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Nottingham Eco Artist and Designer causes a storm with her plastic lights

Nottingham based Artist and Designer Sarah Turner, is causing a storm in the interior design world with her eco-friendly lighting designs.  From her studio in the heart of Nottingham, Sarah uses old plastic bottles discarded from the city’s cafes and transforms them into eclectic pieces.

So far she’s been commissioned by the likes of SodaStream, London Fashion Week, Twitter, the Ideal Home Show and recently secured a place in the final of this years Philips lighting competition. Read her exciting interview and find out how Sarah’s made such an impact within the design world and what’s in store for her next!

So Sarah, we first met in the Designers Block at this years Birmingham Interiors Show in January, since then your designs have featured at the Ideal Home Show, London Fashion Week and had Erin O’Connor model one of your designs for SodaStream. How have you done it!?

It’s been a crazy few months!  One opportunity has lead to another really.  Promoting my work though exhibitions is the key thing really and hoping someone like SodaStream sees it and uses your work for something. 

Sarah Turner for SodaStream

It seems the “greener is better” ethos is finally making a dent in people’s attitudes towards their surroundings, when and what made you want to specify in eco interiors?

I have always been into making things from waste materials I found around the house ever since I can remember but recycling plastic bottles into lighting started at university.  I was in my final year when I wrote my dissertation about recycling in design.  I decided I wanted to make a product from everyday waste materials.  

So I set about collecting all of mine and my housemates rubbish and I was shocked at the amount of plastic bottles we used.  Plastic is such a damaging material to the environment as well so I did a little research into how much was recycled and found that still only a small percentage is recycled.  So I decided that I would save a few of these bottles from the landfill sites and make something useful out of them. 

Some of your designs are rather huge, “Ella” which was used in the open plan show home at the Ideal Home event was over 1 metre wide and made from 310 bottles! How do you even start a project of this size?

With difficulty as my studio is not the largest in the world!  With Ella it had to be hung from the ceiling as I made it.  Also I am lucky as the doors to my studio and the building are all double doors.  If they weren’t Ella would be too big to fit through normal sized doors!  I think when you start making something of that size you have to not be scared, and just take each bottle one by one!

Making of Ella

You graduated from Nottingham Trent University, have a studio based in the city and collect the plastic bottles used for your lights from cafe’s within the area. Does Nottingham play a part in the underlying concept your designs?

Nottingham does have a big part in my business and I think if I moved somewhere else I would find it hard to move my business too.  People are great at supporting me, I would not be able to do my work without the help of lots of lovely people.  I am not from Nottingham, I moved here for university but I am definitely glad I decided to stay!

What reaction do you receive from people when exhibiting your work?

Shock normally as my designs do not look like waste plastic bottles and often only when people are told do they realise.  I love making my work from rubbish so people can’t tell that it’s made from waste materials.  The novelty never wears out seeing people’s shock when they are told of the product’s origins!

Starting your own business can be difficult, how did you go about kick-starting yours and what key advice would you pass on to other wanting to do the same?

I joined the Hive at Nottingham Trent University after I graduated, that certainly helped.  The Hive is a business incubation centre and they run courses teaching you how to start a business.  I didn’t really have much clue before that so the courses were invaluable for me!  With getting my work out there, applying for as many opportunities as you can is what I did.  So I showed my work at as many exhibitions as I could and I promoted my work by emailing design and eco blogs.  

My key piece of advice would be to people thinking of starting a business would be just do it!  What’s the worst that can happen?!  So long as you are passionate about what you do and enjoy it then you should just go for it. 

Will sustainable interiors survive this boom of interest and be a sure way of life in the next 20+ years, or is it a case of boom and bust?

I hope they will continue to increase in popularity.  Recycling our waste will only become more and more important in the future so I think living sustainable is with us for the foreseeable future. 

What has been your most difficult project, and did you overcome it?

The Twitter Ball was pretty tricky.  It was the first time I had used the ends of bottles and I had to make a perfect sphere, each bottle end lit up by its own LED.  These LEDs were then connected to Twitter and reacted when certain words were tweeted.  Throw into the mix a very tight deadline to complete the piece and as you can imagine this caused all manner of problems!   Dealing with each problem one at a time and never giving up is the main way to get over them I think. 

How do you keep your designs fresh and bang on trend?

I don’t tend to give a great deal of thought to what is trendy, I make ideas I think will be good and hope others think so too!  I keep my designs fresh by always thinking of new ideas and making new things.  Constantly producing new work keeps your ideas and products fresh and hopefully trendy. 

Cola 10 from £205

You’ve had an exciting year so far and attracted the eye of various top designers and organisations, but what’s next for you, where do you hope to be in the near future?

I am of course going to continue to design and make things from waste materials.  I keep thinking of new designs made from plastic bottles but I feel I need to use other waste materials so I am not known as the bottle girl forever!  I love doing big projects and commissions so I hope a few more come my way this year.  As well as my business I also teach part time which I love.  I teach at NTU, have done youth projects and I have also been to a few schools to run workshops about making things from waste materials.  So I would like to do more of this in the near future too. 

If you would like to see more of Sarah’s work or contact her her, you can do so by visiting her website

Images: Sarah Turner, National Design Academy

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