Tino Seubert Turns Air Pollution into Art + Usable Products (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

The circular economy is a proposed alternative to our traditional ‘take, make, waste’ model of production and consumption – one that offers hope in the face of environmental catastrophes from climate change to ocean plastic. Designing out waste and pollution, keeping materials and products in use and regenerating our natural environment are so important to contemporary design that we wanted to create a dedicated space for the projects bringing these ideas to life. Circular by Design, a new weekly column by longtime contributor Katie Treggiden, will start by exploring the potential of waste as a valuable new raw material.

German-born London-based product designer Tino Seubert draws upon history and contemporary art as well as science and material research to make products that make statements. For The Colour of Air, he took air pollution and turned it into ink and dye, with which he made screen-printed artworks, pencils, and clothes, to demonstrate the fact that even invisible, airborne waste could be turned into something less damaging and more meaningful. We caught up with him to find out more.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education, and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design and sustainability.

I grew up in a small village in the north of Bavaria. My neighbors were farmers and I used to pick up fresh milk from them as a kid – life then was definitely very different from my life in London these days! My parents both worked in technical professions, but they made sure that my creative side was nourished from a very young age. I have been drawing, painting, and making things non-stop since my earliest memories. My mum sent me to an additional art class twice a week after school in the next town and my dad helped me to develop my technical skills – he was always repairing TVs, radios, and other electronic devices in the garage and I would often help him out. I grew up with the idea that things could be fixed instead of replaced, which is essential to sustainability. When I was about 13, I figured out what design was and that it was what I wanted to do in life. At 19, I moved to Bolzano, Italy, where I did my Bachelor in Design, spending a year in Paris as part of an exchange. After graduating, I moved to Berlin and worked there for a year before moving to London to do a Masters in Design Products at the Royal College of Art. And that’s where I have been living since.

How would you describe your Colour of Air project?

Carbon black is the main component of fine Particulate Matter (PM), produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels across homes, industry, and transport. As smog, it obscures visibility and is the main cause of air pollution. Recent studies suggest it is the number two contributor to climate change. Drawing on the idea of ancient Egyptians, who used carbon black from candles to produce ink, The Colour of Air filters PM from car exhausts to produce for pencils (PM-LEAD), and ink for screen printing posters (PM-K), and for permanently dying outdoor sportswear (PM-DYE). Smog becomes wearable, touchable, and visible to the very people who, unwittingly, inhale it every day.

What inspired this project?

The project was actually initiated by a brief we received in the first year of my studies at the RCA. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was about waste and sustainability. I wanted to think about unconventional or invisible waste, rather than the things we put into our bins and see every day. So I started researching topics like light pollution and things that are in the air. My research brought me to particulate matter and the fact that the biggest part of it is carbon black. Combining this with what I knew about the ancient Egyptians using carbon black from candles to produce ink, I decided to turn the carbon black from our air into pigment.

What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select that particular material and how do you source it?

This project is actually a very specific one in my portfolio and I wouldn’t say that I always, or even usually, work with waste. Or at least not in the most obvious way. What I do is work with materials that most people would consider ugly, because they are industrial, rough, or not in fashion. I see a beauty in them and I enjoy helping others see this beauty too. One example is Regalvanize, where I developed a surface treatment for hot-dip-galvanized steel material, which usually only used for outdoor and industrial applications like fences or highway guard rails.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?

I think consciously the first time was actually during the brief at college, which made me develop The Colour of Air. But subconsciously it has been a big part in my upbringing and the education I received. More than a single project, sustainability should be an underlying philosophy for any project we conceptualize, design, or produce.

What processes does the material have to undergo to become the finished product?

