Tag Archives | eco

Wabi-sabi and sustainable interior design

Wabi-sabi… (No, not the green horseradishy stuff that comes with your sushi…) Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that loosely translates as ‘finding beauty in imperfection’.


I was reminded of it last week, when I attended a talk as part of Focus 16 at Design Centre Chelsea Harbour, as part of the London Design Festival.

The talk was given by Simon Dodsworth, Senior Tutor at KLC School of Design.  The subject was Everyday Sustainability, and given my interest in this area, I went along to hear what he had to say.

Imperfect beauty

As part of the talk, he touched on the Japanese attitude to objects, where beauty is found in the imperfect and flaws are celebrated.

This concept is the afore-mentioned wabi-sabi, and I was delighted to be reminded of it: I studied Japanese for my undergraduate degree, and my year attending university in Japan sparked my interest in both aesthetics generally and our relationship with the environment.

The value of flaws

In essence, wabi-sabi does not value the new and perfectly formed.  It values items that have been used, that have developed a patina, that have a story.  A vase that is broken is put back together with the cracks highlighted in gold, as this will highlight the imperfection and make it more beautiful.  The handmade, flaws and all, is valued more than the identical factory-made replicas.  Transience is valued – blossom and Autumnal leaves, for example, are made even more beautiful by their brevity.

Using wabi-sabi in our homes

But how does the concept of wabi-sabi relate to sustainable interior design?

In short, the more we value our possessions and homes with a history, marks, scratches, dents and all, the less likely we are to replace things with something brand new and shiny.  If we ascribe value to the experience, the story, we are likely to keep everything for longer.  And thus spend less (time, money, resources) overall.

I would rather help a client to find a sofa that they’ll keep for 20 years, a dining table that they’ll pass down to their children, art that they will love until the end of their days, than set them up with the next big trend that they’ll tire of in a year or two and want to ‘upgrade’ to something new.  I like to use vintage items as well as new.  And I never pressure a client to get rid of something they love.

What do you think about wabi-sabi?  Can you relate?  What do you own that you love, despite its imperfections?

If this has sparked your interest in wabi-sabi and Japanese aesthetics, you may want to check out a short essay recommended by Simon at the talk: “In Praise of Shadows”, by Junichiro Tanazaki.





Eco friendly interior design – going shopping

This post is part of a series of tips on interior design and working with an interior designer.

shopping for sustainable interior designAs we started discussing last week, as a designer I prefer to create designs that are lighter on the environment, eco friendly, sustainable… there are many ways to describe it.  However, I am not a fan of very rustic-looking, eco-style, crafty style.  So, how do I get eco friendly interior design without it looking that way?  There are several things to think about and there is no right answer – it’s a matter of considering everything in balance, focusing on what’s most important to you and thinking about the big picture.  Then you can make an informed decision.

This week we’ll look at eco considerations when shopping for individual items.  Check last week’s post for thoughts on the bigger picture.

Once you’re happy with your overall plans for the space, you can consider three things about each potential item you want in the space – What, How and Where:


What is it made from?  Look out for the following:

  • Sustainably produced materials, particularly for items made from wood and paper
  • Recycled, reclaimed, reused materials remade into your item, could be plastic, ceramics, glass, wood, etc
  • Recycled, reused, reconditioned items themselves, such as antique/vintage/second-hand furniture, fabric, vases etc
  • Non-toxic materials, especially paints, dyes, varnishes and glues
  • Natural pigments
  • Durable materials – will it last?  Is it fit for purpose?


If it’s a new item, how was it made?  Things to consider:

  • Factory-made or individually crafted?
  • Fairly paid adult labour or barely paid child labour?
  • Does the factory / workshop use renewable energy, does it dispose of its waste responsibly?
  • What chemicals has it (or the raw materials) been treated with during its life?
  • Is it made to last (e.g. dovetail joints) or for the short term (e.g. glue)?

Whether new or not, how does it work?

  • How energy efficient is it?  (for electrical items, appliances etc)
  • How efficiently does it use water? (for taps, toilets, appliances etc)
  • How does it help save energy / materials etc, if at all?  E.g. you could line curtains with thermal lining instead of standard, to keep the heat in during winter, and keep it cooler for summer.


  • Where were the raw materials sourced?
  • Where was it produced?
  • Where is it now?
  • How far away are the above from where it will end up?

