19 Greek Street’s Marc Peridis is on a mission to promote mindful living though design.

Higher Ground

By Wava Carpenter

“As a species we are doing it all wrong, and I’m convinced there are aliens on another planet looking down at us and laughing,” muses Marc Peridis, when asked to explain the motivations behind his business’s sharpening focus on ethical design. “We are exhausting ourselves,” he adds, “working at jobs we hate to buy things we don’t need. We have followed this pre-programmed path without questioning it, despite the consequences. Luckily, a small revolution is starting and a shift can be felt.” In an effort to inspire others to join his quest for a more enlightened approach to living, Peridis has organized Art of Progress, a multi-tiered, multifaceted exhibition on view at his gallery, 19 Greek Street, during this year’s London Design Festival.

Frequently lauded in weighty media outlets for his well-curated exhibitions, Canadian-born Peridis has earned an international reputation among design cognoscenti for offering leading-edge contemporary objects by fresh designers not readily found elsewhere. Remarkably, however, Peridis’s arrival to the design world is relatively recent; his path meandered through law, business, and marketing before he rooted himself in the field less than a decade ago. He started his own interior design studio around the time of the financial crisis and, against all odds, found quick success. But still he felt he wasn’t quite where he wanted to be. “After a few years of running the studio, I realized that this wasn’t the work I wanted to do,” he explains. “It was very commercial—fun but a bit too soulless. I decided I would either do exactly what I want to do, or I would leave the industry and find something else. I couldn’t go on doing something that didn’t fulfill me.”

In 2012, Peridis opened 19 Greek Street, a combo gallery space/interior design studio/contemporary design production house in London’s cosmopolitan Soho neighborhood. The move, he admits, was rather spontaneous and risky, driven only by an intuition that the building itself—a six-floor, stately but friendly Victorian townhouse—would somehow manifest a more gratifying situation. He signed a ten-year lease before he even knew exactly what he wanted to do with it.

Year on year, step by step, Peridis has refined his goals by continuing to follow his instincts, his taste guiding him toward young and up-and-coming talents with a strong editorial bent. Quite organically, he developed a highly international collection, including the work of Nina Tolstrup from Denmark, Dirk Vander Kooij from the Netherlands, Werner Aisslinger from Germany, and Karen Chekerdjian from Lebanon.

Almost as a byproduct of his aesthetic taste, sustainability arose as a vital thread binding his program. “I wanted to create a space where the experimental is given a chance to shine,” he recalls. “And the people who are pushing aesthetic and material boundaries are often the same people who are asking questions about the state of the world and what can be done to improve it.” Three years in, Peridis has wholeheartedly committed his business to the promotion of design and lifestyles that, in his words, “do good and move the world forward, without sacrificing taste.”

His latest venture, Art of Progress, takes his mission to a new level: four stories of the 19 Greek Street building are outfitted with a café furnished from his collection, an apartment mise-en-scène filled with an eclectic mix of ethically-driven designs, a lecture room for in-depth sustainability and mindfulness talks, and a functioning meditation space. To cohost the ten-day-long event, Peridis enlisted other like-minded groups, including sustainable textile company Camira, eco-friendly and fair-share knitwear brand Tengri, environmental artist-collective Human Nature, and Salt, a new magazine dedicated to compassionate business practices. Each participant and element reinforces the other, according to the exhibition’s tagline, “to move people toward a more ethical lifestyle.”

Ethically made designs at The Art of Progress Photo courtesy of 19 Greek Street

“Ethical,” in this case, finds a range of expressions. On the environmental side, there are the lyrical, solar-energy-harnessing projects of Austrian studio Mischer’Traxler and London-based Dutch designer Marjan van Aubel. The former is presenting the latest incarnation of their 2006 graduation project Idea of a Tree, which uses sunlight to produce and shape a series of benches; the latter is replacing 19 Greek Street’s windows with Current Windows, a new, high-tech form of stained glass that converts the ambient light wave spectrum into electrical energy for use in other parts of the building.

Along a similar line, Italian duo Paolo Ulian and Moreno Ratti’s upcycled 40 x 40 Carrera marble vases and tableware are created from industrial offcuts; and each piece of Belgian architect-designer Lionel Jadot’s furniture collection is individually sculpted from globally sourced objets trouvé. Renowned Dutch designer Tord Boontje’s ongoing Transglass project, a system for transforming used glass bottles into elegant décor, is also on view. The concept originated in 1997 and has since become its own brand, its production now sited in Guatemala City with an attendant program to teach young people glassmaking and cutting skills.

And then there’s British designer Peter Marigold’s site-specific wall shelf system, Split Boxes, that make use of locally sourced, slim logs in a geometric algorithm that’s at once low-fi and high-concept. For Marigold, the aim is not explicitly ethical. Instead, the design embodies his innate frugality, an overarching approach to his life and work that entails using and spending less at every opportunity—more about “a preoccupation with imperialism and mass mind control,” according to the designer, which he feels is even more destructive to the planet than environmental devastation. Or, at least, they go hand in hand. 

When asked to comment on Peridis’s ethical mission and how it aligns with their own design practices, the participating designers seem to share a sense of gratitude that such a well-intentioned platform exists. Israeli duo Noam Dover and Michal Cederbaum, for example—whose work has been exhibited at 19 Greek Street almost from the beginning and is included also in Art of Progress—claim “the spirit of the place influences and challenges our work constantly.” They add, “We feel that as the world’s (and our region’s) complexity becomes more apparent, design practice is most relevant when it aims to address social and ecological questions, both conceptually and aesthetically. In that sense, 19 Greek Street is a kind of lighthouse, where real, significant issues are discussed through design, with no cynicism and lots of soul.”

Boontje agrees. “19 Greek Street's commitment to ethical entrepreneurship places it on forefront of a new type of design business. Not only is it committed to a kind of idealism, it is also looking forwards in contemporary culture. For me, it is refreshing to see ethical products that are also sharp, edgy, and unexpected.”

And Jadot joins the chorus: “I feel very close to the commitment of 19 Greek Street. Objects should be more than just a formatted number, a mass-scale product. We need to remember that the artisans remain the salt of our cultural identity. Artisans must regain their place in our world and perpetuate their knowledge.”

However lofty the goals, alas, Peridis laughs when asked about the buying public’s response to his proposition to help them “explore choices that can help forge a fairer and more sustainable way of living.” The enthusiasm, he says, for his high-minded message is “not quite the same as just having free drinks at an open party with some design pieces lying around.” He recalls the first time he sent out an invite for some “inspiring events” and “lost around 400 newsletter subscribers in a space of only a few hours.” Unfazed, he doubles down on his mission with each new project. “I have always been honest about this: 19 Greek Street has been a financial struggle from the start, by its very nature. Sustainability and ethics is a tough world that many people don’t have much time or money for. But I made the decision that if I’m going to struggle, I might as well be 100% true to my beliefs and values. I see little point in doing anything else. Otherwise, I would be better off working for a Cassina-type company for much, much more money.”

Never one for pessimism, however, Peridis leaves us with a motivating call to action: “As consumers, we need to consume less of everything, but better. As designers, we need to make less of everything, but better. We need to challenge the Ikea model by supporting the smaller, more ethical designers, so their products can become more widespread and benefit from economies of scale. People are starting to wake up, but we have a long way to go. We need to start thinking about what is important in life and what means the most to us, and how to honor that.” 

  • Text by

    • Wava Carpenter

      Wava Carpenter

      After studying Design History, Wava has worn many hats in support of design culture: teaching design studies, curating exhibitions, overseeing commissions, organizing talks, writing articles—all of which informs her work now as Pamono’s Editor-in-Chief.