R16, pictured above, is a lighting device that is made up of the components that it is shipped with, emulating simplicity and zero-waste design techniques. All photos courtesy Salone del Mobile.Milano. 

“I think that as a designer nowadays we should not think we are all making the antiques of the future […]. We should create products that can be part of a circular system, and are designed considering what material goes into the product and what it leaves behind after use. 

— Christien Meindertsma, Designer

Adopting eco-conscious behaviors and the search for sustainable, eco-compatible and environmentally friendly products is an approach that is beginning to manifest within the domestic walls, both in the choice of furniture, furnishings and materials that have a positive impact on the planet and in the increasingly efficient and waste-free management of energy resources.

It is part of a wider trend towards cutting adverse effects on the eco-system which is slowly filtering through into all fields of design application, generating eco-friendly alternatives for every sort and kind of product. Companies and designers are becoming mindful of sustainability in relation to manufacturing processes, embracing the principles of a circular economy and experimenting with raw materials made from recycled waste. The design sector is beginning to take the entire lifecycle of things into consideration, paving the way for innovative practices such as the creative re-use or harnessing of biodegradable materials.

This is one of the many examples of the fact that this approach entails no sacrifice in terms of looks but generates new   expressive trends and different tastes. The sense of gratification or aspiration no longer derives simply from the immediate benefit to our domestic or work environments but also – looking forward especially – from just how much the entire planet is set to benefit.

This macro-trend breaks down into three micro-trends that describe its different applications and facets: Zero Waste DesignUpcycled Materials, and Low-Impact Living. 

1. Zero Waste Design

The Zero Waste philosophy originated in the food world, where new “surplus” yet still perfectly good food consumption sales models and practices are being generated. The concept is slowly but steadily being embraced by all manufacturing sectors in response to the pressing ethical need to conserve resources that are far from infinite. It also employs a panel of Opinion Leaders, both national and international, selected ad hoc for their knowledge of the research subjects (design, architecture, interior design, interior architecture) and for their ability to take a look at the themes of design and creativity.

In the design world, this means taking on board the concept of circularity, minimizing manufacturing waste, and planning not just the durability of objects but also their disassemblability and their capacity to be recycled or disposed of.

Zero Waste means experimenting with the use of innovative materials and researching biomaterials that help lower the environmental impact of furniture and furnishings, enabling them to become biodegradable, like organic waste. The conceptualization and creative process thus becomes strategic, channelled by design thinking and applied to the entire manufacturing chain.

R16

Country: Holland | Section: Lighting

R16 is a light, or rather, a light made from its own packaging. Design studio Waarmakers has come up with a response to the extremely critical sector-wide problem vexing manufacturers: packaging that, in most cases, once it has served its original purpose, becomes waste that needs to be disposed of, implying high financial and environmental costs. As cardboard tubes are not just extremely hardwearing but also neutral in tone and looks, designers Simon and Maarten decided to pay homage to such a versatile material by making it an inherent part of the product itself. The cardboard packaging contains the LED light and the various components needed for mounting and suspending it. A perforated section of the tube/packaging is then removed, leaving room for the light to shine through; then a simple pencil is all that’s needed to hold the LED rod in place. A personal touch ensures that no R16s are alike.

Zero Per Stool

Country: South Korea | Section: Furnishings

The designers at South Korea’s Hattern studio set out specifically to make a product without generating any waste at all. The upshot was the Zero Per Stool seat and informed its characteristic appearance. The stool consists of two parts – legs and a seat – one made from the offcuts of the other. The legs are made from rectangular sheets of white oak, shaped to slot together, obviating the need for any other material. The offcuts are broken into bits and put into a mould that is then filled with resin, ensuring that no two finished articles look exactly alike. The arrangement of the bits of wood is different every time and the resin can take on different colors,  its consistency lending an artistic touch to their variability.

Kuskoa Bi

Country: France | Section: Furnishings

Many independent producers and designers are now electing to make biodegradable domestic furnishings. One such is Alki, a Basque design collective which, in keeping with the eco-friendly approach that marks out all their projects, has come up with Kuskoa Bi, the first fully biodegradable bioplastic chair.

