Pineapple leather, anyone? Vegans are transforming the way they furnish and decorate their homes
When No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal and his wife, Erin Lokitz, renovated their Spanish Revival home in Los Feliz, they decided their furniture would be like their diet — strictly vegan.
“We really emphasized the need for a cruelty-free home,” Lokitz said. She tapped Tatum Kendrick, of the L.A.-based design firm Studio Hus, to source animal-friendly and kid-friendly fabric. Her guidelines? “No suede or mohair, and no silk, wool or down,” Lokitz said. A vegan-furnished household, after all, doesn’t include anything tested on animals or sourced from animals.
It may sound like a scene in “Portlandia” or an “SNL” sketch on California living: A famous musician and his actress-designer wife are so hardcore vegan that even silk doesn’t enter their home. But if 2019’s shortages of Oatly’s oat milk and meatless Impossible Burgers — now sold as an Impossible Whopper at Burger King — are any indication of the U.S.’ increasingly vegan-adjacent lifestyle, the Kanal-Lokitz family is ahead of the curve. If not inventing it.
After all, a recent study by food company So Delicious Dairy Free found 31% of those polled identified as “flexitarians” or those who regularly swap out meat for plant-based alternatives. A poll by British supermarket chain Waitrose reported that a third of U.K. consumers have cut back or stopped buying meat altogether. There’s Meatless Monday. The new year’s Veganuary. Is a flirtation with veganism in home design next? There are definite signs of a burgeoning (mostly) California-led shift.
The Duchess of Sussex, Los Angeles’ own Meghan Markle, recently selected a vegan paint for royal baby Archie’s room. What makes it vegan? It’s free of casein, traditionally used as a binder for wall paint, which is made from cow’s milk.
Meanwhile, several of Californian Elon Musk’s new Teslas are slated to go fully vegan in 2020 while Bentley is catering to California and U.K. clientele requests by offering vegan interiors — including one made from leftover wine industry grapes.
There’s also the environmentally minded French designer Philippe Starck’s recent collaboration with Cassina, the high-end Italian furniture design company (which has a location in Los Angeles on Beverly Boulevard). Starck’s design features a luxe collection of sofas and other furniture upholstered in his novel Apple Ten Lork, a “vegan leather” derived from apple cores and other waste from the apple industry. He’s also experimented with a flexible pineapple textile dubbed Piñatex, sourced from the cellulose fiber in pineapple leaves.
Miami-based interior designer Deborah DiMare, who has clients in New York and California, is ecstatic to see this rise in vegan design.
She runs DiMare Design with an emphasis on creating custom vegan, sustainable and toxic-free environments. That means her furnishings are free of leather-bound books, geese-down comforters, crocodile pillow covers and sheep wool rugs, among other animal-derived items.
DiMare points toward the wool industry, which has been accused of cruelty, as one of the many reasons she decided to switch to vegan furnishing. “There’s no way that you can bring in animal-based materials and decor and call it sustainable or call it clean or call it healthy,” she said. “It’s like saying carrot cake is not fattening. It’s just so toxic, and it is so devastating to the environment.”
It’s worth noting that raising animals for our food — and fabric — requires large swaths of land as well as energy and water and that it’s well-documented that animal agriculture produces large amounts of emissions that pollute our air and water. Thus, vegan advocates argue that by avoiding animal products they are de facto environmentalists.
For alternatives to wool, whether baby alpaca, cashmere or merino, DiMare suggests hemp and bamboo silk mixes. “Anything with a hemp or jute or sea grass mix will give that rough texture that wool has without the gamy smell,” she said. DiMare also likes cork for upholstery and wall coverings.
As for a silk replacement? DiMare says banana silk and Tencel (made from fiber found in wood pulp) are super soft and look and feel just like the real thing, without vast numbers of silk worms being sacrificed. “I try my best, when doing pieces for my furniture line, to stick with textiles that are as clean as possible — dye-free linens, hemp, bamboo and banana silks. For durability, faux high-end leathers work very well,” DiMare said. She says vegan leather is more durable than that made from cowhide and likes the buttery-soft textiles from Holly Hunt and Kravet.
When Kanal and Lokitz renovated their home several years ago, they used several of these alternatives. “Knowing nothing in our home has suffered adds to the beauty of it,” Lokitz said.
It helped that she and Kanal already had mostly animal-free items because Lokitz says down has always “creeped” her out. But they also wanted stylish and modern pieces to balance the heaviness of their 1920s Spanish-style home with its high beam ceilings and iron-framed windows.
The couple met Kendrick at their children’s preschool in Silver Lake, and their visions aligned, although Kendrick had never dabbled in all-vegan furnishing.
“It was actually really exciting, and once we dove into those parameters it really wasn’t that challenging to do,” Kendrick said. “It’s almost like eating out for vegan food in L.A.; everywhere you go there’s always vegan options.”
