Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

It is difficult to escape the current calls to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.  David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg have seen to that!  And this topic has been amplified through the Covid pandemic.  As the world shut down, so nature came back to life.  Birdsong became sweeter and softer as the birds no longer had to sing above the city’s background noise. And satellite images showed a dramatic decrease in air pollution around the world.

But how can we become more sustainable in our interiors choices?  This is a huge topic to delve into, and I can only scratch the surface in this blog post, because becoming truly sustainable involves looking into a materials’ intended application, aesthetic qualities, environmental and health impacts, availability, ease of instalment and maintenance and initial and life cycle costs.  And more often than not, this information is not readily available. 

Early industries relied on a seemingly endless supply of natural resources.  For all its good, the industrial revolution has also resulted in billions of tonnes of toxic material being expelled into the air, water, and soil, requiring thousands of complex regulations to keep people from being poisoned too quickly, as well as eroding the diversity of species and cultural practices. 

Many of the raw materials used in modern manufactured products are actually harmful to humans, and the off-gassing from these products (appliances, carpets, wallpaper adhesives, paints, building materials, etc) results in the average indoor air quality being more contaminated than outdoor air, leading to a general decline in health.  Indoor air pollution is currently one of the biggest environmental threats to public health!

Today our understanding of the natural environment has changed dramatically, but modern industries still operate according to early models, with a cradle-to-grave mind-set.  Resources are extracted, shaped into products, sold, and eventually disposed of in a ‘grave’ of some kind, usually landfill or incinerator.

Now more than ever I am finding that my clients want to be part of the design journey.  They want the pieces within their homes to reflect their own belief system, to have integrity and narrative and, most importantly, to be sustainable.  And as a result, our homes are becoming safer places for us to live in too!

The mentality of discarding products as soon as they go out of style and replacing them with those that are currently trendy is no longer justifiable.  Instead of discarding ‘’old-fashioned’’ objects while they are still functional, we can (and should) come up with creative ways to give them a new life.

Here are a few suggestions about how you can sustainably give your home a fresh look:

REUSE AND RECYCLE

Go through what you already have in your home and ask yourself if it can be repaired or renewed before you specify something new.  Can a sofa be reupholstered rather than buying a brand new one?  Can furniture be painted, or sanded and refinished?  Shop your house, moving things between rooms.  And if there is furniture that is still useful but that is no longer needed, donate it to a second-hand store.

This sofa was recovered for my client

BUY SECOND-HAND

If you need to source additional items, start by looking at second-hand stores or flea markets. Visit your local auction houses and seek out hidden treasures.  Vintage pieces add a historic presence to a space that new objects cannot, giving a home warmth and complexity.  They are imbued with nostalgia and memory.  Look at websites that sell used items, where you can easily search for exactly what you are looking for without having to go to many stores.

Vintage chairs from second-hand site Vinterior

BUY CONSCIOUSLY

If you need to buy new items, make it conscious.  Ask the supplier what materials have been used?  Have they been extracted in an environmentally responsible way?  Where is the item produced and how?  What manufacturing methods are used?  How long will the item last, and is the item repairable?

Choose materials and products with the lowest environmental impact.  Products made using renewable resources are those that belong to the natural environment and are replaced by the natural processes that occur in that environment as part of an ecosystem.  Biodegradable products can be decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms, thereby avoiding pollution.  Try to avoid using materials that come from non-renewable resources, where there is a risk of depleting these natural resources.  And be sure to check the certifications!

Sustainable lighting by Tom Raffield

BUY RECYCLED

There has been a recent surge in the availability of products that are made from recycled waste or that can be renewed/recycled at the end of their life cycle.  When waste becomes the raw material for new products, a circular loop of manufacturing is formed, effectively minimising or even eliminating waste all together.

