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Credit: Photo: Courtesy of Katie Storey; Design: Apartment Therapy

Design Changemakers 2022: Katie Storey Is Pushing The Design Industry To Reduce Its Waste

published Feb 14, 2022
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Credit: Apartment Therapy

Apartment Therapy’s Changemakers Class of 2022 is made up of 15 of the most talented and dynamic people (or duos or trios) working in the design world. This year’s honorees are all about connecting, collaborating, and disrupting the industry to steer the collective design conversation towards innovation and a better future. See the rest of the list here.

Who: Katie Storey, interior designer and principle of Storey Design and founder of the Good Future Design Alliance (GFDA)
Where to follow her: Instagram at @thegfda

Credit: Design by Storey Design; Photo by Helynn Ospina

It was a sofa that finally got interior designer Katie Storey to stop and truly examine her business model. Storey had ordered the couch in the Bay Area only for the sofa to be shipped to a distribution center in North Carolina and then back to California before reaching her customer. She said to herself, “There has to be a better way.”

With this sharp realization of how unsustainable so much of the industry is, Storey enacted sustainable change in her own business: She shifted who and where she sourced from, giving favor to local business, secondhand purchases, and companies that used more sustainable materials. Storey also expanded her services to help clients responsibly shed their old furnishings. Secondhand became the first choice when specifying furniture, but it didn’t feel like enough.

“It was like, ‘Who cares about my small firm? This is not going to make much of a dent.’ So I started talking to colleagues,” Storey says. She knew if she wanted to make a real impact, she needed to get all of her peers to shift their business practices, too. She began to work on a plan for industry-wide change, which has come to life in the form of the Good Future Design Alliance (GFDA), an alliance of design professionals on a mission to reduce the industry’s waste by 50 percent over the next five years. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 9.7 million tons of furniture and furnishings and 500 million tons of construction and demolition debris end up in landfills each year. 

Launched in early 2020, the GFDA held its first conference remotely last November. It was a huge success. Hundreds of design professionals tuned in to learn about sustainable best practices, and despite Zoom fatigue, the conference’s chats were alive with comments, and the moderators were peppered with questions. With chapters in the Bay Area, Colorado, and Minneapolis, the GFDA plans to expand to additional markets in the year ahead and will continue to offer resources and online education for designers in every market. Here, Storey shares detials about her venture and the “good future” she sees ahead for the design world. 

Credit: Design by Storey Design; Photo by Helynn Ospina

Apartment Therapy: Tell me how, when, and why you got started doing what you’re doing? 

Katie Storey: I started my interior design firm [Storey Design] in 2014, but prior to that I had a career working on Wall Street for a sustainable investment firm. I was doing all kinds of ESP monitoring and social value monitoring for the investment firm, but finance was not my path. I went back to school to study design and started my firm in 2014.

When you’re starting your own thing, you just hustle and bustle. It worked out pretty well: I had tons of happy clients. However, I started to realize that while my life at home in San Francisco with my husband was really sustainable, I was not aligning my work with my values. I realized I’d gotten into this industry that is so built on consumption, change, new trends every quarter, and keeping up. Something had to give. I either needed to switch careers or I needed to work within my firm and then, hopefully, within the industry to change things.

AT: What did you decide to do next?

KS: I made changes at my own firm, and that was working well. But then it was like, “Who cares about my small firm? This is not going to make much of a dent.” So I started talking to colleagues in San Francisco. As my idea took form, I realized that I needed a founding member team, which included people like Eric from Fireclay Tile, Bonnie Bridges, Karen from Red Dot Studio, Jonathan Feldman; we came up with 16 founding members in the Bay Area, who were the steering committee that helped me build the Good Future Design Alliance. I also reached out to the San Francisco Department of the Environment and Ecology, who were more like advisors and helped me to understand waste streams than what the city codes are for waste.

We launched in January 2020 right before COVID; fast-forward and here we are almost two years in: We have 200 firms signed up and committed to reducing their waste over five years. The majority are in the Bay Area, but we also have started chapters in Colorado and Minneapolis — and we have members from all across the country.

AT: Is there a specific design project of yours that you think is particularly indicative of what you’re trying to do with the GFDA? 

KS: For one current project in particular, I’ve been sourcing differently. First, I’m sourcing more locally, supporting more local designers. Then there’s more vintage shopping, via Chairish, 1stDibs, and our local GFDA Marketplace. For this particular project, we sourced more than half the project in from local or vintage sites, which feels really good. We were also able to refinish about 10 percent of the client’s pieces through one of our GFDA partners Revitaliste. Then on the disposal side, we were able to donate and resell a lot of their furniture. So that’s the kind of project we’re striving for — even though it’s not finished yet — that is the perfect trifecta of designing more sustainably.

Credit: Design by Storey Design; Photo by Helynn Ospina

AT: What do you remember as your design inspirations starting out? 

KS: Heath Ceramics and Edith Heath, who is no longer alive, were a big inspiration for me. Working in their showroom was my first design job while I was in school. That was a very intentional choice, and it was a great opportunity to learn, to be around the products, and design. So many of the people who work for Heath have worked there for years, if not decades. Even the factory is inspiring: There’s not much waste left over — it’s very efficient.

AT: Who do you look up to today? 

KS: Home companies who are striving for a sustainable business model. Fyrn is right here in the Mission: Rhey make beautiful furniture and chairs. Aplat makes zero waste textiles for the kitchen. And Fireclay Tile is a really popular brand that is very sustainable; they’re also a B-Corp. Eric [Edelson, Fireclay’s CEO] is someone whom I really look up to. He is a founding member of the GFDA, but he’s also been very impactful in helping guide the GFDA. 

AT: Where do you see the design world going in 2022? 

KS: I think it’s going in a more sustainable direction — I really do — much like fashion had its big “aha” moment a few years ago, and now many fashion companies are catching up, and the industry is changing in so many ways. The design and build industry is on that path now. Many people have realized our industry’s impact. I think the home industry is really going to be considering carbon sequestration, alternative energy, and low-waste solutions. Not to mention with the supply chain issues, people are realizing the value of shopping locally.

Credit: Design by Storey Design; Photo by Helynn Ospina

AT: What legacy do you hope to leave? 

KS: I want a shift in mindsets, in that design can be beautiful, functional, and fun, but it can also be sustainable — and it must be all three of those. That’s what I really want to leave. Design doesn’t have to be new and sourced from far away all the time; part of the fun is sourcing creatively from local sources. 

AT: Any big plans for 2022 or beyond you can share with us? 

KS: We’re opening new chapters in Seattle, Nashville, Austin, and a few other cities. We are definitely going to make our conference an annual conference each fall. Then throughout the year we’ll have monthly Q&As and other events for members. We’re also launching consulting, which will be for member firms to achieve their low-waste goals.

AT: How do you define success for the GFDA?

KS: If we continue to open chapters throughout the country, continue to bring on new members, and continue to have current members engaged. We want to see members connecting with each other through the online forums, going to networking events where they’re learning and working with each other on projects. That will define success for me. 

Interview has been edited and condensed.