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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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



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.






Goodbye man cave, hello she-shed

Ever since Katy Brown helped Calamity Jane to transform her cabin in the woods outside Deadwood City, women have been drawn to small spaces.

And yet the garden shed or summerhouse remains stubbornly a male accessory. How often do you see on TV property programmes the male partner enticed with the promise of his own man-cave at the bottom of the garden.

Why should it be only the man who needs an escape from the house? It’s not as if he needs a break from the household chores. According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, equality is not having much impact on the domestic front. Women still do more housework and childcare than men, especially between the ages of 26 and 35.The ONS said that, when it came to unpaid chores at home, women were doing almost 40% more than men on average. Men averaged 16 hours a week helping out at home compared with 26 by women, with those on maternity leave doing the most.

So it’s clearly women who actually NEED that refuge, that multi-purpose, multi-functional space at the end of the garden. It’s a woman-cave that needs to be designed.

And lo! Here is the Fidget Design Chic She-Shed coming up. It’s small but perfectly formed, a structure with a stargazing glass roof, sleeping deck, summer house, workshop, bike store and log store all in Eco SIPS panels*.

shed design

Here I will sit and gaze at the trees in the garden, like Japanese ‘Forest Bathing’. Close my eyes and listen to the bird song coming from the beech hedge. Create and paint my art canvases. Play my favourite tunes. Up-cycle my latest furniture-find into something of style and beauty (and make a big mess!).

forest bathing

I’ll sunbathe and read a book with a cool refreshing Mojito in hand. Escape on the bike into the hills and return to the warmth of the Biofuel Eco stove, switch on the LED mood lighting powered by the solar roof tiles, drink tea and eat nibbles, while watching the sun set, the trees turning into silhouettes and the bats flying. Snuggle up in a cosy down duvet on the sleep deck and watch the stars and space station fly over. Use my iPad to track the stars.

Yes, it’s only at the design stage. But hey, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?


*SIPS (Structural Insulated Panels) Eco Panels are an advanced form of pre-insulated frame that are an evolution of timber-frame, offering all of the benefits of a quick, off-site form of construction, with the solidity of other forms of construction.  SIPs are high quality, environmentally friendly, highly insulated and very quick to erect.