Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sam Parsons: Musing on a sustainable practice

Sam Parsons of Studio Sam


To me sustainability goes beyond material selection, recycling and minimizing environmental and social impacts. These should go without saying.  To me sustainability is about asking the bigger questions.  Do we really need more designer furniture?  Does the design contribute something worthwhile?  Will the design be desirable in the future?  Could it possibly become a heirloom to be valued for generations to come?  if not, what happens to the item when it is no longer desirable? 

As a designer I grapple with questions like these on a constant basis.  I am consequently committed to designing solutions that have real purpose, respond to everyday needs, are adaptable, contribute to the quality of life, can transcend transient fashion, and importantly challenge society’s 'throw away' mentality.

The Studio Sam products that have resulted from this approach could be placed into two broad categories: 1) those that involve reuse and 2) those that address a real issue.


The Booksmith range and the Betty Blue / Blue Print ranges demonstrate reuse. The former exhibits reappropriation while the later retains the original function.

The Booksmith range as the name suggests consists of products handmade from discarded hardback books which have outlived their intended function.  The reuse of books, mminimises the need for raw materials and in some cases helps to divert materials going to landfill.  The range includes the Bookscreen, Siena the Bookblock Table, Dust Jacket Gift Cards, gift tags and notebooks. 

The Booksmith range gives the books (or parts of) a new role and value.  In the case of the Bookscreen, the books now form part of a more permanent collection, one that has a new functional role and is prized for its aesthetic merits.  Each screen, being an individual, is appropriately given a christen name and a certificate of authenticity which adds further reverence to the screen.   Bookscreen won a Victorian Premiers Design Award in 2008.

Image: Bookscreens can be custom made to a specific size or colour composition. Ruby the Bookscreen  was a commissioned piece consisting of  64 books.  Helga the Bookscreen consisted of 18 books and was only 3 books high. Photographer Peter Bennetts

Bookscreen builds on the character of the original books.  The colourful covers (which are still in good working order) are removed,  arranged according to colour and reassembled utilising traditional book binding techniques.  The sturdy covers provide structure while the book spines provide the hinges for the concertinaed screen.  Some of the pages from the books are reused to line the back of the screen.  Bookscreen celebrates the high quality craftsmanship of the original books and provides (in a day of increased digital technology) a tactile reminder of how books used to be made.

Bookscreen is portable, flexible and adaptable. It is an ideal privacy screen or delineator of space in the open plan house, retail or corporate environment.  The screen can be reversed to provide a totally different characterLower screens (eg upto 3 books high) provide an alternative to standard workstation privacy screens.  

Image: Siena the Bookblock Tables are functional, sturdy paper structures. Photographer Geoffrey Marsh

Siena the Bookblock Table is constructed from, as the name suggests, the bookblocks (or pages) that have been removed from the cover.  No additional glue or toxic materials are used in the construction.  It is the original spine of the book that provides the main structure, along with the folded pages. This material simplicity enables the table to be easily recycled if required.
The appeal of Siena comes from not only its surprisingly sturdy, sculptural form but also from the beauty of the original pages themselves.  The quality paper, varied themes, bright colours and vibrant images are put on show and given new appreciation. 

While designing Siena I resisted producing a table top: 1) so the sculptural form was not hidden and 2) because it would have required the introduction of new materials which was against the principles of Siena.  The intention was for a tray / plate / glass / book (whatever you have at home) to be placed on top when required to provide a surface.  

Image: Dust Jacket Gift Cards are hand-made blank giftcards. Each is an original and comes with a100% recycled (post consumer waste) envelope. Photographer Sam Parsons

After making the screens and Siena there are left over book parts. I subsequently created several other products to join the Booksmith range as a means of minimising any wasteThis is perhaps epitomised, by the Dust Jacket Gift Cards.  These handmade cards are made from the original dust jackets. They are prized for their varied themes and titles, the nostalgia they create and their quality artwork among other attributes.  These cards are only made when the dust jackets are available / left over.  They are therefore limited in supply due to the very nature of their existence. 

Other products that have been produced for the Booksmith range from time to time include gift tags, notebooks, wrapping paper and presentation folders.  Once again, these items are only produced when there are left over book parts available and the need arises.  On other occasions, I have also used books (or parts of) to create installations or one off commissions.

Image left: The Booksmith Gift Tags were devised to utilise the pages left over from the construction of Bookscreen and Siena the Bookblock Table. Photographer Sam Parsons

Image right: The Booksmith Notebooks is made from 2 (double sided) discarded hard back book covers.  Custom made notepads can be slipped in to the covers and refilled as required.  The intention was to give the covers  an ongoing role so their use was no longer limited by their contents. photographer Sam Parsons

Image left: A commission for the Clara Display Suite, Melbourne. Stylist Megan Morton. Photographer Tim James

Image right: An installation titled 'Tomorrow'. Discarded hardback journal covers (given to me by a library) were used to create an undulating landscape for the display of homewares. Photographer Geoffrey Marsh

The Betty Blue range also demonstrates reuse.  Decals were applied to found,  mis-matched,  'as good as new’ ceramic crockery.  The concept was not purely about redecorating the ceramics.  The intention was to go a step further and address one possible reason the plates were discarded in the first place; that being their separation from their original set.  After all un-matching crockery is typically undesirable.  Betty Blue created new sets which restored the plates role and value. 

Although each of the resulting ceramic pieces were different, they were related to one another through the application of blue and white circular motifs.  The artwork was based on found, traditional blue and white patterned plates which themselves were incorporated into the new limited edition Betty Blue sets.

Similarly the Blueprint range (which was a collaborative effort between Studio Sam and Lightly in 2009) also reuses found ceramic plates.  This range continued on the basic design concept behind Betty Blue.  The designs however were rationalised rendering them suitable for small production runs. The resulting limited edition wall plates were produced and distributed in Australia by Lightly.  The range won the Home Beautiful, Product of the Year (Home Accessories) award in 2009.

Image left: The Blueprint (left) and Betty Blue (right) ranges create new sets from found, mis-matched crockery. photographers Lightly (left) and Peter Bennetts


A case study in this category would be Outee; a range of outdoor furniture that Studio Sam is currently working on.  The modular furniture is designed with small scale outdoor spaces in mind.  It was initiated to address real needs, in particular the challenges of urban growth.  As we are faced with increased population growth we will see more small scale outdoor spaces. Although there are a variety of outdoor furniture products on the market, few cater specifically for these smaller spaces.  Outee provides a spatial solution, one that aims to improve the function and efficient use of these spaces and ultimately contribute to the quality of life. 

Outee is being developed with life-cycle in mind; from material selection and efficiency through to production, distribution, use and end-of-life.  Importantly the range was designed for longevity and adaptability to try and minimize premature obsolescence.  A Lifecycle Matrix has been prepared to provide a preliminary assessment of Outee and a prediction of how it may perform over time.

Outee is not a product that is going to solve the problems of the world or mitigate major environmental problems but it is a small, positive measure that does address real issues that would contribute to the well-being of society.

Sam Parsons is a design practitioner and the director of Studio Sam.  The Brisbane based design studio focuses on interior design, landscape architecture and product design.

Studio Sam website 
Sustainability stories link 
Be In The Know for Sustainability Forum Updates Subscribe



  1. I would like to apprecite your work thanks for sharing this .
    Landscape designs

  2. This is a great read, thanks for sharing with us, these designing ideas are really impressive , I couldn't help me to say that fabulous post .