Interiors: All out sustainable

Image shows: Freeform, organic shaped furniture in rusty colours

John Law of Woodhouse and Law takes stock of how our interiors have become wholeheartedly connected to nature and to the use of sustainable materials and products, including recognising the value of giving new life to existing pieces.

At a time of quite some uncertainty and change, it’s no surprise that we have all become drawn to the comforting, familiar feel that nature has to us all. By bringing it into our very own homes, we can create our very own sanctuary; one in which we feel at ease, grounded and connected to the natural world. We’ve seen how the introduction of house plants can instantly help to make that change, but we are also seeing clients increasingly drawn to natural colour tones within those very spaces.

Going green is more than the choice of paint colour, however. This move towards those more natural elements has gone hand in hand with a growing appreciation for the need to take a more sustainable, eco-friendly approach to design. As designers, we are keen to leave behind the disposable, casual approach of constantly changing trends and regular renovation. It’s critical that we include in their place timeless, well-built pieces within any scheme; ones that endure and evolve with us in whatever form our own, personal sanctuaries take.

With this in mind, we are always keen to combine traditional pieces with their contemporary counterparts in our designs, giving a scheme a long-lasting, timeless feel. In kitchens, we often look to Shaker-style cabinetry that can be re-painted in the future. Not only is the life of the kitchen extended, but this also enables clients to update colours as trends, or their mood, changes.

As we become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of our purchases, it’s equally important to avoid overlooking existing pieces of furniture in favour of the new, the fresh, the clean. We always advocate retaining such items where we can or introducing antique pieces to give a greater sense of authenticity. Sometimes this requires restoration by local artisans, perhaps reupholstering with a complementary fabric that offers texture and warmth. Working to restore an item, focusing on a single task, and using our own hands is not only gratifying; it contributes greatly to a sense of mindfulness; a humbling reminder of the value of what we already have.

It’s important too to look holistically at a space, beyond the individual pieces to those finishes around them. Paints for instance; here we advise looking for products with low or no VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds). One of the most exciting launches this year is that from a recent collaboration between international authority on interiors, Michelle Ogundehin, and Graphenstone, one of the most highly certified sustainable paint companies in the world. The foundational palette of 16 shades has been lovingly crafted to ensure that all tones work perfectly together, in any combination. Starting with greens and blues, the elemental colours of earth, sky and sea, the palette has a distinctly healing feel; one that is instinctively considered and cohesive.

Closer to home, the team at Divine Savages have also taken inspiration from Mother Nature, following their recent move to Somerset. Celebrating our delicate eco systems, their Rewilding Collection is their most sustainable collection to date. Its wallpaper is made from 79% renewable fibres from fermented plant starch, using a manufacturing process that uses far less greenhouse gases than other traditional non-woven wallpapers.

There is often some confusion when sustainable materials are discussed in design terms. Such materials aren’t necessarily renewable or recyclable; they are however long-lasting and can be applied in large quantities. Take stone for example; a natural, resource that doesn’t require factory manufacture. It’s also a durable material that will stand the test of time and outlast fleeting design trends. Other natural materials to consider might also include bamboo, clay ceramics and cork. Integrating these natural elements – with their rich diversity of life, shapes and colours – is fast gaining a dedicated following for their ability to greatly improve our well-being and creativity. We’re expecting therefore to see a growing number of pieces made from natural stone and wood coming to the fore, perhaps with curved lines and soft shapes to instil a more natural, organic feel to a scheme.

Wild Wild Woods linen fabric by Divine Savages

This move to a more holistic, sustainable approach to design has been more noticeable than ever on our recent visits to a number of interior trade shows. Here, traditional ingredients stood alongside the more unusual, with waste materials from other industries often being incorporated to reduce the environmental impact of these new products. Surplus sheep’s wool was used in place of plastic upholstery foam, waste hemp fibres were used to fortify bioplastic in compostable chairs and acoustic panels featured a byproduct of rice production. Whilst some manufacturers returned to traditional craftsmanship, others looked to new technological developments such as 3D printing for their latest collections. A reflection perhaps of an industry that is looking to honour trusted, traditional methods, while still keeping a definite eye to the future.