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  1. I’ve been a member of the interior design professional body The British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) for 8 years.  The more I get involved in it - the more I love what they are doing for our industry and those at all stages within it.  So many members volunteer their time to support our professional body in a myriad of ways.  We all want to support those in our sector and improve & learn together.


    A year ago I was invited to join the Professional Practice Committee after talking to our then President Harriet Forde about Sustainability and the BIID.  She brought in a few of us - Simone Suss and Brian Wolfe - to join the committee who were also keen to help to bring Sustainability to our members.  

    BIID Sustainability Committee 

    A year on - we’ve got an agenda prepared for supporting members which will be released later in the spring.  We’re aware it’s a daunting step to take alone.  Many members are sole practitioners like me or with a small amount of staff.   I just know fellow members want to do what they can in their work and they will appreciate this guidance on how to start.  


    After all, we have a responsibility and part to play in this horrifying fact: 

    Buildings contribute to roughly 40% of global CO2 emission. 


    We were told this year that the popular Student Challenge was going to go ahead despite the pandemic.  Our brilliant events manager Hayley had devised a way to make it work online.  It was great to hear this as I can’t imagine what a strange experience it must be to be studying for a degree away from your fellow students.  So much our our project work was in teams.  It was great this challenge could be offered and I hope it’s provided a boost for those teams who entered it.


    The below is the brief.

    When I heard that sustainaility and biophilic design were ket parts of the brief - I asked if they needed a judge!

    The Brief 

    The British High Street has been in crisis for several years, and for several reasons’ retailers were already struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. According to the Centre for Retail Research there are around 50,000 fewer shops on our High Streets than just over a decade ago, and some analysts predict it will only get worse. 

    In the last 30 years, Britain has fixated on the idea that town centres are purely driven by retail and some suggest that this has led to the generic town centre that many cities host today, with all the same shops owned by all the same big chains. The impact of this has meant that the high street is less appealing, with many shoppers favouring large out of town department stores and online shopping and according to figures from retail analyst company Springboard, the number of people visiting the High Street has dropped by 20.5% over the past decade. 

    For the high street to thrive, major rejuvenation will need to occur that does not focus on retail but rather the needs of the public, what will draw the community back and how can the high street be re-purposed to support other local businesses? 

    Your challenge is to reimagine a dynamic new space for the current Top Shop flagship store on Oxford Street. A 39,000 square foot venue arranged over two floors of retail space on their Ground and Lower Ground (sub-basement 1) floors. 

    Your client is the current owner of the empty property who wishes to re-use the space to benefit the local community of residents and workers and entice visitors from afar. 

    Please consider the following in your design: 

    • Community – who will be using your space and how will their various needs be met? 

    • Sustainability and environmental impact – how are you going to enhance and disrupt the space to be as sustainable as possible? 

    • Employment for small retail, food services and other industries – your space should be multifunctional and have several services that can support new jobs. 

    • Office workers nearby are important for the high street to thrive – how are you going to add services that office workers may require? 

    • In several large towns and cities, students make up more than a quarter of residents, which means if they do not return to university in the autumn, high streets could see lower footfall – how are you going to entice younger people into the town centre? 


    Essential criteria:

    • Hand drawn design concept sketch 

    • Design the space with the principles of ‘Biophilic Design’ in mind, explain how you have used biophilic design to improve the wellbeing of the occupants. 

    This year the entrants were…

    • Middlesex University 

    • Anglia Ruskin University

    • Plymouth College of Art

    • University of Wolverhampton

    • University of South Wales

    • Buckinghamshire New University

    • University of Lincoln

    • Bishop Burton College University Centre


    The winning three were

    1. University of Wolverhampton

    2. Middlesex University 

    3. Plymouth College of Art 


    University of Wolverhampton

    The winning inclusive concept from the University of Wolverhampton's team included a hydroponic community garden as well as a sensory garden and community skill sharing to encourage repairs (with child care to go alongside it).  The concept used recycled, repurposed and reclaimed furniture, fittings and equipment (FF&E) - combined with thoughtful material selections that were sustainable and healthy to those using the spaces - low chemical use & VOC,  and hypoallergenic.   There was a zero waste shop and clothing & book exchange - work areas - workout areas.  There was even a small theatre space and an artisan market.


    Concepts within every submission created a venue that I would VERY much love to visit!

    In just 14 hours the students achieved a huge amount of ideas by working as a team to thoughtfully and creatively consider the possible uses for reviving this huge space - especially thinking about how people will want to use it post-pandemic,  They made it inclusive, healing and restorative - and considered supporting small businesses and supporting skills - and encouraging a more conscious and mindful future for shopping and experiences. 

    Putting the emphasis on hand drawing when it was the digital version was a clever idea and it made the presentations so much more human.

    It was an honour to judge the submissions.  Thank you to the students for your submissions.  I loved being a part of this challenge.  Not having experienced the in person event - I thought it worked very well online.  

