Clerkenwell V BREXIT

Clerkenwell V BREXIT

Another Brexit post. Yawn.

This isn’t a political broadcast, this is a short insight into problems and opportunities faced by the British furniture industry, brought on by volatility in the pound. Of course many of these problems are replicated in other industries such as consumer electronics or cars, but as I’m an expert in neither of those, I’ll leave that to PC World and Top Gear.

The headlines across financial markets have been “Sterling Drops to 31 Year low” which conjures up images of irritated Brits spluttering ‘how much?’ at the beach bar on holiday whilst UK exporters rub their hands together as their market takes off. There is very much a flip side of positives and negatives here, littered with dangerous potholes.


As we know Britain has a trade deficit: net import is higher than net export. In terms of furniture, there is a complex network of furniture importers, dealers and distributors across the UK that act as trusted local agents for their clients. These businesses collectively bring in huge quantities of furniture and interior goods to the UK. The big danger to these companies is short to medium term volatility. Here’s the scene:

  1. Week 1: Regional dealer wins sought after project at competitive margin.
  2. Week 2: Quotation agreed with local client in Pound Sterling.
  3. Week 3: Orders placed with European supply chain, buy prices in Euros. (rate 1.2)
  4. Weeks 3-9: Market volatility follows, pound drops sharply.
  5. Week 9: Furniture arrives along with supplier invoice (30 days).
  6. Weeks 9-12: Pound Sterling continues to drop and hits 1.1.
  7. Week 13: Unlucky for some. Supplier invoice due…

That’s a big hit to anyone’s margin and can easily render a project loss-making. For a five or six figure furniture contract, that’s potentially a huge loss to the bottom line.


“Many agents and overseas manufacturers are now feeling the pain of subsidising the weak Pound…”

Aside from regional dealers there are national agents who try to steady the ship by setting a rate for the year ahead. There will be many agents and overseas manufacturers now feeling the pain of subsidising the weak Pound after betting against the possibility of Brexit last year. January is the time many new 2017 price lists drop and the UK market can expect significant cost increases from American, European (and other currency) suppliers. 

Meanwhile UK exporters are hugely optimistic (unless they are heavily reliant on foreign components purchased in other currencies that is) and have to take advantage of overseas opportunities. But whilst there are always short term advantages in these volatile markets, any long term successful strategy needs to be just that – long term. It’s easy to bag some quick overseas wins when your currency is bargain basement, but if and when it returns you might need to do the subsidising if you want to keep developing that new business.

Many British manufacturers of office desks and chairs import components from abroad so are not immune to rate volatility

Managing Risk and Exposure

So what can and what does the British industry do to repel the volatility of the Pound? Of course many importers agree a long term exchange rate in advance. The local dealer / agent would be wise to buy foreign currency in advance through a reputable currency trader (rather than a dodgy bloke in a mac at the local bus interchange…..?). Open a Euro account with your bank and spread the pain whilst exchanging chunks at better rates, in advance of that big project coming in. As risk and financial advisors will always say – it’s about managing your company’s risk and exposure.


But is the UK Government doing enough to support the importers? New PM Theresa May is certainly taking decisive action and Brexiteers are keen to point at the export market as a response to the weak pound, but for importers who have built successful businesses on importing quality goods, volatility means sleepless nights. Is there something else that can be done to support this important sector of the industry? Could there be a relief tax for importers who can demonstrate losses generated by Sterling volatility? London is a truly global city and Clerkenwell is packed to the rafters with international furniture and interior companies. The effects of this market will be evident in the next 12 months – and not just in Clerkenwell…


Furnishing the future

Furnishing the future

A little over 11 years ago I was involved in bringing Vitra Design Museum’s world renowned 100 Years 100 Chairs exhibition to Manchester – with a fantastic team and supported by an enthusiastic Architecture Community. It was the acclaimed exhibition’s first visit to an English speaking country. Another first for Manchester, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Joy Division, the Post Punk music movement, the Hacienda, the worlds first Computer and the city where Rolls met Royce. This exhibition at CUBE Gallery was its most successful ever, with between 12-14000 visitors during it’s 10 week stay and national press coverage. One architect simply referred to it as ‘Chair Porn’. Suppose it’s a bit snappier, but google search results would vary.


