chemicals they’re using to treat them. Simone Bettoli of Benchmark Furniture, for example, explained how certain materials, such as organic wool, coir (fibre from the outer husks of coconuts), natural latex and recycled denim, have natural fire-retardant qualities, so there’s no need to treat them with toxic chemicals.
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