Design response to the plastic crisis

Guilt is a powerful emotion. Until we watched Blue Planet in horror we would happily sip cocktails through a plastic straw, buy coffee in disposable cups – and wrap our babies’ bottoms in disposable nappies.*

Now the guilt factor has kicked in – and the design response has been impressive. It’s not just guilt-free functionality that draws us to products that won’t damage the planet, but their style and good looks too.

nappies

The new style reusable nappies..a design world away from terry towels

And we’re getting militant. When I buy a baked potato from a takeaway, why do they present me with a plastic fork when eco forks in bamboo or wood are readily available? A few months ago, would I have even noticed?

So let’s first hail the heroes. Our local chain of deli supermarkets, Booths, have stopped giving away their ‘loyalty perk’ coffee in take-away cups. Now you need to take your own re-usable travel mug or you can buy an ‘eco-mug’ and fill it up.

huskup

On a bigger scale, Dave Hacking from Precious Plastics  is renowned for his DIY inspiration and creation of New Marble Plastic which can be cut and milled just like wood. The groundbreaking Better Future Factory,  a group of dynamic imaginative engineers, known as ‘imagineers’, have helped many start-ups to create products like the fully recycled plastic 3D printing filament.

Interface, the world’s largest commercial carpet tile manufacturer, have a ‘climate take back’ scheme where as part of their ‘full cycle’ ordering process they will collect your old office carpets and take it away for recycling into new carpets.

And Genomatica, a leader in bioengineering, have upscaled their mass production of biodegradable takeaway containers and packaging which are made using a natural chemical process which can be composted with the food waste, so time and money is saved by less sorting.

But what can we do ourselves to help save our blue planet? I’ve tried my best to reduce, reuse and recycle, but then we learn that our recycling attempts are passed over to China in huge shipments for them to ‘sort out’.

Following my recent trip to Clerkenwell Design Week I went to a lecture given by five of the top UK movers and shakers dealing with environmental issues and hosted by TV presenter Paul Rose. Among them were a couple of people I made a beeline for, a lecturer from Brighton University (my old stomping ground) on environmental product design and a VERY brave packaging director for Tesco, who looked understandably uncomfortable during question time. I believe it is not the consumers’ responsibility to change our habits but the responsibility of the supermarkets to change their offering. The buck surely stops with them?

He did concur and fully understood where I was coming from. I was delighted to hear that they are looking at ways of using alternative ‘eco packaging’, but what I hadn’t appreciated was the care for livelihoods at the heart of their decision making, as the strength of their buying power could seriously affect whole communities. Responsibly supporting sustainability for long term job creation and ‘re-training’ the plastic manufacturers into new ‘eco’ methods and packaging products, is top of their priorities.

Bamboo straws

Bamboo straws

The irony of it is that everything on this planet is derived from this planet. Plastics are made from oil, a natural fossil fuel which is running out, but “intelligent” humans changed its molecular structure so it can’t return back to its natural form. And for all our efforts less than 10% of plastic in the world is actually recycled.

My daughter came home from a school lesson insisting we need to use a local milkman and stop buying plastic bottles.  That’s a no-brainer, though a subsequent home-experiment to go one step further and try recycling by melting some old plastic milk bottles in the oven was an unmitigated disaster.

But we must move away from the old linear way of doing business to a ‘circular economy’ which requires courage and a new way of thinking, where waste becomes a resource.

We need to use our local butchers and fruit and veg markets. This presents another dilemma. There’s no market in Windermere so should I make a 20 mile fuel-burning round trip to Kendal instead. I tried the HelloFresh home delivery food box, which is British-sourced and delivered in eco packaging, but I’d rather support my local growers and suppliers.

We should be growing our own, or joining a community fruit and veg growing scheme, but that takes time, which we don’t have (too busy earning money, to pay for the food….)

And what are we prepared to sacrifice?  Synthetic fabrics like fleece release microfibres into the water when washed, which then transit into the rivers and lakes, are eaten by fish and go into our food chain, so now we’re eating plastic.