First of all the material needs to be collected. One option for that is to put up active air filters to get the particulate matter out of the air. However, it’s a very costly and energy consuming process, which, for me, defeats the purpose. Why should more electricity be used to collect dirt from the air, which had been caused by other machines? So I looked at existing filter systems for cars. Some diesel cars do have filters in place already, others don’t, which creates a big problem. The ones that do, burn the collected carbon into more carbon dioxide. So to collect the material, I opened up existing ceramic filters on diesel cars, emptied them and put them back in place. To then I process the material into screen printing ink, pencil leads, and fabric dye, sometimes adding small amounts of agents. Making the ink and the pencil leads is pretty easy and straight forward – the fabric dye turned out to be a little bit more complicated, so I got some help from the college’s textile department.

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?

They can, if the carrier material allows it. For example, screen prints can be recycled like any other paper. The pencil hopefully by the end of its life doesn’t exist anymore or is only a stump. The paper that it has written on can be recycled like any other. With the fabric, it is a bit more complicated and it depends on how recyclable the fabric itself is. What is important to say is that particulate matter and carbon black isn’t generally bad if it’s bound onto a surface – it is when it is in the air and we inhale it.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?

I was quite impressed and surprised how easily and well it actually worked and that the color of the ink seemed to be a very specific grey.

How have people reacted to this project?

Generally, the reactions have been very positive. People are impressed by the fact that something invisible has been turned into something tangible. Some people criticized that it wasn’t feasible or scalable, but that was never my intention – my point was to showcase what is in the air, what we are inhaling, and that even that kind of waste can be reused.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

I think a change is taking place. In our social circles, it is very much appreciated and almost trending. But that’s not necessarily reflective of a change in reality. Because it is trending, a lot more cosmetic sustainability and greenwashing is happening. Also, outside of our bubble, things still have a long way to go or are even worsening.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

It’s hard to generalize because waste covers so much. It depends on the specific material, but with dwindling resources, I hope we will be forced to look more closely, and use existing things we have already extracted from the earth.

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Tino here.

Fran Hickman on Designing Spaces That Feel Like Home (Sixtysix Magazine)

All copy as submitted to publication.

Sitting with a bunch of new friends in the new Soho House in New York’s Meatpacking District in 2004, a young Fran Hickman felt at home for the first time since she’d left the UK. The realization that the design of a space could have such a profound impact on our emotions and behavior prompted her to give up photography, a career she’d been pursuing since her teens, in favor of interior design. Today Fran’s London-based interior and architectural design studio, founded in 2014, handles projects all over the world and has a clutch of awards to its name. But what motivates Hickman remains the same—creating spaces that shape how we feel and act.

Working closely with clients to weave narratives from their backstories combined with a deep-dive research process that encompasses books, symbolism, mythology, exhibitions, and photography, she has worked on everything from Goop’s European brick-and-mortar store to a members-only workspace and social club in Dubai. In every project, color and light play a starring role in sparking joy and making interiors feel like home.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

My father—a property developer—built barns, made furniture, collected art and antiques, and loved classic cars. He has always been demonstrably creative, so my interest in design comes from him. My mother had six children (I am number five) and has always been very bookish with a real appreciation for words. My love of storytelling comes from her.

When did you first know you wanted to become a designer?

I thought I wanted to be a photographer and studied photography at school, but my mother encouraged me to broaden my focus at university, so I took media and cultural studies at London College of Communications. We learned about art, politics, philosophy, and global history. It was fascinating. Then I went to study photography at Parsons in New York and met an eclectic group of people who used to gather at Soho House. It became a sort of communal living room, a second home, at a time when I felt quite homesick. Creating spaces where people could come together like that struck me as something really powerful.

How you get into design then?

I studied interior and spatial design at Chelsea College of Art, which was very conceptual, and at KLC (School of Design), which was more practical. I worked for design firms like the Soho House Group and Colefax and Fowler before setting up on my own in 2014.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

When I was growing up there were incredibly successful interior designers like Kelly Hoppen with a very specific aesthetic that they rolled out globally. I have huge respect for that, but what makes this job interesting to me is that each space is different in terms of geography, history, client, and objectives. In each case there is a different problem that requires a different solution. I try to tell stories through my work. I use materials, color, and furniture to bring the story of the brand or homeowner to life in a three-dimensional space.

