The brief was simple (and came in after the show had viewed the studio’s interior design portfolio online): to design The Conscious Hotel Room for the Independent Hotel Show 2019. The design studio leaped at the opportunity to design the concept room. “It was a seamless fit for the studio and their ethos of looking at the most environmentally and socially conscious way of producing luxury interiors and products,” Alex Harris, the studio’s Founder and Creative Director, explains. Arguably most importantly, though, the space at the show would give Harris & Harris the opportunity to showcase this mentality through the design and curation of brand partners who have similar ethics.
When designing the skeleton of the room, Harris was keen to explore creating a heritage feel. “We wanted it to feel as if the room was located within a historic building instead of a new build,” he explains. “This was to prove that sustainable design practices can also be applied to older buildings, which are more prominent in the UK. This was achieved through introducing Georgian style wall panelling throughout the bedroom and including some historic design references in the interior design but with a modern twist.”
Parallel to curating sustainable focussed products and brands in the concept room – including factoring in elements like using local suppliers to reduce milage – the studio was also focussed on ensuring the overall design felt fresh, inviting and luxurious, all of which could be achieved whilst minimising the impact on the environment.
Ahead of the official unveiling of the finished room on October 15, we caught up with Harris to understand more about the concept and his drive to design with purpose.
Hamish Kilburn: What sparked your passion for sustainability, both at university and beyond?
Alex Harris: I had the opportunity to gain work experience in 2005, prior to graduating from Bournemouth University, with the award winning furniture designer Russell Pinch (we grew up in the same tiny village in Gloucestershire). One day we traveled down to Benchmark Furniture in Berkshire as Russell was working on a new collection with them and I had the chance to see Benchmark’s incredible workshops, showroom and design office.
They are very focused on sustainability throughout their manufacturing process and the products themselves. Together with their passion for craftsmanship, this definitely resonated with me as a student and I knew that my final year project must represent this ethos that I witnessed with Pinch and Benchmark’s work.
I designed a (fully functioning) wooden wind-up LED lamp for my final year project, which I won an award for sustainability from my university. At the same time I approached the eco-design collective [RE] Design and had the opportunity to exhibit my lamp with them at the London Design Festival in 2006. Then in 2009 (after a stint living and working in Melbourne, Australia) I joined the Benchmark design team, four years after I had previously visited with Russell Pinch, so I had come full circle!
I then went to work for several interior designers in London who were focussed on luxury and not really concerned about sustainability, which was always difficult for me. I vowed that whenever I start my own design studio that we must bring together both ‘luxury’ and ‘sustainability’ to prove that they can work harmoniously.
HK: How will your concept The Conscious Hotel Room showcase environmental and social factors?
AH: We have thought about the design in terms of impact on the environment from floor to ceiling. It was very important to us that every element was considered, so we researched and approached companies that we knew could help us with this vision.
So we have organic and natural wool and linen fabrics, FSC certified timber flooring from Domus, bespoke 100 per cent recycled cardboard and plastic joinery pieces, many products that are made in the UK (to reduce ‘mileage’) such as our Harris & Harris furniture & lighting and the beautifully natural bed from Naturalmat, 100 per cent wool carpets from Axminster with their recycled car-tyres underlay (both also made in the UK). Handmade natural terracotta tiles, also from Domus, feature in the bathroom with Crosswater WC, basin mixers and showers with low water use. Edward Bulmer paint features on the bedroom walls that only uses natural ingredients. We have a boiling and chilled water tap from Quooker together with reusable water bottles at the mini bar, omitting the need for a kettle (as you only use the exact boiling water you need for a cup of tea) and of course no need for single-use plastic water bottles. Even the artwork we have curated with the art consultants ARTIQ has been chosen to minimise impact on the environment, with artists that use recycled materials and natural materials & processes.
“Natural materials are used wherever possible but in particular with the Naturalmat bed and linens from The Fine Cotton Company.” – Alex Harris, Founder and Creative Director, Harris & Harris
The social factors that we have considered include making the space as wheelchair friendly as we can, with clear space around the bed, sofa, desk and bathroom vanity and a wide doorless opening into the bathroom with no change in floor level into the shower. Plants throughout provide better air quality and general well being. Natural materials are used wherever possible but in particular with the Naturalmat bed and linens from The Fine Cotton Company, to provide the best night’s sleep possible. Snacks and beverages will be sourced as locally as possible and that contain healthy ingredients.
HK: What are the challenges of creating a heritage feel from scratch?
AH: Our first approach was to introduce wall panelling and decorative mouldings throughout, this gave the feeling of a Georgian style property which also helped it feel warm, welcoming and luxurious. Materials, colours and patterns were also chosen to be simple and classic throughout and the furniture and joinery designs are pared back to give a timeless feel.
Image caption: Independent Hotel Show Conscious Hotel Room sketch
HK: What are the historic design references that are mentioned in the brief?
