Silo: Designing A Zero-Waste Restaurant

by Nina April 30, 2020  |   4 min read

In May last year I received a call from chef Douglas McMaster.

Doug told me of the emerging plans for a new London home for his zero-waste restaurant Silo, in Hackney Wick. I absolutely would not have considered going back to work so soon after the birth of my baby boy for anything less exciting.

Over the next six months – astonishingly fast from first phone call to first dinner – Doug and I were in touch almost daily concocting and developing the design.

A few pioneering and high-quality materials, a very crafted process, and a zero-waste mentality formed the basis of the design. We aimed to close the loop, with an interior composed from waste or thoughtfully sourced, renewable materials, that will either biodegrade or easily disassemble for repurposing in the future. Following Silo’s post-industrial ethos, we opted to work with local crafts people where possible, using age-old techniques, as well as harnessing efficient new technologies to create beautiful bespoke elements of the interior.

Our overarching intention was to create a sustainable interior that lives up to the elegance and the integrity of the food, showing that recycling can be refined, and ethical can be elegant.

According to Keith Miller at The Telegraph “The scruffy, graffiti-festooned canalside block where Silo is based couldn’t be more different in feel from the restaurant’s lofty, sparsely beautiful first-floor interior.”

Guests are greeted at a host stand formed from offcuts and otherwise unusable parts of timber that have been laminated together and then sculpted back into the likeness of a tree stump. Over this hangs a pendant light moulded from foraged seaweed.

The floor is a warm sea of pure, natural cork, harvested by hand from the bark of the cork oak, without harming the tree. A carbon negative product; the cork oak forests capture five times more CO2 than is used in the manufacture of the flooring.

The long, eighteen-seater dining bar closely overlooks the kitchen worktop, forming an intimate connection between diner, chef and the ingredients. The front of the bar is wrapped in a ribbed recycled leather and the dining counter is formed from polyester packaging waste, hand-crafted into a durable new surface material with a subtle translucency and a feel more akin to stone. This bar top – made by innovators Smile Plastics who rescue plastic that would otherwise go to landfill – can be recycled over and over again.

I designed the distinctive, three-legged, round dining tables and a five metre long waiter station especially for Silo. They were expertly crafted locally by Jan Hendzel in his Woolwich workshop using sustainably sourced English ash and masterful joinery techniques.

Cocktail lounge furniture was grown to order for the project from mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus

Mycelium is one of the most important organisms on our planet, a super-sustainable construction material of the future. This magic mushroom is a renewable raw material with limitless availability and fully compostable at the end of its usefulness.

We designed the thirty bespoke wall lights in-house at Nina+Co, and commissioned Mark of Potters Thumb to make them from crushed glass wine bottles saved from Silo’s first restaurant in Brighton. Through a unique, lower-energy glass recycling process developed by Douglas and Mark, the crushed glass is then moulded and fired in a kiln to create stunning, textural glass objects which can be crushed and recycled again and again.

Natural, biodegradable, woolen fabrics were sourced to upholster the seating, linen for the wardrobe curtain, and vegetarian felted sheep ‘skins’ to soften the cocktail lounge.

Photography by Sam A Harris



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