The expansive light-filled living room is the main hub of the household, so the owners wanted it to not only look fantastic but to hold up to wear and tear from playing with the kids and hosting friends, Kendrick said. “We anchored the room with a large Living Divani sofa that could accommodate Sunday family gatherings. We upholstered it in a Perennials indoor-outdoor fabric that is very resistant to stains and spills,” Kendrick said. And where there might be feathers in the sofa, there’s foam.
One of the spaces Kendrick and Lokitz love is the children’s playroom, which has navy walls and whimsical pops of color, including a pink custom-made sofa with the look of mohair. “We wanted this room to be fun and wacky since the living room is pretty calm and serene,” said Kendrick. One standout piece is a leopard-pattern nylon rug. There’s also a vibrant seafoam green vintage ’70s Saporiti lounge chair.
Many vegan lifestyle enthusiasts such as L.A.-based musician Moby (who is so dedicated to his animal activism he recently had “Vegan for Life” tattooed on his neck), tout upcycling as a vegan-friendly option.
“The only challenge we came across in terms of everything you would think of when interior design happens — style, colors, budget — was a large rug,” said Lokitz. Although cotton kilims or dhurries have Kendrick’s spot-on cool aesthetic, they weren’t as durable as wool.
Kendrick ended up selecting a synthetic cut-pile rug from Perennials Fabrics that didn’t sacrifice coziness and used Perennials vegan textiles for reupholstering vintage pieces, including Vladimir Kagan lounge chairs in a pewter-hued faux leather.
The result of Kendrick’s design is a modern aesthetic with a slight masculine vibe. “We’re really proud of it because it just proves that you don’t have to sacrifice personal style or taste or function; you can be vegan and have it all,” Lokitz said.
After designing the Kanal-Lokitz home, Kendrick was brought on to design the interiors for Moby’s animal-free Silver Lake restaurant Little Pine, housed in a 1940s Art Deco building complete with the musician’s own forest photographs, rust-colored vegan leather cushions and raw wood.
Kendrick says that after working on both projects, her Studio Hus design firm now abstains from using animal materials and has more of a sustainable approach to design — in part because of customers’ demand for it.
At Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, Jeff Sampson, vice president of marketing, has also seen the interest in vegan design swell. “Vegan hasn’t been a category that we have used in the past to categorize the broad array of goods that is available here at the PDC,” Sampson said. “But that may change due to the growing interest in the vegan lifestyle.”
Among the PDC’s vegan-friendly offerings are the Holly Hunt showroom’s high-end textile brand Mokum’s new La Primavera textiles collection, in which almost every piece is 100% polyester or mixed with other vegan-friendly materials like acrylic, linen or even steel. There’s also the A. Rudin showroom’s luxury faux leather and vinyl upholstery, handmade in downtown Los Angeles, and modern resin furniture pieces by O’Hara Studio.
But there are no PDC showrooms designated as all-vegan designs yet.
“It’s definitely still an emerging trend,” said Haily Zaki, the co-founder of LA Design Festival, which features interiors and architecture from Los Angeles and has been running annually for almost a decade. She notes that the vegan trend is further along in fashion because pieces are smaller and generally less expensive and complicated to make. “Here is the thing: If you want something to be vegan design, you need to pay for it. And it’s expensive.” Zaki said. She explains that because such careful sourcing is involved, many pieces have to be custom-designed and ordered.
Lokitz posited that cruelty-free pieces don’t have to be over-complicated. She points to a rug in her daughter’s room from Target. Meanwhile PETA has highlighted affordable offerings from big-brand stores such as down-free couches from Ikea, hand-woven throws that are sans wool from Crate & Barrel, and vegan cotton and polyester rugs from Anthropologie.
Lokitz co-runs a design company, Four + Four Design, with her husband and another couple, in which they buy and refurbish homes on the Eastside. She says they have been able to avoid using any animal-derived materials.
“We feel very fortunate and lucky that we’re able to make that choice of having the time to think about it,” Lokitz said. She’s raised both of her girls, now 5 and 8, vegan and, because it’s been several years since she renovated her home to be all-vegan, she’s ecstatic to see the interest in animal-friendly living grow. “I feel like the awareness in the world right now, especially with the climate change, is really pushing design.”
As for Zaki, though she says vegan design can be exhaustive and expensive, interest is strong enough that for the upcoming L.A. Design Festival themed “future,” she plans to have a panel dedicated to the trend. After all, she respects the imagination that vegan design involves and says Los Angeles is home to an affluent clientele that can afford to experiment.
“L.A. has such a robust manufacturing community that if you can think it up, you can figure out any idea,” Zaki said. “If there’s anywhere where there are people who are creative enough to figure vegan design out, it’s here in L.A.”
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