Home Working is here to stay for many of us. Beth Whiteman examines the reasons to go local and environmental for your furniture and décor solutions.

According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics1, the practice of working from home has been on a steady and continuous rise even prior to current events, with around 1.7 million people working mainly from home in 2019.

There are many reasons why: often your work wants to reduce their office costs, or perhaps it’s your choice, avoiding stressful commutes, fitting your time better to childcare patterns, or simply opting for a more flexible lifestyle. Whatever the driver we can be sure that the trend to WFH is continuing to surge.

So, what exactly does home working mean practically for your home? How do we adjust space, furniture, and décor for the best home environment, and how do we do it sustainably?

 Working from home sustainably, Bristol, UK

Configuring Your Home

Home working involves adapting you home. We want to be comfortable and productive, but then switch off and relax at the end of the day. Unless adding more space is an option, then the three components to play with are furniture, décor and lighting. So how do you go about this?

For many people it makes sense to answer some basic purchasing questions before splashing out: –

  • Do I want long term value or a quick fix?   
  • Where do I find exciting and high-quality options and ideas?
  • Can I do this sustainably?

If a long lasting, quality and environmental solution appeals, then there is a strong argument to explore local UK options! Let’s look at this in detail.

Throwaway Culture vs Long-life Products

It is easy to be tempted by fast décor!

It essentially follows the same pattern as fast fashion: the home sections of retailers are constantly encouraging us to change our homes with the seasons. They often promote collections such as “autumn cosy” or “spring fresh”. These collections are often radically different, meaning they don’t fit what you bought last season – so if we really want it, we must start anew.

While our grandparents threw hardly anything away and didn’t believe anything was beyond repair, contemporary consumer culture is steamrolling in the opposite direction. If something is shabby or breaks, we just throw away and buy anew. This mentality, combined with the mass manufacturing of quick turnover products and murky supply chains, is what facilitates fast décor. It is as destructive and unsustainable as fast fashion. UK brands such as Oxford Wood Recycling, aim to combat this by recycling wood waste to make beautifully handcrafted furniture.  

Recycled Wood from Oxford Wood Recycling Co
Recycled wood, ready to be made into beautiful furniture. Oxford Wood Recycling Co

So perhaps we need to be savvier when choosing home décor brands. Cost is naturally a pivotal factor in the attraction of bigger brands such as IKEA and Amazon. However, proper investment in quality will bring you a better product and make your money go further. Furniture that seems cheap initially, but then wears out quicky, can cost you more in the long run.

It’s not always feasible to shop as though money were no object. But by investing our money in smaller, local brands, we not only invest in quality, long-life products with more transparent supply chains, we also invest in the UK economy itself.

So perhaps we need to slow down, think longer term, and shop closer to home.

The benefits of Thinking Small

If you are looking to shop within the UK, shopping small offers a range of benefits that chain companies often can’t replicate on a larger scale.

Independent small businesses are typically founded and run by highly creative and individual people, who operate and pursue their passion outside of a corporate setting. The result is innovative products with unique finishes and materials that stand out from the crowd. Very often small UK furniture businesses also have strong eco options.

Supporting businesses on your doorstep will also generate local revenue and make your high street more varied.

Additionally, if a product is designed and made locally you can often go to the site and talk to the makers in person. This is particularly beneficial if you would like something a bit more bespoke. This option isn’t usually available with bigger chains who mass manufacture their products. Similarly, smaller businesses typically provide better customer service. Unlike faceless customer service teams, small businesses are easier to contact if anything should go wrong, and because they are keen to establish a good rapport and reputation, are more proactive in problem-solving. For them, repeat business is the ultimate goal.

Stunning Bee9 Designs - Taisho Desk
Taisho Desk by Bee9 Design. Bee9 Design manufactures their products ethically in the UK at their workshop in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

Imports vs Buying UK Made

For retail giants, many with a multi-national presence, the overall aim is to increase profits and cut costs. If it’s cheaper for them to outsource production to another country they usually will. Many of their products originate from either China or South Asia. What seems cheap to buy is probably expensive environmentally – travelling across the globe and racking up substantial carbon mileage. All so that the retailer can sell it to consumers at a “cheap” price, even though this price will still be a mark-up from the overseas production cost.  

When you buy a product that has been designed and produced in the UK, it’s more than a small act of support for a British business. You’re putting your money back into the UK economy and demonstrating that there is an interest and demand for British goods. Whether fittings, furniture, or soft décor, this demand then facilitates jobs and opportunities for a network of British designers, manufacturers, craftsmen and artists.

The YouK directory covers home maintenance and furnishings, as well as household goods that are designed and produced in the UK. Browse their categories now and discover some fantastic British brands.

Cheap vs Quality Materials

The proverb “you get what you pay for” is always worth remembering when sourcing furniture or decoration for your home.

Quality goes deeper than the overall aesthetic of our homes. Quality also entails product assembly and components: where have the materials of your product come from, and have they been assembled with due care?

Products that are mass-produced and seem cheap often mean you are buying into an unsustainable and destructive supply chain. If a retailer is outsourcing their manufacturing abroad, they want a fast job at low cost and don’t always see where the manufacturer gets their materials. A cheap job usually means cheap materials: synthetic fibres, chemicals, cheap glues and adhesives.

Consumers rarely question who supplies big brands, especially online marketplaces. The assumption is if they have been approved to sell on the website then they must have quality and ethical products, which sadly isn’t always the case. This means it’s all too easy to buy into cheaply made, flimsy products with long product mileage and questionable supply chains.

When supplier problems emerge it’s all too easy for companies then to side-step responsibility by blaming the third-party and moving production to another supplier, who may or may not be better!

Mass production, combined with bad practice, rapidly adds up to unsustainable production with devastating effects such as illegal deforestation.

This behaviour at the top inevitably trickles down in to smaller, national retailers such as supermarkets, trying to emulate them at a smaller cost.

By shopping with a UK business that manufactures within the country, you’re massively increasing the chances that your product will be made with better, more sustainable and ethical practice. It’s easier to follow the supply chain and make enquiries; a lot of businesses take pride in the quality of their work and would be happy to let you know exactly where the materials in your product come from.

The UK home decoration and furniture industry is large and capable. There is evidence to suggest it is booming as people respond to what is generally a high-quality proposition.

For example, The Marble Works in Dunston, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who produce premium cuts of marble for homes and businesses, have more work than they keep up with compared to their usual sales pattern: “Summer is usually our quiet period when people go abroad instead – but the sector has been booming non-stop this year. We are working hard just to keep up – all of our service partners are also fully booked until after Christmas.” says business owner Tracey Jones. “I absolutely think it has something to do with people staying at home more, the majority of our orders are for domestic fittings rather than businesses. We’ve never been busier.”

The benefits to the UK economy of more people shopping local, shopping UK are self- evident, but why are they doing that?

It seems the blend of quality, long term value and sustainability is very powerful, and everyone looks for home working solutions would do well to consider the UK options.

There’s power in where you spend your money!

Your Shopping can change the YouK, shop sustainably with YouK
Shop with YouK and change the UK

Beth Whiteman, YouK Environmental Correspondent
YouK promotes all UK made and designed consumer products, seeking ecological and economic benefits.