by STIRworldApr 22, 2023
Leave no trace. This didact bears the potential to guide individuals and practices towards a more sustainable way of existing and innovating. It can help restrict the creation of objects and spaces that outlast their usage, and restrain us from producing scraps, debris, and emissions that go on to pollute the environment and impact its occupants for extended periods of time. The maxim also sits in contrast to the typically imparted idea of leaving a lasting impact, more so in the form of tangible and apparent examples. It is this postulation that often ushers creatives to build signature styles instead of laying focus on the deliberation of means, modes, and processes that are better suited to a project’s proximal context—both visually and in terms of the materials used to build them. Discarding this idea in favour of a more conscious approach that also seeks to enhance experiences, Nina+Co, a London-based studio founded by Nina Woodcroft in 2014, attempts to design sensorially rich spaces, using both archaic and recently discovered materials such as mycelium, mushroom, algae and bioplastics. The studio recently executed their first retail store design project, for MONC, a young British eyewear brand.
The British design studio created an immersive interior space for the eyewear brand using biomaterials and upcycled entities such as hemp, mycelium, layers of compostable cornstarch foam acquired from MONC’s pre-existing supply of packaging materials, big slabs of recycled plastic, locally salvaged concrete, non-toxic clay paint, and aluminium that comprises an average recyclable content of 23 per cent. Accents of bio-acetate, a biodegradable and petroleum-free version of acetate used in eyewear design, were also added, in parts, through the store.
"We dug deep, bettered our knowledge along the way, and as a team created something special; an alluring store with a warm embrace, unexpected materiality, and a lasting impression on visitors—all while treading lightly on our planet," shares Woodcroft, delineating the process that guided the interior design of the store. Some materials like cornstarch foam, paint and plastic appear unfit under the accreditation of earth-friendly entities. However, the cornstarch foam, which was readily available from the brand’s existing packaging materials, can easily be re-used for the same purpose whenever the showroom is taken down. It can also otherwise be dissolved in water.
The main paint used on the walls, on the other hand, is Ballet Shoe, an Earthborn clay paint, made out of clay, minerals, and natural pigments, which is free of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), carbon based chemical compounds which are harmful for human and environmental health, and are found in most paints. The flooring of the store, too, is a VOC-free water-based sealant spread upon exposed plywood that was left behind by the previous tenant. The store makes use of a special kind of plastic called Smile Plastics, which are made using waste food and medical packaging and appear like stone and resin.
In keeping with the multitudinous character of the brand, Woodcroft designed a flexible space that can function as a retail space during the day and become the backdrop for events in the evenings. “In the store, we wanted to capture some of that rugged rock and snow-capped scenery, and also channel the uncompromising nature of a brand that strives for quality, design, and sustainability in equal measure,” the designer shares.
The result of Woodcroft’s vision is apparent in the features within the store—layers of cornstarch foam cut curvilinearly and hung from the ceiling, consciously processed mycelium furniture shaped like waves as platforms for eyepieces, oblong clefts chiselled to hold MONC’s products, hemp curtains hanging from the main islands, plastic sheets cut out to resemble ripples, aluminium cylinders placed like miniature boulders, cornstarch foams stacked to build shelves, and locally sourced concrete placed across the store as organic platforms for the brand’s glasses.
The juxtaposition of these myriad elements—all of which embody definitive features—in the store helps create a balanced environment. The softness of opaque cornstarch foams against the hardness of transparent plastic sheets, the rugged and raw countenance of concrete against cleanly shaped aluminium rods, and the dark and textured bio-acetate sheets placed upon lightly hued and tactilely rough mycelium platforms imbue the locale with drama. Some other objects in the store that imbue an emotive aura are the concrete blocks that were salvaged by Woodcroft, while passing a building site near Kings Cross, when she spotted these pieces atop a pile of rubble. The blocks reminded her of the corrugated surfaces that characterise the mountains in northern Italy, where MONC’s workshops operate.
Since the store is designed for short-term usage, the design studio also ensured that the panels and shelves laid within the brick and mortar structure are modular and can be disassembled and used again, for another space, hence leaving no trace behind. “Everything inside the MONC store can be reused at its next location, will fit in a home environment, can be disassembled for recycling or returned to the ground as nourishment,” the studio mentions.
The designs envisioned by Nina+Co were executed by East London-based fabricators EJ Ryder, who accomplished the challenge of fastening furniture parts using bolts and other mechanical fixers—as opposed to glues and other fixing techniques—ensuring that each element can be detached for reuse. The wall and table lights in the store, too, are zero-waste products that can be easily transported in a cardboard tube, which can then be configured into the lamp itself.
MONC, as a brand, lays special emphasis on the usage of ethically sourced and ethically processed materials, each of which can be reused, repurposed and recycled, and hence, continue their journey in production cycles that make use of entities across time. With the intention of spearheading a positive change in the eyewear industry, the brand manufactures all their products—in a family run workshop, located on the mountains of northern Italy—with a special focus on producing consciously adept designs. It is, hence, only suitable for their store to be designed on principles of circular design.