How much of being a great designer is creative brain versus business brain?

I have brilliant creative friends who don’t run businesses because that’s not their strength and equally brilliant friends who run businesses and are not creative. When you want to run a design business you either have to do both or recognize your limitations and plug the gaps by hiring people who are better than you. Teamwork is so important.

What’s your team like?

There are eight of us and I’m really happy with that size. We have been bigger, and there are industries where scale makes sense, but what we do is so bespoke that we need to stay relatively small to deliver the attention to detail that’s required. Everyone comes from a design background of some sort; two of our junior designers came straight out of KLC School of Design, but we also have former management consultants and an art dealer. We have people from France, Belgium, Spain, America, and India, so we’re a pretty diverse bunch and speak a few languages between us.

Who does what? How do you divide and conquer?

I oversee every project, but I focus my energies on the concept and setting direction at the beginning. I have four designers and an architect, and I have people to run the business—the accounts and marketing. It works really well and it’s a lovely team. We have a kitchen and take turns making lunch. We eat together every day.

Was there ever a time when you had a particularly difficult client or project?

Residential spaces can be quite emotional. Whereas commercial interior design is part of a business strategy, in residential projects we are pinning ideas to the relationships between the people who use the space, and that can be complicated. You often find yourself playing therapist to couples or negotiating families’ differing memories of a childhood home. In the end all we can do is help clients keep it all in perspective and deliver on our promises.

Where does emotion fit into your interpretation of good design?

A chair is a good example. It’s a piece of furniture you have a very intimate relationship with; it comes into close proximity with your body and physically supports you. Comfort is an incredibly important part of emotion, as well as proportion and clarity. Simpler things are easier to process—emotionally, mentally, and physically. Good design is something you can rely on. It’s dependable, but it also sparks joy and has a little humor.

Do you have a design “routine” when approaching a project? You talk about collaborating with your clients to tell stories; how does that work?

I start in research mode—that might be diving into the client’s archives or researching around a subject or theme. I have a book on symbolism I often dip into; I’m really interested in the meanings behind words, images, and objects. My research is very visual. I probably have about 60,000 photographs on my phone, which is absurd but very helpful. I involve the client to get their input and then it’s about pulling the most interesting strands together to tell a coherent and engaging story.

You say this approach takes courage on behalf of the clients. Why?

Because it’s quite introspective. In order for it to be really good, it should be personal. That involves quite a lot of deep thought and reflection—even on commercial projects, where we often ask probing questions about the vision or purpose of a business. That can be difficult. It’s also a significant investment, so it’s a big commitment to something that isn’t always very tangible from the outset.

Run through a typical day for you.

I spend about a week out of the office in any given month. I might be onsite in New York, on the East Coast, in the Middle East, or in Tokyo, depending on the project. If I’m in the office I tend to get in at about 9.30, which is a civilized start to the day. I usually begin with business-related matters and then move through each project in turn addressing anything that needs my attention. I group my external meetings so I can commit to being in the studio at least three days a week.

How many days off have you taken in the past year?

If we’re talking about a proper day off where I haven’t even checked emails probably only between Christmas and the New Year. That’s the only time I can afford to switch off. Other than that I need to be available to my clients.

Tell me about how you used light in the Farfetch dressing suite.

I’m a big fan of Japanese design and architecture, especially the calm, simplicity of traditional Japanese ryokans. I had just read In Praise of Shadows by Junichirō Tanizaki, and he writes about the power of light and shadows. Light is considered in Japanese design in a way it isn’t in the West; in every ryokan room, not only do the paper screens diffuse the light beautifully, but there is always an area kept empty just for shadows. We used a limited palette of materials and incredible dichroic glass that changes color depending on light and where you’re standing.

