How circular design can shape more sustainable interiors

Image for post
Image for post

Circular design has been defined “a radical, restorative, regenerative approach to business”. That’s a pretty ambitious definition indeed, but it has good foundations!

We rarely think about the power of design in shaping our lives. But in fact, every single object we use has been designed. Namely, there has been someone thinking about which shape it should have, which materials it should be made of and so on.

When we start realizing this, it becomes apparent that design plays a huge role in shaping the world. And circular design is our invaluable occasion to shape a world that is more respectful of the environment and smarter in its use of resources. All without having to compromize on the aesthetics of things.

Linear vs circular economy

Circular design originates from a deep mindset shift.
Our current world is shaped according to a linear model, where products are made to be used and then disposed of. Instead, in a circular economy, the disposal phase is substituted with a variety of different — and sustainable — options, including reusing, refurbishing and recycling.

Practically, this requires considering the whole life span of a product from the very beginning of its design, In other words, designer need to ask themselves:

“What happens when your product comes to the end of its use period? Can your product have many use periods? Can you design for the future, design for recovery, to deliver even more value in the future?”
Cit. Ellen MacArthur

Image for post
Image for post

Circular design pillars

But what does it mean to design for the circular economy?
Well, circular design develops around 3 pillars:

  1. Design out waste and pollution
  2. Keep products and materials in use
  3. Regenerate natural systems

It may sound excessive, but when achieved together, these 3 elements really have the power to transform our world into a healthier, smarter and more sustainable place!

Image for post
Image for post


“Waste is a design flaw” they say.

And this couldn’t be more accurate! In fact, circular design can help cut on waste by encouraging efficient use of materials in production.
One inspiring example of designing out waste are wood floor boards that follow the natural curvature of the tree instead of being cut straight, thus reducing scraps!

Image for post
Image for post
Curved wood floor boards. Credit: Bolefloor

Design can also reduce pollution by choosing materials wisely. Opting for natural and renewable materials is only part of the solution, as it’s just as important to source sustainably grown materials (FSC certified wood, organic cotton…)
To give a well-known example, IKEA has committed to a sustainable policy for cotton, which consists on either using recycled cotton, or sourcing it from areas where it’s grown sustainably.

Image for post
Image for post
Sustainable cotton sheets. Credit: IKEA


Materials have a long life, often much longer than the one of the products they’re used for. Circular design takes this opportunity and focuses on making objects that can easily be altered, repaired or remanufactured.

Modular products are a good example. Think about a chair whose legs can be easily swapped. That chair could be personalized to fit different tastes. It could also be altered or upgraded over time, as a way to repair a broken leg or just to follow the changing needs of its owner. As a result, that chair will not be trashed as quickly, which is smart for the consumer, good for the producer and better for the planet!

Image for post
Image for post
Chair whose seat fits on 4 different leg types. Credit: Vepa

But even when we dispose of a product, chances are its materials are still perfectly functional. And thinking in circular economy terms means designing products that are easy to disassemble, so that materials can be reused over and over again, rather than always sourcing virgin materials.

Image for post
Image for post
Chair made of only two (recycled) materials and easy to disassemble. Credit: Wehlers


Up to now, we’ve looked at materials in general. But what about natural materials? At the very end of their life, natural materials can be composted. This regenerates the soil that — remaining healthy — can keep providing renewable materials.
But before this time comes, all natural materials can have a very long life. And in the right hands, even food waste can become a beautiful design!!

Image for post
Image for post
Lampshades made of agricultural waste. Credit: High Society

Earlier this summer, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (pioneer of circular economy) has called on designers and architects to join the circular design challenge and “re-design the world”. To support the task, it has created the Circular Design Guide, which provides practical help to start embracing the principles of circular economy in design work.

Discover CIRCULYTICS, the tool to measure progress towards a circular business model

Circular interior design

Designers and companies are experimenting with the principles of circular design in all industries, from fashion, to food, to interiors. In particular, a lot is happening in the field of interior design!

A pioneering example comes from Rype Office, a London-based company that sells office furniture and offers three purchasing options:

  • New: brand new furniture that can be leased for a monthly fee or bought with the option of a buy-back program.
  • Remade: good-as-new furniture that is assembled using a combination of new, reused and repaired parts.
  • Refreshed: furniture can be returned to the company for a makeover. And after being refurbished and/or repaired, it goes back to its owner.

This company is among the first embracing a real circular model, but can you imagine the world of home furniture working this way too?

Image for post
Image for post
Office furnished with refurbished and reused pieces. Credit: Rype Office

Transitioning to a circular economy is surely a big challenge, but it’s also an amazing opportunity! Exciting times are coming!

To know more about sustainable & circular interior design, you’re welcome to visit SforSustainable, the sustainable interior design resource where I select products that embrace the wide meaning of sustainability in the design field.

Image for post
Image for post

Originally published at on September 27, 2019.

Written by

Interior designer+Content creator on a mission: making interiors good for wellbeing (biophilic design) & our planet. My entire blog:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store