The exhibition further ignited my passion for furniture design. Cleverly curated, with a chair to represent each year of the last century, a walk through the stands took you on a journey through an evolving, humorous, odd, weird and wonderful world. From Hoffman’s Sitzmachine to Breuer’s Wassily Chair. From Le Corbusier’s LC4 to Eames Plastic chairs. As you progressed through decades of design, you were immersed into the roaring 30’s, post World War austerity and the beginnings of globalisation, progressing to the freedom of the 60’s, funky 70’s fashion, 80’s pop culture and 90’s acid house.



Aside from visibly evolving trends, fashions and design styles, one of the leading influences in the evolution of furniture design is advances in production methods and discovery of new materials. The exhibition underlined the Eames’ thirst to understand and conquer new materials -from plywood, to metal, to fibre glass. Later, designers like Martyn Van Severen and Philippe Starck would further this progression with with aluminium, plastics and polyurethane.

Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge chair (1986)
I was reminded of the exhibition recently when I saw Jorge Pensi’s Toledo chair – previously made (and featured) in cast aluminium – now produced as a single piece of injected polypropylene following manufacturing advances. A fantastic chair, that was often priced out of projects – the redesign in polypropylene gives a new lease of life to a cult classic.

“like trying to write a book in one continuous movement with your pen never leaving the page”

One of the biggest global influences of modern and future furniture production is 3D printing. There are a growing number of design studios developing furniture and interior products to be produced solely by 3D printers. Due to the continuous nature of the 3D printing process -like trying to write a book in a continuous movement with your pen never leaving the page –  the designs are still very much evolving. But it’s here, it’s happening and it’s progress.

Barber Osgerby’s London 2012 Olympic Torches were 3D printed
Back in my home city of Manchester there is a wave of new Government backed University buildings full of scientists pondering over Graphene, the new wonder material that is more solid than steel and a better conductor than copper. Terence Woodgate and John Barnard already explored the inherent rigidity of carbon fibre to design a table up to three metres in length with an ultra thin top and just four legs, using state of the art autosport and aerospace technology.

Surface table by Terence Woodgate and John Barnard

“Maybe we just haven’t had the lightbulb moment yet…”

‘So what’s next?’ I ask. Factory capability, new innovative materials and production advances means furniture factories are more advanced than ever. But maybe the material is already here, in front of our noses, in disguise and being utilised for another purpose. Maybe we just haven’t had the lightbulb moment yet.


Think about this. Arne Jacobsen’s original proposal for the Ant chair was laughed at and expected to fail with its ‘little spindly legs’. Marcel Breuer borrowed the idea of bent metal for his Wassily chair from hospital furniture and bicycles. Charles and Ray Eames initially steamed wood to create leg splints for injured soldiers returning from war, before transferring this know-how to create the iconic plywood chair. As we produce and consume more, creating more waste, many designers are turning to rubbish as our next abundantly available material.

Keep your eyes peeled. Sometimes >>>>new ideas<<<<  are right in front of your eyes.



Perfection V Ambition (finale)

Perfection V Ambition (finale)

At the close of part two we’d established that design practices often stop hiring once they have reached a certain ratio (ar kid) to maintain their design language and quality control. Furniture companies seem to have their sights set on different goals, however. And who better to pick this up than Matt Welsh of British furniture Co Naughtone who, after a decade of solid growth are now going global…


I ask Matt to talk us through their journey to date.

“As a small to medium sized, fast moving furniture manufacturer, the ability to change direction and respond to market and client requirements has been the foundation on which we built naughtone. However, the market is changing.”

Truphone, London.
“This is what an office looks like now!”

