5 of the best stools

Are you sitting comfortably?  Or may be you are on the hunt for a new three-legged seating friend?  Here is my pick of five of the best stools! Pippy_Oak_Stool_-_Galvin_Brothers_1_grandeIn celebration of the Galvin Brothers recent opening of their bricks and mortar store in Beverley, Yorkshire (11 Flemingate,  HU17 0NP), my first pick is their signature stool, the English Pippy Oak Milk stool (£170).  Pippy Oak, or Cat’s Paw Oak, is so named because of its characteristic pips or knots.  The open, light nature of English woodlands, hedgerows and parks encourages ‘epicormic growth’, the shoots or buds, on tree trunks and at their base. These tumour-like growths penetrate deep into the tree’s heart wood.  The grain moves around the knots to create beautiful patterns, revealed as ‘cat’s paws’ on the board  The stool is handmade, with peg-and-wedge leg joints.  Its clean, modern form is given distinct character by the unique pattern of the Pippy Oak.  A rustic gent with potential as a stool, side or occasional bedside table.  The stools are finished in Danish oil and the dimensions are 300 x 460 x 300mm. b9f91c7a-8a28-4556-b68b-435a22240c2e

The second stool makes good use of the things that are found as by-products, or off cuts of industrial production processes.  The top of Tom Dixon‘s Offcut Stool is made from the waney edge, edge that follows the natural curve of the tree (as in waning moon).  This irregular edge is often discarded, hence the name ‘Offcut’ stool.  Made of solid oak and finished with a natural soaped finish, the stool comes flat-packed (with efficiencies of packaging and distribution) and is easily assembled using wooden pegs rather than screws or glue.  Simple and honest.  Available from Tom Dixon or Heal’s from £140.

justwoodtableThe third entry, Pippa Murray’s Just Wood stool also makes use of the neglected, in this case our unmanaged British woodlands.  The legs of the stool are greenwood shavings that have been moulded using a process developed by Pippa as part of her final year research project studying Design Products at the Royal College of Art.  Greenwood shavings are a by-product of coppicing hardwood trees, a traditional form of woodland management.  The moulded material is strong, polymer free and bio degradable.

Dipped-Vintage-Lab-Stool-448x448Dipped vintage lab stools from Ines Cole (£125, H 61 x W 34 x D 38 cm) have been taken back to their natural wood and then given a dip dye makeover sealed with a matt finish.  A simple piece of upcycling that conjures up nostalgic images of my old school science lab, and perfect for the industrial vintage look.  If you fancy a more colourful alternative, you can find similar stools at reclamation yards or antiques fairs and try a DIY dip.

Three-StoolsIf not DIY, then what about grow your own?  Typically there is 50-80% wastage in normal process of transforming raw timber to finished products.  The Well Proven stool by Marjan van Aubel and James Shaw makes use of shavings, sawdust and chippings.  When combined the mixture of bio-resin and waste shavings create a chemical reaction that expands into a foamed structure five times its original volume.  The porridge like mixture can be coloured with dyes and moulded.  It hardens to form a strong, lightweight material, reinforced by the fibres in the hardwood shavings.  The ‘porridge’ is spread over the underside of a chair and shaped by hand around the contrastingly elegant turned legs of American ash.  The fore-runner of the stool, the Well-Proven Chair was nominated for the Design of the Year 2013 Award an developed with the support of the American Hardwood Export Council.  The stools were on display as part of Heal’s Modern Craft Market in February 2014.


Image credits: Galvin Bros, Ines Cole, James Shaw, Pippa Murray Design, Tom Dixon Studio,


Fashion Revolution a day of Radical Transparency?


Thursday 24th April is the first Fashion Revolution Day, marking the first anniversary of the tragic Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh and urging the industry to be a force for good.  1134 people were killed and hundreds more were injured when the factory, that had previously been declared unsafe, collapsed.  Although the media spotlight shone brightly on the long tail of fast-fashion’s global supply chain for a few days, one year on the compensation fund for Rana Plaza victims has reached barely one third of its target and profits from cheap clothes continue to soar.

