The beautiful rustic granary bench by Wearth London is handcrafted in Buckinghamshire from reclaimed wood
Sustainable interior design has been on the agenda for many years, but with growing interest in the circular economy and biophilic design, and the impact of the global pandemic, sustainability has once again become a priority for both businesses and consumers. As we spent more time confined to our homes during lockdown, we had the opportunity to stop for a moment and consider how our purchasing decisions affect the planet. During this time of reduced activity, when life seemed to slow right down, we became more aware of the impact that our fast-paced, convenience-based lifestyles have on the environment. Many of us have resolved to at least try to practice more mindful consumerism.
This is particularly pertinent when it comes to our homes. Never before have we spent so much time at home. The lockdown provided us with an opportunity to really inspect our homes and to reconsider how we decide what we fill them with. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of ever-changing trends and feeling like you need to redecorate or at least re-accessorise every season. But the speed of change is simply unsustainable and we have come to realise that what is more important is creating a home that we love and that makes us feel good and that doesn’t have a negative impact on the planet and our resources.
I wanted to find out more about designing our homes with sustainability in mind and luckily I knew the perfect person to give me some insights. Caoimhe McKenna is co-founder and creative director of Yellow Brick Road Design and she really understands our collective responsibility when it comes to choosing more sustainable practices, both as consumers and the design industry as a whole. Her interiors practice strives to gain greater knowledge about sustainable practices and work with suppliers and manufacturers who share this desire to do better.
Caoimhe has recently written a really meaty guide to sustainable interior design, which you can read here. So I thought it would be good to bring her on board to answer some of my questions.
Bamboo softie sofa from Loaf
WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE INTERIOR DESIGN?
For us, sustainable interior design means re-evaluating the choices and processes involved in all areas of an interior project, from the suppliers and manufactures we procure from to the contractors we use on-site, to ensuring that the end result answers the client’s style and brief while simultaneously causing as little negative impact on the planet and its people as possible.
HOW EASY IS IT TO CREATE A SUSTAINABLE INTERIOR?
With a limitless budget, I would say at this point in time it is as easy as a non-sustainable one. However, not everyone has that luxury to hand so the key is to look beyond current trends and Pinterest as an influence. It is about being resourceful, forward-thinking and researching the right questions to ask both suppliers and manufacturers.
There is an ever-increasing range of suppliers and manufacturers who have placed the importance of sustainability at the core of their business and with a little extra time spent sourcing and a more clever use of budget, a sustainable interior design scheme is becoming more and more achievable.
Sheer linen curtain fabric from Stitched
WHAT ARE THE MAIN THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CREATING A SUSTAINABLE INTERIOR DESIGN SCHEME?
The brief! What is it you are looking to achieve? Is it that you are looking to recreate an image in a more sustainable way OR are you willing to be a little more creative while simultaneously letting go of the overriding need for stuff that we have all become so accustomed to? Question each element of the brief and try to hone it down to the absolute necessity.
Sustainable design is not about purchasing all sustainable fixtures and fittings it is more about minimising the impact. By saying this I am not suggesting you must compromise on style or lose the dream space, but by questioning the necessity of all the elements from heating and lighting through to furniture and accessories you can create a space that can breathe, that is built for longevity and is filled with pieces that you can connect with.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES WHEN DESIGNING A SUSTAINABLE INTERIOR?
There is no doubt that there is a more limited range of sustainable finishes and fixtures available especially when it comes to the domestic market and it can be a minefield when it comes to distinguishing the green facts from fiction! The term ‘greenwashing‘ has been banded around for some time, describing how brands can use exaggerated or misleading claims about the environmental impact of their products or processes.
There are however a growing number of governing bodies that are doing their best to set strict standards that need to be adhered to in order for a company to gain a green stamp of approval. It is important, therefore, for customers to be armed with the right questions and the knowledge it takes to understand what the answers mean and their implications for the environment.