“We’ve seen a real shift in the type of business that is interested in a warmer, more eclectic, domestic style in their environment. ” Yes indeed I think to myself – thinking back to a previous article on Furniture Strategist No Place Like Workplace. Ahem, sorry Matt, carry on…

“More traditional businesses like Law Firms and Financial Institutions are following the lead of the forward thinking, flexible businesses and are creating softer, less system furniture orientated spaces.” Matt continues, “So, this trend isn’t just for the Tech Start-ups and Marketing Agencies anymore, this is what an office looks like now!”

Very true. Everyone wants to look like a start up. Big businesses want to appear more approachable to their consumer base. People like local, craft and casual in an increasingly corporate and globalised world.

Lancaster University Library by Sheppard Robson
naughtone at Lancaster University Library (Sheppard Robson)
So having heard about naughtone’s success on the other side of the pond I ask Matt to walk us through it.

“We launched into the US 2 ½ years ago and saw instantaneous success.” explains Matt, “This gave us the confidence to push forwards. The US is highly service orientated, so it became apparent that to really become a significant business over there we would need to start to product our furniture in North America.”

Naughtone’s Chicago showroom
‘So how did you develop this opportunity?’ I ask.

“A plan was hatched. We decided to explore the opportunities a partnership with a major manufacturer might offer us. We’ve always admired Herman Miller and felt that, like us, design was at the very heart of their business.”

But how did it come about? Did you just walk on to the Herman Miller stand and say ‘Hi guys, check out our cool British brand?’

“The initial contact came from a cheeky message from myself to Brian Walker (CEO) of Herman Miller via LinkedIn! Things escalated quickly as it became apparent they were also exploring opportunities in our sector. Once we met the synergies became very obvious.” Now there’s a lesson in northern sales tactics for you. Lesson one: Thee don’t ask, thee don’t get.

Etsy HQ, NYC.
Matt continues, “In June 2016 we entered into a “Strategic Partnership” with Herman Miller, this probably sounds a bit woolly?” Whoa there. They’ve already got you speaking ‘that commercial speak’ Matt. Strategic partnership..?

“Basically Herman Miller have invested into naughtone and are providing us with assistance in growing our business globally. We start production in North America in October, with Asia following shortly after. This means we can provide much better support for our clients, particularly on an International level.”


So Herman Miller provide the network, experience and infrastructure to take naughtone to the next level and beyond. ‘Is there any danger of brand dilution?’ I ponder, having watched the brand steadily grow over the last decade.

“We’re still running the business and defining the creative direction, but we have a support network to enable us to do it on a Global scale.” says Matt, ” In essence, this deal enables us to continue to grow, but also to retain the character and personality that many of our clients have grown to love.”


Well, there’s no two ways about it. This is a furniture start up’s ambition crystallised. Full access to the support, network, business acumen and kudos of a Global leader in furniture, yet still retaining creative direction. Could this be furniture brand utopia? It’s great to see a British start up we’ve watched grow up (to the ripe old age of 10) now hit the global stage. Congratulations to Matt, Kieron and Mark and may your new partnership bear lots of fruit. Strategically of course…


Thanks for reading and thanks to all participants in this mini-series:

Roger Stephenson OBE of Stephenson Studio

Paul de Zwart of Another Country

Simon Millington, Interior Designer

Matt Welsh of Naughtone.


Perfection V Ambition (part two)

Perfection V Ambition (part two)

Following my discussion with Roger Stephenson OBE (Architect) and Paul de Zwart (craft furniture owner) in part one, I continue to ponder if big business success means selling your design soul. Or is it possible to have both?

I recently caught up with a pal of mine – multi award winning Interior Designer Simon Millington..

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 21.24.38

“In my world, workplace design continues to change and evolve at a rate that is difficult to keep track of.” Simon explains, “The edgy spark isn’t so much about the aesthetic, that’s actually relatively easy to keep fresh no matter the scale of your studio. Being edgy is actually more about the increasingly brilliant ways you can innovate and make an environment more engaging and productive to its users.”

I shuffle forward slightly. Go on.

“It’s a massive mistake to think that this is simply about whacking in a few swings and slides in an office space in the lame belief that your workplace is now the best place to work in the world. That is actually about as edgy as an amoeba wallowing in the primeval soup.”

Let’s stop this now.

