How to go green in style


Sarah Lonsdale tests the latest ‘eco’ products and sorts the fads from the finds. This week: a luxury finish

When it comes to home interiors the prefix “eco” still has the tendency to conjure up images of hair shirts. And those on a budget or who want to be really saintly can always find reclaimed wall tiles or rustically finished tables from reused floor planks for their homes.

But occasionally it does one’s materialistic soul good to splash out on something shiny and new. Clever, creative designers are now making fabulous metallic wall coverings from old copper piping, shimmering floor tiles from recycled aluminium cans or ingenious washbasins that feed used water straight into the lavatory cistern.

They come at a price but as William Morris once said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Isn’t it worth paying a little more for something that does both?

The first generation of good “eco” interior designers have always been pioneering and thought-provoking: kitchen work surfaces from recycled vending-machine coffee cups or chandeliers from old glass and pyrex cups and saucers, for example, have forced larger manufacturers to rethink their environmental credentials.

But these first-generation products sometimes lacked the sleek, expensive-looking finishes people crave in their homes, particularly in kitchens and bathrooms

Now, designers with a flair for good-looking products and luxurious finishes are getting on board the “eco” train and a plethora of recycled, reused or just plain ingenious household products are making their way into our homes.

Joe Burns of upmarket interior designers Oliver Burns says that, until recently, “eco” interiors products could not guarantee the style, quality and durability that his well-heeled clients demand. “We want more good-quality green products, but there is a distinct lack of them, particularly in the UK.”

He says that while “eco” products once lagged behind in the high-end interiors sector, there has recently been an explosion of fabulous eco materials that look good and stand the quality test.

Milan-based Italian design firm Alulife makes floor and wall tiles out of recycled aluminium cans. The tiles are textured, light, appear to glow from inside and come in muted golds, silvers and charcoal.

Like many great inventions, they started life as a mistake. Alulife founder Massimiliano Uzzo was passing by an aluminium factory when he saw some discarded panels with an extraordinary texture.

“The factory made industrial panels for motor vehicles but there had been a mistake with one of the cutting machines and the panels had this very unusual texture – unusable for motor cars,” says business development manager Hana Dajani-Campaner.

“Massimiliano realised that what had been rejected for motor cars could have other uses. We haven’t created gold from base metal, but we are alchemists in that we have created a beautiful product from discarded food tins.”

Another design firm is Illinois-based Maya Romanoff, which is currently producing some of the most extraordinary “eco” interiors including wallpaper from lokta paper, with fibres harvested from a fast-growing Asian plant.

The company also uses reclaimed copper and brass, transforming them into thin metallic veneers retaining the blotches and stains from their former life; now instead of being seen as imperfections, they add to their beauty.

My favourite, because it is functional and beautiful, is the award-winning W + W washbasin and lavatory from Roca – such a simple, clever idea you wonder why nobody thought of it before. The basin is above the cistern and waste water from washing your hands is used to flush the lavatory.

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