What’s next for you?

We’re working on a lot of residential projects. I don’t want to jinx anything we’ve pitched on, but there are a few in the pipeline. In a broader sense, I’m looking forward to Britain finding its way out of its funk and getting its mojo back. Interior design asks you to put down roots and that requires confidence in where you are; we’re going through a really tricky time right now, but I’m optimistic.

This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Sixtysix with the headline “Fran Hickman” and was subsequently published online. To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Fran Hickman here.

Creative Conversion (25 Beautiful Homes)

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A collaborative approach helped one couple transform a 1980s bungalow into their dream home – on time and on budget.

There’s an old adage that you can’t have a self-build that comes in on time, on budget, with a high-quality finish – one of those things always has to give. Well, Mark Sewell and Eunice Locher might just have proven that wrong, converting their Scandia Hus bungalow into a detached house in less than a year for just £375,000, and all to an incredibly high standard.

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Returning to the UK after living in Australia and Portugal, Mark, CIO for a recruitment company, and Eunice, founder of The Clay Studio, were looking for a plot that would enable them to build an ‘open-plan, inside-outside’ home, like those they had enjoyed overseas. The first thing the estate agent showed them was a Scandia Hus bungalow that had been built by its now-deceased owner in the 1980s. ‘I stood at the gate and said, “Not in a million years”,’ laughs Eunice. ‘I was horrified. It was overgrown and neglected – and the thought of a bungalow at our age was just too much, so I kept looking.’ Ten months later, she came back and, this time, made it past the gate. ‘It was a lightbulb moment,’ she says. ‘It was very run down, but it was south-facing, on a lovely road, and right on the edge of the Ashdown Forest – I suddenly realised it was a winner.’

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Having secured the plot, the couple hired local architect Adam Penton whose work reflected the contemporary style they were looking for, but their brief was more a list of things they didn’t want, than things they did. Having lived in the bungalow, they had come to hate the sauna-style pine cladding used throughout, the low light levels, the clipped views of the surrounding landscape, and the boxy layout. ‘Our brief to Adam was simply to transform it,’ says Eunice. ‘We wanted something modern that was easy to live in, but beyond that, we left it up to him.’ Adam’s scheme takes advantage of the bungalow’s L-shaped floorplan by connecting the two wings with a triangular open-plan living area, that opens onto the south-westerly garden, and includes a first-floor master suite. ‘I liked the idea of this quirky triangle thing,’ says Eunice. At a pre-application meeting with the local planning department, Adam presented an ambitious plan that included everything they might ever want to do. Not surprisingly, the council raised concerns, but with a few tweaks, the plan sailed through – its first-floor addition having been carefully considered with a low roofline that didn’t overlook the neighbours. Planning approved, Mark and Eunice moved into Mark’s garden office, which enabled them to stay on-site throughout the build.

Working with Nick Weller as the main contractor, Adam oversaw the extension, which used the same stick timber frame as the original construction, clad with Siberian Larch as a foil to the original brick. The master-suite is timber-framed too, but uses steel in its roof and super-structure and is clad in zinc. This cantilevered section provides not only an architectural feature that modernises the exterior of the house, but also a balcony where Mark and Eunice can enjoy their morning coffee. Details such as the triangular windows tucked into the eaves add character.

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The original bungalow was triple-glazed and Adam continued this throughout the new parts of the building, reinsulating, sound-proofing and reskimming all the walls. ‘The bungalow did have some clever details, but it took Adam pointing out how cool things like the windows were for me to realise that,’ laughs Eunice. ‘I wanted to replace the windows, but I’m glad Adam talked me around.’ The addition of a separate annex tucked away at the far end of the house provides somewhere for their grown-up children to stay.

