A little nudge goes a long way

COS5Ko7WcAAgP2s.jpg-largeUsage of single-use plastic bags dropped over 80% after the introduction of a 5p charge last October.  In the first six months, 640 million plastic bags were used in seven major supermarkets in England, compared to the 8.5 billion single-use plastic bags used in 2014, according to WRAP. To get a sense of scale, 6 billion bags laid end-to-end it would stretch about 75 times around the world. Through the levy, £29.2m has been raised for good causes, and the government estimated that fall in use of single-use carrier bags would save £60m in litter clean-up costs.

It is tempting to ask what took so long, but more fruitful to ask why it was so effective, and where else is a little nudge long overdue.  In the same week, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest War on Waste hit our screens railing against the mountains of coffee cups from large corporate chains littering our cities. As I watched Fearnley-Whittingstall’s BBC programme, I was struck by the many similarities between coffee cups and plastic bags.  Both involve large corporate companies, familiar brands from our high-streets, providing pernicious solutions to take away perishable goods at no obvious, or immediate cost to the consumer.

But first the problem, whether a nation of tea-drinkers or coffee-addicts, the British are taking away more than 7 million cardboard cups a day, or 2.5 billion a year, and less than 1 in 400 are being recycled. We think paper cups are a green option, but they are typically neither made of recycled material nor practically recyclable.  The cups have a polyethylene liner to make them waterproof.   As the thin seam of paper inside the cup comes into contact with the hot drink, cups must be made from virgin paper pulp to avoid leaching of any dyes from recycled paper.

The cups can technically be recycled (and may be labeled as such), but only specialist recycling facilities can separate the liner from the paper. There are two such facilities in the UK, reports Fearnley-Whittingstall, one has never recycled a paper cup and the other has processed a tiny number. For example, Costa sends less than 1% of its cups for this treatment. A cardboard sleeve may be labeled as recyclable, and would be, if it were separated from the actual cup. The misinformation and misunderstanding compounds the problem as well-meaning customers throw their cups into recycling bins, inadvertently contaminating them.

bpnjtjsiuaenn2aSome coffee chains offer a small, money-off incentive for bringing your own reusable cup. The incentive is rarely advertised, staff often do not know about it, and the onus is on the customer to ask. Unsurprisingly take up is limited. I see a few more reusable cups, helped by the arrival of colourful KeepCups from Australia, but the occasional 10p or 20p discount has had far less impact than the 5p levy for a bag.

So why has the little nudge over plastic bags led to an outsized shift in customer behaviour? Behavioural science offers an explanation. Unlike the “economic man” or homo economicus characterized in classical economic theory as consistently, rational and self-interested, we are not always rational, or fully-informed when making decisions. In their book, Choices, Values and Frames, Kahneman and Tversky argue that humans respond differently to charges and discounts because of framing: the discount is considered a gain, and the surcharge as a loss. Humans are loss averse, the pain of losing is psychologically estimated to be twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. So penalty frames can be more effective than reward frames, a charge more effective than a discount. Other effective drivers for behavioural change include the fact we are strongly influenced by the behaviour of others, that we are often influenced by subconscious cues, and we try to act in ways that make us feel good about ourselves.

So if large (or indeed small) coffee-chains are serious about reducing the waste mountain, their efforts could be cannier. Making any discount incentive prominent at the point of sale, along side a reusable cup available for purchase would be a start. Charge more for a coffee served in a not-so-disposable paper cup. Tweak existing marketing tactics to transition more customers on to reusable cups, for example, offer a free reusable cup with your tenth coffee. The cup would of course be branded, and by parading it in the street we would be subconsciously signaling our own virtue and that of the coffee chain. The reusable cup is also perfect corporate gift, or secret Santa.

crse4c2wiaa_cokWhere there is no alternative to take away, better options are available from suppliers, such as Frugalpac. The food service industry needs to up its game and ensure packaging is actually composted or recycled. A quick break at a motorway service station or stroll down a city street will highlight just how far there is to go here! If self-regulation and industry collaboration fail, then this week’s statement from the Liberal Democrats hints at what might follow.

Sometimes, in the words of the environment minster, Therese Coffey, “small actions can make the biggest difference”, and there is much to be said for taking the time to savour the coffee in situ.