I’m with you on the slides Simon, I’d be afraid of ripping my pants, but all this talk of soup is getting me hungry.

“To push boundaries you have to engage with your client’s company at all levels – you need to truly understand how they work as individuals and as a collective. You need to understand their brand, their culture and the frustrations and challenges they face on a daily basis in the work environment. You have to become imbedded and have the right thought processes to make valuable and unique responses that suit them without patronising or alienating their team. To get this right, it takes time, commitment and comes at a cost to the designer and indeed the client” Simon enthuses.

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“more often than not, the full potential is not delivered through fear.”

As someone that has worked in, founded and owned large and small design studios, what would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of each?

“In a small studio it becomes all-consuming and you effectively have to shut the door to outside projects and distractions – not good for business. The small studio needs to be careful not to cut corners to remain a viable business. For larger studios, it is actually easier to be fully committed to a project and become truly imbedded with the team. You have the back-up resource to keep the wheels turning as you immerse yourself into the project and really research the potential solutions thoroughly, but it’s also true to say that pace and value drop off a cliff in this situation. The approach to taking educated risks or challenging the norm becomes more conservative and more often than not, the full potential is not delivered through fear.”


I had a feeling the ‘F’ word might be coming. Large scale commercial design studios aren’t generally known for risk taking… So where’s the line? How do you get the best of both?

“The unexpected and uncool answer to all this is a bit like the tale of Goldilocks” says Simon, “It needs to be just right. To push boundaries and innovate you need to keep the pace, passion and concentrated talent of small team. You need the studio owners to be on the tools to be a stakeholder of risk, but you also need to have the security and back up of a wider team working on a full spectrum of projects and programmes to keep the wolf away from the door, and this is what the larger companies enjoy.”

‘Nailed it’ I mutter to myself. During my career I have met a number of design studio founders who chose to intentionally halt growth once their team grew to a specific magic number. At first this puzzled me, but the name of Mancunian band ‘A Certain Ratio’ sums this up beautifully: it’s recognition of the fine balance between a well oiled machine… and dysfunction. Maintaining work quality and design philosophy is intrinsically linked to a senior designer’s ceiling limit of how many projects they can manage at any one time. There is a limit. A number. Going beyond this magic number can have disastrous consequences.


Simon concludes, “From experience, the really remarkable work comes from a studio that isn’t an international brand, nor is it a pop up that has only existed for a few years. The spark of genius comes from a medium sized studio where a high level of skill and expertise exists without dilution of the masses.”

This is a key difference between aspirations of Designers versus furniture producers. The holy grail for many designers is to have a small to medium sized high quality studio, with an extensive client waiting list allowing free creative expression. The ultimate goal for furniture manufacturers however is expansion, high number production and (for some) world domination. In the final part of my mini series, I talk to Matt Welsh of Naughtone, who has just agreed a deal with Herman Miller to take his UK based business Global….

Thanks Simon!

Keeping your cool: Perfection v Ambition. (part one)

Keeping your cool: Perfection v Ambition. (part one)

Apologies for the long pause – I’ve been busy. But hey, you don’t pay subscription fees, so… (mutters inaudible comments under breath).

Ok. My current topic is often pondered. Small ‘start-up style’ design firms are edgy, nimble and free to pursue their passions without apology. But as they grow, gaining stakeholders, employees and advisors, the ship can become more cumbersome and difficult to steer. If they aren’t careful, the result can mean the design style they set out to deliver is watered down or lost in a world of spreadsheets and corporate compromise. From being quirky, coworking backpack-wearing indie underdogs, they then find themselves re-categorised as the mainstream default option, providing middle of the road design proposals rather than the leftfield style that once defined their brand.

Roger Stephenson OBE of Stephenson Studio (Manchester) has spent nearly four decades designing award winning architecture as founder / partner of several leading studios, whilst retaining his own progressive modernist approach. I asked him for his thoughts on big business versus small independents.

Roger Stephenson O.B.E. (Architect)
“It is an acknowledged phenomenon that often as people get promoted they move further away from their expertise.” explained Roger, “This is made worse in the case of designers because the inverse is also problematical. It would be hard to find a good business manager who understands anything about running a group of architects.”