The collective, based in a valley overlooked by the Pyrenees, specializes in integrated production methods for creating eco-conscious, comfortable and elegant design pieces by using natural and environmentally friendly materials and resources. Specifically, this chair boasts a particularly enveloping shell, designed to provide optimum back and arm support. This is a shape that can only be achieved by using plastic materials.

This is where the idea of experimenting with bioplastic comes in. It is already used in several different fields, such as car manufacturing. Bioplastic is a polymer with similar characteristics and properties to plastic; it can also be injected, extruded and thermoformed but, unlike plastic, is made 100% from plant-based products (beet, corn starch, sugar cane etc.). This means that the material is completely recyclable and biodegradable, using an industrial process. Added value is brought by the fact that its production leaves a low ecological footprint, given that it uses fewer greenhouse gas emissions. The seat rests on a solid base of solid wood from sustainable forests.

Flax Chair

Country: Holland | Section: Furnishings

Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma has come up with an alternative use for linen fibre for manufacturing furnishings, which has earned him not one but two Dutch Design Awards. His Flax Chair is made entirely of this textile fibre combined with PLA, polylactic acid. Two naturally derived materials, serving to ensure that the finished product is totally biodegradable.

Produced by Label Breed, the chair is made from a single panel of this composite, from which first the seat is cut and then the legs are made from the offcuts. This ensures that there is virtually no waste.

The designer spotted the tremendous potential of linen fibre, both because of its valuable qualities and because the plant flourishes at those particular latitudes and requires little investment in the way of resources. Following the success of this first experiment, Meindertsma is now considering creating an entire range, which will include both different chair colors and other furnishing pieces such as tables.

2. Upcycled Materials

The coming together of recycling and design is informed by the increasing awareness that materials and objects destined for the waste basket can be upcycled to produce something completely different.

The concept of waste as a resource forms the basis for all creative recycling processes. Poor materials, reclaimed materials and waste generated by manufacturing or consumption mark a new frontier for design and for designers who seek to upgrade them creatively while effectively helping to protect the ecosystem.

Turning things that would otherwise be discarded into items of value helps increase the utilization efficiency of available resources and provide a further spur to developing new technologies and creating new aesthetics through design research.

Lucirmás

Country: Spain/Italy | Section: Lighting/Tableware

Lucirmás is a design studio in Barcelona founded by Italian designer Lucia Bruni, who has embraced the practice of upcycling, using traditional hand production techniques to turn glass bottles into hardwearing and functional domestic objects.

Environmental awareness is the implicit premise underpinning the concept of every product put through each of the manufacturing stages and is evidenced by the use of recycled materials, the optimization of production waste, the adoption of sustainable packaging systems and the fall in energy wastage.

Thus glass bottles that would usually end up in the garbage bin become a valuable resource for making lamps and original table accessories. LaFlor Lamp, for example, is a pendant lamp that features a bottle with a made-to-measure copper shade, while Dama Lamp is a table lamp made by reusing an ordinary 5-liter carafe set on a base of wood from sustainable forests, also handmade by local craftsmen.

Paperbricks

Country: South Korea/New Zealand/Holland  Section: Furnishings

Newspaper takes on a whole new lease of life in the hands of Eindhoven-based Korean/New Zealander Woojai Lee and his idea of Paperbricks. Turned into pulp and mixed with glue, it becomes a much stronger material than paper that has been recycled several times, and can be used – like a brick or a wooden plank – both in furnishing and in building structures.

The designer has used these modular components to create two series of stools, benches and coffee tables, which exploit the different qualities of paper. The Pallet series highlights its solidity and geometry, while Sculpt contrasts the regularity and smoothness of the seat with the raw, organic look of the legs. The two-fold texture of the bricks has the appearance of marble, while being soft and smooth to the touch, rather like a fabric.

The different surface treatments call for different processing techniques. The “hard” pieces are moulded, while the plastic or irregular ones are hand-modelled. The designer is already working on another collection, which might well include bookcases, shelves and partitions.

Penta Collection

Country: Thailand | Section: Lighting

Cassava is one of the most common crops in Thailand, so much so that at some times of the year, farmers are faced with overproduction, generating huge amounts of waste and pollution. Designer Anon Pariot saw a way out of the problem by conferring an aesthetic and symbolic value on the raw material, preventing it from being discarded. This led to the creation of the Penta lamp collection, built on a pentagonal module that is not only reminiscent of the cassava leaf, but also imparts the correct strength to the structure.

