Designer    Guest Blog 25 Jan 2018

We speak to Rob Cole, of Sheffield Sustainable Kitchens, about the future of ‘eco’ design

Although only coming on the radar recently, SSK has been designing sustainable kitchens for years; enriching its team with a passion and enviably thorough expert knowledge of sustainable solutions.

We’ve spoken exclusively to Managing Director, Rob Cole, to discuss the future of eco-friendly designs; here’s what he had to say…

Q: What are your favourite sustainable materials, and why?

A: We use a wide range of sustainable materials when designing kitchens for clients, from reclaimed iroko school lab benches to recycled glass and recycled paper solid-surface worktops. I think my favourite is probably the recycled glass as you get it in pretty much any colour you want. We did a stunning bit of recycled glass worktop as a sink surround in a bespoke green colour for a client recently and inset it into a kitchen island made with reclaimed oak. It looked stunning when it was finished.

Q: What are the main difficulties faced by a company who are so committed to sustainability?

A: Being committed to sustainability, is not necessarily a cheap option! I think one of the main difficulties is the cost to the business of sticking to your beliefs when ethics are at stake. We see competitors saving costs by cutting corners and using inferior materials and poor-quality products, increasing their profits. We only fit high-quality kitchens, as they will outlast cheap ones, making them more sustainable. We take pride in our craftsmanship and commitment to quality. As members of the Guild of Master Craftsmen, we adhere to their rigorous levels of quality control and won’t compromise our standard of work. We also put a lot of thought into where we source our raw materials from and consider material miles – how far raw materials have travelled. We source as much as we can from the UK, and ideally as local as possible. This can be problematic if we can’t find high-quality products close to home.

Q: What creative decisions have you made, or been forced to make, because of your values?

A: As a company, we endeavour to avoid granite in our kitchens. Some retailers recently stopped selling some ranges due to child slavery concerns in India and it is certainly a material that people need to be cautious about using. There are so many other fantastic options out there – engineered stone is a better choice, but recycled glass is a beautiful and highly sustainable option. We are also committed to re-using existing kitchen components wherever possible and/or desirable. There’s sometimes no good reason to chuck-out a utility-room sink that is doing a perfectly good job.

In a bid to encourage our customers to update inefficient appliances, we like to suggest they go for ones that are A-rated or above – these aren’t always the cheapest on the market we are convinced that if you buy cheap, you buy twice. And energy bills are lower with more efficient, higher energy-rated appliances.

Q: How do your values make your designs different, beyond the obvious difference of your use of recyclable and sustainable materials?

A: I think our designs are different because we take an individual approach to each kitchen we create. We come at each kitchen from a fresh standpoint, listening to the client’s needs and ideas incorporate these creatively to come up with a unique take on how a client’s future kitchen might look. We try to ensure that each kitchen not only looks good but functions really well so that it continues to work into the future.

Q: Do you have an example of your repurposing, recycling, or reusing materials which you are most proud of?

A: That’s a tricky one – we have quite a few that I’m really proud of. We have designed a large kitchen where all the cabinet door fronts were made from reclaimed oak, which were formerly 100-year-old Belgian railway carriages. We also created a beautifully small and unique kitchen with all the shelves and units made from scratch out of reclaimed pine which had a former life as the floorboards of a Sheffield stage. But I have been particularly proud of a recent kitchen we did in a near-Passive house in Sheffield, where our kitchen was designed to fit with the mid-century vibe running through the house. The kitchen had a slick, modernist feel to it, and included several choice kitchen appliances, but the crowning glory for me were the worktops. They were made from reclaimed iroko, repurposed from school lab benches. When the benches arrived in our workshop, they were covered with graffiti and chewing gum but underneath it was an exquisite wood – and a great alternative to unsustainable teak. The warmth of the sanded and oiled rich timber contrasts the slab white doors of the modernist kitchen beautifully, and ties in with the dark hardwood design-classics furniture throughout the house.

Q: As pioneers of sustainability in a world that is going to have to become more sustainable, which materials and design choices do you think will become more widespread in the future?

A: I think there are lots of interesting developments in the kitchen world at the moment which are very exciting. Developments in technology are bringing in more sustainable options all the time – things have changed quite considerably just in the last ten years that Sheffield Sustainable Kitchens have been in business. Induction hobs are hugely energy saving and there have been vast improvements in lighting which will get better and more affordable as time goes on. Low-heat and low energy LED lighting is being incorporated in to more and more kitchens as time goes on.

The market is crying out for more natural timber products as well, which I think will become more widespread and this may lead to an increase in the use of reclaimed timber in kitchens, or an increase in the use of more sustainable wood sources, such as the quick growing and easily replenished bamboo. Hemp products, such as hemp plastics, will undoubtedly become more widespread in the future – it’s incredibly strong and there is so much scope for its use within a kitchen.

Q: If you could only choose one instruction to give a kitchen designer to make their project more sustainable, what would you have them do?

A: Kitchen designers could look at the existing kitchen and take more of a “make do and mend” approach. Not literally, but designers don’t necessarily need to scrap the entire kitchen and start from scratch. We often find that kitchen appliances are often in good condition and just need to be incorporated into the new kitchen design rather than replaced. In some cases, the cabinet carcasses are solid and can be given a fresh life by replacing door hinges and re-painting door fronts. Of course, every kitchen is different, but that is what makes each job so interesting and at the same time so rewarding.

Q: As a result of your unique approach to kitchens, are there any qualities you think you’ve developed quicker or to a further extent than you might have done if you were a conventional kitchen company?

A: Our bespoke approach means that all our kitchens really are unique. In the same sense, I think we manage to create ‘timeless’ kitchens that don’t feel dated and worn as quickly as more off-the-peg, trend-led kitchens. We often hear back from customers several years later, who are still really happy with their kitchen and who still really love their living space. That’s something that puts a big smile on my face.

If you are interested in finding out more, head over to their website to see their latest projects.