In my opinion, tiles made from recycled glass in an energy and water efficient factory may sound great, but they’re not that eco-friendly if they’ve been produced in Australia or the USA and then shipped over to the UK.  Try looking for tiles made from recycled glass sourced locally.

Informed decisions

I’ll be amazed if you find something that ticks all these boxes, particularly if it’s affordable and doesn’t look crafty / rustic – this is just a list of things to consider when making your purchases, so you can make an informed decision.  There is no perfect solution.

As an example, something that I find tricky myself is chipboard & veneers versus solid wood.  Imagine you’ve found a dining table that you like the look of.  It’s available in either chipboard & veneers or solid wood, made in the UK from wood grown sustainably in Europe.

  • Chipboard & veneer is essentially waste wood (good) glued together (bad unless non-toxic glue), with a veneer on top (good as uses less raw materials, bad as less durable).  Light to transport (good).  Probably won’t last so long (bad).
  • Solid wood uses more raw materials (bad) but if it gets scratched you can sand it down and refinish (good).  It’s heavy to transport (bad) but is likely to last a long time (good) and be in better condition if you want to sell it on in the future (good).

So as you can see, eco friendly interior design is a matter of considering all angles and making an informed decision.

Was this useful?  Do you have any eco-dilemmas of your own?  Let me know in the comments!

Coming soon – specific tips for individual rooms, lighting, tips on how to use colour, choose floorings, wall coverings, paint…

If you have any questions you’d like me to answer in this series, leave a comment or send a message via the website – I’d be delighted to help!

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Eco friendly interior design – the bigger picture

This post is part of a series of tips on interior design and working with an interior designer.

what is sustainable interior designAs you may know, as a designer I prefer to create designs that are lighter on the environment, eco friendly, sustainable… there are many ways to describe it.  However, I am not a fan of very rustic-looking, eco-style, crafty style.  So, how do I get eco friendly interior design without it looking that way?  There are several things to think about and there is no right answer – it’s a matter of considering everything in balance, focusing on what’s most important to you and thinking about the big picture.  Then you can make an informed decision.

This week we’ll look at the bigger picture.  Check back next week for eco considerations for individual items.

Get it right first time

The number one thing you can do to minimise the impact on the environment when you are improving your space is to get it right first time.  If you take the time to plan your project carefully, whether you’re working with a designer or doing it yourself, getting it right means that you won’t be redoing it as soon as you can, to get it how you want it.  It’s much less wasteful to do it right, once.

Buy quality

Cutting too many corners results in poor quality materials and workmanship that won’t stand the test of time, which means you’ll be doing it again sooner than you think (or living with the shabby results).  Save your time and money (and the planet) and buy quality that lasts.

Plan for the future

Think about future plans.  Is your family growing or will the kids be leaving home soon?  Future proof your plans by designing for the future.  Also don’t be too swayed by fashion – put in what you really love and you won’t be dying to change it in a year or two.  Less work, less waste.

Consider the building

Even if your interior design project isn’t part of a larger building project, could you take the opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of your home with insulation, double glazing, low energy lighting, water saving measures and the like?

Dispose of the old responsibly

If what you are replacing can be reused or recycled, this will have a large effect on the overall environmental impact of your plans. If you haven’t got the time or patience to sell things (e.g. on eBay) there are companies who will do it for you, or you could use Freecycle, or take it to charity or the tip (our local one has a reuse area where people leave things for others to take if they want to).  Anything’s better than putting a perfectly usable kitchen, sofa or wardrobe in landfill!

In the end…

You may be thinking, isn’t doing nothing the most eco friendly interior design option?  Sometimes it is, particularly if the plan is to rip out a brand new kitchen just because you don’t like the style.  If this is your situation, how about just changing the doors or worktop, or reusing the carcasses in a new layout, for example?  Or selling the kitchen on to someone else to reuse it, rather than putting it in landfill?

However, you can be better off getting rid of the old, and then putting in something thoughtful that suits the needs of you and your family for the foreseeable future.  This is particularly true for lighting, plumbing and electrical appliances, which have become significantly more efficient over the years.

Of course, any renovation or redecoration will have an impact on the environment.  I prefer to consider this impact and minimise it, whilst still creating a space that the client loves.  If you plan carefully, and dispose of the old responsibly, you too can have a brand new space with less impact on the environment.

Check back next week for my thoughts on purchasing individual items for your eco friendly interior design.

Was this useful?  Let me know in the comments!

