Making a Home

The Biggest Trend in Décor: Green-dodging

Katherine Ormerod explores the obsolescence of throwaway "fast-furniture" and the chinks of light found in the interior brands charting a new course for the wellbeing of the planet.

Fashion has long been in the line of fire for conservationists, understandably since 50 billion garments are thrown away worldwide within a year of purchase. The rise of fast fashion and its impact on plastic production, wastewater and carbon emissions has shifted the needle in the wrong direction for our environment, this we know well. But for all the attention fashion pollution attracts, relatively little light is shone on the home and décor industry, which has in recent years begun to follow a very similar cycle of trend churn. What about the footprint of fast furniture?

Every year Americans alone chuck out 12 million tons of furniture and only about 25% is recycled, the rest ending up in landfill. In the 60s, furniture waste was about 2 million tons every year–the sheer weight of our décor dump has increased far beyond simple population increase. The reason: the quick and cheap manufacture of home goods. Furniture prices have dropped dramatically over the past two decades because of the lower wages earned by overseas workers and the use of inexpensive materials. Competition from the flatpack kings have squeezed price tags even further. But of course, all this globalization costs the planet in shipping miles and maritime shipping is now responsible for about as much of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions as aviation.

Glazed Denby crockery in earth tones and neutral hues by Jane Day of Tea with Ruby.

A warm and plush room in the Hampstead home of Tatjana von Stein and Gayle Noonan. The iconic wall paint is Rich Gold by Mylands—photography by The Modern House.

And it’s not just furniture. The paint industry, for example, generates between 75 and 85 million gallons of wastewater every day and the water itself has high levels of chemical oxygen demand due to all the ingredients used in the manufacture of paint. You might have heard of VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds – which can turn into hazardous air pollutants which can negatively affect both the ground water and drinking water. Particles of paint also make up 58% of the microplastics in our ocean—plastic polymers are a key ingredient in many paints and have become the biggest plastic pollutant in our seas. Paint can be extraordinarily bad for the environment, but where’s the drive for change? “ I think most brands will have already started considering their long-term responsibility, but often the journey is a long one and many do not want to start talking about their improvements until they have begun to implement these changes,” says Dominic Myland, CEO of Mylands a 5th generation family-run paint business at the forefront of sustainable paint innovation, “but I think the brands refusing to acknowledge their effect on the environment and the subsequent shift in consumer opinion will begin to understand that their dated models won’t continue to work in the near future.”

“Clearly these options are more expensive, but investment in both financial and environmental terms is a win-win in the long-term.”

There are of course chinks of light to be found and like Mylands, many home brands are fighting against the tide. Take Australian based Dinosaur Designs, which creates its beautiful bowls and serveware using oil industry by-products destined for landfill. Or Weaver Green, a Devon based rug and textile company creating aspirational woven products from discarded plastic bottles (after only 5 years, the company has already recycled roughly 200 million plastic bottles, 40% of which have been recovered from waterways destined for the ocean). And it’s not just new brands building up from the ground in more sustainable ways. Denby pottery, established in 1809 and based in Derbyshire is the first UK tableware manufacturer to claim zero process waste to landfill proving that it’s not just start ups who can chip away at the problem. The trend for vintage homewares is another positive move with antique furniture likely to have a carbon footprint 16 less than modern furniture. Buying better has a demonstrable impact. If you think the average sofa lasts around seven years whereas a high-quality version can be reupholstered over decades, the point is clear. Clearly these options are more expensive, but investment in both financial and environmental terms is a win-win in the long-term.

Marble and resin vases by Dinosaur Designs.

There remain distinct differences between the fashion and décor industries. “There is an argument that the interior design world is ahead of the trend in terms of sustainability as it generally operates at a slower pace than fashion,” says Myland, “There tends to be more thought behind purchases as the choices are meant to take you through a longer period of time. But there is still a culture of wanting cheaper and quicker fixes.” The issue with buying low-cost pieces for our homes isn’t just in the way they are made, or in the way they are transported to your door. It’s the obsolesce and throwaway philosophy baked in. If we simply kept more of our things for longer, the landfills would be stacked less high. Do you want this today or do you want this forever? What would we all buy if we asked ourselves this question more often?

Bespoke paint colour, Sella, created exclusively by the design duo behind Sella Concept in collaboration with Mylands.

Denby pottery ready for the kiln.