Related links:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36917174

https://greenallianceblog.org.uk/2016/04/18/if-we-like-recycling-why-are-we-so-bad-at-it/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36882799

Gächter, S., Orzen, H., Renner, E., & Starmer, C. (2009). Are experimental economists prone to framing effects? A natural field experiment. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 70, 443-446.

Picture credit: the Liberal Democrats

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5 of the best pendant lamps

tr-212butterflyoak1200247x247Pendant lights, hanging from the ceiling, can literally raise our gaze from the mundane to the magnificent.  Whether striking a considered statement in your entrance hall or providing essential task lighting in your kitchen, pendant lamps can have both form and function.  Here are five of the best pendant lamps that have caught Carefully Curated’s eye.

Choosing things that will be loved, cherished and enjoyed for many years is a great, and sustainable, rule of thumb.  A recent article in the Financial Times Weekend notes that after years of cheap furniture, British consumers are increasingly keen to buy handcrafted products that can become collectables. Quality craftsmanship is at the heart of Tom Raffield’s design practice.  Based in Cornwall, Tom Raffield is influenced by the natural beauty that surrounds him. It inspires a sense of adventure.  Through experimenting with traditional techniques of steam-bending, Raffield eventually developed a new method that enabled him to create the complex, sensuous 3D forms he desired.  Steam-bending is a low energy method of manufacturing, with little wastage and without the use of toxic or harmful chemicals.  Unseasoned, green or air dried timber is sourced from sustainably-managed woodlands that are local to the workshop, where possible.  Earlier this year, Raffield’s work was part of the Green Room, a space dedicated to eco-sustainable UK design at EDIT by design junction at Salone Internazionale del Mobile to showcase British creativity and design under the slogan, Green is GREAT.  Tom-Raffield-Bloom-pendant-WALNUT-bottom-Plumen-bulbThe Butterfly Pendant (pictured above) is inspired by the movement of butterflies in full flight.  Handmade from sustainably sourced oak and finished with an eco-friendly, non-toxic, water-based varnish, the small pendant is 42cm high with a diameter of 52cm.   The light takes a 25 watt energy saving bulb, though the award-winning Plumen low energy light bulb is recommended for a distinctive twist (pictured right).  The light is priced £325 (there is currently a summer sale with 20% off).  You can see Tom Raffield’s work next month at Decorex International   as he  has been commissioned to make a special set of furniture pieces for the VIP Lounge.

dpritchard1From future collectables, to current vintage finds.  A recent visit to Drew Pritchard’s warehouse in north Wales revealed a treasure trove of lights.  There were elegant opaline pendants with pressed brass fittings; a staggering pair of cast bronze and cast iron gate pier lanterns 138cm tall; Art Deco alabaster plaffonier ceiling lights; feminine fluted holophane lights; and utilitarian factory lights.  From £99 to £7,500 (for the pair of bronze gate lanterns) there were fittings for nearly all occasions.  6945I was taken with these industrial pendant lights (H: 26 cm W: 21 cm D: 21 cm, priced £195 each) from Poland made of prismatic glass in the 1960s. The polished galleries add a sophisticated finish.

For a contemporary take on the industrial look, Offkut, an independent design company based in London, makes 4412practical, durable, that are, they hope, affordable.  As the name would suggest many of their pieces are made from up-cycled industrial wood.  The knots, grains and splits in the reclaimed wood means each furniture piece is unique.  Their pendant lamps are a series of hanging steel cages.  The Corset (priced £235) is like a generous hoop skirt that tapers to a waist as narrow as those sought by nineteenth century belles.  The aesthetic is definitely industrial, but softened by the delicate, carbon filament bulbs which are handmade in Switzerland.  The larger globe bulbs will burn for around 5000 hours.

EGG_OF_COLUMBUS_SELETTI_MG_0783The Egg of Columbus lighting collection designed by Valentina Carretta is inspired by the waves and pleats of vintage lamps.  Using compressed cardboard from recycled egg cartons, Carretta created three eye-catching designs for pendant lamps. The raw, rough packaging material takes on a clean, yet decorative aesthetic.  The pendants are available from the Conran Shop for a very economical £25 each (diameter of piece shown is 22.5cm).

