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Circular design: embracing a responsible approach to interiors

in sustainable design

From spaces to objects, design plays a huge role in shaping the world. Circular design is a “radical, restorative, regenerative” opportunity to shape a world that is more respectful of the environment and wiser in its use of resources.

Let’s explore…

linear vs circular

Circular design originates from a deep mindset shift. Our current world is shaped according to a linear model, where products are designed to be used and then disposed of, in a take-make-dispose cycle. A circular model is based on a take-make-remake cycle that substitutes the disposal phase with a variety of options including reuse, refurbishment, and – only at last – recycling.

Practically, a circular approach considers the whole life span of a product from the very beginning of its design, asking:

“What happens when your product comes to the end of its use period? Can your product have many use periods? Can you design for the future, design for recovery, to deliver even more value in the future?”
Cit. Ellen MacArthur

Ice sphere.
Credit: Aaron Burden

circular design pillars

A circular design approach develops around 3 pillars that challenge several aspects of the design process, from material choices to the impact of design as a whole.

Design out waste and pollution
“Waste is a design flaw” they say. In fact, decisions taken during the initial design phase can lead to important reductions in both waste and pollution. Designing to minimize scraps and offcuts, allowing for repairs, flexibility, and easy disassembly, adopting responsible production processes…these are all strategies that apply to products as well as spaces.

Keep products and materials in use
Materials last long, often much longer than the products they’re used for. Circular design focuses on making objects (and spaces) that can easily be altered, repaired or remanufactured, so they can remain relevant for longer. Choosing to reuse existing materials for a design also falls into this pillar, allowing materials to live multiple lives.
As a whole, the way in which materials cycle into a circular system can be either biological or technical. All biodegradable materials (like wood, paper etc…) go back into the environment after use, whereas non-biodegradable materials (such as plastic or metal) are transformed – either physically or chemically – to be then reused beyond the life cycle of a single product.

Regenerate natural systems
A circular design approach takes into account the health of the natural world we all depend upon. Products, processes, and materials should aim at nourishing the soil and replenishing natural resources, giving back to the environment instead of just taking. Opting for responsible materials, adopting more biodegradable alternatives, and considering the sustainability of disposal options are some things to keep in mind.

Pendant lamps made with fallen leaves.
Credit: Miyuca – Ph: Malte Jäger
Wood floor with a waste-reducing curved profile.
Credit: Bolefloor

circular interior design

A circular approach can be applied to interior design in many ways that cover all project phases: from layout considerations, to material choices and specifications, to site work.

Considering flexible layouts that allow the space to evolve over time as well as products that are easy to disassemble and repair, opting for products and materials that are made to last, exploring waste-based materials, preferring production methods powered by renewable energy, optimizing the use of materials and reducing offcuts, adopting second-hand or rental schemes when appropriate, and more…

As a whole, a circular approach gives interior design choices a deeper and wider perspective that goes well beyond the project brief.

Recycled stone coffee table.
Credit: Tacchini

The entire circular design framework originates from a sense of respect for the natural world and the willingness to replenish its precious and intricate equilibrium. A considerate, intentional, nourishing approach that offers food for thought to all designers.