An interesting point. The growth of a business necessitates more supervisory roles, particularly for creative founders who may not excel at recruiting, teaching and supervising – and who may in fact be better placed at the drawing board with chunky bits of crayon and a Spotify playlist.

“I believe there is a limit to how far the developed culture can be stretched before the accumulated knowledge is spread so thinly as to be of no use.”

Roger continues “It is clear to observe; the bigger design firms get, the more they approach competent mediocrity. This result is only to be expected: design is very personality based, starting off with a few enthusiastic participants, a language develops as well as an underlying philosophy, resulting in the work of one studio being recognisable from that of another. This is not ‘house style’ but the results of a like-minded approach to problem solving. If successful, the group will grow. I believe there is a limit to how far the developed culture can be stretched before the accumulated knowledge is spread so thinly as to be of no use.”

As for the commercial challenges faced by Architecture firms large and small Roger adds, “I do not think there is any way to avoid the uncertainty of income which comes with the territory. I only know of 2 architects who have stayed small and controlled their workflow: Peter Zumthor and Glenn Murcutt, who have order books way into the future and tell people they can do their project if they are prepared to wait 3 years before they start…”

Eloquently put – and by a renowned Architect with a trophy cabinet that would make Sir Alex Ferguson shuffle with embarrassment. But in todays world of globalisation and mass production, does this theory apply to other related design sectors or is it unique to Architecture? Is it possible to scale up a craft furniture company for example to achieve its commercial ambitions, whilst staying true to its roots?

We head to Marylebone, London…

Paul de Zwart, Another Country
Another Country are quality British furniture designers and makers. Founder Paul de Zwart muses the commercial aspects of growth, “My take on this is two-staged and it depends on the business’ ambitions…. small is all those things: creative, innovative, flexible, nimble, but a point comes with any business – as it grows – where deeper pockets are required to reach the next level.”


“This is both true from a commercial point of view, e.g. marketing, R&D, batch production, but also because relative lack of cash can slow down growth and can be a huge distraction. It also depends on whether the business is essentially a means to an end, i.e. a way for a maker to make and sell, or whether the end – growth and success – requires different means.”

Very true. The ambition and drive of the business founder is a key pace setter that may ultimately define its very DNA. As companies evolve, their experience grows and they learn to respond to changes in the marketplace. The first phase is to establish, survive and turn a profit. Once these boxes are ticked, an increase in appetite often follows and the next stage beckons.

So where does that put Another Country after six successful years? “We have come through that initial (not always relaxing!) startup / launch phase and I would say we were ready for the next one.” enthuses Paul.

But will an acceleration in commercial growth not potentially jeopardise ‘craft appeal’? Are the two mutually exclusive, I ask?

“If the founders remain in charge then the vision can be maintained. If, however commercial imperatives completely supersede brand / creative ones then you run the risk of losing that identity.”


“…there is also great value in doing things well and more efficiently on a larger scale…”

“The matter of small, craft handmade is exactly the point that one shouldn’t romanticise.” Paul continues, “One cannot make a difference and do good on a larger scale by only making things by hand. It (handmade) needs preserving… and plays an important role in the overall chain of production, but there is also great value in doing things well and more efficiently on a larger scale. I would hesitate to move production to Asia and toss sustainability to the wayside for example, but would instead scale up to bigger manageable batches with a short EU based supply chain and excellent quality control. Retaining tight control over the scale of production also allows you to stay more creative and not take huge commercial risks when introducing new designs.”

Could it be that for furniture companies, cleverly managed growth, effective use of modern production methods and firm grip on quality and founding principles could actually promote creativity and design freedom rather than stifling it? Hmmm….

Part two of this article will be out shortly, with insight from a leading UK interior designer, plus opinion from a fast moving British furniture company making big ripples on the other side of the pond. Design versus big business: Can you have it all…?