    It was very well organised by the BIID’s Learning and Events Manager Hayley McLennan.  The BIID mentors were wonderful and put in such a lot of effort in the divising of the challenge as well as the xhallenge itself.  

    I feel very excited for the future of our industry - and heartened that these talented young people have a good understanding of sustainability and human centric/biophilic design.   I so hope it's given them all a boost and will help their confidence and CVs and future job searches.


    You can read more here on the BIID website.

    IID student challenge



    Interior designer Angela Cheung and I meet online each fortnight to discuss interior design.  We thought this week it would be helpful to discuss our own paths to having our own design businesses to help anyone considering starting in the industry. 



    For me that was the traditional educational route of A level Art & Design, Art Foundation Course and then a degree (although I opted for Furniture Design).  Following my degree, I was lucky to work in a drawing office and then a design team to build up lots of experience.  I’d bought and sold some houses that provided great experience as well.  I also took a distance learning National Diploma in Interior Design (which I didn’t get to mention) while I was working - plus took numerous associatied short courses and continuted courses on CAD and design software.  All these things set me up well for venturing on my own - however if you are thinking of doing that - the actual runnning of a business is a whole new skillset that needs a whole lot of training and coaching for!

    Angela’s path has been different - she came from the same Art Foundation course to study Graphic Design to working on commercial design projects from the client side.  She is an employer and is able to offer office-based work experience (unlike me).   She details the software requirements she needs applicants to have - technical skills - In Design, Photoshop, CAD.  Angela highlights the huge importance to learn the 'classics' first - art & design history and the basic skills of draughting and drawing by hand.  

    We talk about the benefits of coming into the industry from other routes and later in life and how that is a benefit rather than a barrier.  The people side of the role seems much easier as you get older.



    The British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) a great place to start when considering joining the industry.   They have advice on choosing courses and have a student membership and pathway.  They will support designers through their career -  starting with free membership and first year in industry.  They offer mentoring,  a yearly Student Design Challenge (which is open now for registration) and even portfolio mentoring. We both feel strongly that being an accredited designer is important -  as the industry is unregulated.  Entry requirements to the BIID are high and you must show you have the experience, skills, professionalism and insurances to work in the industry which is vital reassurance to clients. 



    If you have a specific interest such as Sustainability like me or Biophilic Design like Angela - then seek out courses that teach that specialism.  Now that courses are online - you can be studying anywhere.



    For those entering into the world of interior design - be aware that you are embarking on life long learning.  We both are proof that learning does not come to an end.  Angela is in her second term of her BA in Architecture.  I’m just starting a new course in Healthy Materials and Sustainable Building.  The whole reason I joined the professional body was to continue learning through their CPD offer.   More and more courses are shifting online and becoming more affordable.  Get as much work experience as you can.  Try to build up lots of experience within a large company who values education and who will give you lots of access to learning. 



    The reality is that Interior Design in reality is nothing like what Instagram might convey.  Being original - draw on inspiration and be original - not copying is vital!  You might be able to shop well but that's not just what interior design is about.  It’s not only about design and being creative - it’s actually a huge amount of people skills, technical skills and mathematics. 

    It is not all about creativity and design is actually a small percentage of what you'll do.  The creative concept may not always come from you - so there is no room for ego and stamping your style on every project.  Clients often come with their own strong ideas and we are there to deliver spaces to the client’s brief. 

    Invest in as much education as you can afford and get as much experience as you can. 

    Angela summarises the discussion so well by advising people to align themselves with companies who share their core values and to be authentic.

    Further information

    British Institute of Interior Design (BIID): 

    Choosing an Interior Design Course advice

    Student membership

    Student Design Challenge


    United In Design - this charity has been set up to address the lack of diversiy in the interior design industries

    Design For Diversity is also a pledge by designers and suppliers to recognise the lack of diversirty and to encourage more diversity in the industries.


    Degree courses


    Independant courses

    National Design Academy


    Short courses  Discount code: CBULLOCK10


    Specialist courses 


    Useful articles:




    Last year I was asked on a panel discussion at the annual residential interior design show here in the UK, Decorex. I sat alongside designer Sue Timney to talk sustainability - we spoke to a room with about 50 people in it.  The response was very good. Looking at stands of the show itself - I struggled to find many (or any) exhibitors selling sustainable products.   I was asked back again this year to speak at their show which took place virtually this November.  Our panel discussion was on Sustainable Sourcing For Interior Designers - Cutting Through The Greenwash.  

    Myself, two fellow designers (Nicola Keenan and Susie Rumbold) along with Stefan Dodds from responsible furniture procurement company Dodds & Shute - shared our experiences and challenges in a discussion I was really happy to be a part of - moderated by Jeff Hayward of Wildwood PR.