When it came to furnishings, it was a case of less is more. ‘We were really keen that this house had no clutter,’ explains Eunice. ‘We now just have the pieces that really mean something to us. It sounds terrible, but we even pared back family photographs. We just had so much stuff – slimming it down felt like a weight off our shoulders.’ Those items the couple have kept are carefully chosen and perfectly placed – a bespoke dining table made by friends of their son, an enviable collection of mid-century furniture supplied by Mark’s brother-in-law, cushions by their daughter and art by their friends. Eunice’s much-reduced pottery collection is now artfully displayed. ‘I love ceramics and this is the perfect place to dot my collection around, I am constantly changing them and always thinking about how lovely they look – that means everything to me.’

Its quality is in no doubt, so just how did they bring it in on time and on budget? ‘Start with reasonable expectations, find a good team and live on site. The secret is not to try to screw anyone over – everyone has to make a profit, so finding a win-win situation for everyone is what makes it a success,’ advises Mark. ‘We also made a point of giving positive feedback to the whole team at the end of every week,’ smiles Eunice. ‘That, and bringing them treats.’

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Photography by Bruce Hemming. Originally published under the headline ‘Winning Combination’ in Grand Designs Magazine in January 2019, this story was bought as a Second Rights package by 25 Beautiful Homes. Copy as originally provided to Grand Designs Magazine.

Camira + SEAQUAL Turn Ocean Plastic into Upholstery Fabric (Circular by Design, Design Milk)

The circular economy is a proposed alternative to our traditional ‘take, make, waste’ model of production and consumption – one that offers hope in the face of environmental catastrophes from climate change to ocean plastic. Designing out waste and pollution, keeping materials and products in use, and regenerating our natural environment are so important to contemporary design that we wanted to create a dedicated space for the projects bringing these ideas to life. Circular by Design, a new weekly column by longtime contributor Katie Treggiden, will start by exploring the potential of waste as a valuable new raw material.

Yorkshire-based British textiles manufacturer, Camira, has teamed up with the SEAQUAL Initiative – which turns waste plastic captured from the sea by fishermen into yarn – to make the industry’s first upholstery fabric to contain ocean plastic. We caught up with Camira’s group design manager Ciara Crossan to find out more.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education, and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design, and sustainability.

I grew up in Northern Ireland and have always had a passion for interiors, fabric, and yarn. Having studied for a Textile Design undergraduate degree at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, I went on to gain an Master’s in Textiles from the Royal College of Art – both in London. I am now Group Design Manager at Camira, and sustainability is at the forefront of my work. I have instilled my passion for products that are well designed, functional, and fit for purpose into the whole team.

Photo: SEQUAL

How would you describe the Oceanic Project for Camira?

We like to describe it as one small drop in the mission to clean both the earth and its oceans. Created entirely from recycled plastic, Oceanic brings new life to the debris floating in our seas and on our beaches, as well as post-consumer plastic bottles destined for landfill. Each meter of Oceanic fabric contains the equivalent of 26 plastic bottles.

Photo: SEQUAL

What inspired this project?

It actually stemmed from the BBC’s Blue Planet program and David Attenborough’s narration of some of the horror stories of plastic in our seas. We reached out to SEAQUAL through one of our recycled yarn partners so that we could incorporate recycled marine waste into a new sustainable range. SEAQUAL transforms waste and raw materials through a network of partners, local organizations, and authorities across the globe to create a collaborative community with a common goal – to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans and on our beaches, while raising awareness. Their licensing system enabled brands and manufacturers like us to certify the traceability of the fabric’s contents.

Photo: SEQUAL

What is the fabric made from, how did you select that particular material, and how do you source it?

The SEAQUAL yarn used within our fabric contains plastic which has been predominantly sourced by fishermen in the Mediterranean Sea and washed ashore on beaches in Spain. The polyester yarn is spun from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) – one of the main plastics found in marine and beach waste. This is almost entirely made up of drinking water bottles – as much as 85-90% in some regions. As these bottles tend to be clear or light blue plastic, they are ideal for the textiles industry as they can be transformed into a dyeable yarn and fabric.