The material is vacuum pressed, making the plant fibres solid and hard. This ensures that the components are not just extremely lightweight but are also ideal for generating a pleasing, warm light. The pendant light takes on a spherical or hemispherical shape according to how the pentagons are arranged, making it suitable for many different domestic applications. Another eco-friendly consideration is that the material itself is 100% recyclable and gives off no toxic substances, while any defective pieces can be reused and incorporated into another lamp.

Forest Wool

Country: UK | Section: Furnishings

600 million pine trees are felled for timber in Europe every single year. What caught young Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Tamara Orjola’s attention was the fact that, aside from the wood used in manufacturing, the needles – which account for around 20-30% of the tree’s mass – are discarded and treated as waste.

Her Forest Wool collection, which includes two stools and a carpet, is made from recycled pine needles, finely chopped, soaked, pressed, and turned into textures, composites and paper. Their sophisticated looks and distinctive imprinted surface, reminiscent of the shape of the needles, is proof of the potential inherent in ecological material of this kind and the possibilities thrown up by upcycling leftover waste from mass production.

3. Low-Impact Living

Adopting a sustainable lifestyle within the home translates, first of all, into efforts to cut energy consumption. This is becoming increasingly crucial at every stage of design, from construction to interiors.

This is where next generation smart technologies come in, enabling the energy efficiency of both domestic and office spaces to be monitored around the clock, and becoming an integral part of the domestic landscape.

Leaving a light footprint on the planet on which we live also means that, of the available resources, we should opt for renewable energies that do not affect the delicate natural balance. As has been the case for some time in the food world, designers have also been experimenting with the use of natural “non conventional” raw materials, appropriating the concept of foraging, or harvesting products spontaneously yielded up by land and sea.

Netatmo by Starck

Country: France | Section: Tech/Energy

Netatmo, a French company specializing in smart systems for the home, has worked with designer Philippe Starck to produce intelligent radiator valves that cut up to 37% of domestic heating energy consumption. The valves allow the temperature to be controlled and the radiators turned on and off as desired, to suit the habits, the usage and the composition of the family nucleus, room by room, as well as remotely.

This means that the central heating in various parts of a house can be set to come on only at peak times, avoiding needless waste. The valves are also fitted with sensors that can gauge precisely and in real time all contributory factors — such as the weather, the home insulation, the number of people in a room and whether any appliances are being used – and regulate their use. The extreme functional efficiency of the valves, combined with Starck’s intuitive and minimalist design, makes them suitable for every sort and kind of interior. In the hands of the translucent Plexiglass cylinders they come complete with digital display, and can be customized with interchangeable basic colors. Just like their appearance, the way in which the valves are used can also be customized to the max. They can be programmed to suit people’s lifestyles and the level of comfort desired, creating ad hoc setups in combination with the other smart devices within the home. The valves can be voice-controlled through Siri or the Apple HomeKit as well as via a special smartphone app.

Sea Me Collection

Country: Holland | Section: Furnishings

According to Dutch designer Nienke Hoogvliet, algae will increasingly become a feature of the interior design and architectural world. Aside from their beneficial effects on our bodies, seaweed is finding original application in the textile and construction fields and as an energy resource for buildings. Debate on their use in these fields is wide open.

After years of dedicated study, the designer has produced her first collection Sea Me, which includes a seat, a side table and some bowls, which also serve as a demonstration of all the materials that can be derived from this particular raw material.

First and foremost is a textile fibre, from which the seat is made, created by extracting cellulose from kelp and working it by hand. The result is a viscose-like fabric, but softer to the touch. Hoogvliet also used the seaweed to dye the fabric naturally, with different varieties creating different colors (from green and brown to grey, pink and purple).

The waste from this process is used to obtain the finish of the wooden top of the side table, another piece in the collection, using paint made from bladderwrack, a common seaweed in Holland. Bringing the optimization process full circle, the residue from this latter procedure was used to make the bioplastic bowls, proof of the enormous potential residing in this natural and renewable resource.