26 September 2023

Architect George Clarke: Sustainability and style can go hand-in-hand in the home

26 September 2023

TV architect George Clarke is known for creating Amazing Spaces – but they can only be truly amazing if they’re kind to the planet, he says.

The genial presenter of shows including George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces and Old House, New Home is a master at making all sorts of homes look great, but is keen to highlight that style and sustainability can – and should – go hand-in-hand in the home.

“Designers and product designers who care about the environment absolutely care about what something looks like – a million per cent,” he says. “Someone who’s passionate enough about the product to make it green is not going to design something that looks ugly – they’re going to make it look really stylish at the same time.”

It’s key for homeowners to ask questions about where products, fixtures and fittings have come from and what they’re made of, he says.

“My parents’ generation didn’t ask where things came from. But my kids now will say, why are we buying that, it’s come halfway around the world? Why aren’t we buying local?”

He points out that while in the past British products may have been more expensive than some items made abroad, “It’s changed enormously over the last 10 years – now you can buy British, you can buy green, and you can buy it affordably.”

Clarke, 49, says that “back in the day” – meaning the 1990s and 2000s – people often renovated properties and put in cheap fixtures and fittings, with a view to upgrading them later. “That’s not the best way to do it,” he insists. “You should get something installed first that’s of a decent quality and as green as you can, and that you can keep for as long as possible.

“This kind of disposable economy that we’ve had in the last 30 years is completely unsustainable, and let’s be honest, it’s a waste of money. What’s the point of buying something crap and cheap, and then throwing it away in three year’s time and then trying to find the money again, to do something decent? Back in my nana’s day, if you couldn’t afford it, you didn’t buy it. Save up, take your time and then buy something quality that’s going to last you a lifetime.”

But he understands that making the right choices isn’t always easy.

“It’s difficult at the minute, you’ve got a cost-of-living crisis, energy prices have gone up, you’ve got stagnant wages, and people have to watch their purse strings,” he says. “You’ve got to really, really watch what you’re spending your money on.

“But go for the greenest thing you can, if you can afford it. If not, then question whether you really need to buy it. Quite often we buy stuff we don’t even need – there’s a lot of tat that’s bought by people that don’t need it. But my call out to manufacturers and suppliers is if you design something that’s green and built to last, then people shouldn’t need to be buying cheap.”

What should homeowners look out for if they want a more sustainable living space?

“You want all your appliances to be efficient – AAA appliances are energy-efficient, power-efficient, and water-efficient,” he explains. “You want all your fabrics to be as natural as possible – you don’t want to be using fabrics which have been damaging to the environment.

“Then there’s the types of lightbulbs we use and light fittings – everything down to the size of toilet cisterns. Now, showerheads, toilet cisterns and taps have been designed in such a way that you use less water without compromising on the efficiency. I think that’s the most important thing.”

Clarke has helped create the Gaia sofa range for British sofa company Sofology, designed using sustainable fabrics and easily dismantled so each individual part can be easily recycled or repurposed.

He says such pieces of furniture should be part of the circular economy – where components, objects and appliances can be fully recycled repeatedly. “I’ve been banging on about the circular economy for 15 years,” he says. “Certain objects and appliances in the home don’t get reused and repurposed, they get taken to the tip. We shouldn’t have the amount of landfill that we’ve got in this country – it’s ridiculous.

“We’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to items in the home designed in a circular economy way. Yes, they can be designed using sustainable materials, in a fairly sustainable way, but can they really be reused and reused again? Most things can’t, but everything should be like that.”

Clarke stresses he’s not telling people they have to be green homeowners, and adds: “I think these are all personal decisions – it’s up to you how you make them, and how green or how sustainable you want your house to be. But I think you need to be aware of what you’re buying, and where you’re buying it from, who’s made it, what they’ve made it from, and what resources they’ve used to be able to do it. And when you’re buying online, you’ve got to really investigate where something’s come from too.

“If you choose not to do it, and you don’t want to live in a green home, that’s your call. But I don’t think it’s the direction that the country should be going in.”

George Clarke’s sustainable Gaia range is available exclusively at Sofology.

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