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how circular design can shape more sustainable interiors

in sustainable design

Circular design has been defined “a radical, restorative, regenerative approach to business”.

We rarely think about the power of design in shaping our lives. But in fact, every single object we use has been designed. Namely, there has been someone thinking about which shape it should have, which materials it should be made of and so on.

When we start realizing this, it becomes apparent that design plays a huge role in shaping the world. And circular design is our invaluable occasion to shape a world that is more respectful of the environment and smarter in its use of resources. All without having to compromize on the aesthetics of things.

linear vs circular economy

Circular design originates from a deep mindset shift. Our current world is shaped according to a linear model, where products are made to be used and then disposed of. Instead, in a circular economy, the disposal phase is substituted with a variety of different – and sustainable – options, including reusing, refurbishing and recycling.

Practically, this requires considering the whole life span of a product from the very beginning of its design, In other words, designers need to ask themselves:

“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

A sketch showing the difference between linear economy (where goods go to waste after one use), recycling economy (where goods get reused and then eventually go to waste) and circular economy (where goods cycle indefinitely without going to waste).
Credit: Circular Flanders

circular design pillars

But what does it mean to design for the circular economy? Well, circular design develops around 3 pillars:

  1. Design out waste and pollution
  2. Keep products and materials in use
  3. Regenerate natural systems

It may sound excessive, but when achieved together, these 3 elements really have the power to transform our world into a healthier, smarter and more sustainable place.

Quote saying "The next big thing in design is circular".
Credit: The Circular Design Guide

1. design out waste and pollution

“Waste is a design flaw” they say.

And this couldn’t be more accurate! In fact, circular design can help cut on waste by encouraging an efficient use of materials in production. One inspiring example of designing out waste are wood floor boards that follow the natural curvature of the tree instead of being cut straight, thus reducing scraps.

Curved wood floor that minimises production scraps.
Credit: Bolefloor

Design can also reduce pollution by choosing materials wisely. Opting for natural and renewable materials is only part of the solution, as it’s just as important to source sustainably grown materials (FSC-certified wood, organic cotton…)

2. keep products and materials in use

Materials have a long life, often much longer than the one of the products they’re used for. Circular design takes this opportunity and focuses on making objects that can easily be altered, repaired or remanufactured.

Modular products are a good example. Think about a chair whose legs can be easily swapped. That chair could be personalized to fit different tastes. It could also be altered or upgraded over time, as a way to repair a broken leg or just to follow the changing needs of its owner. As a result, that chair will not be trashed as quickly, which is smart for the consumer, good for the producer and better for the planet.

Round table with chairs designed with circular principles in mind.
Credit: Vepa

But even when we dispose of a product, chances are its materials are still perfectly functional. And thinking in circular economy terms means designing products that are easy to disassemble, so that materials can be reused over and over again, rather than always sourcing virgin materials.

Chair made with fishing net and recycled steel.
Credit: Wehlers

3. regenerate natural systems

In a circular design, it’s important to create products and processes that nourish the soil and other ecosystems, giving back to the environment and replenishing natural resources. This includes – for example – composting natural materials at the very end of their life. But before this time comes, all-natural materials can have a very long life. And in the right hands, even food waste can become a beautiful design.

Lampshades made of agricultural waste.
Credit: High Society

Earlier this summer, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (pioneer of circular economy) has called on designers and architects to join the circular design challenge and “re-design the world”. To support the task, it has created the Circular Design Guide, which provides practical help to start embracing the principles of circular economy in design work.

Discover CIRCULYTICS, the tool to measure progress towards a circular business model

circular interior design

Designers and companies are experimenting with the principles of circular design in all industries, from fashion, to food, to interiors. In particular, a lot is happening in the field of interior design!

A pioneering example comes from Rype Office, a London-based company that sells office furniture and offers three purchasing options:

This company is among the first embracing a real circular model, but can you imagine the world of home furniture working this way too?

Office furnished with refurbished and reused pieces.
Office furnished with refurbished and reused pieces. Credit: Rype Office

Transitioning to a circular economy is surely a big challenge, but it’s also an amazing opportunity we have ahead of us.

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