Heath Nashlight-8-e1407173457405‘s pendant lamps made from recycled plastic have an altogether different look.  Nash pioneered the use of plastic post-consumer waste as a raw material in South Africa, working with a small team of craftspeople to create high-end decorative installations and lamps.  The first piece of work Nash made from ‘waste’ materials was a leaf ball,  colourful flower balls and drum lights followed.  The award-winning designer will be exhibiting an installation at Africa Calling, a show case of the best of contemporary African design that launches next month as part of the Africa Utopia festival (12th-14th Sept) at the Southbank Centre, and then to designjunction for London Design Festival (18th-21st Sept). Nash will also be running workshops at Africa Calling, and be a guest panelist in our Africa Calling debate session at Design Junction.  I can’t wait to see the work in progress!

Related links:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/b9e6e47e-1d8a-11e4-b927-00144feabdc0.html#slide0

Image credits: Africa Calling; Valentina Carretta; OffKut; Plumen; Drew Pritchard; Tom Raffield Design

Designs of the Year 2014 @Design Museum

DM1The Designs of the Year, now in its seventh year at London’s Design Museum, capture the desires, concerns and needs of the moment.  This year’s exhibition of the most innovative international design projects of the last 12 months across seven categories: architecture, product, fashion, furniture, graphics, digital and transport is stimulating, as ever.  Whether through materials, technology, or design, the projects and products simply help make life better.

PETlampThe themes: Connect; Thought; Delight; Care; and Situation provide rough clusters of projects, with Care for the environment influencing many of the designers.  Two projects tackle the huge amount of discarded plastic blighting landscapes and harming eco-systems.  The PET Lamps (which caught my eye at Decorex 2013) are made from plastic bottles washed up along the Amazon river to make joyful pendant lights.

clevercapsEqually colourful, and playful, Clever Caps are bottle tops that can be used as building blocks.  Bottle tops can be thrown into the toy box rather than the rubbish bin.  A redesign that adds fun to function, and can be played with forever.

RippletableThe red Ripple Table, designed by Benjamin Hubert, is made out of corrugated birch plywood.  Ply is corrugated through pressure lamination, a new process developed by Benjamin in collaboration with Corelam. The corrugated ply is topped with a flat sheet and sits on A-frame legs.  The 2.5m table weighs only 9kg, and uses roughly 70% less material than a normal timber table.  Lightweight and easy to transport in flat-pack form, providing further economies of energy and materials.

LuffaMauricio Affonso’s final year project from the RCA Design Products programme, Luffa Lab, provides a Cinderella transformation of our humble bathroom friend, the luffa.  Luffa is antimicrobial, biodegradable, lightweight, breathable, strong and highly absorbent.  These natural virtues lend the material to surprising applications such as a low-cost splint made by compression-moulding and a water-based thermoset binder.  Mauricio’s acoustictile_detailLuffa Acoustic Tiles caught my eye at the Show RCA last summer, and then at the SustainRCA Awards 2013, where Mauricio won the Visionary Processes category.  The tiles get their distinctive tonal colour from soaking up toxic indigo dyes out of the wastewater from denim production, preventing the harmful dyes being discharged.  Once finished the tiles act as sound insulation, with a soothing aesthetic.

alchemiststableThe Alchemist’s Dressing Table is a set of elegant utensils and vessels to explore the cosmetic properties of flowers, herbs and minerals.  Lauren Davies, a fellow graduate of the RCA’s Design Products programme, and finalist at the SustainRCA Awards 2013, used traditional materials such as copper and cork to craft a most understated, but luxurious, kit for DIY organic skin care.  The work is intended as a dialogue about nature and materials.  It lays bare what we use on our skin with beautiful transparency.

Transparency is the theme of two technology exhibits.  Phonebloks has just been announced the winner of the social vote.  As the name suggests Phonebloks have a vision of consumer electronics that are modular so that products are easy to repair, easy to upgrade and long lasting.  Starting with mobile phones, Phonebloks want to change product development and production to end planned obsolescence and reduce electronic waste-streams.  Demand for these increasingly scarce resources is driving the ethical and environmental tensions that are the focus of Friends of the Earth‘s Make it Better campaign.  Phonebloks have reached 380million people on social media, so they have sparked a lot of interest, and caught the industry’s attention.  Phonebloks have just announced a partnership with another Design of the Year exhibitor, Fairphone.

frontThe Fairphone, from a social enterprise funded on Kickstarter, is a a smartphone where every aspect of its lifecycle is open and ethical.  From conflict-free materials to safe manufacturing conditions, fair wages and worker representation to repair guides with iFixit, Fairphone wants to change the way products are made, so we tread lightly, and with awareness.  You can order yours now.