Against this stark background, Fashion Revolution celebrates fashion’s potential as a positive influence.  Even a week after Rana Plaza many brands could not be certain whether their garments had been made in the building.  Fashion Revolution Day is calling on us to care where our clothes come from.  At the moment even if you do care, there is very little information available to customers about the processes and impacts involved in the creation of a garment at the point of sale. Reconnecting broken links in the supply chain and sharing this information with customers gives them a choice, not only about the garment or accessory but also the chain of values and impacts they are buying into.

As an economist, I am familiar with the theoretical maxim that markets communicate information freely and openly.  Yet as consumers, we rarely have information about the full environmental, health and social impacts of the things that we buy.  These impacts are invisible to us, so we can not signal, via the market place, that we would prefer products with a better social and ecological footprint.  This inequality of information, dubbed “information asymmetry” by Joseph Stiglitz (who won a Nobel Prize in economics for his theory of how information shapes markets) hinders market efficiency.  Lack of full information means that our purchases can have unintended consequences, even when we think we are buying better.

I recently had a moment of revelation when I looked up some sunscreen I had bought for my children on the GoodGuide.  With a team of chemists, toxicologists, nutritionists, sociologists, and lifecycle analysis experts the GoodGuide rates products and companies from 0 to 10 on their health, environmental and social performance drawing on information from a range of life cycle assessment databases.   The sunscreen I had bought declared it did not contain parabens, SLS, petrolatum, artificial colours or phthalates, but when I looked it up, I found it scored 4/10 for health, as it did contain other ingredients with health concerns.  Sites such as the GoodGuide and SkinDeep provide authoritative, impartial and comprehensive ratings.  Comprehensive because the consequences of buying a product cover a broad range of impacts, for example using solar power to manufacture a product is virtuous, but if that same product off-gases toxins in the customer’s home, or factory workers inhale noxious fumes then the product is far from ecologically sound.  A full life cycle assessment of a product encompasses its supply chain (and those of all its inputs) manufacture, distribution, customer use, and disposal.


UnknownAt present, the GoodGuide is US-focused, but it offers the beginning of what Daniel Goleman describes as radical transparency in his book, Ecological Intelligence.  A combination of ecological intelligence and collective consciousness shared through social media allows a large number of actors to effect great change.  It moves the purchasing decision away from price alone to include other variables, and reflects the true cost of producing something.  As Rana Plaza showed so horrifically, fast-fashion clothes are often produced in circumstances where the minimum environmental, health and safety requirements that are legally mandated in the developed world are missing.  Perhaps that is why ‘production costs’ are lower?  In Bangladesh, wages have been raised by 77%, but that is barely enough get above the poverty line.  The promise of globalisation was not supposed to be a race to the bottom to supply the cheapest goods the fastest.

In a world of transparency customers can be a catalyst for change, voting for the values they want with their spending choices.  Greater transparency could lead to more efficient consumption and resolve the tension between private profit and public welfare.  As Daniel Goleman urges us: Know your impacts; favour improvements; share what you learn.  Or in the words of a grande dame of fashion, Vivienne Westwood, “Buy less, choose well, make it last”.  To an industry with beauty at its heart know that “the best, most dramatic and most reliable motivator of human behavioural change is beauty”, to quote Elizabeth Farrelly.  So let the creativity, playfulness, ingenuity and innovation run riot to inspire great change.  

 In the meantime, find Fashion Revolution on the web,   or Facebook & see what you can do to look good, and feel good about the consequences.


Maps of fantasyland with the House of Fairy Tales

Claire_Brewster_small_largeFollowing the SustainRCA discussion about the “Rights of Nature and the nature of value”, my antenna has been alert to the role of artists as protagonists in defence of nature. So I was drawn to the latest portfolio, Cartography, from the House of Fairy Tales (with support from TAG Fine Arts) that is currently on show at the House of Barnabas, a charity helping the homeless back into work, supported by a members club in Soho.