Coming soon – specific tips for individual rooms, lighting, tips on how to use colour, choose floorings, wall coverings, paint…

If you have any questions you’d like me to answer in this series, leave a comment or send a message via the website – I’d be delighted to help!

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LED lighting – what to look for, how to choose

LED lighting has improved immeasurably in the last few years.  Gone are the days of blue light at a high price – LED lighting is now warmer, softer and much more affordable.

Part L, the Building Regulation that covers energy efficiency, states that 75% of fixed lighting within a new build or refurbishment must provide at least 48 lumens per Watt, and 400 lumens per fitting.  Lumens measure brightness.  So it is effectively saying that, for the lighting that’s fixed in your home, you must get a decent amount of brightness for the amount of electricity you are using.  Using LED lighting is a very effective way to achieve this.  But what to consider when choosing a brand for your spotlights?

Colour consistency

I’m sure you’ve all been in a shop, restaurant or someone’s home and noticed one pink spotlight amongst the others.  Or perhaps one that’s slightly green?  Maybe you have one yourself at home.  Good quality brands of LED lighting do not vary in colour in this way.

You probably know that lights in general tend to be available in warm white and cool white.  The colour temperature of light is measured in Kelvins.  Warm white is 2700 Kelvins; cool white is 3000 Kelvins.  While these measurements sound quite precise, in fact a 2700K light could have a pronounced pink or green tinge to it, and still be correctly categorised as 2700K warm white.

So, what we are looking for is manufacturers that have a more limited definition of what measures as 2700K (or 2400K, or 3000K, etc). In other words, manufacturers that categorise(‘bin’) their LEDs based on a more limited criteria.  This variation can be measured as MacAdams ellipses.  If the light is classified (‘binned’) as 2700K, to an accuracy of 3 MacAdams ellipses or less, you can be confident that all the lights from that manufacturer classified (‘binned’) as 2700K will look the same colour to the naked eye.

Colour rendering

Colour rendering measures how accurately colours appear under a certain light compared to daylight. Many cheaper LED light fittings have terrible colour rendering, particularly for reds.  Your reds may look brown, your blues may look grey.  So what we are looking for here is brands that have good colour rendering.

This is measured on the Colour Rendering Index, which compares the performance of the light against daylight.  It is marked out of 100. Above 90 is excellent.  80+ is good.  Anything below 80 is not going to reproduce colours accurately and is best avoided in your home.

You also have to be careful that the manufacturer has included all 14 colours when they state their CRI score for a particular light. It is possible to score only on the first 8 colours and state that the light is a certain CRI score, when if the last 6 colours, which are more challenging, were included, it would be much lower.

Which LED lighting brands?

You can use the above criteria to consider any make of LED bulbs or spotlights. Brands I have personally come across that meet these criteria include EcoLED, Orluna and John Cullen. Of course, good quality costs more, but you get what you pay for – better technology, a better result, a better home. Along with all LEDs, the extremely long life of the bulb (up to a decade!) means you can buy once, and save many times over with the energy savings and replacement savings compared to halogen spotlights.

With the above information, you can make an informed choice, rather than kitting yourself out with cheap LED fittings and then being disappointed with the result and paying more in the long run.

Plug-in lighting

Note that plug-in lamps are not covered by Part L.  Most plug-in lamps, and some ceiling and wall fittings, take traditional bulb sizes.  While standard incandescents are no longer available, the next best solution – aesthetically – for fittings that take E27, E14 (screw-in) or B22 (bayonet) bulbs at the moment is reduced wattage Halogen, such as these from Phillips.

Whether it’s LED lighting or not, always put your lights on dimmers if you can, make your spotlights directional (usually aimed at the walls) rather than pointing directly down, and please don’t put them in a grid on the ceiling!  More about this in a future post.

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London Design Festival 2013: my highlights

LDFOver the past week or so, I was able to get to a few design shows as part of London Design Festival 2013, so today on the blog I thought I’d share my highlights with you.

Had a great time at Design Junction, probably my favourite show.  I really liked John Green‘s furniture, particularly the Embrace side table / bookshelf / coffee table.  It’s not new, but it’s a clever piece of furniture that’s stylish, versatile and sustainably produced.

noble and woodNoble and Wood‘s modernist style pieces caught my eye, particularly the Cloud console with its interchangeable leather tops, and the Saddle magazine racks.

I popped into the V&A to see ao textiles‘ demonstration of natural dye techniques on their sustainable textiles.  Beautiful colours and patterns.