A2BAfter ‘T” for transparency, it is “U” for the urban commute made easier with two bicycles. The Obree electric bicycle runs on a removable lithium ion battery that is 80% charged in two hours.  The bike can reach around 15m.p.h, run for 62 miles and propel from a standing start or just give you a boost uphill.  It looks like a grown-up BMX, so you can arrive looking sporty, but cool, in more ways than one.  IFmoveThe ‘IF’ in IFmove Bicycle stands for integrated folding.  At 10kg, it is lightweight and can be wheeled rather than carried.  The covered chain keeps grease and grime off those business casual cloths.  The addition of a retractable Plume Mudguard will keep the spray off your suit on a rainy day too.  For the full fit out you could get a pair of the appropriately named reflector “Geek” bike shoes from Tracey tneulsNeuls.  The shoes contain a small piece of reflective material, for safe cycling (or walking) at night.  The whole shoe has been designed with cycling in mind, and now the ‘Fern‘ is a heel that you can cycle in.  Smart, simple, and calling to my inner geek, and I don’t know if I can wait until Christmas for these shoes.

HERO_XL1_1For the (sub)urban commuter there are two cars on show.  Super sleek curves, and light-weight carbon fibre frame and seats boost the aerodynamics of Volkswagen’s XL1 Concept car, winner of the Transport category  Coupled with a highly engineered dual diesel-electric engine, the XL1 can travel 100km on just 1 litre of diesel, or 313 mpg on the combined cycle while emitting 24 g/km of CO2. It accelerates from 0 to 70kmph in just under 12 seconds and has a top speed of 99mph.  Speedy as well as stylish, it sets the bar in conventional car design very high, and who can resist a gull wing door?

toyota-2013-news-concept-me-we-urban-sharp-3col_tcm280-1226075The ME.WE Concept car, designed by Jean-Marie Massaud and Toyota ED2, is intended as a new concept in personal travel, “a car that reflects the values of forward-thinking individuals, rather than simply reflecting their social status”.  Made of expanded polypropylene panels (100% recyclable) on a tubular aluminium chassis, it is 20% lighter (hence more energy efficient) than many similar size cars.  The interior is bamboo (a fast-growing, natural material) and while not ‘roomy’ the car can be reconfigured to create more space. The back seat can fold under the front, and the tailgate can drop down like a pick-up truck.  It is a playful (switching from 2 to 4-wheel drive) dialogue with many of the conventions of the automotive industry.  Massaud aims to maximise pleasure, rather than status, balancing ME (individual freedom) with WE (responsibility for society).

The CC’s edit is only a tiny sample of the fascinating and fantastic exhibits that demonstrate how our everyday lives are shaped by and experienced through design.   The show asks the viewer “what is good design?”, the public voted for Phonebloks, not just a product, but a vision of a circular economy for that most ubiquitous of modern aids, the mobile.

Image Credit:  Fairphone; Luffa Lab, Toyota ME.WE, Volkswagen XL1

 

 

Carry-A-Bag home from Pick Me Up

IMG_3329If you are short of inspiration this bank holiday weekend, you will find a wonderful tonic at Pick Me Up, the UK’s contemporary graphic arts festival that runs until 5th May at Somerset House.  Pick Me Up is a fun and informal festival.  After the more sedate gallery on the ground floor, the mezzanine is bursting with colourful, eclectic and quirky studios.

The daily events are hosted with such enthusiasm that even the most timid of amateurs can dive in.  When I visited Handsome Frank artist Sarah Maycock was leading an interactive day of blind drawing.  Large cardboard boxes were arranged around a central table of still life objects.  Budding artists sat with their drawing hand inside a box and drew what they saw.  The results were surprisingly good.  A great exercise in recalibrating the relationship between hand and eye, and releasing inhibition, that I will be replicating at home.  

