Fiona and Tom Ginnett, the owners of Hackney-based kitchen studio Holte, are trying to educate consumers and the wider industry, on sustainability through design. Rebecca Nottingham went to meet them to find out more…
You don’t have to be on a mission to save the planet yourself to realise that sustainability is a hugely important issue that’s impacting both our professional and personal lives in a variety of ways.
One company that is trying to make a tangible difference is London-based studio Holte, who are not only challenging their customers, but the industry as a whole, to change their priorities when it comes to buying and designing a kitchen.
With 20 years’ collective experience in architecture and fashion respectively, designers Tom and Fiona Ginnett founded Witlof in 2013, designing, manu-facturing, and installing luxury, bespoke fitted kitchens. The launch of Holte followed in late 2017, born out of a desire to bring “good design and high-quality materials to everyone”.
The team at Holte design and manufacture a full kitchen system, including hand-finished fronts and cabinets that can be combined with proprietary carcasses – predominantly Ikea – bringing what the husband-and-wife team describe as a “high-quality but accessible designer finish to any kitchen”.
“The idea for the Holte side of the business came from the fact that we had a lot of people interested in the style and ethos of our Witlof kitchens, but they didn’t necessarily have the budget,” explains Holte co-founder Fiona Ginnett. “We identified a gap in the market between where bespoke starts and where high street ends and decided to build a business that focuses on kitchens that offer a unique finish at a more affordable price point.”
Keen to understand the full impact of their industry on the environment, last year the Ginnetts embarked on a project whereby they began calculating the carbon footprint of their kitchens for clients.
A typical medium-sized kitchen from Holte generates 1,227kg CO2e – a comparable figure to eight years of daily Starbucks, or a weekly steak habit for two years. This 1,227kg CO2e total breaks down as follows:
Use (10 years)
“When planning a fitted kitchen, most of us think in three dimensions: height x width x depth,” Fiona says. “We believe there is a fourth dimension that should be equally important – environmental impact. We believe we are the only kitchen design studio to calculate the exact CO2e impact of all our products. This unique insight helps lower our emissions as we continue to refine our materials and manufacturing processes.”
Investing in Målbar, a Danish carbon calculator tool, Holte has spent months generating a full set of hard CO2e data for every Holte-made component, such as door fronts, bespoke cabinetry and handles in its range, in a bid to calculate the environmental cost of each one of its modern fitted kitchens. The data does not include worktops and carcasses. The company even invested in a sustainability analyst to collate the data and create a library of information.
These figures represent an average (see boxout), as the precise impact will depend on the specific products chosen – there is an emissions difference of around 40% between Holte’s worst-performing product and its best.
“The data was eye-opening,” says Fiona. “We had long been aware that the impact of our products on the environment must be significant, but our interaction with the CO2e emissions of products was limited as not many businesses have done it. When we started calculating our products’ full-lifespan emissions, it became clear that the impact of a whole kitchen is huge – a single cabinet door can generate the same emissions as 120 hours of Netflix or 92km in a car.”
The couple readily admit that the impact of a business is not limited to carbon emissions, however as a producer of kitchens, it is, they say, the main issue they are contributing to.
“It’s important to point out that we are not claiming to produce or sell the most sustainable products,” Tom Ginnett explains. “But what we are doing is providing our clients with the information and the comparable values of the impact – such as how many coffees/air miles it’s equivalent to etc – each product individually or as a whole has on the environment, so they know what they need to do to offset that if they so wish.”
As a result of the project, Holte has overhauled a number of practices and production methods to reduce emissions – and is looking for ways to do more.
“Small decisions across the board make a big difference,” explains Fiona. “We use a broad spectrum of materials and products chosen for their sustainable credentials and durability and what we know will appeal to our customers.
“For example, we use Valchromat, which is essentially like MDF but it’s incredibly dense and dyed with organic dye. They also use organic resin, so it’s fully recyclable. Our laminates are from Italian brand Arpa, which we chose because they are manufactured using 50% natural resin.”
They have also brought the manufacture of components previously produced in China, back to the UK and have been liaising with manufacturers to encourage more sustainable production practices and more efficient waste streams.
Although the Ginnetts’ focus on sustainability really took off in 2021, as Fiona explains, the basic philosophy of Holte was, though not necessarily intentional, always built on sustainability.