    It was a great discussion to be a part of and I certainly learnt from my fellow panelists.  For me Sustainability also means people and production methods - AND also occupant health & wellbeing as well.  This certainly was supported by my fellow panelists.  

    The headlines from our discussion were…

    • Avoid products that have been flown here - I thought it was much more sea freight now but apparently not!

    • Companies like Dodds & Shute (and mine!) plant trees to offset their company's carbon footprint (Dodds & Shute’s scheme is actually tree saving)

    • Buy locally.  Made In Britain can actually often mean it’s assembled in Britain.

    • Use recycled aluminum.  It’s 9200 times more harmful than carbon dioxide is to planet extract bauxite to produce aluminium.

    • Certifications are very useful and not always perfect.  It can be expensive for smaller producers to attain - so don’t eliminate companies who don’t have them.  

    • Be inquisitive (my favourite!) - ask lots of questions.  Develop relationships with suppliers you trust. Asking questions and being inquisitive en masse will pressurise suppliers to change.

    • Avoid fast furniture.  Importance of using long lasting, quality FF&E and finishes.  Timeless design.  Modern heirlooms.  Adding character to spaces but using original, preloved items.

    • Watch out for water footprints of products - especially cotton.

    • Slave labour is going on in our supply chains - concerns over cotton industry in Uzbekistan from Stefan

    • Ask suppliers for their Sustainability Policy.  Many of the better companies are very self critical but are actually doing much more than the norm.

    • Consider the design of items - have they’ve been designed to be repairable or for disassembly at the end of life?

    • Fire labels being cut off beds, sofas etc. This means those items go to landfill when they could be reused if the label was intact.

    • Health concerns around chemical use: stain resistance, fire treatments, some paints, foams, formaldehyde in products - in our increasingly air tight spaces.  Interior air quality is 3 to 5 times higher than outdoor air quality.  Concerns for those working with these products and also occupant health of the end user of the interior.

    • It’s our duty as designers to guide our clients - and we need to research and learn to support that.


    The two surveys I suggested people complete to look at their own consumption are:


    This poll was alongside our discussion and was very heartening to read as well…


    I really want to encourage companies who are providing better - less people, planet and animals impacting specifications - whilst conducting business well and ethically.  I can see there's greenwashing happening - intended or not - and I can understand people's hesitancy and nervousness around getting into using these products.  I just want everyone to doing SOMETHING better.  Even if it is small.  It's all going to add up as our industry and designers working in it become more aware.

    For all these years that I've been working in sustainable design, I've seen many smaller companies following a passion to supply lower impact furniture, materials and finishes to our industry.  They've taken risks and have put in massive amounts of work - because they believe in what they are selling and in most cases - it's a passion project.  Yes those products probably have been more expensive - but they haven't had the volumes to benefit from economies of scale - and they also are producing these items closer to home and therefore likely to be looking after the people involved and paying fairly.  I want all these innovators to have their well deserved exposure and not get swamped by larger companies with huge marketing budgets. 

    Remember that people are part of Sustainability - so support small business and ensure you are happy with answers on the supply chains of products - do they even talk about them in their marketing?  Do they have a Modern Slavery statement as well as a Sustainabilty Statement?  Check the contents of these statements - having a statement alone doesn't mean they are doing good things - it needs reading.  Over time you'll see how some are much better than others.  Just stating they deliver in recyclable packaging is not enough!

    Since the panel discussion was aired, I’ve had such a great response from students, suppliers and designers - emails, messages, in blogs!  It really feels like people want to learn more and let’s hope things might be changing.  I’ve had so many people contacting me. 


    There were a number of discussions on sustainability during Decorex and interior design platform Houzz has summarised them in this article.  

    It's about time this feeling of a movement on Sustainility is happening.  As I say in the discussion - I'm 50 and I've been asking these same questions for half of my life now! 

    It's time!  It NEEDS to be the way we all work.  Our industry (built environment), accounts for almost 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions whilst also having a significant impact on our natural habitats.   We need to work sustainably and ensure those spaces are built to support human health and not contribute to it.

    My professional body (British Institute of Interior Design ) as part of the Construction Industry Council has committed to achieve the target of net zero emissions by 2050.  Find out more on the net zero commitment.  Great things are happening in the BIID - join us!  Myself and other members who have experience in sustainability have been brought into the Professional Practice commitee to support members with resources to help. 

    The support of Decorex is much appreciated.  The fact that this show was online this year really seems to have hugely helped to extend the reach to get to far more people than would have fitted in a stage area of the physical show.  I must thank Decorex for continuing this conversation and the panel’s hosts - Jeff and Susie from The Interior Design Business podcast for selecting this subject and for having me as part of the panel. 

    I feel positive - like this coversation is not going to stop now.  Well it won't while I'm involved anyway!

    Watch the discussion here - it’s available until 10th December ‘20.

    And listen to it here.  It's now an  The Interior Design Business podcast episode - so the reach is now even further!