I have a love of maps. They speak of adventure, romance, fairytales, and tell the story of power. Often what is left out, says more than what is left in.  Cartography encapsulates these wonders.  The portfolio consists of 12 screen prints and lithographs on the theme of the ‘lay of the land’ from whole continents, and wildernesses, to more familiar, but perhaps equally foreign inner world.  Sir Peter Blake and Rob Ryan are among the distinguished role call of artists.

Of the portfolio, I was drawn immediately to Claire Brewster’s ‘Sweet Dreams’ (pictured above).  The mix of collage and painting on a 1965 map of Aldabra Island in the Seychelles creates an exotic landscape for an imagined journey. The birds, flowers and insects cross over boundaries with ease, immune to the clinical lines of the map. A dual metaphor depicting the contrast between a cartographer’s precision and the vibrant, unruly real world, as well as showing the limits of man’s efforts to tame and contain nature. The piece is typical of Claire Brewster’s work with obsolete maps to create beautiful paper cuts. Retrieving the discarded and celebrating the unwanted.

Red Road Butterfly 3Susan Stockwell’s work also finds hidden treasure in waste, recycling everyday materials to comment on issues of ecology, geo-politics, and global commerce. Maps allow her to illustrate society’s networks of power and communication. The Red Road Butterfly screen print (pictured right) portrays a city’s life-blood as its road network with flows of goods and people in and out. Butterflies are a popular motif of transformation. Their fragility, transience, and beautiful.

These works, and others, ask us to pause, and prompt inquiry into our relationship with the world around us. They tell a story that is the beginning of a conversation about community, society and environment.

Sales from the Cartography Portfolio support of the work of the House of Fairy Tales, an artist-led charity that champions creative play for all, including the disadvantaged and marginalised. Established in 2006 by artists Deborah Curtis and Gavin Turk, House of Fairy Tales combines artists, educationalists, performers and scientists to create events and materials that coax individuals and communities to explore a love of curiosity, learning and doing. In the pipeline for later this year is the HOFT Examiner, a children’s online player creating a new mythology of forests in conjunction with the Forestry Commission.

The exhibition runs until the end of June and is available to view by appointment at the House of Barnabas and Home House.  So find a moment to enjoy this fantastical world of Cartography while you can.  TAG Fine Arts will exhibiting other works by some of the artists at stand 37 of the London Print Fair opening on Thursday 24th April at the Royal Academy of Arts.

Related links:


Picture credits: The artists courtesy of TAG Fine Arts

And the birds

parkMy window looks out over a park, and as the view becomes steadily more verdant, so the birds find fuller voice. I am far from an ornithologist, but as I ran around the park this morning, I saw a robin, blue tit, thrush, goldfinch, blackbird, magpie, a couple of alien parakeets and the ubiquitous pigeon.  The bird song is simply uplifting, a spring chorus for us all to savour.  It is nesting season, as March to August is the main breeding season for nesting birds, so no wonder they are in full voice.

With the knowledge that the Lawton review of England’s Wildlife Sites and Ecological Network, published by DEFRA in 2010, noted declines of more than 80% of farmland birds since the 1960s, including tree sparrows, corn buntings and turtle doves, I turned my attention to what I can do in my patch.  Over the last 20 years we have lost half to three-quarters of insect-eating birds.  Some of this is due to loss of their homes.  Lots of hedgerows have disappeared from farmland, and fences and walls are the norm in cities.

Growing a hedge with native and trees and shrubs provides food, shelter and somewhere to nest all in one.  At this time of year, the RSPB recommend that you avoid cutting hedges and trees.  It is actually an offence under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use, or being built.  The RSPB website has free guides to growing a hedge and making it a home for birds.

