Innovation That Matters

9 Questions With Sustainable Designer Gavin Keightley

Wise Words

An interview with Gavin Keightley, a designer repurposing food waste in new and exciting ways.

From mashed potatoes to animal products such as sausage skin and pigs blood, Gavin Keightley is “breaking the mould” of conventional design.

Not only has he opened the field to a plethora of new and exciting textures, but he is also making the case that design need not come at the cost of sustainability.

According to research by WRAP, in Britain alone, households throw away 6.6 million tons of food every year. By using food to create bespoke moulds, Gavin has found a way to repurpose food waste so that people can take it back into their homes and appreciate it in a different way.

1. Where did the idea of using food to create furniture moulds come from?

Having used a lot of synthetic foams in the past, I wanted to generate a wider range of surface textures for my current project. However, I couldn’t find any natural alternatives that would achieve the kind of results that I was looking for.

Then, one evening I was making couscous for dinner. After leaving the food in a sealed bowl for too long, I noticed that the individual beads of couscous had combined and set into a block that held its shape. This was the moment that led me to investigate the use of food as a natural material for casting moulds.

2. What was your background prior to this, and how did that shape your designs?

In my teens, I worked in a kitchen. I was always surrounded by food and passionate people who loved what they did. There is something quite special about preparing a meal for someone. As a chef, you are a maker creating something beautiful for the senses, something for someone else to savour for a moment. This has always stuck with me. Design should be savoured and explored by a multitude of senses.

3. What change do your designs want to foster?

I would like to think that my work can alter perceptions of the value of materials. Expanding the available catalogue of natural materials into the world of food could bring positive change and lead to producing and using less synthetic materials.

4. Through your work, are you seeing a genuine paradigm shift in design towards positive change? Can you think of any examples?

Over the last few years of me being active in the design world, I have seen a lot of positive change. With the growing trend towards the importance of sustainability and circularity, our industry may be a small cog in a large system. However, highlighting the issues that matter most will help encourage others to shift towards the goal of creating a better future.

5. What has been a great moment for you so far?

Two-thousand-and-nineteen was a great year for me. Decorex International was a stand-out moment in my career so far. The chance to be part of the Future Heritage Stand gave me the chance to platform my work in front of a new audience and share a bit about the processes that I use. Exhibiting in Make Hauser & Wirth was also a great moment. To round off my 2019, I exhibited in Eindhoven for DDW as part of my MA Design degree, which I graduated from in December.

6. What is one book you’ve recently read or podcast that has inspired you that you recommend?

I’m currently reading a few books on geometry. I want to learn how I can utilize it more consistently in my work. Geometry is everywhere in nature when you know how to look for it. It’s interesting to see how it is applied to art, design, science and mathematics.

7. Do you have any other thoughts or wise words for aspiring designers?

Work hard, be brave and learn to question yourself. You may never find the answer you want, but if you keep searching you’ll find plenty of interesting things along the way.

8. Who inspires you?

Everyone I’ve ever met has had an impact on who I am. I don’t feel particularly inspired by any single person or group. It’s more about picking the moments where I feel the most like myself and try to harness those for inspiration.

9. What would most help design become more sustainable?

If there was no alternative. We currently see sustainability as a choice but sooner or later it will become adopted as the only way to progress. Every single person that is currently working on a more sustainable future is a pioneer, keep working like this and others will follow.