Interview by Sophie Harvey-Rich, a member of our Young Women’s Advisory Board who attended our first ever Catalyst Bootcamp in 2017
Following the wave of consciousness that was Blue Planet II, the world has well and truly woken up to the realities of our plastic-ridden oceans. According to a poll by the Earthwatch Institute, 91% of the public now aim to reduce their personal plastic use to help tackle the issue.
However, important as this behaviour change is, it’s only one side of the problem. In her recent furniture range, Bath-based interior designer Claire Rendall is hoping to showcase a different, equally important, aspect: removing and reusing the plastic that already resides in our oceans. Produced in collaboration with sustainability firm Van de Sant, ‘Ocean Plastic’ uses plastic waste recovered from the ocean to create fully recyclable, luxury design pieces.
We chat about her hugely varied career – from working on the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, to presenting BBC 1’s DIY SOS – plus her take on the misconceptions around so-called “green consumerism”.
When did you first become interested in sustainable design?
I’ve always been interested in sustainable design. We only have one planet and it has finite resources. In the long run, replacing fads or poorly made pieces ends up costing more both financially and environmentally, so I’ve always gone by the rule “buy once, buy well” when it comes to interiors. I’m also sickened by the amount of plastic in our oceans.
How did the collaboration with Van de Sant come about?
I was working with a company creating Eco Superyachts and Van de Sant contacted me to discuss designing a range of furniture. We’re currently working with a yacht company. I think it’s important to bring sustainability and eco savvy products to the higher end of the market.
Your Van de Sant range is aimed particularly at the luxury yacht market. How do you manage to strike a balance between luxury and sustainability?
I don’t think luxury and sustainability are at odds. Quite the opposite. Many eco-products are more expensive than their less sustainable alternatives. Furthermore, the luxury market is where the majority of the decision makers are – company executives, property owners, big investors etc. If we want to have a bigger environmental impact, it is these people that we need to be targeting and winning over.
Some of your first jobs were in food packaging, an industry facing criticism on its use of single-use plastics. Do you think viable sustainable solutions to this issue truly exist?
I think they do. There is an issue with plastic covered vegetables in that if you take the protection for certain produce away, the product deteriorates so you have to grow more which impacts the environment. Having said that, there is absolutely no excuse for other items such as plastic bags for loose vegetables and those ready-meal plastic forks and straws. There are companies who produce sandwiches with paper bags for example, so those ghastly plastic pouches are not necessary. Plastics are being developed made from products other than oil which will compost and this needs to speed up. There is a misconception however that all eco-products are intrinsically a good thing: all goods have some kind of environmental impact, whether it be the chemicals used, the land needed, the transportation fuel… The bottom line that needs to be addressed is over-consumption.
Of all the projects you’ve worked on, which are you most proud of?
Designing a complete suite of rooms for the top floor of Longleat House for the Marquess of Bath was pretty special. I designed the furniture and interiors and it was the biggest commission for this house since Chippendale. Lord Bath is a delightfully creative client and it was an honour to add to such an important collection.
What advice would you give to a young woman looking to get into interior designing?
Be passionate, be dedicated, stay creative. Many think being a designer is just about choosing colours for curtains and cushions. It is so much more than that. You need an understanding of architecture, plumbing, electrics, and be able to pull everything together into an aesthetic. Stay informed, be inquisitive.
How do you see the future of interior design panning out?
Nowadays, people are more aware than ever that their homes can look amazing, so the future looks good for all levels of interior design. I think though that designers need to ensure systems that they specify are future-proof. I’m alarmed that home automation systems for example are fitting literally miles of wiring for something that will be wireless in the not too distant future.
And finally, what gets you up on a Monday morning?
Apart from the alarm and need to let the parrot out (!), I really love what I do. Truly. I am excited by projects and seeing them take shape. I love working with a team, with craftsmen, decorators and builders. There’s a tremendous buzz in seeing a project come together and finding resolutions to issues that arise.
Interested in a career in sustainable design? Check out Claire’s Ocean Plastic range and more about her on her website https://www.clairerendall.com/