Sustainable products: 8 stylish home items from The Urban Gallery at the Index design exhibition
From fish skin and mushroom leather to tiles made from old computer monitors and silk-like fabrics crafted from recycled orange peel, a new breed of sustainable materials is making its way into our homes.
A highlight of this year’s Index design exhibition, which ended on Monday at Dubai World Trade Centre, was an unassuming but beautifully curated installation that focused in on some of the more innovative materials currently being used in interiors. Compiled by trend-forecasting firm Scarlet Opus, the Urban Gallery featured everything from a living wall crafted from so-called “jungle moss”, a type of preserved vegetation that looks and smells like the real thing; to furniture produced from rubber crumbs; and pencils made from old newspapers.
The pieces on display represent a new generation of eco-friendly materials that is finally able to bridge the gap between style and sustainability. As a result, they have the potential to completely change the way we view sustainable materials in years to come.
“One of the differences that we are seeing when it comes to eco and green design is that, for a long time, this kind of design had a look that was quite rustic,” explains Victoria Redshaw, lead futurist at Scarlet Opus, which is headquartered in England. “So they weren’t necessarily the most beautifully designed pieces. They had great ethical values but the aesthetic values were not necessarily there.”
This has long been a criticism levelled at the sustainability movement. Consumers may be willing to adopt new, sustainable materials, products and practices, but they certainly don’t want to sacrifice on style in the process. However, if the products showcased at Index are anything to go by, that compromise is no longer strictly necessary. “These pieces are more chic and more glamorous, but not in an ostentatious way,” Redshaw notes. “They are boast-worthy in terms of the aesthetics.”
The diversity of the designs on show was particularly noteworthy, in terms of the type of product, the finish of the pieces and the actual style. There was everything from an ultra-smooth bowl crafted from a single piece of 100-million-year-old slate, sourced from a leading quarry in Wales; to sunglasses constructed from hemp; and a shiny gold cushion made from fish-skin leather.
The fish leather comes from a tannery in Iceland, and would otherwise be a wasted by-product of the food industry. Following in the footsteps of leading fashion houses, Danish company Sirocco Living has begun using fish leather in its cushion designs, to striking effect. The leather comes from non-endangered species such as salmon and cod, and is reportedly eight times stronger than lamb or veal leather of a similar thickness.
“People are eating a lot of fish, which is obviously healthy for us, but we had always thrown all that fish skin away,” Redshaw explains. “The fashion industry, for maybe the last 10 years, has used it in a really small way, on jewellery, on the heels of stilettos or little touches on handbags, but now they are figuring out how to dye it and supply it to tanneries in greater quantities, so we are seeing designers around the world embracing this as a new material.
“It is stronger than [other types of] leather and it loves to take up dyes, so you can get really bright colours; it’s a really interesting material. It’s like an earthen type of luxury – and I think that’s a really nice direction for the concept of luxury to move in. We all want luxurious things in our lives, and to feel special and to be able to touch those things, and have them in the spaces where we spend our time, but I think there’s a way of doing that, which is more responsible.”
In many instances, it’s a case of changing one’s perceptions. For example, the Thistle chair is crafted from a plant that is traditionally viewed as little more than a pest. The thistle, or wild artichoke, is native to the western and central Mediterranean, and in the hands of the Athens/London-based Kizi Studio has been transformed into a stunning eco-friendly material.
“The Thistle collection came as an outcome of long research into natural materials,” says Spyros Kizis, product designer at Kizi Studio. “I came across this magnificent plant. What intrigued me the most is that this plant is a parasite – it needs no pesticides and no water to grow, and it exists as agricultural waste. On top of that, it has some beautiful and tough natural fibres. This instantly inspired me to experiment and to try to use the same techniques used for fibreglass, but using this natural material. After four years of experiments, the result was the Thistle collection, which is ready for mass production and everyday use.”
The material has already been used to construct slimline chairs, tables, stools and pendant lamps, but Kizis is currently focusing on how he can use it to create more complicated and curvaceous shapes.
“The detail of the actual vegetation is beautiful. The chair is perfectly smooth but, visually, it is something very textural and very natural,” Redshaw says. “I think it’s good for us, from a well-being point of view, to connect with natural materials and have them in our homes – to touch them and be aware of the outside world while we are so busy and living such fast-paced lives.”
Candles crafted from salt rocks that have been compressed for thousands of years in the Sahara offer another opportunity to reconnect with all that’s beautiful in nature. Artisans carve shapes into these enormous salt blocks, which are found in the Siwa Oasis, transforming them into naturally cleansing candles.
But while harnessing nature’s existing gifts is all very well, Redshaw is especially excited about companies that are coming up with innovative ways to reuse things that would otherwise end up in landfill. The fish skin is one example, but the Urban Gallery also presented a rug by Australian brand Sugarcane, which takes textile waste from the clothing industry and repurposes it into striking carpets.
Meanwhile, Ammar Kalo’s Macaron seats take rubber from used tyres and turn it into modern-looking seating. The chair and stool were designed in association with Sharjah-based environmental management company Be’eah for this year’s Design Days. Be’eah’s waste-management centre currently uses state-of- the-art cryogenic processes to recycle more than 9,000 used tyres into crumb rubber on a daily basis. This is then used for running tracks, playgrounds, landscaping paths, stadium play areas, miniature golf courses, artificial turf infill – and, now, chairs.
“We are seeing designers taking waste from the agricultural industry, from the textile industry, from the furniture-making industry, and thinking: ‘What can I do with that?’ It’s these new designers coming through that are thinking about things from that standpoint and setting the tone for everyone else,” Redshaw says. “It causes all of us to then ask the question: ‘Should we be thinking about things differently?’”
Updated: June 1, 2017 04:00 AM