In the last 12 years, 53% of swifts have disappeared from the South East of England, according to Swift Conservation.  Swifts, with their long, scythe-like wings and a short, forked tail, form a familiar silhouette in our summer skies when they arrive to breed.    As they nest under eaves and gables, renovations and new buildings have disturbed many of their nesting sites, particularly as swifts often nest in the same holes and crevices for years.  Swifts are easily disturbed, so try to avoid doing any roof repairs or other work during the nesting season from May to August.

The best place to install a swift box is under the eaves of your roof, or a similar overhang, as this will provide some protection from the weather, in a shaded area. It should be at least 5 metres off the ground and away from climbers or nearby trees, so it is less accessible to predators such as crows, magpies, squirrels and cats.  Once installed, you do not need to clean out the boxes.  Swift Conservation have a number of D.I.Y. designs for swift boxes and information on swift bricks and NHBS sell a large range of bird boxes suitable for swifts and other birds.
bbA Bird Brick House is a permanent home for swifts, sparrows, and many other small to medium sized UK birds.  The box can be included as a new build, or retro-fited without cutting bricks.  The boxes are suitable for render, brick work or weather-boarding, for residential and commercial buildings.  The back box is made from 100% recycled plastic and the removable front with a fascia of real brick can blend the surrounding wall.  Bird Brick House make a range of boxes to suit the nesting habits of a variety of birds and bats.  Prices start from £70 +VAT.

If space is not such premium and you could make your own sparrows nest box to attach to a wall or tree.  The RSPB offers a free DIY guide to building a nest for house sparrows that takes about 3-4 hours.  If you do not have a tree, you substitute with a “Branch” bird feeder handmade in Cornwall from solid English Ash from Green and Blue,  priced at £35.

BLOGr&rLN25AOr follow this fun and thifty suggestion from LoveBessie to reuse a milk or soup carton as a home for our feathered friends, reproduced here by kind permission.  The reduce and recycle projects are on the backs of cards from LoveBessie’s Lolita Nolita collection.  ‘No lita’, get it? The playful designs share Love-ly messages. Simply wash out your old carton thoroughly; draw a window on each of the sides 60mm up from the base; cut out the windows; punch a hole in the top to loop the string and tie with a secure knot; fill the base with birdseed; and voila enjoy the spectacle.

For those not so confident of their DIY skills, I love the colours of this bird house (pictured below) from Traidcraft, that has been woven from rope made from twisted, recycled, misprinted sweet wrappers (priced at £10).31086

Bird food is widely available from supermarkets, garden centres, and of course the RSPB (all profits support their work).  Many household scraps are also a suitable and inexpensive way of feeding birds, but while suet, dried fruits and rice are popular, there are a few don’ts, such as milk or fat from cooked meat. The RSPB provides a comprehensive round up of what to feed, to whom, how and when!

So if you have a few spare moments this long Easter weekend, create a home for some real eggs to hatch.

Photo credits: LoveBessie, Traidcraft

What a lot of bottle, a conversation @ Glass Lab

glDiana Simpson is in residence at 19 Greek Street, a multi-space gallery in London’s Soho dedicated to sustainability and experimentation in design.  Diana’s Glass Lab, turning ‘waste’ glass into tiles and surface materials, is the very embodiment of that ethos.  As a designer, Diana, is interested in the often overlooked value of waste as a resource, and its potential as a catalyst for localised systems of processing and transforming waste.

Waste Lab was a design response to the Mayor’s Business Waste Strategy as part of Diana’s MA Design Products at the RCA.  The report noted that only 52% of waste from the commercial and industrial sectors in London is reused, recycled or composted.  Glass Lab, the first Waste Lab initiative, provides an alternative waste disposal for small businesses.  Local waste, local collection, and local processing for local use.  To this end, Diana has collected glass bottles from within a one mile radius of the gallery and Soho offers a rich supply!

gl2Revealing the hidden treasure glass waste is less alchemy and more elbow grease.  The glass is sorted into different colours, blue, browns, clear, and shades of green to provide Diana with a richer colour palette.  The bottles are then steamed to clean and de-label them, before Diana gets to work with a hammer on the hard floor of the loft space at 19 Greek Street.  After breaking the glass into chunks, these are then ground into smaller granules in a pestle and mortar.