Swiss re-Made

Swiss re-Made

I’ve found myself getting on my high horse recently about sustainability. Maybe it’s an age thing. Maybe it’s because I’ve been living in lush Swiss countryside and I’m now like totally in tune with nature, man. Whatever. I’m comfortable with it.

In this blog piece I’ll introduce you to a truly unique and sustainable Swiss furniture company that I’ve spotted on my travels…

Industrial building becomes cool office

Urban backdrop

Something we search for in buildings is character. Buildings that really get this balance right are often a considered blend of old and new, where gritty industrial features meet – and emphasise – slick new design. Or vice versa. A New York (or Manchester) loft apartment with modern stainless kitchen for example, or a Swiss Rustico (old Alpine stone house) renovation with ultra minimal interiors. London is awash with beautiful old buildings throughout Clerkenwell and Shoreditch that are rapidly being converted into coworking spaces, coffee shops or homes by a gentrification army of bearded hipsters.

But when we build shiny modern buildings how do we inject soul? How do you break up those clean efficient lines to provide a warm, casual ‘lived-in’ vibe and inject industrial cool? You could start by giving these guys a nudge.

Kyburzmade Portrait

Kyburz Made: A second life for waste wood

Fuelled by a creative passion, Tobias and Rainer Kyburz have a long history of… well, making stuff. Years ago in their parents garage, they could be found planing and sanding, sawing and finishing…and tuning their mopeds.

A few years later and Tobias and Rainer went their separate ways for a while (Tobias was a craft teacher whilst Rainer studied business), but they never lost sight of their dream to go into production together. During their time apart they honed their skill sets and kept this dream on the back burner, biding their time.

Schubladenschrank Altholz 1
Kyburz Made sideboard

Waste Not Want Knot

One day Tobias stumbled upon an old cupboard door, discarded in the street. He carefully revitalised it and turned it into a table top that he then sold to a friend. He spent time learning about the ageing process of different materials, paying close attention to the weathering, restoring and preservation of wood and metals. The idea gained traction.

5 years ago the Kyburz brothers acquired a workshop in Basel. With Tobias as the creative mind and Rainer leading Company strategy, Kyburz Made was born. Enthused by honest, ethical and sustainable local production, the brothers turned their enthusiasm and business savvy into furniture products. And cool ones too.

Kyburzmade Altholz Sofa 2

Seeing themselves as modern ‘hunter gatherers’, the pair track down discarded second hand materials, before treating and revitalising them. They call these materials hidden treasures and talk passionately about the beauty within. Kyburz painstakingly restore, build and create, to give these unloved cast-offs a second life as completely new furniture objects with a pre-loved industrial echo. I’m picturing the Kyburz’s scouring skips and building sites with child-like excitement. And I’m not far from the truth.

The recent demolition of Basel’s Hilton Hotel was described as ‘Christmas came early’. Skiploads of waste were snaffled up to await transformation into a sideboard, a sofa, a table, a shelving unit… or maybe something else.

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At present production is limited. Each piece is numbered and completely unique. The pair are propelled by a genuine love of what they do and are enjoying the ride. Questions like ‘Will it make money?’ or ‘Is it scaleable?’ are dismissed as the pair enjoy a return to their childhood. Kyzburg Made offer workshops and (after my own heart) preach about sustainable local production.

“Worthless junk. Unloved, dissed and dismissed…”

And all this using materials that are being thrown away. Worthless junk. Unloved, dissed and dismissed, before being found and loved into a new existence. Sometimes this takes several attempts. They design, build and consider, before dismantling to begin again. It has to be just right.

Kyburzmade HEK5

Open re:Source

The Kyburz brothers are making a strong creative statement about our disposable society and demonstrate this through their complete transparency from sourcing, to production methods, design and aesthetics. This transparency is of great importance to them both. Every Kyburz Made piece of furniture proudly wears it’s history. Every piece tells a different story. Unique and sustainable furniture with an old soul. Ashes to ashes, rust to lust.

Kyburzmade HEK4


Carpe diem: Seas today

Carpe diem: Seas today

I’ve had a reoccurring thought for some time that I can’t shake. Actually it’s more of a uneasy feeling. Many of us are used to seeing litter in our cities or at the roadside (not so much in Switzerland I have to say), but the tonnes of crap dumped in rivers, seas and oceans worldwide is largely hidden from view – major oil slicks aside.