But come the winter, will we sacrifice fleece jackets and blankets for hemp, cotton and sacking? Come on designers, help us out with this one.

 

*Disposable nappies are 25% plastic. Three billion a year end up in landfill.

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How to experience The Lakes

As a major new documentary series is about to launch on TV, it’s time to think about the Lake District experience.

Let’s get down to some biological basics. ‘Experience’ is driven by the five senses: sight, taste, smell, hearing and touch.  And when we have happy experiences, we release those endorphins and feel good.

Back in the early 1990s I was involved in a number of projects that Cumbria Tourism supported through a scheme called ‘Better than the Best’ using EU match funding. The hospitality offering back in those days was often on a par with Fawlty Towers and the Lakes Hospitality Association even had a Basil Fawlty look-a-like at one of their annual shows.

The new approach was to highlight the importance of investment in design, image and brand. The Lakes took off, more money was invested, and the scheme was a huge success. The understanding of investing in good design and the return on investment is now deeply engrained.

At the same time there was a growing awareness that  the Lakes has a landscape – in some areas – ideal for growing and harvesting local produce. This became a natural area of growth and the idea of foraging from the land became eco-fashionable.

Foraging a natural harvest

Foraging a natural harvest

The ‘Taste District’ was born and has flourished, with visitors senses tantalised by wonderfully creative chefs using local produce and winning national acclaim with supremely artistic presentations on a plate, slate slab, or chunk of wood.

But then there’s the Lakes’ experience that’s completely free…and easily accessible. Walking, swimming, watching birds and badgers, just breathing the finest quality air: all appeal to our senses. And that’s where the new TV series scores.

sailing

Derwentwater, differently. From The Lakes with Paul Rose

The Lakes (BBC1, starting Friday July 20) is presented by Paul Rose, our neighbour in Windermere, but a man who has explored the whole world – and comes back to the very best, on home territory. It was a pleasure to be invited to the preview in Kendal at the Brewery Arts Centre.

This is a series with immense integrity, as well as appeals to all of our senses, and will motivate every viewer to get out there and experience our wonderful landscape. Paul Rose doesn’t trivialise the Lake District, as some recent shows have done, but he still manages to be both highly entertaining as well as knowledgeable.

paul rose

Presenter Paul Rose

He’ll take you up into the high fells, and out onto the water, and he’ll introduce you to some of the characters whose lives, history, tradition and artistry enhance the Lakes’ experience.

More than that, we’re not saying. You’ll have to watch and see for yourselves. Then get out there and let the Lakes hit all your senses.

 

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Fidget’s Alison makes the news

We’re thrilled to see this news story and make no apologies for reprinting it here.

Top designer Alison Tordoff has reached the finals of a major business award scheme.

Alison, who runs Windermere-based Fidget Design, is in the line-up for the Enterprise Vision Awards which recognise women in business from across the North West.

AllyTordoff2018

Recognised as dynamic and inspiring interior architect, Alison set up Fidget Design in 1997, and has earned a reputation as one of the most creative and innovative designers in the UK. She has worked on a wide variety of prestigious projects with top brands including Jaguar, Aston Martin, The Samling, Langdale Leisure Club and award winning Serenity Spa at Seaham.

Her designs for the Cedar Manor Hotel won Best International Hotel interior at the Bloomberg Hotel Awards. She has since created a distinctive Welcome Lounge at the hotel which helped them win a string of regional, national and international awards.

She pioneered a new range, The Love District, home furnishings based on the landscape, history and traditions of the Lake District, including cushions embroidered with the outlines of the fells, and a Lakeland bookends wallpaper.

Alison has recently been working with universities and design organisations and publishes a regular and highly regarded blog about design issues. And she is involved in a major Cumbria-based interactive project involving artificial intelligence, robotics and human machine learning.