gl4The fragments are sieved through a variety of household appliances, into different grades offering different finishes.  The granules and fragments are mixed with a bio-resin, Super Sap, combining different colours and textures to create varied surface finishes.  Bigger pieces offer more transparency, and the sandy granules a more abrasive finish on the tiles.. Super Sap replaces petroleum-based with renewable materials from waste streams of other industrial processes, such as wood pulp and bio-fuels production. Super Sap uses less power and water in its manufacture and produces less harmful by-products than conventional epoxy resins.  Diana knows that using a bio-resin may limit the potential to recycle the tiles at the end of their life.  She opted for a binder to keep the process accessible to a local infrastructure, and conventional glass recycling is very energy intensive, as the glass has to be heated to around 1500 degrees celsius.

P1160849P1160866The mixture of bio-resin and glass is poured into a hexagonal mould to a depth of 10mm, before the tray is left to set at room temperature.

As well as tiles, Diana also produces hexagonal lights for use outdoors (pictured below) and is working on a number of bespoke pieces for commercial projects, including a bar counter top for a new private members club, The Library, and for bathrooms in a boutique hotel.  Glass Lab is making the transition from a conceptual design intervention in a gallery to commercial applications as a surface material.  Light bollard_1The project has attracted a lot of attention as part of the Sustain RCA Show and Awards 2013, and more recently at resource, as part of the SustainRCA exhibit showcasing their Awards and consultancy work for clients demonstrating the circular economy. Let’s hope the interest turns into tangible efforts to replicate Glass Lab in other locations, with other materials and communities.  For the moment in Soho at least there are designers, a rich supply of and healthy demand for glass products!

imageDiana hopes to apply the Waste Lab concept to other materials, recognising that waste has different identities, and poses different challenges, in different geographies.  She is already working with Sudha Kheterpal, an internationally renowned percussionist, to take musical instruments that produce clean energy when played into areas with little or no electricity.  Playing the shaker (pictured right) will generate enough electricity to power an LED light or charge up a mobile phone, vital for people living in remote villages.  A prototype shaker, ‘SPARK’, has just been tested in Kenya, and a Kickstarter campaign follows later this spring.  Keep your eyes peeled for more news about ShakeYourPower.

In the meantime,I only hope that the imminent arrival of a glass crusher brings the price point for the tiles below £200 per sq metre, as I would leap at the chance for a set of Glass Lab tiles for my bathroom.

Photocredits: Diana Simpson, my own.




Defending the rights of nature

RIGHTS-OF-NATURE_web_LOW-06_905 ‘The Rights of Nature and the Nature of Value’ was the last SustainRCA event of the season.  The speakers, chaired by Paul De Zylva from Friends of the Earth, framed a vital debate exploring the complexities of how and why we value and protect the natural environment.  The IPCC has just published its latest report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” asserting that  “Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts”. Climate change, in conjunction with changing habitats, over-exploitation, pollution and invasive species mean that a significant proportion of land and freshwater species “faces increased extinction risk under projected climate change during and beyond the 21st century.”   As for our marine species, climate change and loss of biodiversity will “challenge the sustained provision of fisheries productivity and other ecosystem services”   As the warnings become ever more stark, the debate becomes even more critical.

justwoodtablePippa Murray, designer and maker, was the first of four speakers at the SustainRCA event.  Pippa presented ‘Just Wood’ her final year project for her MA Design Products at the RCA.  For nine months Pippa was based in a 45 acre Cumbrian woodland, consisting mainly of British hardwoods, as an apprentice at Danny Frost Timber.  Pippa developed an adhesive free method for moulding greenwood shavings in an affordable batch process.  The greenwood shavings are a by-product of pruning the hardwood trees.  Pruning, or coppicing, is a traditional form of woodland management.  In contrast to mono crop woods that are clear-felled in twenty year cycles, hardwood trees play many different roles in their lifetime.  Writing about Britain’s ancient woodlands recently in the Financial Times, Matthew Wilson, managing director of Clifton Nurseries, noted that a single mature oak can host up to 25,000 individual animals.  Pippa hopes her process offers the potential to make good use of the 649,000 hectares of unmanaged woodland in England today. While pruning and reshaping the trees, Pippa was mindful that the impact of her actions will be revealed in 100 or 200 years time.  On a greater scale, Pippa’s reflections remind us that our interactions with nature have repercussions far beyond our own lifetime.  In closing, Pippa asked, “What is our generation leaving for the future?” 