Herbarium 1600I attended with intent, and made a beeline for the collaboration between Carry-a-Bag and Heal’s hosted by Outline Artists.    Outline Artists, Hvass & Hannibal designed Herbarium (pictured left), one of ten new fabrics from Heal’s as their first textile collection since the 1970s.  The colourful designs include work from emerging as well as established designers, such as Zandra Rhodes.

There was a hive of activity in the event space with a steady hum from two sewing machines.  After adding my name to the list, I was handed a bag liner to personalise, if I wished, with a range of stamps.  “Act upon your dreams” were my bon mots to accompany my choice of Heals’s 1810 Killary fabric in Cloud study.  Ever the dreamer on a bright, sunny day!  Once I had prepared my liner the bag was swiftly pinned, sewn and ironed by the experts while I browsed the rest of the show.

IMG_3340Sally Walton (pictured on the right) started Carry-a-Bag, making bags from a mixture of vintage fabrics and organic cotton, in 2005.  Her previous collaborations include Liberty’s and Aveda.  I treasure a floral make-up bag (pictured right) that was originally filled with Aveda travel products. IMG_3346 By their very nature the bags are all limited editions as they are made of vintage fabrics.  The bags are available online, priced at £25 for a tote.  Your bag is perfectly personal to you, and what a better way to get yourself prepared to say no to a plastic bag when you go to the supermarket.

In 2012, supermarkets in the UK gave out over 8 billion single-use carrier bags, that’s over 120 bags per person and about 60,000 tonnes of waste (source DEFRA)-quite some footprint!  Plastic bags are a very visual blot on the landscape as litter and also harm wildlife.  Many single use carrier bags are made of oil-based plastic (a non-renewable resource) and 86% of them end up in landfill where they can take up to 500-1000 years to decompose, if they ever do break down.  IMG_3331Other options are available to us.  I often wonder if people had to ask for a bag, rather than being offered one, would they use fewer?  As a step towards changing incentives the UK Government is introducing a 5p charge on all single-use plastic carrier bags in England in October 2015, four years after Wales introduced a 5p charge in 2011 (Northern Ireland did so in 2013, and Scotland is introducing a charge this year).  As the experience in Wales shows, people can change their behaviour.  There was a 76% drop in the distribution of single-use bags in the year after the charge was introduced.   A Carry-A-Bag makes even everyday errands that bit more beautiful.  And all those vintage florals are bang on trend this summer!

IMG_3344Back at Pick Me Up, you can pick up affordable works from the most innovative graphic art collectives, galleries and organisations of the moment.  It was a good job that I had my new tote to hand to take home my haul! 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Revamp complete!

chairsAfter many hours of elbow grease, painting, and waxing, I was delighted to finish revamping the interiors of two flats for a private landlord.  It was a first for us both.  As a rental flat, there were budget tight constraints for me, and for the landlord it was an experiment to furnish the flats with a lower impact, at a similar cost to the conventional alternative.

The landlord had some chairs from former tenants, an Italian restaurant that had closed, and another who was downsizing.  The chairs are in perfectly good condition, just a bit too country house kitchen for a city flat pitched at young professionals or couples.  You can find similar at secondhand furnitures shops, or at your local furniture reuse and recycling centre.  The Furniture Re-use Network is a national body supporting charitable re-use organisations across the UK.  Re-use enterprises combine social and environmental aims.  Typically, they collect unwanted furniture or domestic appliances that are then refurbished providing work opportunities and training for the socially excluded, and helping people in need turn a house into a home by providing affordable furnishings.  Every year the sector re-uses 2.6 million items of furniture and electrical equipment and diverts 90,000 tonnes of waste from landfill.  Anyone can donate or find furniture via the network.

Look for pieces that are solid, in good working order, and whose basic shape you like, then you make it your own.  I selected a set of chairs for each flat and set to work sanding where necessary, painting and waxing.  The chalk paint from Annie Sloan has a smooth, matt finish and can be used on almost any surface from wood to plastic, inside and outside without much preparation.  It is low odour and low VOC (volatile organic compound).  It dries fairly fast, so you can apply a second or third coat without too much delay, before sealing the paint with soft wax.  The Annie Sloan website has a series of short video tutorials, or you can contact your local stockist to ask about workshops.  We sourced a drop-leaf table and some bedside tables from Sunbury Antiques market.

