Sibley Grove, designers who do the green thing

Sibley Grove, designers who do the green thing

Kate Sibley and Jeremy Grove think it's about time all furniture is compostable, recyclable and sustainable. And to show their commitment to the cause they've started on their own collection of modern eco-friendly furniture.

Text by Coco Piras
Husband and wife Jeremy Grove and Kate Sibley

Sibley Grove may sound like a TV soap for style-conscious thirty-somethings..but is, in fact, a very green interior and furniture design studio launched five years ago by husband and wife Jeremy Grove and Kate Sibley. 'Instead of saying we are going to do eco this and sustainable that, we just do it,' they say

Sibley Grove doesn't market itself as an eco interior and furniture design studio. But husband and wife Jeremy Grove and Kate Sibley are the people to turn to if you want a sustainable product or home interior because they have their finger on the pulse of who's doing what that's environmentally-friendly.

Their south London offices don't just have sample books not just from the usual industry suppliers of products and materials, but from cutting-edge firms developing sustainable fabrics, furniture fillings, flooring, lighting and interior cladding materials.

Unlike a lot of interior designers, Sibley Grove make it their business to know which company makes faux leather in a way that uses few chemicals and creates minimal CO2 emissions, where to go to for biodegradable plastics or compostable fabrics, or paper that's made from stone dust and which fabrics are dyed with the least impactful chemicals. 

And they use these materials in their designs.

The Barley sofa, £2,500, has a recyclable metal frame and compostable seat and back cushions
Kate Sibley with her pretty Single Fold lampshades, £60.
Jeremy Grove with their Butler stool. Its height can be adjusted, the frame is recyclable and the seat cover is degradable faux leather
Kate and Jeremy believe in cradle-to-cradle design. Picture by Mike Trow
Kate Sibley, who initially trained in jewellery design (hence she's very good at fine detail, not to mention paper folding...) says while there are cost implications for some materials, for others the more eco-friendly option might be only a bit more expensive or not at all.
In which case factor it in from the start - rather than asking the client as an after-thought 'oh by the way there is this fabric that will compost down... are you interested? '
Because as with a toddler, if you say 'here's a bag of sweets.. oh or you could have an apple?' you know what the answer will be. But say at the outset 'hey, here's a delicious healthy apple', the child will (probably) eat it happily.

'Designers can become very institutionalised in the materials they use in their work.' 

'We don't think it's fair to burden the consumer with too much choice when it comes to sustainability,' explains Sibley. By which she doesn't think the greening of manufacture should be consumer-dirven given that consumers are not experts in sustainability. Far better to have eco as the default position across the design industry so consumers don't have to ask. 'And big business has the power to make changes.'
Isn't that youthful idealism? She thinks less so today, given the huge amount of work many manufacturers are putting into using recycled materials, reducing their carbon footprint and developing closed loop systems, meaning there are greener alternatives to what's been used before.
The Sibley Grove office has lots of lampshade prototypes. Sibley says she spent 'two years folding' to get the design right
Sibley Grove has its finger on the pulse of sustainable design materials
But isn't the concept of eco itself a moveable feast?
Yes, say Sibley Grove, there's a huge amount of greenwash, not to mention contradictary criteria: using reclaimed wood, for example, is great, but if the product has to travel from China to the UK and it's made in a factory where workers are paid peanuts and work without sufficient breaks in unpleasant factories, then how eco-friendly is it really?
But what is a more solid goal is to develop cradle-to-cradle products, which means their components can be re-used, so we stop creating waste.
Which was the starting point for their own new fledgling range of furniture and lighting.
So far, it comprises:
The BARLEY SOFA (£2,500), a compact two-seater with a recyclable metal frame, natural latex cushion filling, covered with compostable fabric;  The cleverly upholstered cushions can be turned to give four different colour combinations. Made in UK.
The adjustable height BUTLER BAR STOOL (£650), which has a recyclable steel and brass frame, and degradable faux leather seat cover with natural latex cushion and a bamboo base. The faux leather is by Brentano (US manufacturer that is doing a lot of work on eco-friendly textiles). Made in UK.
The SINGLE FOLD PAPER LAMPSHADE (£60). It's made using innovative folding techniques with a pretty pattern of polka dots and vivid blocks of colour. It's handmade in London from recycled unbleached paper and non-toxic ink.
'Most manufacturing is deeply unsustainable,' says Grove, who worked for six years as an interior designer at Tara Bernard's London practice. 'Despite our best recycling efforts it generates a staggering amount of waste and causes serious environmental harm.
'Kate and I are excited by new technologies that move us beyond the traditional ‘make, use, dispose’ patterns and let us replace the disposal phase with the creation of a new product.
So their furniture has the potential to be reincarnated as something completely different...
Yes, but not until it's had a good long life in its present guise, says Grove.