Sustainable Luxury - Beautiful Homes With Heart

by Jennifer Hamilton in Interior designed homes

The qualities of sustainability and luxury haven’t always aligned in interior design, but that’s changing slowly.

Whereas specifying sustainable products was once seen as a compromise on quality, the demand for environmentally conscious high-end design has increased, and the savviest of designers and makers are responding. The result? Interiors that balance the two in equal measure, creating beautiful homes with heart.

“Previously luxury and sustainability were opposing concepts,” says Katia Perez, head of design at Oliver Burns. “Now, if we present a beautiful product that is sustainable, it becomes more appealing to the client. Our aim is to raise awareness amongst our clients in a non-intrusive way.”

“Quality and durability is key, so materials have to be specified with this delicate balance in mind.”

As an architectural interior designer and developer, Oliver Burns is endeavouring to merge the two, but as Perez explains, the challenge is the limited sourcebook of sustainable luxury products. Interior designers have to prioritise quality and design absolutely, which at the highest echelon of the market entails luxurious finishes such as marble, natural stone and tropical hardwoods. At the top end of the market in which Oliver Burns works, clients want the best; and with sustainable products lacking in terms of quality and design, it becomes difficult to integrate them into schemes successfully.

There are still challenges holding back the change in behaviour, which need to be realised before the two can work together. The main obstacle is the distinct lack of product with sustainable criteria at the top end of the market. Whilst other sectors are blazing a trail with sustainability initiatives, the luxury industry has a way to go.

“There are some trailblazers, though these are few and far between” says Perez. She mentions Maya Romanoff’s ethically sourced Capiz Shell wallcovering, which the practice used as a backdrop to a vanity unit in a bathroom of a recent project, and Alulife’s recycled aluminium wall tiles. In another project, the practice specified a decorative panel of mosaics from Domus Tiles’ Eco collection made of 98% recycled material.

Sustainability isn’t just about eco-friendly products, it is more all-encompassing. So whilst there’s a challenge on suppliers producing sustainable products, there are other ways to achieve sustainability.

The most significant change, according to Perez, has been a move towards using more British-made products. “Many of our products are now sourced in Britain, such as George Smith and Little Greene” she says, “because the quality is very good, plus it helps preserve lost crafts and save air miles.”

Working, as Oliver Burns does, on many super-prime properties in historically significant buildings, the practice believes strongly in preservation of original features such as reinstating architectural elements. Not only does this celebrate the building’s inherent beauty, but it also supports local craftsmanship. With this in mind, another popular tactic is to specify antiques and bespoke pieces within a scheme, as these align with the heritage aesthetics and are built to last.

“Many of our clients are not driven by overt displays of wealth, but instead, understated and elegant; thoughtful designs that will endure. Therefore designing with longevity in mind is part of the bigger picture that needs to be considered when discussing sustainability.”

Perez uses the example of a bamboo carpet. Though bamboo is highly sustainable, as it is fast growing and therefore easily renewable, it needs to be applied intelligently. It would work well in a bedroom, for example, but not in a high traffic area such as an entrance hall. In that case, Perez explains, it’s better to use a natural stone, such as responsibly mined marble.

“Quality and durability is key, so materials have to be specified with this delicate balance in mind.”

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