100% Design was a bit of a disappointment for me, to be honest.  Not much of interest for me personally and the Eco part of the show didn’t seem particularly eco, with many of the brands not demonstrating any eco credentials at all.  However, I did like Tom Vousden‘s furniture and Ilias Ernst‘s Timber lighting.

And onto Decorex.  Held this year for the first time at Kensington Palace, it was spacious, easy to get to, and full of stunning decoration and design ideas.

CuriousaAbsolutely loved these pendants from Curiosa and Curiosa.  Retailing from around £3,000 each, they’re unlikely to be a feature in many homes any time soon, but the handblown glass from Devon and the combination of colours had a mesmerising quality that was beautiful.  And more simple lights are available at a much more affordable price.

Hibou Home have a very cute collection of wallpaper and fabrics for children’s rooms – something a lot more on my radar these days than it used to be!

bluebellgrayBluebell Gray were exhibiting for the first time – some stunning Scottish fabrics.  They were showcasing their colourful painterly shapes.

I had a great chat with Mylands paint, learning about how they make their paint, and why they are different from Farrow & Ball and Little Greene.  Convinced me to try them out next time.

Finally, I heard an interesting panel discussion in the Seminar Theatre: Sustainable Luxury – a contradictory concept.  Can luxury ever be sustainable, or does luxury exclude sustainability by definition?  The debate grew quite heated at times, with Oliver Heath (eco-architect and designer) and Rebecca Whittington (co-founder of The Scarlet Hotel, an eco hotel in Cornwall) arguing that we need to start to think about luxury differently – space, light and beauty are all luxuries in this world and these can be sustainable.

This was fiercely contradicted by Cheryl Gurner of luxury bathrooms manufacturer Bathrooms International, who stated that her clients, at the top end of the market, couldn’t care less about sustainability, and that if it wasn’t rare, endangered or precious, it wasn’t a luxury.  She argued that it’s up to the designer to bring sustainability into top end projects by convincing the client to use, for example, a grey water system, or to make sure that when items were replaced, they were reused or recycled appropriately.  That part of the market will not compromise on finish, look and experience so eco is only going to be selected if it sweeps the board with the end result, irrespective of its eco credentials.  She concluded that designers can – and should – influence, but they can’t impose.

Joe Burns of Oliver Burns (property development) was somewhere in the middle, arguing that, whilst his business was built on the concept of ‘thoughtful luxury’, it was difficult to be the eco warrier when up against all the legislation attached to premium properties, which are often listed, in conservation areas and generally restricted.  No solar panels and air source heat pumps allowed.  However, they give consideration to all the options, all the way down the chain, to come up with a solution that is thoughtful and eco-aware – along the lines of how I work.

Oliver Heath went on to comment that contractors are the weak link in the chain, and I must say that this has been my experience too.  The contractors are the ones that rip out the old and put in the new, so what they do with what they take out, and the products they’re happy to use to create the new, are key parts of the whole puzzle.

The panel agreed that sustainable design needs to be marketed as an improvement, not a sacrifice, and that the industry needs to share knowledge and experiences, rather than scolding each other and consumers for not making the perfect product or the perfect choice.  As I wrote recently, there is no right answer,  you have to just make an informed choice, balancing what’s important to you with the big picture.

What do you think about sustainable luxury?  Did you visit any events in London Design Festival?  Let me know in the comments.

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A few of my favourite things

Along with the factories in Europe and half of London, this blog is going on holiday for a couple of weeks and we’ll be back in September, celebrating London Design Festival and continuing with our howto series on interior design.

We’re still open for business though, so if you’d like some help to get your home the way you want it, and save money in the process, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

In the meantime, I thought I’d showcase a few of my favourite companies.  Click on the picture to go to the website.

Benchmark Furniture

Benchmark Furniture

Benchmark Furniture

A collaboration between Terence Conran and Sean Sutcliffe, a furniture maker, Benchmark sources all its timber sustainably, as locally as possible, and makes everything in Berkshire in its energy efficient workshop.

Ian Mankin

Ian Mankin

Ian Mankin

Natural fabrics, some organic, over 90% of which are made in Lancashire.  Also wallpaper, lampshades, cushions and other accessories.




A huge range of architectural salvage and vintage furniture.


Reborn Paints

Reborn Paints

Quality paint reprocessed and blended from previously unused paints – each pot has up to 90% recycled content, and it’s available in 28 subtle shades.


See you in September!

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