AH: As discussed above, the wall panelling and decorative mouldings, gave the feeling of a Georgian style interior. Our Harris & Harris furniture we have specified for the project; ‘Totterdown’ sofa, ‘Orchard’ Bench and ‘Clarke’ dining chair all have subtle references in their designs to 1920s/1930s Art Deco era and our Harris & Harris ‘Wharf’ lights (both table and pendants will be showcased) feature classic reeded glass. Cole & Son’s wallpaper ‘Flamingos’ that feature in the bathroom are a take on their archived designs from the 1960s as do the ‘Palm Jungle’ fabric on the scatter cushions. The herringbone pattern in the Axminster carpet is another classic design feature and the recycled cardboard tubing, used in the joinery and bed backdrop, gives a feeling of fluted columns that were used in Greek and Roman architecture.
“There are so many ways in which hotels can embrace the three ‘R’s (reduce, recycle and reuse).” – Alex Harris, Founder and Creative Director, Harris & Harris
HK: Can a hotel be 100 per cent fully sustainable?
AH: Unfortunately I don’t believe we as human beings can ever be 100 per cent fully sustainable unless we go back to living in a cave! We can all do our bit to help minimise our impact, but we all consume and we all produce waste. There are so many ways in which hotels can embrace the three ‘R’s (reduce, recycle and reuse) and we are excited to showcase just a selection of examples of how this can be employed in the design of The Conscious Hotel Bedroom which we hope will inspire hoteliers for their current and future projects.
HK: Let’s talk about water consumption. So many hotel groups are pledging to reduce their water consumption by ‘X’ amount.. Which suppliers would you say are allowing this to be a reality?
AH: We are working closely with the British bathroom brand Crosswater who are supplying The Conscious Hotel Bedroom with their M Pro range which have WRAS and TMV2 certification. The WC has two flush types to encourage water management and the mixer tap features a Neoperl aerator that has a flow rate of only five litres per minute.
When I lived in Australia we received an egg timer from the local water company to encourage showers of under four minutes. This was such simple idea and gave a fun challenge to try and ‘beat the clock’ whilst saving water. We will be featuring an egg timer in the bathroom of The Conscious Hotel Bedroom.
“There will be many UK produced products that will feature in The Conscious Hotel Bedroom and will be noted in our literature at the show.” – Alex Harris, Founder and Creative Director, Harris & Harris
HK: What is the value of products that have been manufactured in the UK?
AH: We have many great craftsmanship skills and traditions that are hard to find abroad. Harris & Harris are passionate about producing the UK whenever possible and keeping these skills alive. There will be many UK produced products that will feature in The Conscious Hotel Bedroom and will be noted in our literature at the show.
HK: What can designers do to ensure an eco-hotel is still a trendy and fresh hotel?
AH: I think there is no reason why an eco-hotel cannot not still be trendy and fresh. Curating the products and materials specifically for The Conscious Hotel Bedroom galvanised this idea for us. Many brands now offer products which have less impact on the environment but still look fab. It is up to the designer to track these down and encourage their client to use in place of products that could be damaging to the environment.
HK: Can you explain the benefits of Smile Plastics?
AH: Smile plastics have kindly donated their ‘Dapple’ plastic sheets to us for the joinery pieces at The Conscious Hotel Bedroom. Dapple is made from recycled chopping boards and plastic packaging and with all of their ranges, Smile Plastics are produced from waste which would otherwise end up in land fill. With Dapple we felt it had the look of a natural material such as marble, to give a touch of luxury, particularly important in the bathroom where it features on the vanity joinery. Dapple is hard, dense and rigid, 100 per cent waterproof, rot-proof and strong weather resistance. It is solid and consistent, allowing for a decorative edge. It is also UV resistance and is food-grade and can be used for preparation of wet foods.
Harris & Harris will showcase The Conscious Hotel Room at the Independent Hotel Show 2019. In addition to this, Harris will also join editor Hamish Kilburn on stage to discuss this year’s major topic in a live talk entitled The Conscious Bedroom Report, which takes place at 11:30am on October 15, 2019.
Brand Partners (as of August 2019)
ARTIQ– art consultants and rental agency, Axminster- carpets, Cole & Son– wallpaper and fabrics, Crosswater- bathroom items including shower, basin, toilet and taps, Curran Packaging– recycled cardboard tubing, Domus – bathroom floor and wall tiles, timber flooring, Edward Bulmer – paint, The Fine Cotton Company – towels, gowns, slippers and bed linens, Harris & Harris London– furniture and decorative lighting, Naturalmat – bed, mattress and bed linens, Plant Plan – plants and moss/living wall, Quooker – boiling, filtered & chilled water mixer tap, Samsung– television and soundbar, Smile Plastics– recycled plastic sheet material, Wandsworth Group – power, lighting sockets and faceplates