Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

Tomorrow is Earth Day – the day when the world focuses on driving meaningful action for our planet.  I can remember a few years ago my husband’s Swedish family were visiting and wanted to take part in Earth Hour as a symbol of their commitment to the planet.  At the time, my mother lived in Zimbabwe, but was visiting me here in the UK.  At 8:30 we turned out all the lights and continued cooking our Swedish waffles by candlelight.  My mother commented how she was so sick and tired of having no lights as she lived with frequent power cuts in Zimbabwe, so to her, having electricity was something of a luxury!

So, whilst living with just candles for lighting is all wonderful for a short period of time, how can we design our interiors to be sustainable on an on-going basis?  Here are five ways that you can bring sustainability into your home:

1. Design for energy efficiency

Energy consumption is one of the major contributors to climate change.  Whether you’re refurbishing an existing building, or creating a new building, think about what you can do to improve your building’s energy efficiency by reducing the amount of energy and water needed.  Add window treatments that enable you to control the building’s temperature by opening and shutting them as needed.  Choose floor finishes that are cosier for cold climates (wooden floors, carpets), and cool for hot climates (tiles).  Ensure that your lighting scheme is energy efficient.  And finally look at installing home automation to enable heating and lighting systems to be controlled remotely.

2. Design for healthy environments

These days, humans are increasingly spending up to 90% of our lives indoors and there is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that how we design our indoor spaces, has a direct impact on us psychologically and physically, and therefore on our overall health, happiness and well-being.  It’s important to think of the bigger cost, aside from monetary value, when you purchase interiors products.

Public Health England attribute between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.  Indoor air pollution is over three times worse than outdoor air pollution, due to the number of air pollution particles trapped inside!  Indoor air pollution is largely caused by the invisible off-gassing of toxic emissions from products (furniture, carpets, paint, wallpaper, adhesives, etc).  So look for materials with low emissions of VOC (volatile organic compounds) and other air pollutants.  It’s also important that the air in a room can regularly circulate and remain fresh. Plants also act as natural air filters.

Biophilic design (designing a connection to nature) in our spaces has been proven to reduce the production of stress hormones, improve feelings of happiness and stimulate creativity, as well as lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost the immune system and accelerate recovery from illness.  Exposure to natural light is another beneficial aspect for both physical and psychological health.

It’s also important to consider the acoustics in a space and ensure there are enough materials that will absorb sound vibrations.

3. Design for waste reduction

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, try to come up with creative ways to give them a new life.

Go through what you already have and repair or upcycle it before you buy something new.  Can a sofa be reupholstered?  Can furniture be painted, or sanded and refinished?  “Shop your house” to see if you can move items between rooms for a new look.

If you need to source additional items, start by looking in second-hand stores or flea markets.  Vintage pieces add a historic presence to a space that new objects cannot, giving a home warmth and complexity.

Alternatively, try to look for items made from recycled waste or, for pieces 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 minimizing or even eliminating waste all together.

4. Design for low environmental impact

If you need to buy new items, make it conscious.  Always ask yourself what has been sacrificed to get this product cheaply?

Do your research and find out what materials have been used and what is their environmental impact?  Is the wood FSC certified and comes from renewable bio-diverse forests?  Have they been extracted in an environmentally responsible way?  Where is it produced and how are the producers treated?  Has child labour been used?  Is the cotton organic, or are farmers being forced to work with toxic chemicals to produce their cotton more cheaply?  What manufacturing methods are used?  How long will the item last?  And finally, is the item repairable?  Be sure to check the certifications too.

Today our understanding of the natural environment has changed dramatically, and many companies are starting to implement processes that look after the environment – from resource management to the products they make and the way they make them.  Sustainability also considers the way companies manage their workshops and surroundings as well as how they look after their employees.

5. Design for longevity and flexibility

Consider the lifespan of any material you plan to use, especially for those elements that experience a lot of wear and tear (such as flooring).  Easy maintenance is an important part of designing for longevity; when spaces are hard to maintain, regular changes are inevitable and result in more resource consumption and waste creation.  Creating flexible spaces that can be easily adapted to fit the changing needs of people who are using them means there is no need to demolish and renovate it in its entirety.

