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Plain English approach to Sustainability

March 2021

We are all increasingly aware of the damaging effects of human activity on our environment and of the responsibility that this places on us as individuals and consumers to counteract this. At Plain English we use natural materials such as timber and stone to make our furniture and our philosophy is to use these precious resources with respect, creating joinery that will age well and last indefinitely. We believe that the soundest approach to any project is to buy once and buy well.

We believe that natural materials should be embraced for their quirks and curiosities – the grain lines inherent in every piece, subtle changes in tone and colour – and that expectations and appreciation of these materials must be adjusted accordingly. With oak worktops for example, we prefer the slightly more figured boards as they have more character and are much less wasteful in production. From a design perspective we often incorporate recycled/antique lights, sinks and taps in our showrooms both for their unique beauty and in order to provide an unused or discarded item a new utility.

One of the most important, and frequently overlooked considerations when considering the ecological impact of any project is that of ’embodied cost’; the total amount of energy used in extracting, processing, producing and transporting a product. What this means in practice is that, contrary to the trend of recent decades towards cheap, disposable objects, the ‘greenest’ solution for most purchases is to buy a good quality object and make use of it for as long as possible. Plain English cupboards are based on historical examples which are still in use after 300 years so the figures for energy expended over time are vastly better than for cheaper equivalents which tend to be replaced every few years. We also feel it is important to think about the origin of a product. Plain English joinery is made in Suffolk, England which minimises transport costs and supports skills, enterprise and employment in the local area.

Our policies regarding specific materials and appliances: 

1. Cupboard Materials

Timber has low embodied energy, it ‘locks’ or stores carbon and is renewable in that responsibly harvested trees are replanted. Plain English takes the utmost care to source timber from reputable sources and we send no timber waste to landfill as what we can’t use is burnt in our furnace to heat our workshops.

To ensure the best strength and stability, our cupboards are constructed using solid timber for front panels and door frames. Door panels and the ‘carcass’ (or box structure) of each cupboard is made from an engineered wood panel. We find this combination of natural materials to be stronger and more stable to underscore our commitment to crafting joinery that will endure. All these materials are sourced from ethically sound suppliers with established replanting practices.

2. Stone

Natural stone can have high embodied cost especially when transported from distant countries and some sources are known to have dangerous and unethical production methods. As with timber it is therefore important to consider the provenance of a material and select from a reputable supplier of ethically sourced stone.

Man-made stone is a mixture of pulverised quartz with resin and can be a good substitute for natural stones although as with natural stone the embodied costs are quite high. All stones, however, are extremely durable, so, arguably, their use can be justified for quality, long term projects.

3. Metalwork

Again, we look to produce locally, using zinc and stainless steel surfaces from local fabricators and all of our custom ironwork is made by a local blacksmith.

4. Paint

In compliance with new regulations, all of our paint is water-based and applied by hand in our Suffolk paint shop.

5. Ironmongery

Most of our ironmongery is made in the UK including our brass handles which are hand-cast in Norfolk. Blackened steel handles of our own design are made by our local blacksmith

6. Wicker baskets and Rush work

All our basketwork is made to order by UK makers with British materials

7. Appliances

At Plain English we specify high quality appliances which should provide long service and which can be returned to their manufacturers for recycling at the end of their life-cycle.

Thank you for taking the time to consider our approach to sustainability. For further information, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our design team design@plainenglishdesign.co.uk.