Claire Gaudion creates rugs made from 100% Recycled (PET) plastic

Let’s hope that 2021 will mark a more permanent move away from the quick fix of instant interiors fashion to a sense of longevity and considered consumerism.  A move towards the handcrafted and personal; of investing in pieces that will grow with you and become a part of our home’s life story over time.

I am constantly updating my library of sustainable products. Contact me if you’d like to discuss creating a more sustainable home for your family.

“The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation.”
Albert Einstein



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So, 2021 is here!  After a lovely Christmas with my family in Ireland (following a period in quarantine in a portacabin on my sister’s farm, and a negative Covid test), it was back to London and the New Year with a bump. 

So here we are, in yet another lockdown.  How are you all doing?  I definitely have my moments!  Towards the end of last year  The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen published a report on Wellbeing in the age of COVID-19.   In producing this report, The Happiness Research Institute concluded that “It does not take big data and a team of happiness researchers to understand that the pandemic has undermined our wellbeing.”

Their report ended with a list of key activities to focus on to increase your wellbeing throughout the remainder of this pandemic.  I thought I’d share these with you, as well as ways to create a home environment that supports these activities.

SPEND MORE TIME OUTSIDE

Spending even just 15 minutes per day outside was associated with the largest positive impact on life satisfaction.  And for regular readers of my blog, this should be no surprise given how often I stress the importance of having a connection to nature on our mental and emotional health.  A previous blog post that I wrote outlined how to introduce this connection to nature, otherwise known as biophilic design, into your home.  You can read that post here.

ENGAGE IN ARTS AND CRAFTS OR DIY PROJECTS

The happiness report suggests that “Knitting, painting, baking, gardening, and renovating are all useful activities to try out during lockdown”.  I have certainly engaged in a lot of different DIY projects in my own home throughout lockdown, and it is very satisfying to look back and see what I have accomplished.  But not all of us are designed to do DIY (which I’m very grateful for, otherwise I might be out of a job!). 

I inlaid these Turkish tiles I bought 8 years ago into the top of a chest of drawers.

I’ve been thinking about this though, and remembered a quote by David Hume, who said that “Anticipation of pleasure is, in itself, a very considerable pleasure”.  Research has found that we enjoy an experience more when we wait for it, probably because we create detailed mental simulations filled with rich sensations and exciting possibilities.  Ingrid Fetell Lee says that “Anticipation lets us bring our future joy into the present, and the longer we plan ahead, the more time we have to enjoy it.”  So why not use this time during lockdown to start planning a future renovation of your home.  Renovations are always much less stressful if everything is decided up front, and I’m here to help you every step of the way!

MEDITATE

Meditation practices, such as mindfulness, teach us to be present in the moment and meet challenges with openness, acceptance, and curiosity.  I have to admit that this is one thing I am not very good at!  Possibly because I don’t have anything purple in my house – the colour which is psychologically associated with contemplation and the search for higher truth.  But if meditation is your thing, then carving out a quiet space where you can practice this, and incorporating some purple, be it lilac, violet, aubergine lavender, mauve, or whatever shade takes your fancy, will help you to get in the zone.

STAY FIT

This recommendation definitely goes without saying.  We all know that keeping fit is good for our health and wellbeing!  So, if you’re trying to carve out a space in your home for exercise, then red is a good colour to use in this space.  Red lies at the opposite end of the visible colour spectrum to purple, and having the longest wavelength, it is the colour that makes us pay attention.  Red affects us physically, raising our heart rate.  It is the colour associated with energy, excitement, physical strength and stamina, so is the perfect colour to get your fitness training off on the right foot!

Image: bestgymequipment.co.uk

The other recommendations from the Happiness Research Institute are to lend a helping hand to friends and family, and to keep in touch with those close to you.  If you would like to read the full report you can access it here.

Creating a home that makes these positive choices easy, natural and enjoyable is not frivolous.  It is fundamental to our health and happiness, and therefore to our wellbeing!  Get in touch if you need help creating your own personal sanctuary.