top of page
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest

A few interior design home truths

Interior design home truths - Forster Inc.

Over the last ten years conversations about environmental damage and sustainability have exploded into the mainstream and everybody wants to be seen to be doing something about it. The narrative has its obvious villains and its obvious heroes, but lurking somewhere off to the side, whistling innocently, is the interior design industry.

I’ve worked in interior design for a long time and like many sectors it has been very slow to take a long hard look at itself and reform standard practices in a meaningful way. Like fast fashion it thrives on the new, the overhaul, the excitement of a tangible, visual transformation. But unlike fast fashion, it hasn’t had a spotlight shone on the waste that this quietly creates.

The UK produces over 200 million tonnes of waste a year, according to government data. Of that, construction makes up around 3/5ths – and of that a proportion is the fixtures, fittings and fabrics interior designers have at their disposal.

Textile waste contributes globally to 20% of water pollution, 10% of greenhouse gas emissions and 92m tonnes of landfill waste. While over-production of clothing and fast fashion has become synonymous with textile waste, half of the UK's estimated 800,000 tonnes of textile waste is pre-consumer waste (i.e. materials that are surplus in the manufacturing process) produced from overlooked industries such as interior design.

This waste - samples, off-cuts, carpet surplus, cutting-room floor (15% of all textiles used) - are often not labelled and hard to identify. The lack of business textile recycling infrastructure makes it difficult for these textiles to be reused, and this contributes to premature downgrading or unnecessary wasting of materials that could otherwise be reused. These pre-consumer scraps aggregate into a large-scale waste problem.

Just because dumping textiles doesn’t look as physically revolting as dumping sewage or plastics, it is just as inexcusable. For too long the interiors industry has had its eyes focused on the new space, and ignored the massive quantities of waste being shovelled into landfill or incinerated – quantities that are still unknown since no one has thought to measure them.

So I’m making it part of my mission as an interior designer to try and shift that mindset, and help clients think a lot harder about what sustainability really means and looks like before starting a project.

So how do you make an interior design project sustainable?

There’s no easy answer to that question. Every project has to be evaluated on its own terms. If there was an easy solution, we’d be doing it already. I always start a project on the assumption that we will work as much as possible with whatever is already there. Reusing, repurposing and retaining are my primary areas of interest whenever I look at a new brief. Once I’ve answered a few of those questions, particularly where furniture is concerned, I can begin to answer a few more. Such as what kind of materials might we introduce, and what will we do with any that we remove. A lot of furniture is built to last, and has decades of life. Reupholstering can provide an excellent refresh, retaining the core frame whilst allowing you to put your stamp on the new space. But what happens to all those textiles?

Historically, they would go straight into landfill. There has never been any provision for recycling in the interiors industry, which is pretty mind-blowing when you think about the scale of it. But new projects are emerging all the time that promote a circular economy solution. I’ve recently begun collaborating with the amazing team at who work with businesses to collect used textiles and get them into the hands of makers who can give them a whole new lease of life. It’s a brilliant model, but one that requires two things to work: commitment and relationships. Businesses need to be committed to preventing waste, and relationships are needed to connect those individual designers to those individual makers. Gradually those relationships will become a network. With enough commitment they can become a movement.

None of the problems facing our planet or our industry are simple, so none of the answers can be. But if we change enough habits and the culture of how we plan and approach interior design projects, we can engineer new habits and create real change. And the resulting interior spaces will be all the more impressive and inspiring for it.

If you are interested in improving sustainability in your organisation, get in touch.

Back to Stories

©2024 Forster Inc. 

bottom of page