Review: Surface Design Show

After COVID delaying exhibitions for nearly 2 years, the Surface Design Show made its long awaited return at the Business Design Centre, London from 8th – 10th February 2022. With a clear focus on sustainability, the event provided designers and buyers with an educational two days, supported by a strong programme of talks, research and innovation stands and an awards ceremony, celebrating the achievements of exhibiting companies.

A smooth and speedy entrance assisted by a welcoming team led you to the familiar networking buzz. Although not as busy as previous years due to overshadowing covid worries, exhibitors were pleased to be back and visitors made no hesitation in jumping straight into the tactility and interaction of the exhibition. There was a sense of excitement with a relaxed atmosphere, reinforcing the overall theme of the show – A Sense of Place.

Focused on the wellbeing of humanity and our planet, there was a bold green thread that ran throughout the Business Design Centre, with exhibiting companies focusing on their sustainable credentials and looking at new ways of tackling the current eco-nomic crisis that faces not only the commercial interiors industry, but our planet.

Surface Spotlight Live, Sponsored by CDUK

The Surface Spotlight Live stand, sponsored by CDUK, was developed and curated by freelance Material & Trend Consultant, Sally Angharad in line with the theme of the show. The stand showcased a selection of projects and products exploring more mindful processes of production and manufacturing; looking at circular economy, innovation and human-centric design. Amongst the brands included was Camira Fabrics in partnership with SEAQUEL Initiative, with their Quest fabric woven entirely from recycled plastics. Sally commented on what the future looks like for sustainability in the commercial interiors industry, “Sustainability is a given factor to our future. Now, we must push beyond just recycling, it’s about embedding recycled materials into design from the very beginning.

Give a story, look at the journey, consider what and how we can give back to society. It is much more than saying something uses waste material, it’s now about enforcing a people centred approach.”

Camira Fabrics, Quest

A series of engaging and thought-provoking talks and panel sessions ran over the two days of the show. Liz Bell from Absolute Project Management stressed the importance of sustainable specification in interior design and highlighted the formation of “Interior Design Declares” – a collective committed to strengthening working practices to design spaces with a more positive impact on the world around us. Plastic waste was addressed in the ‘Materials Matter’ talk, exploring the variety of uses for recycled materials in commercial settings and how design perspectives are changing towards it. Adam Fairweather from Re-worked Ltd, highlighted the necessity of teaching clients that recycled materials can look just as beautiful as virgin materials, but are kinder to our planet. The Legends Live sessions included an interview with Sally Storey of Lighting Design International, who with a career spanning over three decades, stressed the importance that lighting plays in the overall design of a project.

Theresa Dowling (left) and Sally Storey (right)

With 8 billion tons of plastic across the world, more companies are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of single use plastics and are beginning to reduce their use to develop a more holistic approach to their production. Smile Plastics is a Wales based design studio and manufacturing house working with waste materials for construction surfaces in commercial design. Their stand showcased a range of stunning products and designs that use the language of the material to communicate the meaning of the product. Launched at the Surface Design Show, Cosmos and Spectra, created from PET packaging waste with elements of Kaleido, truly represents the ability to transform waste into wonder.

Spectra, by Smile Plastics

I had a chat with Emily Skinner, Customer Experience and Project Manager at Smile Plastics, about the future demand for products using 100% recycled materials.

“The industry has got targets that it legally has to hit now and using materials that are 100% recycled and have true credentials really sets it apart from others. Not only is the industry now demanding use of recycled materials, but it’s our consumers too.”

Cosmos, by Smile Plastics

The New Talent area was filled with 32 inspiring and experimental projects from young, independent designers, with a deep and forward-thinking passion in building a sustainable future using bio-materials.

The New Talent Surface Design Award was presented to blast:studio, recognising the studio’s innovative technology. Using London’s wasted coffee cups and 3D printing technology, blast:studio can create almost anything, from artistic ornaments to functional pieces for use inside commercial settings. Their most recent project is focused on providing furniture, architecture and sculptures for a new bar in London.

blast:studio Exhibition Stand

What’s even more fascinating, is the studio’s use of mycelium – mushroom roots – a common area of experimentation from the New Talent exhibitors and a wonderful innovation in the surface/interior design industry. Mycelium is inseminated with shredded coffee cups to create the paste for 3D printing, and as mycelium is a live material, this feeds off the waste and grows onto the product, bringing a beautifully natural and unique element to design.

Lamp Shade, by blast:studio

Food waste is another main issue tackled by the new talent exhibitors. Kitten Archives has found ways to use food waste sourced from local supermarkets and grocery stores to create colourful plastic alternatives. Phoebe Lewis has discovered the uses of seaweed to create natural ink’s and dyes for textiles, incorporating restaurant waste such as oyster shell and lemon rind to develop a pallet of coast inspired colours.

When I asked the exhibitors what they think the future of sustainable materials will look like, the new designers expressed the idea that it’s a matter of working with larger, commercial firms in educating, collaborating and developing new ways of thinking, usage and implementation of materials that will really ensure a sustainable future. 

Bio-material Alternatives, by Kitten Archives

There has been a significant shift in perspective surrounding sustainability in the commercial interiors industry, and I left the Surface Design Show feeling inspired and encouraged by the variety of innovative new ways companies and designers are looking at materials and their uses. It is now a matter of considering not only the effects this will have on our environment, but also on ourselves and our sense of place.



About Phoebe Train

Phoebe is a Marketing and Events Executive, who joined the BCFA as an English graduate in 2021. Working closely with designers and BCFA members, Phoebe has published an array of content for Design Insider.
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