Alison said: “This is a great honour. The North West is packed with amazing women running businesses in many different fields, and it is wonderful to be listed among them.”

 

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The theatre of hospitality

Ever since food became a TV spectacle as well as a sensory experience, ornamentation has come to be as important as taste.

And decoration isn’t confined only to cakes. Take a look at the artistry in this version of meat and two veg at the Cedar Manor Hotel and Restaurant.

meat and two veg cedar manor

We are now taking our seats in the theatre of hospitality and when the curtain goes up, nothing is quite what it seems.

This theme dominated the recent Clerkenwell Design Week where thought leaders gathered, and I was inspired by Seymour Powell in a lecture about Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant at Bray. Theatre doesn’t have to mean “arena”; look at the intimate small space at the Fat Duck which is nevertheless a shrine to theatricality as well as Britain’s holy temple of ‘culinary alchemy’.

Nothing is what it appears, at the Fat Duck, as this video shows.

Seymour Powell is a multidisciplinary group of design researchers, strategists, brand experts, designers and makers. Their track record of imagining and then creating award winning designs and world-first innovations stretches back over 30 years, and includes, among much else, industrial design and transport design, as well as restaurants.

We were taken – in the lecture, that is – to The Mandarin Oriental Hotel where Blumenthal is also hosting ‘Dinner’.  Here the floors are uncarpeted hardwood (dramatically raised a few feet to improve the view of the park) and there’s a very un-hotel-like absence of curtains. Jelly moulds adorn the walls – specially designed Bernardaud Limoges jelly moulds, of course – and in the symmetrical, open kitchen, a collection of blue-glass apothecary jars pay homage to the alchemy.

The food? There’s a Mandarin signature dish, obviously, a small and perfectly formed mandarin orange, with a few fresh green leaves still attached to the twig. So simple, so classy.

But what’s important about the theatre of hospitality is that the substance must be as good as the style. It’s vital to have top quality ingredients, a top quality chef, and top quality levels of service, otherwise all the ornamentation in the world will fall flat as a deflated balloon.

Take a look here inside the Fat Duck and you’ll see the master raising the curtain on his latest performance.

Hospitality now is all about customer experience and expectation. As a reaction to the high tech world we seek to immerse ourselves in wonderful experiences, creating fabulous memories, enriching our lives, giving us positive thoughts and things to enthuse about. And recording and sharing on social media, of course. (Though at Grasmere’s Michelin-starred Forest Side restaurant they will frown very severely if you try to Instagram your plate.)

Top class theatre need not be prohibitively expensive, and you won’t need a seat up in the gods to experience the latest show in town, in the Lakes, where Ryan Blackburn has opened a second food palace in Ambleside. Now, alongside the award-winning Old Stamp House, comes Kysty, a daytime café and take-away with a very strong emphasis on both style and sustainability. And look at their  chocolate fudge for true theatricality.

chocolate fudge at Ryan Blackburn's new daytime cafe Kysty in Ambs

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Art is all around us in the Lakes

Artists have been recording their reactions to the landscape of the Lake District for centuries. The early tourists were so over-awed by what they saw as a terrifying vista of hills and peaks that they wouldn’t look at them directly, and used mirrors, looking over their shoulders at the reflection as it was slightly less fearsome.

The pictures they painted subsequently were over-dramatised, the fells looking Alpine in height and shape. Later artists, such as the Heaton Coopers, faced the landscape head-on and produced work which more accurately reflected the shapes of the hills. (William Heaton Cooper really did face it head on, perching on ledges on rock faces to make drawings for the climbing guides to the area.)

Paintings, and later photographs, of the Lakes found their way onto picture postcards sent to family and friends. There will be many armchair mountaineers who have never climbed a hill but would recognise Striding Edge from a holiday postcard. (Will they survive the new world of communication? Is the Facebook generation still going to buy and send postcards, I wonder?)

striding edge by marilyn tordoff

Striding Edge from the summit of Helvellyn, by Marilyn Tordoff

Poets, from Wordsworth onwards, found their own voices to say what the landscape of the Lake District did for them. And now, in Keswick, an exhibition called ‘A Love Letter to the Lakeland Fells’ focuses on Alfred Wainwright, his drawing and mapping methods, and his passion for the unique atmosphere and scenery of the Lakes.

