From an early age, Elina Grigoriou wanted to be an interior designer. Her early attempts at the art of design involved decorating her teenage bedroom in Greece with posters of Madonna, Top Gun and Mel Gibson, but as she got older her tastes evolved into something a bit more sophisticated.
When Elina turned 19, she left Greece and enrolled in a British university, the result of having an English mother and being brought up bi-lingual. After graduating she joined PDP Interior Design in London, followed by a move to Carey Jones Interiors.
Now 34, Elina runs her own design practice, Grigoriou Interiors, with her sister Angeliki. Both women come from a property and design background, and both concentrate on making interiors that are both comfortable and eco-friendly.
Talking from her London offices, Elina explains what it means to be on the cutting edge of Britain’s sustainable design.
“A lot of companies are starting to give designers the time to look into sustainable practice. At my last company I was able to really go for it, but sustainability is something that has always been relevant throughout my career.
“Because of the lack of knowledge and awareness from clients and industry professionals, the concept of sustainability has been harder to sell. Luckily, there is a bigger interest now, and also a lot more data to back things up. We have also become better at seeing the advantages of sustainable interiors; as an example I’ll use Indoor Air Quality which is partly about reducing particles in the air and improving indoor air quality, IAQ for short.
“Put simply, air particles are released into the air when we are rubbing, walking or touching materials. They release nano-particles, which are like invisible dust and are constantly in the air around us. We breathe all these particles in and touch them, constantly interacting with them on a chemical level, which is a natural thing. But what is unnatural at the moment is the highly complex and high performing materials we have been developing (for other good reasons), without knowing what impact they will have to our health, and then in our efforts to seal our buildings (to reduce CO2 emissions through heating and cooling) we are locking them in and building up an unknown cocktail.
“We are working towards understanding the link between this issue and increased levels of asthma, allergies, and poor health of occupiers. It’s all part of well-being and ensuring we provide an interior space to clients to make them happy and feel better, whether that is visual or by consequence through the ‘air’. And it’s all down to the interior designer, obviously, to deliver.
“There are other aspects of sustainability which we are involved in as well, apart from air quality. The whole thinking behind sustainability does not change what we do, but brings us on a new parallel. We do what we did previously, as far as the stages of delivering an interior professionally and making it beautifully creative are concerned. But when we make an interior sustainable, the details become even more relevant.
“Such details include making interior materials last longer, and reducing the life cycle impact of interiors by the selection of products that we choose, not choosing things that are rare, for example. If a client wants a project to last for only two years, for example, we suggest making it last for four.
“These ideas start from the briefing stage all the way to delivery on site. For example, if the contractor does not have a site waste management plan (SWMP), we encourage them to create one and reuse or reduce existing materials intended for waste. There are many ways in which sustainability can be applied. It’s all about attitude.
“How far we are able to progress in the industry is very relevant to the amount of products out there. I work closely with suppliers and other consultant companies to promote wider knowledge, and keep progress moving.
“People come to us because they think we are sustainable, and/or because they like our work. A recent client wants to create their business around a highly sustainable workplace, so for them it was very important to hire a sustainable champion like us. They came to us specifically because they liked our reputation as a sustainable interior design firm.
“My biggest project to date took six years; it was The Base for Virgin Atlantic during my years with PDP. It’s near Gatwick Airport, and it’s the main training facility and event space for Virgin Atlantic in the UK. It’s a massive complex of restaurants, training facilities, shops and auditoriums.
“Within our own practice project sizes and scopes are growing; we recently completed a design concept for an office concept of a public relations firm in Bayswater, west London; another was a high-end residential project in Belgravia where the client wanted to sell the property, so he asked us to make it look like a home, a lived-in space. We sourced most of the purchases in local charity shops and furniture auctions.
“We have also completed over the past year the B.Hive centers, business clubs for women. The flagship club is in London’s Covent Garden, and there is one in Manchester and one in Bristol. It’s a joint project between Regus and Lynne Franks, of SEED and a PR guru. This was quite an unusual project for us from a commercial view, it had a very feminine look for a business environment, an idea which came directly from the clients.
“Recently we have more retail projects coming in; some starting from creating the brand all the way to delivery on site and others creating an interior concept for national roll-out. Sustainable design plays a big part when we look at the way POS are designed, how lighting and recycling is looked at and managed. Very exciting!
“Finally, we are now expanding our repertoire by organizing well-being seminars in October and November; they are titled ‘Feeling Good! Designing, Measuring and Managing Wellbeing’ which will be ticketed events here in London. They are designed to raise awareness in the industry of issues relating to well-being in interiors, and bringing them higher up in the agenda.
“We are bringing in professors from English universities and specialists from different industry or relevant fields, such as indoor air quality and acoustic specialists, people measuring well-being and generally aiming to link up all these details to improve happiness and productivity through interior design.
“Often, issues relating to improving users well-being get cut out. What we are trying to demonstrate is that the impact these features relating to well-being have is much bigger than the industry currently believes.”
More examples of Elina’s work:
See www.grigoriou.co.uk or visit https://twitter.com/ElinaGrigoriou
Alex Levin is a writer for Granite Transformations, a remodeling company that advances green building practices by finding new ways to recycle and reduce waste such as installing granite countertops that require less material to produce and fit over your existing counters, eliminating the need for demolition.