Photo: SEQUAL

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?

Camira has been using waste as a raw material ingredient for more than 20 years. It started in the late 1990s, when we made a recycled wool upholstery fabric from old army jumpers from the Ministry of Defense, pulled back to fiber, spun into yarn, and woven into new fabric. We’ve been making recycled polyesters from PET bottles for almost as long, and some of our fabrics use our own waste yarn and selvedges which are upcycled in a circular, closed-loop fashion. We’re always eager to keep pushing new innovations, so we wanted to take our fight against plastic pollution one step further this year with the launch of Oceanic. This is our very first fabric – and the first in our industry – to contain ocean plastic and a reflection of our ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship.

Photo: SEQUAL

What processes does the waste material have to undergo to become the finished fabric?

In a nutshell, the plastic waste collected by fishermen is sorted into polymer types, washed, shredded, and extruded into a polymer chip. This is sent to our yarn supplier, who adds other post-consumer recycled PET chips, derived from waste plastic bottles which have been diverted from landfill. The chips are melted and then extruded into yarn. The yarn is texturized before being sent to Camira for weaving into the final fabric.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?

It’s hard to imagine a crumpled plastic bottle salvaged from the sea being transformed into a beautiful fabric but when I saw the initial samples, I was absolutely delighted. When you imagine a recycled plastic yarn, it’s easy to think of a rigid fabric with a coarse texture, but Oceanic shows how beautiful the transformation from waste to weave can be. Its distinctive design features a diagonal pattern, which creates a bold two-tone color effect up close. From afar, the diagonal appears much softer as the colors blend into one. But as soft as it feels, it’s tough as the seas it was made in and it can be used to upholster both task and soft seating.

What happens to your fabrics at the end of their lives? Can they go back into the circular economy?

We’ve always strived to break the traditional “take-make-waste” model in favor of recycling, re-use, and cyclical loops where we upcycle waste inputs to create new fabric. The ease of recycling, once a fabric has been upholstered onto furniture, depends on how easy it is to remove the fabric. That’s where we see the benefits of our Technical Knitted fabrics which are knitted as component covers for both ease of assembly and removal. We guarantee our fabric for 10 years and then, if it can be easily removed and returned, it could, in theory, be shredded, melted, re-extruded into yarn.

How have people reacted to this project?

So far, we have had an extremely positive reaction to this new product range. I guess, as plastic marine pollution is such a hot topic right now, people feel personally connected to the story behind this collection – and we are finding that our customers want to be a part of our mission to reduce plastic marine waste. Whether that’s by opting to upholster a furniture range in Oceanic or by signing up to be a SEAQUAL Licensee themselves, which we actively encourage our customers to do.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

As we all become more mindful of our planet’s finite resources, I think we are beginning to question not only what happens to our waste, but how could we use it in a more resourceful and innovative way. This is certainly true of our own design team – and our innovation team, who are already looking beyond the next few years. We have noticed a definite step change in the way people perceive recycled products – just because something started off as waste, that shouldn’t taint the finished product – it can still exude quality and have a high-end finish.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?

“Designers are in a powerful position to create a better world… or to contribute to further destruction,” said Victor Papanek Design for the Real World. That’s something we take very seriously at Camira, and so for every new collection, the first question we ask ourselves as designers is: ‘how can we design sustainably?’ We will continue to innovate in naturally sustainable materials, not only expanding our wool-bast fiber fabric portfolio but introducing new recycled fabrics, new materials, and new concepts, such as cork and a British wool fleece available on a roll. We are also pushing the boundaries in our technical knitting capability to be able to use recycled polyester. Across the industry more broadly, I predict the use of waste as a raw material will soar. As we expand our own research around new fibers, this is certainly where our future is heading, so watch this space!

To read the article at its source click here, or find out more about Oceanic here.