Raised in the Lake District and introduced at an early age to walking on the fells, I’ve always shared that passion. Even when I was studying and working in London, and later travelling around the world, I could still envisage the outlines of the fells. I saw them as Wainwright sketched them in his guidebooks, showing what could be seen on the horizon from the top of each hill.

I’ve put some outlines of those fells into my own designs, notably on cushions in the Love District range. Others are doing likewise, bringing together art and the landscape of the Lakes. Windermere-based painter, Marilyn Tordoff, is a good example. She’s an artist whose landscapes decorate the walls of many hotels around the region, as well as homes throughout the country, bought by people on holiday here.

It’s important to place and frame a picture in the correct manor. A single painting can be just as powerful as a collection of paintings, if it’s allowed to breathe, with the correct space and proportion of wall around it. The mount should never be mean, giving the painting proportion and plenty of focus on the art itself.

The wall colour that it sits on could be linked with the painting and turn the whole wall into a dramatic piece of art. The frame needs to reflect the required interior styling, i.e. minimal slim aluminium which virtually recedes into the background, or wide -even ‘over-wide’ –  and possibly carved, to add grandeur and texture. This doesn’t have to be old and stuffy. With a lick of coloured paints that suit the interior scheme, this can make for refreshing new take on an old favourite.

And here’s my own latest work, in creation and completion:

https://www.facebook.com/fidgetdesign/videos/1738108856308492/

alis big painting

 

 

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Pink for the boys?

Are women being ignored by the world of design? We’ve been musing on this after reading Grayson Perry’s challenging and provocative The Descent of Man. It’s a look at how masculinity operates, with a suggestion that an urgent upgrade could make the world a better place, for men AND women.

And it’s the chapter on design that set us thinking. Perry points out that the most fundamental error made by male designers is one which we have all come across: at social venues there are hardly ever queues for the men’s loos, but not enough toilets for women. Why? Because nearly all architects are male.

He has some very sharp observations. “Whenever I wander into a corporate lobby, generally full of black leather and beige marble, and often punctuated by the odd phallic sculpture, I feel as though I’m in an oversized bachelor pad”.

It reminds me of a project I worked on which was arguably masculine in nature. I was involved in the refurb for the relocation of the Jaguar Showroom in Mayfair, and it was identified and instructed from the people higher up that they were trying to shed some of their masculine image and appeal more to the female market.

Addressing the brief, I specified a padded leather feature wall near to the front of the showroom as a backdrop for displaying their latest car, and I moved away from their corporate brand manual and specified cream leather. I had a battle with the head of the design company, who happened to be male, and insisted that it should be Jaguar signature tan leather. I stood my ground and explained my reasons and eventually won the argument, having had final approval from the Jaguar team. One small step for womankind.

Another relevant example was my design for the Serenity Spa. This was a place with more women users than men, but as the spa industry was growing exponentially we were mindful not to alienate men with our design direction and to allow for future growth in the male market. In fact by using the Thai influence with its naturally minimal lines, textures and structures this was a very natural fit for being non gender specific, and the longevity of the design.

serenity_spa_pool

As a personal observation, in the design world where there are a lot of male designers, the ones who tend to be better connected with detail and more feminine influences of design tend to be gay. A sweeping generalisation, I know.

But along with many other women designers, I squirm at the notion of “shrink it and pink it” when brands want to “girlify” a neutral product. In fact, as Perry points out, until the 19th century pink was considered a suitable colour for BOYS. “Boys were small men, and men wore red uniforms, hence pink for boys.”

