How to Create a Sustainable Home
Sustainability is a big topic right now and we’re all aware of the effects of climate change on the planet, but how does this relate to our homes and interiors and what can we do as individuals to help? This is the first of a series of blog posts where I share how I integrate sustainability into my interior design work and everyday life and give you ideas on how to incorporate it in your home. Sustainable living is a learning process and I’m the first to raise my hand and say I’m not perfect, but being perfectly imperfect is okay with me! It’s finding a balance and doing what you can with the best intentions.
According to the Oxford dictionary the definition of sustainability is “the property of being environmentally sustainable; the degree to which a process or enterprise is able to be maintained or continued while avoiding the long-term depletion of natural resources.”
So that’s the official definition, but how does that translate to interior design? My ethos is to create considered designs that are efficient, improve wellbeing and minimise any environmental impact. Most of us are now familiar with the damage fast fashion is having on the environment; the excessive water usage in producing cotton, toxic dyes polluting our streams and the masses of waste being sent to landfill are just a few of the long-term devastating impacts we are well aware of. The interiors industry is rapidly following this same pattern and I feel strongly that we need to implement change and embrace a more natural, simplified philosophy with our homes.
This may sound expensive with the perceived higher costs of environmentally-friendly products or on the flip side it may provoke images of basic living conditions which not all of us are accustomed to nor strive for in Western culture. We are bombarded everyday by marketing and advertising campaigns from numerous industries (fashion, technology and health just to name a few) who persuade us that we need more, need to have the latest upgrade or need a certain look or lifestyle in order to achieve the holy grail of ultimate happiness. What we are overlooking in the quest to have it all is not only that happiness can’t be achieved through acquiring material possessions (that’s a whole other topic that I won’t go into here!) but the damage that over consumption is doing to the environment.
Implementing sustainable, ethical and environmentally-friendly interior design solutions doesn’t mean spending a fortune. In fact, it’s often the opposite. Using what we already have is the simplest and most effective way we can be more sustainable in our homes. Repositioning your furniture and artwork or restyling objects you already own can transform the look of your space instantly without the need to buy anything new. If you’re like me and change your decor depending on the season, it’s amazing how shopping your own home and doing a bit of rearranging can conjure up a whole new look in a few simple steps.
One thing I do in my home is to give my fireplace a quick seasonal makeover throughout the year. In the warmer months, I swap the log basket for a small side table with a plant on top and display seasonal single stem flowers in vintage glass bottles on the mantlepiece. Trimming the stems at varying heights gives it a natural, informal look or you can keep them at the same height for a more uniform aesthetic. I add a piece of vintage art that I prop up on the chimney flue to introduce a fresh colour palette for the Spring and Summer months. When the weather chills off and the plants and flowers don’t like the heat from the fireplace, I bring back the log basket and switch the mantlepiece display for candles and vintage hardback books to create a cosy vibe. I’ll often add a sprig of dried foliage or eucalyptus in a vase to soften the look.
You can also use the same idea in other areas in your home. Swapping around blankets/throws and cushions on your sofas or beds can instantly refresh the look of your room. If you fancy a bit of sewing, you could make cushion covers from repurposing fabric from old curtains, duvets or clothes and reuse your cushion inners rather than buying more (this also solves the dilemma of where to store them!) Another idea if you’re the creative type or have children who love to draw, is a simple display of artwork which provides an ever-changing pop of colour and is completely free.
Cherishing pieces of furniture or objects that have been passed down through generations gives us a more meaningful connection to our homes. Take that chair or chest of drawers you inherited from your parents or grandparents. It may not be your exact colour preference or style, but there’s a strong possibility that it’s been well constructed. Traditional makers employed skilled craftsmanship using natural materials and techniques that won’t be found in cheap, mass-produced items which have become commonplace today. Rather than these quality pieces ending up as landfill waste, how about considering having it reupholstered in a fabric you love or sanding it down and adding different handles? These simple alterations mean that you will have a unique, cherished heirloom that has its own story and will last for future generations.
When we do need to replace furniture or purchase home decor items, consider buying antique or secondhand. Websites like Etsy, eBay, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace are brilliant for searching for a particular item or try local charity shops, car boot sales, fairs and auction houses where you can find some amazing one-off pieces at reasonable prices. If searching to find the perfect treasure isn’t your thing, get to know antique dealers in your area or there are small local businesses like Heritage & Green that offer sourcing for clients.
During the manufacturing process, furniture and many other fixtures and fittings (including paints, wallpapers and flooring) can be exposed to noxious chemicals referred to as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These gases are emitted into the air even after we bring the product into our homes and can cause irritations and allergic reactions. For example many of the glues used to adhere veneer surfaces to particle board or bond layers of MDF in furniture, shelving and cabinets can contain toxins such as formaldehyde. Rather than bringing these mass-produced items into our homes, we should look out for furniture that is solid wood with handcrafted mortise and tenon joints where the wood is held together by another piece of wood. This gives it an overall rigidity so not only are you getting a well made piece of furniture, it will last much longer.
When we do buy new, consider the words of Dame Vivienne Westwood “buy less, choose well and make it last”. Having an awareness of the lifecycle of products from creation to waste and researching product specifications will minimise the introduction of VOCs in our homes. Check a suppliers environmental policy prior to making a purchase and see if they offer a repair service for the lifetime of that product or how they dispose of an item if it is irreparable. Companies have a responsibility to offer this information to consumers and we should be demanding more transparency when it comes to the manufacturing and disposal of the products we buy.
There are plenty of companies and independent makers and creators who put a huge emphasis on the sustainability of their products and manufacturing processes and are driving forward innovative ways to create safer and more environmentally-friendly items for our homes. I will be highlighting the amazing work being done and featuring some of these makers and creators in an upcoming blog.
Having a sustainable home isn’t an overnight process. It’s not a case of throwing everything out that doesn’t fit the description of a perfect environmental sanctuary (we want to minimise waste, not add to it!) but it is about making more considered choices going forward and having an awareness of what we are bringing into our homes.
I will be delving into this subject more and giving you some suggestions for what to look out for when designing sustainable interiors and how to improve wellbeing in your home so look out for future blog posts. Let me know what you think of this topic or if you have any suggestions you use in your home please share them!