Designing for a sustainable future

Freelance kitchen designer Sandy Armitage of Sandy Armitage Designs is a self-confessed eco-warrior who has been a fierce advocate of sustainability for over 10 years. Here she explains why – and how – retailers can take a more sustainable approach to design

Once the renovation project was complete, I’d always planned to make my Victorian terraced house my showroom to showcase who I am as a bespoke spatial designer. 

For a number of reasons, the renovation was taking a long time to complete and, in January last year, the local council informed me that my council tax was going to triple in the coming months unless I made the house livable. A temporary, secondhand kitchen would sort out the council tax issue in the short-term and give me time to decide on the finished kitchen. Handily, a friend was renovating his house at the same time and was able to give me his old kitchen furniture, worktops, sink and tap so with the national landscape changing fast he quickly delivered the units. The next day we went into Lockdown – and everything changed.

I had specifically stopped chasing new business in order to focus on the completion of my house but then we were all being forced to stop, and it made me stand back and think about everything, not least how I was going to navigate my way ahead without new income and without installers. 

Upcycled dream kitchen

Engaging my wealth of skills, frugality and artistic creativity I decided I could not only undertake the creation of my ‘bespoke’ kitchen myself but make it represent who I am as a designer and how my mission for sustainability is key in my design solutions. I rolled up my sleeves, grabbed every tool available and cracked on utilising existing on-site materials and secondhand appliances both bought and given.


Under the heading of ‘that might come in handy some day’ I had two oak veneered desktops put aside that have become the central bar top/worktop area. With my boyfriend as occasional tradesman we constructed the framework for the peninsular and made legs for the old wall units out of my old Victorian stair balustrades. I covered the steel legs for the hob run base units with plastic chrome pipe covers and painted the existing doors for the units on the sink run.  I’ve also made handles from the off cuts of paneling. The bits of new furniture were bought from my local Howdens and a length of worktop came from a local trader who sells slight seconds.

The single most expensive piece of furniture in the kitchen was the bespoke worktop support leg made by a local carpenter from bendy ply in the shape of a carrot – with a well in the top for a plant.

After banging on about the importance of sustainable design for several years, I have now installed an extreme example of it in my kitchen. Whilst I am not about to promote homemade painted worktops as a thing, I am promoting the importance of creativity and showing clients how the new can sit alongside the upcycled in an open-planned, eclectic and happy living space full of natural light.

It’s all about what home represents to us as individuals. When people are happier, they’re healthier and they desire to keep what they have rather than change things because of fads and fashions. I have returned to clients two decades after designing their kitchens and bathrooms and found happy, healthy people. One client said that the kitchen I had designed had saved their marriage. That’s all part
of sustainability.

Eco education

Investment in good products and creating sustainable outcomes takes a change of mindset and we are all going to have to shift because the subject is everywhere and it’s not going away. Secondhand is valuable and consumers are more conscious about how they can do their bit.

Education has always been the key to creating lasting change. My recommendation to designers and retailers would be to go and research the significant influencers, the leading voices and the businesses that are going full steam ahead on the broad subject of design for wellbeing and sustainability. Listen to the excellent kbbreview Podcasts with the likes of design legend Johnny Grey; biophilic designer Oliver Heath and kbbreview’s climate champion, Richard Hagan  from Crystal Doors. 

If Covid-19 has taught us anything it’s that we haven’t just got to think about changing the way we impact this precious planet with our relentless consumption and waste – on a personal, professional and on an industrial level we have to change.  

Still not convinced how taking a sustainable approach to design can help your business? Perhaps the fact I’m a finalist in the Kitchen Designer of the Year: project cost up to £30,000 category at this year’s kbbreview Retail & Design Awards – with the very project I’ve described here will be proof enough?

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