The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry is published by Penguin, £8.99 and available from Fred Holdsworth, Ambleside, and other good bookshops

 

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A design icon back on our rails

There’s been rejoicing this week as trains left the main line station at Oxenholme bound for end of the branch line Windermere.

It’s not just that we have trains again after the Northern Rail fiasco left us without any service at all for several weeks.

It’s because we’ve seen the return of a design icon, a 40 year old diesel engine which links us to the glorious days of rail travel.

Our heritage train leaving Windermere: photo by Dayve Ward

Our heritage train leaving Windermere: photo by Dayve Ward

West Coast Railways, which specialises in steam-hauled charter excursions, stepped in to restore services after Northern, the regular passenger operator, replaced services with buses.

Passengers are now travelling free on the 10-mile route from Oxenholme to Windermere six times a day. The Department for Transport is reported to be meeting the £5,500 daily running costs.

The engines have no nameplates. One is a Class 37, dating from the 1960s, the other is a Class 57 (re-engineered in early-2000s from a 1960s-built loco). They are, ironically, only slightly older than many of the 1980s Pacers which normally operate on the line. But they look like “proper” trains, ones that reminds us of the romance and glamour of the days when the railways projected the mystique and allure of train travel in ways that weren’t simply about speed.

The Flying Scotsman, the Silver Jubilee, the Coronation Scot and the Cheltenham Flyer: in their heyday these classic British expresses were not only the fastest trains of their kind in the world, but a synonym for character and luxury, too.

Many of the things that made rail travel pleasurable have disappeared. Certainly  in Britain we seem to have lost the knack, deployed by the old railway companies, of harnessing the innate love of trains that seems to run through our DNA. Gone are railway stations built like cathedrals rather than concrete boxes, haute cuisine in the dining car, cosy compartments, seats that line up with the windows, cheerful porters on platforms.

By contrast think of modern railway stations designed elsewhere by Santiago Calatrava which epitomise style and artistry in architecture.

Calatrava train station

Calatrava train station

So a huge thank you to West Coast Railways , the independent heritage train operating company which usually specialises in operating charter trains along some of the UKs most famous and scenic routes and to many beautiful destinations.

It’s not quite the Flying Scotsman or the Orient Express, or the Night Mail of Auden’s poem, or our favourite fantasy railway, the Hogwarts Express, but it’s brought a reminder that design needs to play a part in the most functional areas of our daily lives.

And here’s the timetable:

train timetable

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Creating the WOW factor in design

Understanding the psychology of interior design is to see what creates the wow factor.

It’s visual, of course, so you will already have looked at the projects on this website and said, “Ooh” and “Ahhh” and “Wow, I want to go there”.

The image that makes you catch your breath will have a certain amount of order, semblance and detail, but not too much clutter. Lighting is key, as creating dynamic pockets of light and shadow can transform an interior.

Pockets of light and shadow……

The statement that  ‘Your interior should reflect you personality’  is rather odd, as your interior style may also be influenced by the period of the property, your budget (or lack of), your likes and dislikes, and family heirlooms that you simply can’t part with.

As a penniless student I was so captivated by a beautiful hand carved Art Nouveau headboard on a market stall for £80, I just had to have it. Twenty-something years later I’m still the proud owner and admire it every night. It’s a very versatile period piece and despite my home having a more minimalist style, it can be mixed with anything to make a more contemporary setting, ironically making it timeless.

I’ve never met anyone who is a completely blank canvas and has no idea what they like. They usually do have an opinion and when I start to extract a brief, saying what they don’t like comes quite naturally.

A client came to me with a brief for their five bedroom new build home : ‘Like Malmaison…but not as dark…’ Even though the Malmasion Hotel signature style is dark, quirky and gritty, I understood where my client was coming from. We also threw in a bit of country farmhouse and some local Hadrian’s Wall influence, to produce some lovely earthy and gritty results, with drama.

