In this interview with Chaline Church, interiors architect and founder of FreeSpace Design, we discuss the ‘Cradle-to-Cradle’ design framework and why our homes will become increasingly healthy in the future.

Interview by Emma Hedges

T.M. What is FreeSpace Design and how did it come about?

C.C. We spend on average 90% of our time indoors, yet our interiors are often more toxic than outdoor air quality. 

We breathe formaldehyde from some of our furniture, VOCs from our synthetic paint for up to five years after the paint has dried – air toxins are mobile and just because a tin says ‘sustainable’ does not mean it is healthy. In fact, we live in a petri dish of toxins. 

We spend on average 90% of our time indoors, yet our interiors are often more toxic than outdoor air quality. In fact we live in a petri dish of toxins – Chaline Church, FreeSpace Design @C2Ccertified Click To Tweet

Cheap is usually harmful for people and the planet, so when I finished my MA in Interiors Architecture looking at mental health and interiors, I realised the enormous scale of this hidden problem. 

Government standards are low, so it has fallen to industry to provide a solution. FreeSpace Design offers clients a one-stop healthy interiors architecture practice that can design, project manage and access the world’s most healthy, innovative architectural materials, through connecting them to the ‘gold standard’ material health product certification, namely Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C). 

During my research and in my experience as a partner in a health clinic, it was clear to me that C2C is the most holistic, harm-free product certification on the planet, so FreeSpace fills the gap for other people looking to live-work in non-toxic places. It’s a human right, I believe.

T.M. What is the Cradle-to-Cradle design approach, and why is it important in contemporary interior architecture? 

C.C. The built environment has unashamedly been building spaces known in industry as ‘non-places’ using materials that are harmful to both people and planet in either the manufacturing process, in their toxic ‘bleed’ of harmful fumes into our interiors or for a disconnected, poor mental wellbeing. 

The Cradle-to-Cradle design framework is generally accepted now as the most rigorous five-fold product-testing methodology in the world, from material health checks at microbiological level that far exceed government standards, to social fairness (no slavery or under-age workforce is accepted, for example) to water and energy conservation and re-use in the technical or biological cycles. 

Cradle-to-Cradle should be the minimum standard for all products, so we become pollution-free, both outdoors and in our interiors. We need a materials design revolution to save seas, air, landfill and interior health.

T.M. What steps can manufacturers and retailers take to adopt this approach in their businesses? 

C.C. For commercial practices who realise that their brand and their workforce’s health can be vastly improved through updating their interiors alone, they can contact FreeSpace Design. 

Similarly, there are specialist assessors who are trained to enable manufacturers to design and develop new, rigorously ethical products based globally. 540 World is the UK go-to company for innovators and manufacturers who realise the trend for holistic healthy product is not going quietly into the night – this is a global emerging market and late-comers I believe, will feel the tar and feathers from angry consumers who become informed of what they are putting into their products and how they are producing them. 

540 World launched the world’s first Cradle-to-Cradle Design Directory to help consumers gain access to retailers and manufacturers in the circular economy, and one of their partners is a trained Cradle-to-Cradle assessor. 

Retailers can actively source Cradle-to-Cradle products through 540 World, do targeted marketing and in-store prime-position placements, social media marketing and sponsor 540 World ventures to best position these products. They can print their stationery and leaflets on Cradle-to-Cradle paper using Cradle-to-Cradle ink – the sky is the limit. Businesses’ sustainable goals should be clearly circular with Cradle-to-Cradle material swaps being first choice every time. 

All thinking companies are changing their business model in answer to the planet in crisis. Retailers and manufacturers are increasingly under scrutiny to replace the old linear economy trend of take-make-waste with the vital holistic, circular one. 540 World and FreeSpace Design and their network can help drive these material swaps.

All thinking companies are changing their business model in answer to the planet in crisis – Chaline Church, FreeSpace Design @C2Ccertified Click To Tweet

T.M. Are you finding that with the growing awareness of the climate crisis, that there is more openness to the work that you do?  

C.C. Definitely. The catch-up position is for consumers to realise that there are circular products on the market, that they are not necessarily more expensive, that they are usually ‘best in category’ and usually, over time, are more cost efficient. 

Realistically, circular C2C products are the only responsible decision going forward. Businesses and ‘green’ brands are more aware of C2C materials and the commercial sector has seen a flood of open doors – particularly from those who are aware of their waste contribution and who realise that closed-loop cycle products are now accessible. 

I would like to see more government agencies, educational bodies and ‘green’ brands include quantifiable, healthy, sustainable goals in their strategic plans for public interiors and swaps of harmful products with C2C planet-positive ones. 

This is now doable because they exist! This is not tree-hugging, unicorn-chasing mythical language, as was first thought – this is a vital material revolution.

T.M. How do you see the way in which we live in our homes changing in the future?

C.C. This is a great question. We see open-plan, hybrid public-private, work-live, sit-stand offices and multi-use spaces increasingly emerge. 

Furniture, walls, beds, sofas and rooms are all increasingly mobile and multi-use, in answer to the ever-increasing spacial pressures and spacial costs, especially in cities. 

Research tells us that we still want natural light and nature around us, so we see facsimile plants, forest wallpaper scenes, kitchen counters of stone, engineered ‘wood’ floors and large windows in response to this position. 

Our home interiors will become increasingly healthy in the future when people become aware that they now have circular, healthy choices. Just as our awareness of our physical health has exploded recently, so will our awareness of our envelope environments, as ‘greenwash’ misinformation becomes increasingly apparent and businesses will have to be more transparent, healthy and circular. 

Our bodies and our planet simply cannot sustain the current linear model, fortunately with service companies like C2C, FreeSpace Design, 540 World and Cradle-to-Cradle Marketplace, the agony of finding these products has finally been removed.

Just as our awareness of our physical health has exploded recently, so will our awareness of our envelope environments – Chaline Church, FreeSpace Design @C2Ccertified Click To Tweet

T.M. What are the key trends that you see developing in interior architecture at the moment?

C.C. Trends show less flash and brash, more vintage/wabi sabi, responsible, less plastic (obviously), less selfish and less ashamed of not being new – more celebrating being recycled or reclaimed, more wood, recycled glass and metal, more haptic with imperfections and character being more thoroughly enjoyed. Generally ethical, more holistic and natural. ‘Less is more’ is clearly a mega-trend. Clutter and indulgence are teetering on taboo. 

There is an emerging trend to outlay more on healthy materials in the built environment that benefit people and planet, especially considering ‘green’ group pressures. Over time, this is the best move for staff health, for brand perception and I believe for the survival of brands. 

The trend will become to ask, why are you not using circular products when they are clearly the best option on multiple levels. At exhibitions, innovation and recycling are top driving trends for architects and designers plugging into this brave new world of responsible, smart circular trends. 

Some sectors are more mature, for example fashion is an early adopting sector and Fashion Positive C2C products are very mature – this is a signpost trend for C2C in interiors and all product groups. 

Critical mass by demand is a future trend, fast approaching in the UK, mature sustainable markets like Germany and the Netherlands bear witness to this. The trend is slower here because this market was unreached until now. The snowball effect I believe has started, when people understand what Cradle-to-Cradle certified entails, they immediately want to be a part of repairing the planet by buying these harm-free options. 

It is a beautiful, win-win trend and an emerging market of scale.

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