cranhurstThe bedside tables were treated to a livery of Annie Sloan paint on the sides, sanding and clear Auro matt varnish on the front to accentuate the grain of the veneer, and decoupage.  The Auro varnish is environmentally-friendly and free of solvents.  It has a milky colour when you apply it, but dries clear.  I used an off cut of a favourite fabric to cover the top of the bedside table, using Auro universal adhesive, a natural latex milk adhesive, and then a few coats of the matt varnish to seal the fabric.  I used the same fabric, Carnival, from Christopher Farr,  to soften the black faux-leather headboard.  The fresh, exuberant print of pomegranates in blue and green on the fabric gave the room a focal point making economical use of an off cut and staple gun.

Beeld-handle-4Another trick to quick refresh a cupboard or set of drawers is to change the handles.  These leather handles (pictured left) from Nu Interiuer Ontwerp were featured in the March issue of Elle Decoration.  Simple, elegant and available in four colours.  Chloe Alberry, on Portobello Road and online, has an encyclopaedic range of handles in glass, wood, ceramic and other materials.

If you are daunted by the thought of DIY then look for a course in furniture painting or restoration at your local adult education college.  In London, the Goodlife Centre runs a range of courses in upholstery, furniture restoration and painting that are said to be “Suitable for absolute beginners. Enjoyable for everyone.”  Maybe a Mother’s Day treat for someone?

WWT-21_largeOr if you like the look, but not the effort, then three of my favourite up-cycling ventures in the south of England are Out of the Dark, Xylo Furniture and the Restoration Station.  The sleek monochrome matt finish of this drop-leaf table from Xylo Furniture (right, £280) highlights the craftsmanship of  the beautifully shaped legs, but brings it bang up to date.  As well as working on their own stock, Out of the Dark can also work on yours.  The OOTD team can refresh an heirloom so it sits more comfortably in a contemporary home, or repair wooden and upholstered furniture.  Restoration Station also take commissions. So bring a little spring zing into your home.

Photo credits:  Nu Interiuer, Xylo Furniture

Aga-nomics

aga

My Mum has cooked on AGAs for over thirty years, and as with many AGA owners she would struggle to imagine life without one.  The AGA heats the kitchen, boils the kettle, makes the toast, cooks the food, and air dries mountains of washing.  I thawed myself out before tea (supper) on many a cold winter’s day as a child.  As an adult, I have secretly longed for an AGA for many years, but dismissed them as uneconomical, and unsuitable for urban living.

AGA is the slow-cooker of stereotypes twinned in many peoples’ minds with country kitchens, but cast your preconceptions aside and meet the AGA Total Control.  I received a hearty introduction last week courtesy of Rosie at the AGA at Divertimenti Marylebone showroom.  It was a good job we were hungry as Rosie and Giovanna demonstrated that the AGA is capable of every culinary technique, just as its designer Gustaf Dalen intended.

Dalen, a Swedish industrialist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, wanted to spare his wife the domestic drudgery of inefficient and expensive stoves.  He set out to develop a cooker that was easy to use, consistent, and efficient.  He achieved it, and 90 years on the AGA is still made in the same way.  First cast in iron at a foundry in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, the AGA then has several coats of vitreous enamel applied over three days.  This protective enamel coat ensures AGA stands the test of time.  Yes, the AGA is undoubtably an investment equivalent to a small, secondhand car, but longevity is just one of the compensations.  Voted in a BBC survey as one of the top three design icons of the 20th century, the AGA is timeless.  My Mum’s AGA has been going for over 30 years!  If and when it does reach the end of this life, it is almost completely recyclable.  AGA’s have always been made from 70% recycled materials such as guttering, gear boxes, door fittings or drain covers.

We were treated to a roast, toast, tray bake, quiche and much more.  The food was delicious and the AGA Total Control was straightforward to use.  The AGA rule of thumb is to use the ovens for anything that takes more than 8-10 minutes on the hot plate.  Root vegetables can be brought up to the boil on the hot plate, then put in the simmering oven until you are ready to eat.  Cooked in this way they can retain up to 20% more of their mineral and vitamin content, and ease the pressure of getting everything ready at the same time.

