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Simple Tips for Sustainable Interior Design

February 1, 2024

The interior design industry is historically known to have a high level of waste and emissions, so it is not surprising that I am often asked how interior design can be more sustainable.

It goes without saying that we all need to make much better, more mindful choices, and I find it an incredibly positive step forward to hear many of my clients making considered and ethical choices in their approach to designing their homes.

Conscious Consumption is a phrase that is increasingly talked about in this industry. When it comes to interior design, using the word sustainability can infer different things to different people, but the main concept has been about turning our backs on ‘fast fashionable’ interiors.

But I think sustainability in our design choices can go much deeper than this and does not necessarily have to feel overwhelming.

Making the right decision for us individually may feel challenging, so I thought I would start with some simple tips which you can use to encourage a more sustainable approach to your home and interior design choices. Taking these small steps is the start, they may be small but just think what we can all achieve if we all start with small steps. And often, those small steps will set us on the path to bigger decisions as we progress.

Design For Improving Health & Wellbeing

In recent years, we have become increasingly aware of the positive impact that nature and being outdoors can have on our mental health and wellbeing. The concept of Biophilic design has become very important in how we shape our living spaces, as it focuses on how our homes connect to nature through spatial design and in our design choices.

Nature is used as the core inspiration for choice of design style, and using natural fibres, natural materials, and nature inspired colours improve how we feel. Linen and wool are the two fibres I choose most in my work, as not only are they beautiful cloth to work with, they are also very tactile and bring texture and depth into a scheme.

To help protect our wellbeing, there are some basic but equally important things to consider.

  • Look at how you can reduce noise in your home by adding layers of textures, such as rugs, cushions, and fabric.
  • Natural light is so important in our homes, and easier to consider in modern homes with large doors or windows, but much harder in old cottages which are very often dark. So, consider the corners where you can introduce those all-important pockets of light, and look at spaces where you can open windows and allow both air and light in.
  • Consider the quality of the air we breathe by looking at the materials we use. Are they emitting gases or chemicals? Consider the VOC levels of the paints you are using, are they natural paints with minimal or no VOC?   

Last Summer, I wrote a post on Biophilic design and its growing importance for interior design, which you can read here. I look at this approach in more depth, and there are also many articles and books you can read.

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Design For Energy Efficiency In Your Home

This is by far one of the biggest challenges that we all face, particularly in period properties or older homes, where there are often draughty windows and doors, and little in the way of insulation in walls and floors.

Historic England is an amazing resource for guidance and advice for old properties and listed buildings and I would highly recommend having a look through their Advice and Research pages.

Here are some of my own personal tips and quick wins, from the many projects I have undertaken in old cottages and houses.

  • Reduce drafts from old windows by investing in made to measure lined and interlined curtains and blinds, which can help reduce cold air and keep drafts at bay.  I often use pure wool combined with heavy interlining on old draught doors with gaps and daylight coming through. It is also worth considering the style of heading that will also help to block out drafts, and the use of curtains pooling on the floor to cut out drafts from the floor.  I have just finished a project in a listed house where the windows could not be changed, and the floor height was 12cm difference from one side of the window to the other. We chose pure wool, thickly interlined curtains, pleated headings and pooling on the floor. In projects such as this, window furnishings can be beautifully stylish as well as focus on the all-important drafts.
  • Use rugs to help cover areas of cold floors too. Investing in pure wool rugs with underlay can help keep warmth in the room. I often feel it is a shame to cover old tiles or flagstones, but with some creative imagination, you can add textures and still help with fuel efficiency, while leaving the old stones exposed too.
  • Your choice of lights and lighting is an important part of energy consumption, and something we are all aware of. So, consider simple things such as changing light bulbs to low energy bulbs and consider the wattage and type of bulbs needed for any new lighting you are installing.

Design For Reducing Waste & Investing in Longevity

I knew when I started this business that my ethos was to reduce waste in an industry where waste was an accepted bi-product, so this is an important one for me, as I am very passionate about removing the acceptance of our fast, fashionable interior trends.

Longevity in design is not just about our interior design or soft furnishings but also about investing in the structure and maintenance of our homes, and in particular old period or listed houses. I believe that we are custodians of our homes for however long we own them, and it is therefore our responsibility to maintain their structure and integrity, so that when we decide to move, we can hand over a building full of hope and promise to its new owners.

I was recently looking at an old property that needed some work and modernisation, but as the estate agent said to us ‘you can feel that the house has been loved and it has good bones’. And they were tight.

  • Invest in beautifully made, quality products and traditional craftsmanship, as well-crafted classics will last a lifetime.
  • Invest in the integrity of the building and make maintenance decisions which benefit the building and will stand the test of time.
  • Invest in thoughtful brands, who have a focus on sustainability and quality, and with an environmentally conscious approach to your purchases.
  • Invest in using local businesses and suppliers, who specialize in bespoke products and workmanship.
  • Keep and use those beautiful all-important treasured items that have been handed down to you.
  • Invest in antique furniture and recycled items. Antiques are perfect for both modern and traditional homes and tell a story of their lifetime, passed through the generations. They bring history and story to a home. We are very lucky in somerset as we are surrounded by antique markets, auctions and shops, and many hours can be spent browsing.

Design For Sustainable Materials

I left this important subject to the end as this is a huge area to discuss using natural sustainable products, being aware of the use of harmful gases and toxins in many processes and products, and the numerous certifications used in the UK.  So I will focus on some simple tips to help guide you instead.

  • Choose products which are sourced from FSC-certified and sustainability sourced wood rather than endangered trees.
  • Choose natural fabrics such as linen and wool. Linen is naturally anti-bacterial and sustainably grown as it requires little more than sun, soil and rain to grow. Wool is inherently fire-retardant and can be ethically and sustainably sourced in the UK. Many wool producers do not use chemicals in the cleaning and processing of wool.  And did you know the UK is one of the largest wool producers in the world?
  • Choose paint brands that have low VOC or are virtually 100% VOC free. Always consider plastic free paints for their breathability for period or listed building walls, such as clay based, limewashes, or linseed paints. Many paint manufacturers are working towards more sustainable, plastic free paints and there are some incredible brands already available, such as Atelier Ellis, Edward Bulmer Paint, Brouns & Co and Coat Paints, to name a few, and all with an incredible palette to choose from. But there is still a long way to go to completely remove plastics.
  • Be aware of FR (fire retardant) chemicals that are used in many furniture products and the effects they can have on our health. There is currently a government consultation on proposed new FR UK Legislation and FR chemicals are a highly discussed topic around this. We all hope some changes may be made to reduce their use.

My personal ethos has always been to be ethically and environmentally responsible, to work in harmony with nature by using natural fibres such as linen and wool in my projects, to always consider longevity in my designs, and by being thoughtful in the design production and sustainable in my business processes.

I choose to use UK mills and manufacturing for sourcing my fabric and trimmings collections, as I am passionate about supporting these industries. Many of these manufacturing companies are using old traditional methods and old machinery, and you will always find me equally as engrossed in the amazing old machinery as the finished product!

As I hope you can imagine, this is not always easy and comes with some huge challenges as a small business. But I hope my own small steps lead to bigger steps in the future.

I truly hope you found some of these tips useful and which you can use in your own interior design projects. 

And remember, those first small steps you take will become bigger as your confidence grows.

If you would like to hear more about our sustainability policy as a small business, you can find out more here.

If you would like help in designing your home or are interested in our interior design services in Somerset and the surrounding areas, please do contact me here.

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