But what a challenge it would be designing an interior for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg . He says he doesn’t want to expend any energy deciding on what coloured T shirt to wear each day, so he has a wardrobe full of the same grey T shirt. But even in Mark’s virtual world I’m sure he will have an opinion of what he doesn’t like.

It is pointless, of course, having a space that looks stunning if it simply won’t function. It will look a mess in no time and the labour involved in its upkeep takes away precious hours that should be spent on more important things in life.

 

 

 

 

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Loving to live outdoors in the sun

Are you just loving this weather!

There’s no greater indicator of the British capacity for optimism than in our love of eating and living out of doors.

And now that we have the first real taste of the sun for many months…we are all “out there”.

In spite of the extreme unpredictability of our weather – and the fact that we have perfectly comfortable kitchens, dining rooms and conservatories – the outdoor furniture market at the last survey was worth something in the region of £975m.

It’s not just the increasing sophistication of barbecue equipment. We love to add sheds, summer houses, shade sails or canopies, and sun umbrellas into our gardens, to create outdoor living spaces. And it takes only a few days of good spring weather to bring about a profound change in mood.

Spending time outside in the fresh air and sun is relaxing and increases your vitamin D levels, which in turn makes you feel happy.

In terms of design, I treat the outside area in the same way as an interior by creating zones and generating different experiences as you journey through them. As well as the usual planting I try to do a couple of larger projects a year around the garden.

The great thing about garden design is that it’s seasonal. The colours and plant structure are forever changing naturally and this can be used to your advantage. Adding layers of colour and structured architectural plants can add variety and total flexibility, swapping them around as the plants come and go.

Garden design by Kirstyn Fox from Lakeland Garden Design

Garden design by Kirstyn Fox from Lakeland Garden Design: the Cottage at Hill Top, once the home of Arthur Ransome, now a luxury holiday house

You don’t need to buy “garden furniture”. Imagine extending your social evening by moving your dining table and chairs outside, recreating your dining room. Use simple strings of exterior festoon lighting, scatter tea lights in sparkly jam jars, and add a full dinner setting with candelabra for a dreamy and memorable event.

It’s easy to add comfort and colour by throwing in some bright funky scatter cushions and fleecy throws for later in the evening when it’s cooler.

However you do it, just get outside and make the most of the sun.

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WELL buildings are good for mental health

There was a lot of talk some years ago about “sick building syndrome”. But now architects and designers are moving forward through the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI).

It launched a movement to address issues regarding health and well-being within the built environment (issues which are somewhat overlooked by existing standards). From this the WELL Building Standard™ was established, with the aim to provide architects and designers with guidelines on how to make a real and measurable difference to how we function within our urban spaces. And even if your project doesn’t aim for certification the WELL standard offers an inspirational model when considering a human centred design approach.

The concept is known as biophilic design, and there’s a recognised accreditation (https://www.wellcertified.com) that I’m now following, aiming to become a WELL Accredited Professional. And I’m working with the local experts Epixx at their new showroom to explore putting ideas into practice.

WELL notes seven concepts that must be considered and fulfilled in the scope of a design: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. Why does this matter? Why do we need “positive spaces”?

well building

Designing with people in mind is a growing topic that can no longer be overlooked; the Human Spaces Report found that a third of global respondents stated office design affects their decision of where to work.

With over half the world’s population now living in cities, chronic illnesses are becoming increasingly prevalent. Globally, research shows, 76% of employees report a struggle with wellbeing, and work-related stress costs the US approximately €255 billion and Europe €550 billion annually. These issues indicate a clear need for healthier spaces.

Better indoor air quality can lead to an 8-11% improvement in productivity. Better nutrition leads to a 27% reduction in depression, a 13% reduction in stress, and overall better mental health. Being closer to windows makes us more productive, especially if there is a view onto nature. And adding plants into the workplace significantly reduces stress, health concerns, and sickness absence.

In Mental Health Awareness week, we feel it’s important to start taking these issues seriously. We’ll report back with further findings.

mhaw-banner-ident

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