Just how much litter and waste is down there? I was reminded of this question when I saw a deepwater ocean study on TV recently. The camera panned around the deep and murky waters, showing previously unknown marine life seven miles below the ocean’s surface – alongside a rusty old Budweiser can. Discarded fishing nets, industrial waste and tonnes of unwanted rubbish are dumped in our seas on a daily basis by irresponsible individuals and corporations without morals.


I got the same sickly feeling when I saw a project by Kiln; an award winning digital journalism studio in London. In April they published ShipMap online, showing in an interactive site the volume of traffic that our seas and oceans have to deal with. If you do one thing today, click the link and you’ll be equally amazed and horrified: Ship Map ( 


What’s this got to do with interiors?

Everything. These ships are transporting products of every kind imaginable. Parts and materials are shipped to assembly lines to be assembled into products and shipped on. Our consumer culture is such that it’s so easy to order online. Just one click with little thought to what goes on behind the scenes. Emerging countries hungry for our disposable cash use cheap labour and lack of regulations to provide cheap disposable solutions. Whilst the general public need to be educated about this – we, professional specifiers, Architects, Interior Designers, consultants and manufacturers have a larger responsibility to do the right thing: to educate ourselves and find ways to reduce the effects of big business on our planet.


With over 660 million people relying on the Oceans to provide them with food and a living, the problem doesn’t just affect sea life. When I was a judge for Mixology North Awards last year I was very impressed with one particular entry: Net Effect by Interface. Interface collaborated with the Zoological Society of London and NGO Project Seahorse Foundation to develop a new concept: a win-win for the ocean, its inhabitants and dependants.

Interface: Net Effect

Interface worked closely with their supplier Aquafil, who have refined technology to recycle nylon waste into carpet fibre. Reclamation networks were formed throughout the Philippines to gather ‘end of life’ discarded fishing nets. The nylon nets are then recycled into carpet tiles. Many poor fishing communities are benefitting from cleaner beaches and seas – and seeing economic benefits as a direct result of this clever idea. I like the thought that as our urban areas grow, they are eating up waste and regurgitating it into new buildings as carpet tiles.

BMA Ergonomics

Cradle to Cradle

Many in the developed world strive for more environmentally friendly products. ‘Cradle to Cradle’ is an internationally recognised certificate, demonstrating a manufacturers commitment to the environment. Dutch office chair specialists BMA Ergonomics make ‘green credentials’ central to everything they do. A BMA office chair is made from at least 67% recycled materials and is 98% recyclable. In their Sustainability Report, BMA commit to doubling the lifespan of their chair from 10 years to 20 by 2020, further reducing emissions and even offering a ‘buy back’ scheme to customers, so old BMA chairs can be recycled. Another key point made is showing responsibility as a buyernot just a supplier. There are a growing number of manufacturers like BMA and Interface who show real commitment to the environment – and these are exactly the types of companies we should all be striving to work with: transparent, sustainable & responsible.


Sustainability appears in many forms. Take the old school Landrover Series IIA, no longer produced. It was practically indestructible. People drove them for decades and they just kept on going. There is an argument that this car is one of the most environmentally friendly ever. Kidding right? When compared, the vast majority of other vehicles are simply outlasted by the Landrover and need to be replaced several times over a similar time period.

With furniture and interior specification we must have longevity, recyclability and sustainability in mind. We all need to do more. Laziness or ignorance is no longer an excuse. Manufacturers should seek global partnerships to share production facilities in different parts of the world to reduce carbon footprint. We as specifiers need to take responsibility too. We need to educate ourselves and others by asking the right questions and making informed decisions about where products come from and how they are made. We need to know what it is we are supporting with our money. And with our clients money.

Or we’ll see more of this.




The unaltered stomach contents of a dead albatross chick photographed on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific in September 2009 include plastic marine debris fed the chick by its parents. (Chris Jordan)