The huge ovens can fit a 13kg bird (a pretty sizeable Christmas turkey) or a stack of pans, 2X 2. The flavours don’t mix, and as cast-iron retains, and radiates heat well you can grill on the top shelf, bake in the middle and fry on the floor of the roasting oven at the same time as demonstrated by Rosie.  The radiant heat helps food to keep its moisture, texture and flavour and keeps the oven at an even temperature.

We all know that the trade-offs of fossil fuels are fracking complicated (pun absolutely intended) with high social and environmental costs of extraction, and a classic AGA does glug the oil.   AGA has models compatible with natural gas and electricity, you could even use it with micro-generated electricity.  We would be running our AGA off a renewable electricity tariff, but by way of indication the estimated weekly energy consumption for the AGA Total Control 3-oven is 35kWh a week for a cooker that is normally off and only switched on to cook, that is £4.03 a week (based on a third party estimate for a busy family using combined ovens and hot plate for 12 hours a week, AGAnomics publication, Sept 2013).  However, the choice of fuel, AGA model and usage profile will influence the running costs considerably.  For example, a 3-oven AGA running on oil will consume roughly 40 litres of oil a week, around £24 per week (see AGAnomics).  Of course, a classic oil or gas AGA that is on all the time, will take the place and energy costs of other appliances such as a kettle or toaster and radiates 1.5kWh into a room, the equivalent of a medium sized radiator, so in many AGA kitchens radiators are not needed. Even the AGA Total Control will continue to radiate heat into the room as it cools down.

For those of us that are out of the house for long periods during the day the AGA Dual Control and AGA Total Control provide the flexibility to have the AGA on and working for you when you need it, and off or ‘slumber’ when you don’t.  The 3-oven AGA Total Control has a roasting oven at 220c, baking oven at 180c and simmering oven at 120c.  The whole cooker takes an hour to get up to temperature from cold, but individual components take a lot less, especially if from the ‘slumber’ setting, for example the boiling plate takes 11 minutes from cold.  You can programme the Total Control to come on and off twice a day, morning and evening, just as you do the boiler.

It might take me a while to save up, but the AGA Total Control would be an investment I am prepared to make.

At Liberty to salvage hunt for inspiration

dp2I am on the look out for some inspiration for a kitchen overhaul in a Victorian terrace in Northwest London.  I want to honour the building’s past, while reflecting the present way we live, and our character.  Last week, I was way out west in North Wales.   Having spent the morning admiring the Champion trees (those trees that are exceptional examples of their species) and snow drops at Bodnant Gardens, we made a beeline for Drew Pritchard’s Architectural Antiques.

Drew, well-known as the present of Quest TV’s Salvage Hunters, deals in garden, architectural and decorative antiques and lighting from his HQ just south of Llandudno in North Wales.  The warehouse, come restoration workshop, come showroom is clad in reclaimed boards, the perfect backdrop to the eclectic mix of finds.  The magical Art Nouveau mantelpiece I had been coveting over Christmas had sold, but  I swiftly fell for the huge drapers counter, pictured above, made from mahogany with pine drawers and shelves. The draper’s measure is still embedded in the countertop.  The perfect centrepiece for my new kitchen, if only it were not 3 metres wide!

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At the door, we are politely reminded antiques are green.  Buying antiques is much more than simply recycling.  Buying a piece of furniture with history, and character is continuing a story, and adding your own twist.  The materials and craftsmanship in many pieces of vintage and antique furniture are now in scarce supply.  The pieces have been made to last, and the wear and tear they have acquired on the way are testament to their function and often enhance their form.

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To my great delight, Drew Pritchard has just taken over the East gallery on the fourth floor of Liberty’s.  The gallery has a number of windowed alcoves that lend themselves as room sets.

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There is an Orkney chair calling you to rest a moment and take in the selection of for sale from the sublime set of Aesthetic Carved Oak Doors to the almost comic stone corgi.  I urge you to sneak a peek if you are in the West End. You never know what you might find.

Home/Craft London/ Top Drawer – the cc edit

woodcutIt felt like a sprint finish to get round the cavernous halls of Earls Court on the final day of the trinity that was Home, Craft London and Top Drawer 2014, but I was well rewarded for my efforts.  It was a chance to get a sneak preview of new product launches, learn more of the story behind the label, or simply a face to a name.  Here are the cc edited highlights.