Try to create timeless spaces by choosing quality over quantity, classics over trendy, and simplicity/functionality over embellishments.  Timeless, well-made pieces will last a long time, and can be recycled for future generations.  Less is definitely more!

“The best way to reduce any environmental impact is not to recycle more, but to produce and dispose of less.” 

Robert Lilienfeld and William Rathje, Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are

As the world embraces taking responsibility for the environment, interior design is finally starting to become more environmentally conscious.  And our homes are becoming safer places for us to live in!  And as a designer I try to make it my business to know which companies are striving to produce sustainably, and to work with those companies. 

Contact me if you would like help creating a more sustainable, safer home for you and your family.



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When you start thinking about your interior design project, it is very easy to get excited about the colours and fabrics that you will choose, what home automation system will work for you, or what finishes you will have in your kitchen.  However, before you get caught up in those details, it is important to plan your layout.  This is the starting point of just about every interior design project. 

And, it is vital to get this stage right!  Because if you create a cloakroom, and then can’t open the door properly due to not having left enough space, or if you position the light switch a long way from where you’ll be standing when you want to turn that light on, these details will forever annoy you.  However, get them right and they won’t even cross your mind again!  The aim is to create an environment that is naturally easy and practical to live in, so that you can focus on spending your time doing the things that you enjoy. 

Like most things in life, there is often more than one way to plan your room scheme, but today I am going to share with you the approach that I have honed through many years of experience.

The importance of space planning

First of all, decide which room you’d like to design, and then write a list of all of the things that room will be used for, i.e. what tasks will be carried out within the space. If it’s a living room, will it be used for entertaining, watching TV, playing board games, or curling up somewhere to read a book or listen to music?  Does the space need to be multi-functional?  And does it also double up as a play space for the kids?

Next you need to know who will be using the space? How old are they, are there any health issues to consider? And what time of day will the room be used most? Is it a space used mostly during the day or in the evenings, or all the time?

Once you know what and who you are designing for, then you can decide on what items of furniture will be required. How many people will you require seating for? Do you need to create a quiet reading corner? Do you need lots of storage for toys or books? Are there any furniture items or art collections that need to be worked into the new plan?

Once you’ve decided on what furniture you need, then you can start thinking about the layout of the furniture. What is the focal point in the space? Is it the TV, an ornate fireplace, or a window with a spectacular view? 

Draw the space to scale on a piece of paper.  Include windows, doors and their swings, built-in cupboards/shelves, fireplace, etc. You want to be able to see all the fixtures and features on the plan.  Create scaled paper cut-outs for each piece of furniture, and then start placing these scaled pieces of furniture onto your space plan.  This will start to bring the space to life and show you how the room can be used. 

Move the pieces around to help you to think differently about the space and see what effect it has on the room.  Think about how you move around the space. Imagine walking in through every door, crossing the room and sitting down on the sofa. Does it feel easy in your mind, or do you keep bashing your ankles on that coffee table that is in the way?  Remember that you must allow for doors, windows and drawers to be opened.

It is also important to find the balance between positive and negative space to make the room feel right – not too busy, not too boring.  And in large or long spaces, sub-divide different activity zones to give definition to each part of the room.  Take some time to think about the proportions of the room in comparison to the scale of what you are adding to make sure things don’t overwhelm the space, nor get lost.

When decorating one room don’t forget the views of the rooms it looks into or what you see when you walk past a doorway. Do the two spaces flow together, or do they jar against each other? Make sure you curate those views by positioning your furniture or art.

Only once you are happy with your layout, should you start to add in any design details such as colour and texture, art, rugs, etc to complete your design.  And finally, now that you know your furniture layouts, the position of artwork, the finishes of each surface and whether it absorbs or reflects light, and the tasks that will be carried out in each space, you can plan your lighting accordingly.  Only once you have finalised all your plans is it time to talk to any builders or decorators.

The devil really is in the detail when it comes to planning a space that works, which is why most people turn to a professional for help to get it right.  So, if you’re a little stuck with your space planning, then get in touch.

  • Posted in Interior Design | Comments Off on How to plan your space like a pro