Slowing down, demanding more
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
What is the slow design movement?
Let’s take it from the top… What is the “slow” movement in general? Today, it refers to efforts spanning many industries, including interior design. It began in 1986 at a McDonalds in Rome... In an incredibly controversial move, a McDonald’s was opened one block from the historic Spanish Steps at Piazza di Spagna. Italians were furious, protesting that this would be the beginning of the degradation of local cuisine and culture. The NY Times reported that the Italian fashion designer, Valentino even attempted legal action stating the restaurant created ''significant and constant noise and an unbearable smell of fried food fouling the air''. Three years later the slow food movement began in response to these protests. The movement advocates returning to our roots, eating locally and sustainably grown, healthy foods from people who were paid fairly and treated well for their efforts.
Since that time leaders have risen to grow similar slow movements in a number of industries including fashion, marketing, and design among others. What do they all have in common? They advocate slowing down the pace of industry and daily life and in turn making daily decisions that will be to the benefit of people, animals and our planet. This may sound like an easy win but it is far from the norm in our global culture today.
Why do we love this movement?
On a daily basis we are bombarded with advertisements, misinformation, and cheap disposable consumer goods. It’s easier to throw something away than to have it repaired and it’s more convenient to have something flown in from another country than to wait for the mom and pop shop to open on Monday. We often have no access to a list of ingredients in our furniture and home goods, few companies offer transparency so it is difficult to know if the people creating our products are being treated well and paid fairly (although in our gut we usually have a good idea) and of course we are always told that we need more and more and more...
The slow design movement empowers us to challenge the status quo. It provides confidence our hard earned dollars are being spent on high quality products which did not degrade the planet, demean artisans and will last for generations. We interact with an enormous number of things everyday, so this is tremendously important! From our hair dryer to our dining table all our stuff was designed and fabricated by men, women (and too often by children) from raw materials ripped from the Earth. For every single product we touch we have an opportunity to vote with our dollar, support the slow design movement and in turn improve lives!! (We’re glass half full kind of people at New Collective!)
Below are lots of examples beginning with small ones and leading up to larger ones, illustrating how we can be a part of the slow design movement and improve the lives of all beings and our planet.
Vintage, Sustainable, Local, Handmade, Fair trade
These are easy ways to join the slow design movement. We vote with our dollar every day and there are lots of ways we can do this in the furniture and home goods world. In addition, the most sustainable piece is the one we already have! Consider painting, staining, reupholstering your existing pieces if you want to give them a quick refresh before ditching them for good. VINTAGE
What better way to add personality and stop a perfectly usable treasure from entering the landfill than to buy vintage? This is an experience all about the hunt! Often these are large pieces of furniture not easily disassembled so your best bet if on a budget is to shop locally rather than to pay for shipping. If your community lacks good vintage stores try making a day or weekend trip out of it.
My favorites: Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Etsy, Chairish and Ebay, among many others. A quick online search for vintage furniture will lead you in some wonderful directions. Because I have picked up lots of vintage treasures solo and am a worrier at heart, I must advise you to take a friend when picking up pieces from private vendors. If not, ask the vendor to meet you in a public place or to bring the piece to the front porch or driveway prior to your arrival. Advise someone close to you of your plan for treasure pick up. Be safe, y’all!
There are many certified fair trade markets both online and in brick and mortar stores through which we can support fairly treated artisans from around the globe. Although these products are not always local they do provide a guarantee that the people making them are earning a living wage in return for their artisanal talents.
My favorites: Novica, Ten Thousand Villages, The Little Market SUSTAINABLE, LOCAL, HANDMADE
Damn, how I love me a smoother than butter piece of wood that's just been sanded and waiting for finishing. Natural beauty, pride in craftsmanship, texture and warmth for days, a piece that can be handed down generation to generation…what more could you need!? These are the pieces you feel wonderful surrounding yourself with because a true artisan created it. If you're in the market for wood furniture like this look for reclaimed wood, FSC certified lumber, or lumber salvaged from trees killed by an insect invasion (for example, a pine beetle infestation killed a huge amount of trees in the Colorado mountains several years ago. Artisans in the area have milled these trees into lumber and are now creating beautiful pieces from this tragedy). If FSC certified lumber is not common in your area, be sure to ask local artisans if they are considering it in the future so they know there is a market for it. In the meantime, they should assure you they are sourcing responsibly harvested wood or harvesting it themselves in small batches from trees that needed to be removed for safety or development reasons.
