Cathy Strongman is a freelance journalist in the field of architecture, design, sustainability and travel. She has written for publications including House & Garden (is the current eco columnist), Elle Dec, Dwell, Grand Designs, The V&A magazine, The Spectator, The Times, Coast (covered maternity leave as deputy editor), The Evening Standard, the Architects' Journal and Building Design.
Cathy is also the Copenhagen correspondent for Easyjet Magazine and a regular contributor to The Copenhagen Post. She has written four books including The Sustainable Home and 100 Houses, both published by Merrell, as well as website and brochure content for Velfac and Solid Floor. Cathy has also appeared on ITV as an architecture critic.
You are the author of 100 Houses and The Sustainable Home. What made you decide to write about sustainable design?
Sustainability is the greatest challenge facing both the construction and the design world and as such I think it is throwing up an amazing array of potential and interesting solutions to problems such as waste and the world's finite resources. The greatest architects and designers from all over the world are now engaging with these issues and therefore I think it's the most exciting and relevant subject to be researching, writing about and supporting at this moment in time. I also believe that if we don't take action now, soon it will be too late.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I currently live in Copenhagen, which is an amazingly inspirational, green-minded city. Not only is the city scattered with beautiful parks, canals, lakes and communal areas, the Danes are also very courageous when it comes to building daring, experimental, green buildings and investing in forward-thinking design. It's inspiring to just walk the streets of the city.
Since you first started researching eco design, have you notice an increased demand from people wanting to pursue the concept of sustainability in design?
Definitely. In part it has been driven by new design graduates who as a generation are much more aware and passionate about the environment and have also learnt about sustainability as part of their training. But now we also see established names such as Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid tackling sustainability head on, partly in response to Government regulations but also due to client demand and personal interest. Then finally we've seen sustainable design flood the high street. Retail giants including IKEA, John Lewis and The Conran shop as well as specialist shops such as Twenty Twenty One and SPC now all stock pieces that have a sustainable slant.
Whose work do you most admire?
I am a total Walter Gropius groupie as he was so forward thinking in terms of the functionality and aesthetic of his designs. But today's pioneers are those who are really immersing themselves in a sustainable future. I think Ryan Frank and Pli are good examples of inspiring furniture designers, Sprout Design is a very interesting industrial design consultancy and I also think the company Method, which produces green household products is inspiring as they prove that functional green products can also look fantastic. I also really admire the charity Green Works who divert redundant office furniture from landfill and disperse in to individuals and groups who really need it.
Is there a piece of furniture you would want to design?
I have been lusting after a womb chair by Ero Saarinen for at least ten years, so I'd love to have designed this but using entirely recycled and recyclable materials. The Nobody chair, by Komplot, which is made from recycled plastic bottles is pretty neat to.
Do you see any connections between user experience and the growing consumer concern for environmental impact?
Put very simply they need to consider their product from the very beginning of its lifecycle until its end (although hopefully there won't be an end as it can either be recycled or put to another use). Every single decision along the way from the sourcing of the materials, transport, production, distribution, use and end of life needs to be considered and addressed in terms of sustainability. Interestingly, be it a building or a household product, much of the environmental impact is down to the actions of the end user. I therefore think designers and architects should help customers to understand how they can get the most sustainable performance out of their creations. They should also get feedback by talking to clients and wherever possible monitoring the performance of a building or a product. This way designers and architects can discover which green innovations really work and how they can be tweaked and improved the next time.
How can interior designers, architects and manufacturers of interior products improve their sustainability efforts?
Eventually we need to get to a point where sustainability is not an issue in its own right. Instead it should be completely mainstream and an integrated part of every design and architectural decision we make.
What's your own style when it comes to interior design?
My apartment was built in 1902 and has untreated wooden floors, white walls, all the original panelling and plasterwork and a beautiful ceramic wood-burning stove. We've decorated it very simply with a few contemporary pieces like our Terence Woodgate coffee table, bookcases from Hay and the Donkey by Isokon, mixed with antiques like our G-plan sideboard, 1950's American metallic drinks trolley and my Formica topped desk, some of which have been passed down through the family and other bits found at auctions and antique yards. Buying second hand is ultimately the greenest purchase you can make as no virgin materials or energy is used to create the product. When I do make a new purchase it has to be something I love, which I plan to live with for a very long time.