It is very tempting to become part of the throwaway culture. But remember what Kenneth Granger, creator of the parking meter and Kodak Instamatic, once said: "There is a fundamental decency, a respect in things designed to have a long life. I've tried to design so things can be repaired or replaced. It encourages people to continue owning."
The most innovative recent outbreak of "repair in design" is seen in a project called Fixperts (fixperts.org), founded by designers Daniel Charny and James Carrigan, that links people with the practical knowhow to solve everyday problems. It works on the basis that fixing can be something that combines imagination and skill and brings immediacy back to design. It aims to create a network of designers who "micro volunteer" to help people with specific problems and attempt to find a solution.
Paul Steedman, Friends of the Earth's senior campaigner, says: "Of course, things that cannot be repaired are bad for the environment. Replacements consume energy. Products should be designed to last, and easier to take apart with good spare part supplies. Affordable long-term payment plans help customers buy quality with durability."
Long guarantees mean long-lasting homewares
The obvious barometer of longevity is a guarantee. Possibly the longest on a domestic product is a 50-year guarantee from Franke, Swiss makers of kitchen sinks. Indeed, a couple in Somerset recently planned to ditch a 30-year-old Franke sink but their fitter said it was as good as anything on the market today. Vitra, another Swiss brand, offers a 30-year guarantee on a range of office Clean bill of health: all the key parts of the Maytag washing machine (£600) have a 10-year guarantee chairs. Companies may offer a "lifetime guarantee". But how long is that? You need a reassurance that this is the lifetime of the original owner, particularly if you are young.
Swedish firm Hästens guarantees beds for 25 years, and Amtico guarantees its vinyl domestic flooring for 20. London's Warren Evans offers a 10-year guarantee on his wooden beds.
Makers claim that fittings with new LED bulbs will last for 25 years, but in fact, overheating can cause breakdown. This is a design challenge overcome by Jake Dyson with his super-slim CSYS lamps. Both floor and table lamps have energy-saving LED lamps that Dyson claims will last for 37 years, thanks to a unique "heat pipe" technology that keeps the LED lamps cool.
And there are companies on the mass market doing their bit for longevity. Ikea guarantees its kitchens for 25 years, and its Sultan mattresses and Pax wardrobes for 10. And dfs, the sofa firm, offers a 10-year guarantee on upholstery tested by the Furniture Industry Research Association.
"We are not just a retailer, we're a manufacturer with 43 years' experience of making sofas," says DFS designer Philip Watkins. "All our sofas are handmade to order by expert craftspeople, many here in the UK." DFS offers up to four years' free credit. Both Ikea and DFS will take away old furniture for re-use.
Traditional is best
Traditional furniture made by craftsmen is very durable. Flat-pack seating and storage is less robust. By contrast, sofa-maker Wesley-Barrell offers a 15-year guarantee on its frames, and 10 years on springs.
But it's appliances breaking down that cause the most angst. John Lewis guarantees own-brand electrical appliances for three years, with two years for other brands. All branded TVs are guaranteed for five years (two years for DVD players/recorders, camcorders, hi-fis and PCs).
German firm Miele has a washing machine guaranteed for 10 years but it costs £1,250. American brand Maytag offers a 10-year guarantee across its whole range. Several other brands say they test for "10 years of normal use".
Miele is the all-round star of the annual domestic appliance survey by Which?, on top for reliability in seven of its nine categories. Cheaper brands did worst in the washing machine category — Indesit, Hoover and Candy — but Indesit was top for free-standing cookers. Siemens and Bosch did well on dishwashers. John Lewis was top for fridges but ninth out of 10 for fridge-freezers. Sebo was top for upright vacuum cleaners.
Ease of repair is crucial for product longevity. Sadly, many washing machines now have "sealed drums", which make them difficult and expensive to repair. Bosch Green power tools have a 10-year guarantee on service and spare parts. All Sebo's domestic vacuum cleaners come with a five-year guarantee.
Classic Rowlett Rutland toasters are so robust that 30-year-old models are still being repaired. Dualit toasters have replaceable elements and timer. Anglepoise sells a comprehensive range of parts, including the famous springs. Kenwood reports that some of its much-loved Chef stand mixers are still in use after 50 years. Not just a pretty face, then.
Vaccuming in style
The editor of Homes & Property, Janice Morley, has had her Vorwerk upright vacuum cleaner for 20 years and it is still perfect. She plans to hand it on to her son and is going back to Vorwerk, a company founded in Germany in 1930, for its new Kobold System VK140 simply because it is smaller, lighter, low-energy, very quiet and very green.
The great plus of this vacuum cleaner is that it does so many other cleaning jobs. This cuts down the need to buy and store other equipment. This Kobold System VK140 miraculously washes hard floors, it dry-cleans carpets with a totally non-toxic solution, it has attachments to wipe away the dirt from every surface of the house — even the windows — and it lasts and lasts.
Yes, it costs £1,499 with all extras (without attachments £949), but it saves a lot of money on carpet cleaning. It has a warranty for every fault and a team on hand to help. To buy, register online at vkdirect.co.uk,or call 08448000123