If you're looking for materials other than wood try steel made in the USA or certified to be made from recycled content, recycled content plastic products, glass, or stone products.
NOMAD FRIENDLY - In addition, if you’re like my fiance and I, you may move around often. For this reason, furniture which is easily disassembled or is modular is also a sustainable option to consider. You want to purchase pieces you will take with you wherever you go because it is always more sustainable to keep and love what you have than to dispose of your current pieces and purchase new ones.
My favorites: Mino Life, Floyd
Passive Strategies at home and work
There are lots of easy ways we can reduce our dependence on air conditioning and heating systems, especially if we are receiving our power from coal fired power plants (which most of us in the United States are).
Summer: Open windows to create a cross breeze, install ceiling fans or use movable floor fans. Hang sun blocking window shades, shade your exterior HVAC unit from the sun, strategically place trees to block sunlight before it hits your home, install an attic fan and/or swamp coolers (depending upon your climate zone).
Winter: south facing windows can bring in a great deal of warmth to a room, additional wall insulation can help you retain more heat, strategically placed trees can block your home from heavy winds and solar panels can passively provide you with hot water in addition to power for your home.
SUSTAINABLE & HEALTHY MATERIALS
For those of us remodeling or planning to build a new home, there are a large number of materials you can utilize that could be considered a part of the slow design movement. FSC CERTIFIED - Utilizing FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified lumber in the construction of your home and any future home improvement projects helps protect our natural forests for generations to come. These forests provide us with clean, breathable air and are home to 70% of land based plants and animals. FSC certified lumber is cut from specially managed forests which are prohibited from ecosystem devastating practices such as clear cutting large areas of the forest.
SAY HELL NO TO PVC - PVC/ vinyl and plastics must be minimized as much as possible in our homes. In some locations there are limited alternative options at this time, however in areas such as building siding, window and door trim, cabinetry and baseboards, we have more natural options. We do not have a reliable recycling stream for PVC at this time and it is a known carcinogen to humans. In addition, the process of manufacturing and disposing of this product creates dioxins which, according to the International Living Future Institute, “are some of the most potent toxins known to humans, with no known safe limit for exposure and a strong propensity for bioaccumulation. In addition, dioxins are highly persistent in the environment.” Basically, don’t take these lightly and get them out of your life! The more we ask the market to provide these plastics the more we put ourselves and our neighbors who are manufacturing them every day in danger, not to mention our planet who will need to endure these non-degrading elements for thousands of years to come.
WALL MATERIALS - gypsum board with green attributes and certifications such as Greenguard Certified, Declare Label, noted recycled content percentages, etc. Insulation - Opt for a thicker width of mineral wool insulation which has a much smaller carbon footprint than it’s sprayed poly alternatives
FLOORING - there are loads of sustainable options for flooring out there. Some are more energy intensive than others, so try to have a balance. Bamboo or FSC certified wood flooring is renewable. In addition, wood acts as a carbon sink, meaning it absorbs more carbon than it releases in the form of carbon dioxide. Oher tsustainable alternatives to consider include cork, linoleum, high recycled content carpeting, concrete (which is energy intensive to produce but can act as a passive heat source if you have a south facing window pouring sun onto a concrete floor) and recycled rubber flooring.
CABINETRY - This is a tough one where budget really matters...If you’re able to have custom cabinetry made with FSC certified or reclaimed lumber, that's ideal. If this is too much for your budget look for wood options from companies with sustainability and equity statements publicly available on their websites. Ask questions regarding the country in which the cabinetry is made and what their manufacturing and wage laws look like.
If you're like me, budget is always a consideration. In my recent kitchen remodel to balance between budget and environmental impact I opted for Ikea’s Kungsbacka line. It is made of recycled wood doors covered in foil from recycled PET bottles. I minimized the number of cabinets to fit only my current kitchen wares with a small amount of leeway. This saved money, time, material and will stop my fiance and I from purchasing excessive or non-essential items in the future because we will have nowhere to put them!
Now let's get to work!
As you can see from this basic list, there are a tremendous number of ways we can engage in the slow design movement every day from big moves to small ones, big ticket items to chump change. The moral of the story is that we can all be the change we wish to see in the world, starting with our daily lives!