If you love animals so much you’d never eat one, why would you sit on a sofa made from the skin of a dead cow? Or lay your head upon a pillow filled with feathers which may well have been plucked from a live bird?

It’s a question that more and more vegans – people who eat nothing containing animal products or which exploit creatures - are asking. And Bournemouth-based interior designer, Helen Winter, is looking to supply the answers.

Her company, Coral Interiors, is believed to be the south west’s only specialist in vegan interior design – and one of only three interior designers in the UK who are working in this way.

“I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 14 and over the last few years became vegan, although I hadn’t always considered where the things I used came from,” she says.

“I’ve always subconsciously steered my clients away from animal products - I’d never recommend hides or feathers and things like that," she says. "Then I heard about this course set up by the American designer, Deborah Di Mare, in which you can study and learn about animal and non-animal products.”

Deborah’s course was, she says: “Grim. In China, for instance, live plucking is totally normal; for part of the course you see images of feathers being harvested from live birds which will live in my head forever, they are not by-products or something that may have been found lying around.”

Helen claims that while many retailers talk about ‘sustainable and cruelty-free policies’: “It’s sometimes very hard to prove the trail of where products come from.”

She is also no friend of the leather and tanning industry. “People think leather is a by-product but what the course taught me was that there’s not really such a thing as by-products” she says.

As well as being cruel, in her opinion, she says the tanning industry is ‘horrendous’ for the workers involved and the environment, as chemicals end up on them and in the eco-system.

The Di Mare course – which made her its worldwide Designer of the Month in March - also covered silk and wool, generally considered cruelty-free by most. “I’m sure that small-scale farmers look after their sheep properly and shear them gently but when you see shearing at a huge operation in Australia they get awfully wounded,” she says.

The course also taught Helen about the alternatives to this. In the past, she admits, people were unwilling to have faux leathers or other items because the quality was so poor, or they believed them to be unsustainable.

“But things are so different now,” she says, citing mushrooms which can be made into leathers, and the recycling of banana leaves. “Products can be grown to specification,” she says, which means that in the case of the new, faux leathers, there doesn’t have to be any awkward material joins.

Another product which excites her is Pinatex. “It’s a genuine by-product of the pineapple industry and made into a sustainable, low environmental impact fibre,” she says.

Many of us may not have heard of the innovations in vegan design, she says, but that doesn’t mean we soon won’t encounter them. “Tesla cars now have vegan leather interiors – I think the thinking was that you can’t be environmentally friendly on the one hand and use leather in an interior,” she says. She also believes that faux leathers are more hardwearing which means they will look better for longer, making them more environmentally friendly.

“It’s thought that leather is biodegradable but much of it is full of chemicals so that if and when it does break down, it’s releasing them back into the environment,” she says. “At the end of the day, just because something is natural doesn’t mean it has no environmental impact.”

While these dilemmas may just have come up on many people’s radar, Helen, who operates out of The Workspace, within the Daily Echo building in Bournemouth, has found her high-end interior design clients are more than willing to take her advice.

“Clients come to me randomly, wanting help with their interiors and occasionally I’ll see a vegan cookery book in their home, something like that, and ask them if they’ve become vegan,” she says. “Then we get talking. I had one client who says that she loves the way she doesn’t have to say to me ‘I don’t want silk and I don’t want wool’ and she knows I’ll deal with that, I won’t present things she won’t accept.”

Equally, says Helen, she does not arrive at the client’s home or premises and advocate the mass chucking out of leather sofas or other items. “It’s not practical or desirable to just start getting rid of things like that if there’s no need,” she says.

“But I find that when we talk about veganism it opens the way to discussing things with clients and if they are interested, or ask why we shouldn’t choose leather or hide products, I can talk to them gently about it,” she says.

Helen has been marketing herself as an interior designer with a special interest in vegan design since Christmas, and has seen an increasing interest from clients who engage her to work on their home or commercial premises.

“Vegans used to be seen as weird but it’s much more mainstream now,” she says. “The official figure is about one per cent of the population being vegan but I saw a survey recently saying that it could be up to seven per cent.”

Certainly, with Britain’s supermarkets reporting a vegan food boom – particularly in January with the Veganuary movement – and the Vegan Society reporting that ‘more than half of UK adults are now adopting vegan buying behaviour’, there could be many more vegans than originally thought.

And it can only be a matter of time before the philosophies adopted by designers like Helen move into the mainstream.

Coral Interiors, Echo Building, Richmond Hill, Bournemouth T: 07784 469334 W: coralinteriors.co.uk