Sustainable luxury

With the demand for sustainable products on the increase and the desire for luxury still prevailing, Marc Howlett of William Holland asks if the two can co-exist in bathrooms

In today’s environmentally aware culture, the concept of luxury has undoubtedly undergone some dramatic ideological shifts that are challenging the very notion of value. Exclusivity, rarity or wealth are no longer the sole defining aspects of a luxurious product and 21st century luxury has become a much deeper affair, demanding quality, passion, craftsmanship and above all, conscience.

In fact, rather than questioning whether the two can co-exist, a more pertinent question is how can one exist without the other at a time when we know resources are limited and awareness of the importance of eco-issues is much greater. So much so in fact that luxury and environmental sustainability are now far from being mutually exclusive concepts.

With the ever increasing value being placed on our fragile natural world, the two previously opposing ideologies are coming together, to the extent that unethical and unsustainable products are now as frowned upon by consumers of luxury products as mass consumerism and generic manufacture.

This changing tide is reflected in trends for materials which have been continuously growing in momentum over the last few years, surviving the fickle whims of fashion. The use of natural materials within homes and the rise of ‘biophilic’ design pushing the benefits of bringing the outdoors into our interior worlds, are all reflective of a desire to connect with nature and indicative of the high value we now place on our environment.

Copper credentials

Given this key trend it is therefore no surprise that along with luxury FSC approved timbers and natural stone in bathrooms, copper has also gone from strength to strength over the past decade and continues to grow in popularity with luxury interior stylists and designers. Used in everything from functional details to key statement pieces around the home, the versatility of this material in both form and finish allows for a swathe of stylistic adaptations and uses. As a natural material, copper is 100 per cent recyclable without any reduction of purity or properties and so can be counted as a highly sustainable as well as effective material.

It also has some undeniable qualities that make it the perfect bedfellow for the luxury eco-conscious consumer. Highly malleable yet extremely strong when crafted in the correct manner, copper can be used for a wide variety of functional items that require longevity, practicality and beauty. Completely non- corrosive, it will not rust or decay over time and can be recycled and re-formed for different functions and purposes indefinitely.

As a highly effective heat conductor, contrary to popular belief, copper is the perfect material for ‘warmth-requiring’ products such as baths and basins. As the warmth permeates the copper with very little resistance the material heats up almost instantly requiring minimal energy and maintaining the ambient water temperature for long periods.

Aside from the qualities of sustainability, heat efficiency and practicality, copper’s beauty is undeniable. A semi-precious metal, copper has an inherent aesthetic value which has seen it infiltrate the luxury market. The glamour and warmth provided by the glimmering light from pure polished copper creates a tantalising ambience, balanced by feelings of warmth, comfort and homeliness that have seen it become as much of mainstay in luxury as the exclusive aesthetics of the past.

Luxury value is as much about the experience as it is aesthetics, demanding products that create atmosphere and emotion. With this in mind it is no wonder that there is a growing trend within today’s luxury society for items that have been carefully made by hand, over mass production.

Markets are seeing a considerable backlash against the mass consumerism of past generations, with clients desiring luxury items made with commitment, passion and craftsmanship. The luxury of time, the luxury of skill and the luxury of a unique handcrafted item conjure an emotive response and a creative connection that simply cannot be matched in a machine-produced object. There is, and will always be something romantic about products made purely by the hand of a highly skilled craftsman and the versatile and malleable properties of copper lends it perfectly to the bespoke, artisan community.

With the wonder of modern finishing techniques combined with the traditional artisan skills, the diverse aesthetics of copper can be skillfully crafted to produce creative and inspired bath finishes that will suit almost any style of self-build and interior. Gleaming polished finishes imbue rooms with a sense of glamour and warmth while rich natural patinas and vibrant verdigris promise history, nostalgia and narrative in one pure piece of living colour that continues to evolve and develop in tune with the environment.

The growing trend for reflecting the natural world in our man-made interiors and choosing craftsmanship over mass production is key to this dynamic shift in the relationship between luxury, the environment and the way we live; heralding a desire for a newly defined sense of quality rooted in aesthetic and experiential luxury and a deeper emotive connection to our environments.

Natural materials including marble, rich timbers, stone and copper are all here to stay, and are indicative of a movement that doesn’t aim to make luxury and sustainability co-exist, but to make them one and the same thing.

Marc Howlett is sales manager at William Holland