How to Create a Sustainable Interior
21 April 2021

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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