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Positive Impact: Learnings from reusing ‘bugiful’ furniture

Part of our Positive Impact series, Eve Waldron talks upcycling furniture and reconciling trends with sustainability.

12/03/2024

3 min read

Entopia

Words: Eve Waldron, Founding Director, Eve Waldron Design

Photography: Jack Hobhouse


Recently we embarked on a challenging project to retrofit the interiors of a 1930s former telephone exchange to create a new home for the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), the Entopia Building. Our role on the project included all aspects of the interior design; the project was conducted in line with CISL’s values and the principals of the circular economy. We constantly referred back to these values while sourcing furniture for the project. As a result, over 60% of the furniture was second-hand.

The UK furniture manufacturing industry is of considerable importance to the UK economy. It generates in excess of £8.3 billion of factory gate sales and employs nearly 100,000 people. Like many other manufacturing industries, furniture production generates significant carbon emissions – over 900 tonnes of carbon per year in the UK alone. There’s great scope then for the industry to assess and reduce its carbon impact.

Currently, the companies within the industry that are engaging in carbon footprinting do so independently, utilising differing boundaries and methodologies to assess their businesses and products. The lack of consistent methodology means that the data produced cannot always be comparable. Therefore, reusing and preventing furniture from going to landfills must be the first principle of sustainability.

Working with second hand furniture is time consuming. The process requires an iterative approach – as new furniture becomes available and other pieces miss our grasp, we have to continually revise the specifications. Space planning must be fluid, because furniture needs to be tested on plan and might not be available in the size that’s required. There are other challenges associated with fire ratings, re-upholstery, castors, communications and so on. Specifying new furniture is a piece of cake by comparison, however the outcome is undoubtedly more unique.

We have been interested in thinking about fads, trends, fashion, style and so forth during this process. It’s an interesting viewpoint that supports the idea that what was once fashionable goes out of fashion, then comes back in again in a ‘retro’ style. One can say that design trends are therefore circular – which must be good. To be more sustainable and reuse furniture we do need to be more open minded about design, what looks ‘good’, ‘cool’, and even ‘trendy’.

Everyone has differing views on this and the selection process can be involved. I have seen fashions come and go – and have played my own part in trying them out and experimenting. I can find beauty in most styles, and some that others may find ugly – like some of the 1970s brown chairs we found in the CISL storeroom. I call them fugly – fun and ugly – or is it beautiful and ugly – bugiful?! We can use them in an ironic way as it’s the final composition that makes the space interesting; by juxtaposing them with other pieces we can show that they were intentionally chosen and should not be seen as second best.

Circularity can throw up some unexpected surprises.

Project Team: Eve Waldron Design, 3PM, Architype, BDP, Envision Group, Feilden+Mawson, Gardiner & Theobald, ISG, Max Fordham LLP, and the University of Cambridge

Eve Waldron Design is an architectural design consultancy specializing in interiors, founded in 2000. The practice works across a range of sectors: commercial, education and residential. Waldron, born in New York, studied Industrial design at The Rhode Island School of design and Carnegie Mellon University.

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