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Eco living: the new face of sustainable design

Vanessa Balinska is a final-year student who, along with thousands of others, is currently putting the finishing touches to her end-of-course project. Over the coming weeks, arts and design schools across the country will showcase the work of our future talent. These energetic twentysomethings will be the arbiters of British taste for the next few decades, setting the tone for future trends in aesthetics and culture, from the colour of our living rooms to the shape of our lampshades.

As part of her final project, Balinska, who is studying for a Bachelor s Degree in interior design at KLC School of Design in London, is specifying materials and accessories for the bar area of a Mayfair restaurant. Although the look is undeniably sleek, she is using reclaimed and low-energy materials. The wooden slats for the ceiling are from reclaimed oak and the sculpted lights are from old copper piping. The bar worktops are recycled glass and the flooring is eco-concrete made from magnesium oxide cement, which uses half the energy of conventional cement in its manufacture.

Most of my designs and work during this final year have been led by sustainability, says Balinska, who wants to work in domestic interior design after graduating. I ve tried to incorporate materials that are either reclaimed, recycled or that have a low carbon footprint during manufacture and transportation. Using LED lights and energy-efficient appliances are simple ways of considering the environment as well as being more economical for the client.

We may scoff at the super-rich celebrities of New York and Los Angeles splashing out on so-called environmental features such as an apartment block wellness concierge and vitamin C-infused showers, but real change starts from the bottom and works up, not the other way round. Vanessa believes that today s new generation of designers, starting out on a shoestring, have a responsibility to reduce the strain on natural resources of their projects. But clients are increasingly asking for low-impact materials to decorate their homes, too.

Piers Prideaux, a lecturer at KLC (klc.co.uk), says: Students are training at an amazing time of change within the industry where we are moving rapidly away from a culture where disposable is considered acceptable. He says students are taught to look at materials with an imaginative eye to see what can be reused. While until recently, the words eco-friendly interiors conjured up images of shabby chic, advances in finishing techniques mean reclaimed and upcycled pieces don t have to look bashed up at all. You can have an environmentally sensitive interior which doesn t look either shabby chic or all kaftans and incense. You can be very grand and still have natural, renewable materials that haven t come from dubious sources, explains Piers.

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This can range from practical items such as lampshades, to more decorative objects including the artworks we put on our walls. Young designer Emilie Osborne, who graduated from Arts University Bournemouth last June, creates beautiful 3D wall coverings made from recycled card. Her philosophy arose out of hardships experienced as a student: I can t bear throwing stuff away, she says. As a student you are always on a budget and I think it filtered through to the way I found the materials I used in my designs.

For Chris Thorpe, who graduated last summer from Falmouth University, inspiration came from the natural resources that surrounded him in Cornwall. Chris makes stunning homewares out of granite offcuts and oak and sycamore refuse from tree surgeons, to create pendant lampshades that are an artwork in themselves.

Chris studied under Drummond Masterton, course leader at Falmouth (falmouth.ac.uk/sustainableproduct

design). Drummond says students arrive with a passion, whether it is to reduce waste, to conserve biodiversity or help the developing world, which then has to be turned into hard-headed practice. One of his students is currently working on a Hundred Year Radio that will last through the next century thanks to a dropout mechanism that will allow the electronics to be replaced whenever technology makes them redundant, while retaining the beautifully engineered exterior and high-quality speakers.

The demand for a greater focus on the provenance of materials and how much energy houses and appliances are going to use has become more important for clients over the past few years, says interior designer Georgina Gibson. She has been in business for nearly a decade (georginagibsoninteriordesign.co.uk). Requesting that a home makeover be eco-friendly used to be quite niche, but now it s more prevalent, she says. I like to source a lot of second-hand furniture for clients and then refresh it with reupholstering or paint. It often works out a lot cheaper, too.

*Emilie Osborne and Chris Thorpe will be exhibiting at next month s New Designers Show. Day tickets from £10.50, plus booking fee


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