On the threshold of home was Plumen, sculptural lighting that is also energy efficient.  After the look-at-me exuberance of the original Plumen 001, the new kid, Plumen 002, is a simpler, more subtle design.  With luminosity equivalent to a 30W incandescent bulb and colour warmer than the  Plumen 001, the overall lighting effect is softer, but still architectural.  The compact fluorescent bulb has a lifetime of 8000 hours, or 8 years of normal usage and is recyclable.  It is not yet dimmable, but they are working on it!

mG7ClaqvSPiOnMWcvkLdWPAJust across the way was one of my current everyday joys, the Black +Blum Eau Good water bottle complete with charcoal filter.  Then, I made a bee-line for Stuart Gardiner to admire the fun and informative prints on oven mitts, tea towels and aprons.  Stylish aide-memoires to seasonal foods to hand in the kitchen when you need them!

BOJJE - WILD FLOWER SET CUTOUTOther kitchen accessories that caught my eye were the ‘wildflower’ range of utensils fashioned from beech and stainless steel (pictured left).  They are simply beautiful to look at and to hold.  Bojje are based in Suffolk with a passion for the materials they use, particularly wood.  Combining traditional woodworking , woodland crafts and modern technologies the products have a graceful, simplicity and sensuality.

27033759_57400Hop and Peck’s set of platter boards (pictured right) are handmade from sustainable solid oak and finished in Danish oil, from £35.

I had a brief pause to admire Haidee Drew’s bamboo chopping boards. More tableware in bamboo fibre was available from Ekobo who were showing their range of traditional handmade bamboo and laquerware and also Biobu, a range colourful enough for all the family to enjoy eating from.  I love the cool simplicity of the FAT Ceramics designed by Piet Hein Eek for Fair Trade Original.   The contemporary twist provided by Piet Hein Eek’s designs still allow the traditional craftsmanship of the producers in Thailand and Vietnam to shine through.

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The handiwork of veteran crafts makers from Handmade-Japan was on show at Craft London.  I have been on the hunt for a good broom (and a mop) so loved the colourful ‘Nanbu Hoki’, traditional, handmade brooms and brushes made from all natural fibres.

rugNatural fibres such as pure new wool, jute and fair trade, organic cotton are the basis of Waffle Design‘s distinctive textured cushions and throws.  New designs for 2014 also included products made from upcycled aran carpet yarn.  The yarn was rescued from an old carpet factory in Yorkshire, and hand dyed in small batches in East London.  Tweedmill had a whole (makeshift) cabinet of colourful recycled wool and fleece throws on show, pictured left.  They also produce recycled picnic rugs, draft excluders, bags, cushions and even a garden kneeler.

smileAnd on to the bigger ticket items.  Fun furniture with clean lines and contemporary shapes from Lozi Designs.    The smile shelves were generating a lot of interest, and good humour (pictured right).  Close by, Wayfarer Furniture offered another response to eco-urban living with two new collections on show, the Prima and Tempo.  The first, Prima, uses wood, the second, Tempo uses lower grade, but also low carbon materials of fibre and corrugated board, both are a discursive response to ethical living in an urban environment.

acAnother Country‘s approach to sustainability is to make furniture that has timeless appeal crafted using traditional and modern techniques from responsibly sourcing materials.  Good design has physical and emotional longevity, and every piece from Another Country has a simple elegance you can enjoy for a long time.  The new Series 3, made from oiled beech and inspired by Edwardian industrial furniture, would work, literally and metaphorically, well at home or in the office.  The new Soft Series of blankets and cushions made from 100% hand-dyed wool with UK weavers Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company in three graphic designs is a simply covetable collection.

Finally, the beautiful laser cut silhouettes of trees by Clare Cutts, pictured at the top of the page, are an elegant and evocative way to bring the outside in to any space.  The designs are based on photographs of trees taken by Clare. Originally, Clare created the woodcuts to emboss tree prints on paper, but realised the woodcut are things of beauty in their own right.

corkAnd last, but not least, as I prepared for my cycle home, I was wishing for a pair of cork bicycle grips designed by Green and Blue and handmade in Portugal.  Cork is durable, anti-bacterial and offers cushioning, the perfect material for bike grips.  Cork is a naturally renewable, and these grips are hand made from Portuguese cork harvested in managed forests. They have beautiful form, and function.