“In many ways there were sustainable aspects to the Holte business before we even started looking into the carbon footprint of our kitchens,” explains Fiona. “By giving people the opportunity to customise basic cabinetry or update and personalise a kitchen, we were adding longevity to something that could have been more short-lived.”
Tom admits that while most of their clients don’t necessarily approach Holte because of their sustainable credentials, attitudes towards understanding their personal impact and thoughts on protecting the environment are changing.
“The majority of our customers, tend to come to us just because they want a new kitchen,” he admits. “Before they come here, I’d say that people don’t really associate a kitchen or building work with the need to make sustainable choices. I don’t think it’s because they don’t care, it’s more like they are overwhelmed with the task at hand when it comes to purchasing a new kitchen and sustainability just doesn’t seem to be a consideration.
“That said, we’ve definitely seen a change in attitudes and genuine interest from consumers in carbon offsetting since undertaking the project.”
We’re not claiming to produce or sell the most sustainable products. But, what we are doing is providing our clients with the information and comparable values of the impact those products have on the environment so that they can offset it if they so wishTom Ginnett, co-founder, Holte
Like many KBB businesses, Holte became an unwitting success story of Covid which, although is obviously good news from a business perspective, the Ginnetts’ admit has, at times, felt uncomfortable considering the negative impact it had on so many people’s personal and professional lives. The company doubled its turnover between May 2020 and May 2021 and, at the time of our interview, were on track to double their turnover again this year. The Holte team has also grown significantly over the past two years – it now has six designers, all with a mix of interior design, product design, furniture design and architecture backgrounds.
“We started Holte in late 2017, but 2021 was the year of real acceleration,” explains Fiona. “The rise in demand for home renovations brought about by the pandemic lockdowns certainly had an impact on the business, but I think it was a combination of factors.
“In March 2020, a couple of weeks before the pandemic really hit, we had our most successful week yet – taking nine sizeable orders in one week. Over the next couple of weeks, as the lockdowns began and uncertainty took hold, a lot of jobs were paused, but they all came back once we knew we could safely continue.”
Fiona explains how most of their projects come via recommendation from previous customers, archi-tects, or interior designers. However, they have definitely had a few ‘passing trade’ customers who have spotted the showroom on their way to, or from, the local Broadway market.
“In general, we prefer to rely on word of mouth, return business and meticulous and thorough research by our customers,” Fiona explains. “As we find this brings us the types of clients and projects we really love. Footfall was never something we really considered as we had always intended it to be an appointment-only space, but it has definitely been beneficial to the business.”
Taking their commitment to turning their business – and their customers – more sustainable – the team are now in the process of designing a modular kitchen concept which, they hope, will change attitudes towards kitchen furniture.
“We want people to think about kitchens as pieces of furniture that they invest in and take with them when they leave a property,” Fiona says. “You wouldn’t dream of leaving your dining room table or a sideboard behind and yet, something, like the kitchen, that we put so much love and attention into designing, you close the doors on when you move or simply rip out and replace after 10 years.
“The idea for the modular range was born out of this idea that we should start thinking about kitchens as furniture again, like we did before the fitted kitchen came out in the 1950s.
“You’d have modules of furniture – like the island, the sink unit, the cooker unit, etc, whatever works for the client’s lifestyle and space – that people will keep for a long time. The goal is to create this circular system whereby the products stay in circulation for a long time and we would adapt them to fit a new space or fulfil a new need.”
Tom adds: “We’re not expecting people to understand the idea overnight,” he explains. “It is going to take a change in attitudes towards how we view kitchen furniture in this country.”
Although educating people that by making small changes we can all, as individuals, make a huge difference to climate change, what steps do the Ginnetts want the industry to take?
“We admire companies like TUKC, UKE and other retailers like Sustainable Kitchens in Bristol, for instance, because their intentions are clear and they are doing everything in their power to push sustainable choices,” says Fiona. “But now, as an industry, we need to do better.
“We will always try to source the most sustainable products and manufacture in the most sustainable way we can,” explains Fiona. “We will continue to calculate the carbon emissions of every project we design, but it shouldn’t just be down to retailers. It’s down to the suppliers too. It’s a huge project to undertake, so I can see why most independents wouldn’t be able to invest the time and money, but if suppliers measured the emissions of their components, the job would be more achievable.”