Re-posted: Ella's Interview about sustainable design on Top Drawer's Blog

 Top Drawer have kindly allowed us to repost their interview with Ella about sustainable design on our blog.

Survivor design



Ella Doran has provided wallpaper, cushions and lampshades as well as design-input for the Indigo Lounge for several years now. The award-winning British designer is well known for her striking designs, which are often a play on cultural icons and associations. In the early 1990s she spearheaded the use of photography-based images and patterns on functional everyday products.

More recently she has been at the forefront of a new movement: sustainable design. As a fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce)  Ella has participated in a design residency investigating bulky waste from a design-led perspective. At the centre of the project was the 'survivor sofa'. We spoke to Ella about the initiative and why sustainable design has become so important now.

survivor sofa

Top Drawer: Please tell us a little bit about the 'survivor sofa' and how you got involved.

Ella Doran: The Survivor Sofa came out of a design residency on bulky waste with the Great Recovery in winter 2014/15. The Great Recovery is a project by the RSA, aiming to promote society’s shift towards a circular economy.

Essentially, we saved a sofa from landfill and chose to use that as a vehicle to illustrate different ways in which designers, manufacturers, retailers and waste managers can engage with the notion of a circular economy in a purposeful way to make a marked shift towards the reduction of bulky waste, which is a massive problem here in the UK. 

My involvement with the survivor sofa came out of an ongoing dialogue with RSA’s Director of Design Sophie Thomas, who set up the Great Recovery. As a fellow of the RSA I am committed to supporting their work and my company had already collaborated with them on raising awareness around bulky waste in a live installation at the V&A during the London Design Festival in 2014. Joining a residency to investigate bulky waste from a design perspective was a natural follow on.

Indigo LoungeThe Indigo Lounge at the spring edition of Top Drawer was kitted out by Ella Doran. This included the refurbishment of the Conran sofas and arm chairs - another great example of sustainable design.


TD: Why do you think designers should think about sustainability?

ED: We are fast using up valuable material resources and as we continue to lock them in composite products they end up in a landfill and cannot be disassembled. Designers have a responsibility to address this by changing the design brief so that it includes considering disassembly, re-use, and recycling from the start of the design process.

Rekki Love Seat

The 'Rekki Love Seat' by Ella Doran shows that circular economy can turn used items into exciting design pieces.

TD: How do you find material that can be recycled?

ED: That depends. In the case of the survivor sofa it was a skip! In the case of the Indigo Lounge at Top Drawer my company ‘found’ the sofas and armchairs and footstools through a conversation with Clarion's Events Director Ian Rudge about the possibilities of promoting sustainability in the trade show industry, which has historically been known to be very wasteful. Ian mentioned that he needed to get new seating for the Indigo Lounge and it was brilliant to find that he and his team were open to our suggestion that I could re-design them and incorporate the ‘survivor’ fabric that Camira had developed in collaboration with the designers of the bulky waste residency

wood grain arm chair

The 'Wood Grain Blue Armchair' is based on a mid-century arm chair made in Germany. It was re-upholstered "with love" using Ella's digitally printed Wood Grain Blue design .


TD: How do you ensure your products still stands up to quality standards?

ED: With all our furniture re-design projects we ensure high quality by choosing our collaborators carefully. This includes upholsterers and material suppliers. It is really no different from any other product for which you want to ensure high quality. When it comes to regulations, fire retardant labels are a major issue. These labels are often attached in visible places, so people are cutting them off, which in turn makes it impossible to re-sell an item because of fire safety regulations. The design residency highlighted this issue and we continue to work on finding ways to encourage a change to the current situation. For the time being – although I am aware that this is not really part of your question, but I think it’s worthwhile mentioning – you can call up many organisations to take your old sofa away so that it can be reused. Look up the Furniture Reuse Network or a local initiative in your area.

TD: What's your next big sustainable design idea?

ED: We want to work on more projects that address sustainability, especially within the world of textiles, furniture and wall coverings for interior spaces inside and outside. Mostly it is about seizing opportunities when they arise, so many of these projects will just come along. A few years ago, my focus was on creating awareness around sustainability, and recently that has shifted toward providing beautiful re-designed products, made with sustainable or re-cycled materials that can help generate a shift in values at the consumer end, so people become more willing to make their own things last longer and move away from the throw away mentality that is unfortunately still a prevalent attitude for many people. 

 (original post at