As I entered the Burnley Tunnel the words of my architect friend resonated in my head "People find materials boring. They rarely question a buildings ability to stay upright, they just assume that it will!" At that point, being claustrophobic at the best of times, my heart was pounding as my head started to wonder about the Head Engineers credentials on this vast project. Had he chosen the best material and was it constructed correctly......? What felt like hours later, I popped up out the other side, non the worse for wear and had saved myself a good 20 minutes in CBD traffic due to my bravery.
However I spent the rest of the journey thinking about how people make choices about materials, fabrics and furniture pieces in spaces. With websites, magazines and TV shows all spruking 'this style' and 'that look', it dawned on me that many decisions are based on what an item or material looks like and how it fits in with the items and elements around it. Material suitability and integrity are often second on the list of considerations, if they appear at all. Why would people worry about the materials in their homes when society doesn't really question material choices in buildings? Like my architect friend, I find it incomprehensible that someone wouldn't ask two basic questions "is that material / piece up to the job?" "what effect is it going to have on my internal environment and the wider one?" Just asking those two questions creates a major leap in purchasing safer, better, more sustainable products.
The Chocolate teapot....... Considering a materials suitability is about durability, flexibility and longevity. Asking simple questions like, "what's it made from? is it strong enough? will that chip? can it be fixed? who made it? what use does it have now / in future?" can really narrow down the wheat from the chaff. And lets face it there's a lot of chaff. Just trawl the streets at hard rubbish time. Its scary how short the life span of some pieces of furniture are. I tend to stick to two golden guidelines when considering materials or pieces: the 'higher use of natural material the better' and 'you get what you paid for'.
An Ingredient List..... Considering the impact a material or piece will have on your own environment should also be a major consideration. It effects the indoor air quality and therefore your and your families health. Most people have heard of formaldehyde and its use in particle board and synthetic fabrics potentially causing swelling in the respiratory system. Then there's the VOC's in paint products. But what about Trichloroethylene, Benzene, Xylene and Ammonia? These are all readily found in materials, fabrics and furniture we place in our homes. I wont list the health impacts of these, I just don't have the space. Its impractical to eradicate all of these, but by taking time to find out more about your product and making an active choice about material use, you can eliminate as much as you can. The remainder, try and deal with in other ways (see this great guide to air purifying plants (http://inhabitat.com/infographic-top-18-houseplants-for-purifying-the-air-you-breathe-according-to-nasa/). The two golden guidelines here are - "The smaller the chain of production the easier it should be to get the information" and 'know your certifications'. By buying products from local producers and designers you can go straight to the horses mouth and ask about the ingredients.
Hoops n Loop....When putting together an interior that is more sustainable or ethical, the hierarchy of decision making factors is tipped on its head. Consideration for the suitability of a material and the effect of using it in a space at the front. Look at it as a natural selection process. Jump through those two hoops and the aesthetics and visual design of a material or piece can be considered. Thankfully today, the selection is widening exponentially as demand for 'better' products increases. The down side is there's more choice and that can be time consuming and painful. Best call an interior expert in to help.....
images of interiors deliberately with held......