Hopefully not the sound of the chainsaw that filled the theatre as Andrew Simms (author, nef Fellow, Global Witness) played a short cartoon highlighting financial ties between Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor and climate champion, and tropical forestry companies, a number of whom were implicated in illegal logging.  It is a lighthearted look at a serious issue, not Schwarznegger’s reputation, but the impact of industrial logging, and the role of investment vehicles as intermediaries.  There has been much written about valuing nature’s resources and services, but this presents a paradox, Andrew reminds.  While something is invisible to the system unless it has a price, if you do price it, then it becomes vulnerable to the vagaries of short-term markets.  Nature becomes commoditized and its value reduced to its monetary price.  Yet, Andrew went on, orthodox pricing models fail as you can not put a price on civilisation.  What price for that last barrel of oil?  If monetary values are reductive, even to a Western model, then what alternatives are available for decision-making?

TJ Demos, UCL, while calling for full natural capital accounting as a means to end unsustainable resource exploitation, swiftly challenged us to look at the politics of ecology.  TJ presented works from a number of artists exploring the growing conflicts around ecology and climate change.  Red Ant Dream, directed by Sanjay Kak, and The Sovereign Forest, by Amar Kanwar, look at the impact of mining on the landscape and communities of Odisha (formerly Orissa), India.  Here the artists are protagonists and inquisitors challenging our socio-economic and political culture and its concept of value.

nef first published the Happy Planet Index in 2006.  The HPI measures which countries offer long, happy, sustainable lives for their people.  Small and island states perform best (the UK is ranked 41 out of 151 states).  While economic growth and development is often viewed in a vacuum, devoid of social, cultural, ecological or spiritual values, for many communities nature is central to their heritage.   Earth Law recognises that the Earth is the source of laws which govern life, something that many indigenous peoples and local communities have been practicing for centuries.  Earth law, earth jurisprudence, or wild law recognises the rights of nature , its right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.  In 2008, Ecuador became the first country to adopt Rights of Nature in its constitution.  This changes nature from an asset (that you can put a price on and offset) to an entity than can assume agency in a legal situation.


Recognising the rights of nature changes our understanding of nature and the purpose of law and governance, from property-owner to trustee.  In this context, it is much harder to put a price on significant harm, as the final speaker, Polly Higgins,  environmental lawyer and author of Eradicating Ecocideargued so eloquently.  As Polly noted, we do not ask what price to put on child abuse, domestic violence or theft.  They are simply crimes.  Ecocide is, “the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.”  It is not a radical, dark green manifesto, it was included in the UN’s draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind and examined for 11 years as the fifth Crime Against Peace in the Rome Statute before being mysteriously shelved at the last minute in 1996.  Wish20 – Eradicating Ecocide is the global citizens campaign to create a global duty of care and end Ecocide by 2020.

A more holistic approach towards nature, environmental ethics and governance, is one of stewardship, where nature is not an asset to own, where the value of something is greater and more complex than its present monetary price tag.  In the context of SustainRCA, artists, designers and makers have a powerful role to play in envisioning a better world, challenging the status quo, and mediating a more sustainable social, cultural, environmental and economic compact.  Andrew ended with John Ruskin’s quote, “There is no wealth but life”, I shall add, Ai Weiwei, “Your own acts tell the world who you are and what kind of society you think it should be.”

Image credit: Eradicating Ecocide, Pippa Murray, SustainRCA