The whole concept of ‘design’ is to innovate and alter the norm; instead of merely aiming for functionality. It is a chance to change the ideas of our modern lifestyle, which is exactly what Dust London is doing. A collaborative design company, founded in 2016 by Michael McManus and Matthew Grant, Dust London transforms tea waste into beautiful homeware. The company is built on researching the use of organic and sustainable materials and, with backgrounds in art and architecture, they are creating objects that start an important conversation.
Sustainable architecture is slowly being recognised as the path design need to take with 'built environments' contributing to 40% of the UK's carbon footprint. These ‘built environments’ refer to the energy used in the buildings, such as cooking, heating or cooling and water waste, as well as the building construction and infrastructures like roads and railway usage. It refers to the design of our lifestyle. New projects in architecture and design need to change, to ensure our lifestyle has less of an impact on our environment. Dust London is exploring how their unconventional homeware, could make way for bigger plans in sustainable architecture.
Their homeware is hand-made in their London studio using traditional origami techniques. There is a feeling of delight when exploring their online shop and realising that their collections are not only made out of tea but specific teas. From the clean-cut chamomile to soft green peppermint and warm rooibos - their designs are personal and endearing. We were lucky enough to speak with Dust London, so, let’s hear more about their work directly from them…
When did you two meet, and when did you decide to found this company together?
We knew each other from a young age and shared design ideas whilst studying art and architecture respectively. Dust London was born out of an ambition to set up a studio that explored our mutual interests in design and passion for organic and sustainable materials.
Michael studied fine art at the University of the Arts London. He spent 6 years working in artist studios and exhibiting across London. He has a passion for combining handmade processes with modern techniques. Matthew studied architecture at The University of Manchester/The Bartlett, University College London. He is interested in the use of innovative materials and their application in design.
With backgrounds in art and architecture, our approach to design draws on our experience in those environments and carries through to the objects we create. Our complimentary skill sets are key to how the Dust London collaboration continues to evolve.
How did you discover this new way of creating homeware? And why were you interested in finding a new way of creating things?
The process of creating something new is exciting. Before we began experimenting with different materials for making, our collaboration explored traditional origami and mould making techniques. Those provided the foundation for investigating a new way of creating homeware. Out studio is littered with hundreds of material experiments that combine waste materials with different binders. Most of those experiments are unsuccessful, but for those that show signs of promise, the challenge is to refine the process and to explore the potential for creating homeware.
Why was tea waste the chosen material?
Our studio practice is driven by discovering new materials for making. We were looking for an organic material to use and after months of experimenting, we tried tea waste. We found that adding tea to our binding material enriched the colour palette of our designs. From the soft and subtle green hues of our Peppermint tea range to the rich warmth of the Rooibos selection, our products compliment a range of interiors.
Working with tea waste allows us to do two things; the first is to create a range of natural pigments and subtle textures in the homeware we create. The second is to raise awareness of the way materials are conventionally used and to challenge the perception of what sustainable design can be. A vase made from tea waste paves the way for those conversations happen.
Can you explain the process - the origami methods specifically - of making your products?
Our latest homeware collection transforms tea waste into elegant objects using a unique process we have developed in the studio. We make the vase moulds using traditional origami techniques. We begin with a sheet of paper; scoring, folding and pinching to create the desired form. A key part of this technique is balancing the tension between the curved facets. We then reinforce the paper and work through a series of steps to create a robust and seamless silicone mould. Preparing the vase object for making the mould is a key part of the process to make sure we achieve a smooth surface texture on the finished pieces.
We collect the tea bags, thoroughly dry them out and blend them so that they are ready to mix with a non-toxic binder. After much experimentation, we settled on a water-based non-toxic product as our binding material. A key process in the making to ensure the strength and surface finish of our vase is balancing the ratios of the tea waste to the binding material. Once we have achieved the desired consistency, the material is ready to pour.
Can you tell us more about the collection available? Why those objects specifically, and why homeware?
Our latest homeware collection comprises a selection of planters, vases and coaster sets. We wanted the collection to be accessible and for the objects to become a centrepiece in the home. That way they would become a talking point and introduce others to the repurposing of everyday material and challenge the perception of what sustainable design can be
What do you hope Dust London shows or represents in the fight for creating a more sustainable lifestyle?
The Dust London collaboration is driven by the search for organic and waste materials. We are always experimenting in the studio to discover new material properties. We remain focused on our tea waste collection and are excited about its design possibilities. As designers become aware of the material, we are receiving requests for bespoke products and surfaces, so there are challenges to overcome as we explore other functions. We are also closing in on a new homeware collection centred on recycled plastics which encourages the user to explore form with every use.
What are your missions, personally, as designers? - Together or separately.
For us, the first step is to raise awareness of how wasteful habits in the modern world have become. The second is to highlight the potential of adaptable materials and the role they can play in changing the approach to design. It will become more natural for future generations, but there is a long way to go before industries across the world adopt a truly circular approach.