It goes without saying that we all need to make better choices when it comes to creating more sustainable homes. It can be overwhelming to know where to start. Positive decision-making is eased when it doesn’t feel like an intimidating challenge. To encourage a more sustainable approach to interior design I thought the best place to start was with some very simple tips. Of course, there is a lot more we can all do but here is an easy set of decisions you can make that will set you along the right path.
The BIID has recently accredited me as a Registered Interior Designer, and a key part of this accreditation was demonstrating my sustainability policy. I have essentially built my policy around their five key building blocks:
- Health and Well Being
- Energy Consumption
- Material Specification
In this article, I will set out a couple of simple tips for each key building block. They very much come from an interior design perspective.
HEALTH AND WELL BEING
In recent years, many of us have become aware of our indoor climate and how this can affect our mood, productivity levels and general health. Biophilic design aims to increase how a house connects to nature through its spatial design and also the items within it.
Health and well-being essentially cover areas such as noise, light, air quality, views and access to nature and the feel of a room. So, what are the simple things you can do? It’s such a massive area and I’m simple scratching the surface. If you want to learn more about this area, Happy Inside by Ogundehin is a good read.
Use nature as an inspiration for your style – this has always been an essential part of the way I intrinsically design houses. Natural materials, nature-inspired colours or finishes improve well-being. Consider how your materials feel. I use natural fibres such as linen and wool in my designs, along with sustainable woods. Generally, I avoid harsh shiny surfaces and synthetic fabrics, which are the anthesis of a nature-inspired palette. It’s no coincidence that I use a lot of sage greens and botanically inspired patterns in my designs, as they are naturally calming.
Consider how you can reduce noise – again, quite an easy one to solve. In big open-plan rooms, for instance (such as kitchens with lots of harsh surfaces) add layers of texture. So, blinds on the window, a rug underneath your table and if you have a very large window, consider curtains on that window. Just reducing the harsh clatter will have an immediate calming effect on you
Air quality – are materials, finishes and furnishings off-gassing? Consider the VOC levels when applying paint and the off-gassing after the paint is dry. Choose brands such as Coat paints and do your research when selecting paints
Natural light – access to natural light improves health. In old houses, this can be very tricky as they often struggle with natural light. In that case, find a pocket or corner of light in a room where you can create a cosy corner. In my client’s house I created a light reading spot in a room that overall was very dark. It’s now her favourite spot in the house and it’s amazing what a difference a small change like that can make.
This is one of the most challenging areas with older houses. I know, for one, as an owner of a period home, how difficult it can be to reduce energy consumption when you live in an old draughty house. Heritage constraints mean you often can’t take the steps you’d like, such as changing your windows. Historic England has an incredibly useful paper about energy consumption and avoiding waste. The tips in their article are related to much bigger areas requiring specialist help. In this article, I’m really just focusing on the simple interior design tips that can make an immediate difference. Quick wins, essentially!
Reduce drafts from windows – invest in well-made lined curtains as they can help with heat consumption by around 15%. I often specify wool or wool mix curtains in old houses and ensure they are lined and interlined. If it’s a particularly drafty room, I will specify certain types of headings and styles that I know block out drafts better than others. In this room I specified hand gathered as the top of the window was very drafty and also full pooled curtains for another layer of defence from the drafts. These windows are single-paned heritage windows that can’t be changed, so we had to work with them as the client wasn’t allowed to replace them.
Remember drafts come up from the floor too – if you have old brick or wood floors, these can be very draughty or feel cold to the touch. . If you can’t cover those up, then invest in a thick wool rug with underlay to cover the majority of the floor but not all. If possible, get the flooring renovated, with insulation put underneath and a quality flooring specialist to try and close up any gaps. In particularly drafty rooms I would specify wool carpet and the best underlay you can afford. This will keep the room much warmer than stone for instance. I know from experience that underfloor heating can be very hard to install in old houses but not impossible. So do ask your builder if there’s any way of doing this as with underfloor heating the heating ticks along rather than blasting on and off with radiators.
Easy lighting swaps – swapping to dimmers and therefore dimming lights in response to daylight levels can save between 20% and 60% of lighting energy. And so much more atmospheric, too, than harsh full-beam lighting!
There are obviously some other huge areas, such as detailed house energy surveys and home automation and appliance selection. Much bigger areas to discuss in a future article!
Longevity essentially means long term quality and long-term running costs. If you were looking at the most simple area to implement immediately, this would be the one.
Think about the maintenance not only of your building but the items within it too. Inadequate maintenance can lead to decay and reduced performance.
Invest in well-made classics that last a lifetime. Then look after them! Our culture in recent years has become a throwaway culture with a view of “oh well, we’ll replace in a few years”. My view is to do the opposite and invest in longevity. If it means waiting a while for something with more quality opt for that option rather than Buy Cheap, Buy Twice.
This is probably the largest category of the five building blocks. And in my mind, the most overwhelming to try and get right. It covers retaining or reusing (upcycling); localised sourcing; raw material extractions (e.g., do you extract new materials or reuse); manufacturing methods; longevity of use; landfill and incineration; and transportation. Even writing this list makes me feel overwhelmed!
Start – Reuse existing pieces and if you choose new products, then focus on quality. Virgin materials require more energy to extract, release fumes and impact water usage. Value and choose high-quality items that will have a future resale value without needing to go through more costly repairs
Focus on local – When you choose new products, focus on local. Localise your sourcing and use local artisans. I always encourage my clients to use local craftspeople as much as I can. For instance, as I’m based in Sussex, I love using craftsmen such as Alfred Newalland local family-based businesses such as Middleton Bespoke.
The quality of their work speaks for itself, those pieces will last a lifetime. Then there is the extra benefit of reduced transportation and carbon footprint because of the shorter journeys.
Choose quality – Choosing quality items means you can think of recycling differently. The most energy-efficient way to recycle is for a product to not require repair or manufacture before re-use. To achieve this, select high-quality, desirable and durable products which retain their value and are designed to last a lifetime. The next most efficient option from there is for products to be repaired or upcycled.
Consider antiques – Antique furniture has made a huge come back. Not only does it weave an exciting story into your home. Antiques were made for long term quality. This doesn’t mean spending a fortune in antique shops. You can get some beautiful bargains from antique auction houses or local antique fairs. Try fairs such as the Ardingley Antiques Fair.
Again, this is a massive area. It includes toxins/harmful gases and the different types of certifications. When I started researching this, I found the different certifications overwhelming. So again, I’ve just focused on a few simple areas rather than trying to explain all the different certifications.
- Avoid endangered trees such as Ebony and Fruitwood
- Choose FSC-certified, sustainably sourced wood
- Select natural fibres such as linens, which are naturally antibacterial and consume less energy than cotton. I actively use suppliers such as De La
- Cuona with the Global Organic Textile Standard.
- Use 100% sustainable materials for rugs, such as 100% wool or recycled plastic rugs (which are soft despite the plastic!)
- Choose paint companies that have low VOC, such as Coat Paints
- Buy British – ask sofa companies where their furniture is made. I often specify Sofas and Stuff sofas at the high street end, as they make their furniture
- in the UK, offer Quallofil Blue cushions (made from recycled ocean bound plastic) and are SC accredited.