It is also important, not to overload yourself with excessive information and counter-arguments. In the words of the zero waste chef Anna Marie Bonnear, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly…..we need a million people doing it imperfectly.”
WHAT KIND OF MATERIALS SHOULD WE BE LOOKING TO INCORPORATE?
In general, look for products made from rapidly renewable sources such as cork, bamboo and hemp or look to reclaimed or recycled materials and finishes. Our ‘Definitive Guide to Creating a Sustainable Interior Design Scheme‘ breaks down the five key elements involved in any interior design pallet: Flooring; Wall Finishes; Furniture; Fabric; and Lighting.
We look at the alternative options, the pros and the pitfalls to look out for when sourcing each individual element and in many cases, we have noted a supplier we feel can deliver on both sustainability and style.
HOW CAN WE ENSURE THAT FURNITURE CHOICES ARE SUSTAINABLE?
DuraOcean, the award-winning outdoor chair from LifestyleGarden, is made from nets, ropes and plastic waste recovered from the world’s oceans.
There is something extra special about finding a one-off piece, whether it’s vintage, recycled, upcycled or inherited, that makes it one of the most rewarding and easiest ways to design sustainably. But when it comes to purchasing new it can indeed be more complicated. Apart from commissioning a bespoke crafted piece lovingly crafted from a locally felled tree, the range of options can be somewhat confusing.
Within our Guide to Creating a Sustainable Interior Design Scheme, we have pulled together a number of furniture makers and supplies throughout the UK that we feel provide both style and sustainability while also retaining a level of cost awareness to suit a range of budgets.
Our biggest advice however, would be to purchase wisely and buy for life, invest in pieces that you truly love and can adapt with time.
IS IT MORE EXPENSIVE TO FOCUS ON SUSTAINABILITY IN INTERIORS?
I would have to admit that in the main, unless you are willing to concentrate on the mantra ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ to furnish your home, a sustainable Interior can appear to be an altogether more expensive option than the alternative and comes with a larger upfront cost.
However, to be truly sustainable this is where our thinking needs to switch from ‘on trend’ to ‘longevity’. Look beyond the ‘now ‘and design with flexibility in mind, minimizing single-use purchases. Interior spaces with few pieces of furniture are the inspiration for 2021.
ARE THERE ANY HEALTH BENEFITS TO LIVING IN A MORE SUSTAINABLE INTERIOR?
There is absolutely no doubt that an interior created from natural finishes is better for our overall mental and physical health. We have all come across the term ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ which can be attributed to the use of synthetic furniture, carpet and painted surfaces. All of these contain a large number of fungicides, biocides, toxic pigments and chemicals which are the leading causes of off-gassing of VOC’s in our home and work environment.
By introducing healthier materials into an interior scheme we are simultaneously introducing the many health properties they hold such as their naturally occurring anti-allergenic and antibacterial properties, resistance to mould and mildew and general breathability of the walls, thus boosting the overall air quality within the home.
YOUR PRACTICE FOCUSES ON SUSTAINABLE INTERIOR DESIGN. WHAT CAN A CLIENT EXPECT WHEN WORKING WITH YOU?
As with any interior project we take on, we firmly believe that the entire process is a collaboration between client, designers, manufacturers and contractors. We see each brief as a journey which we all take together and when it comes to sustainable interior design, the only difference is that we use a more condensed list of the above, using vendors with a proven track record of sustainable manufacturing practices and a documented policy for sourcing rapidly renewable resources.
For 2021, we are hoping to increase our custom furniture design so we can work with more local woodworkers and makers and source locally from small businesses to minimize our carbon footprint. While looking after our planet is the overall aim, we do not in any way see this as a reason not to enjoy the process and end result.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF WORKING WITH AN INTERIOR DESIGNER WHO CREATES SUSTAINABLE INTERIORS?
This is a question that comes up many times within the interior design world. With the ever-expanding range of interior inspiration sites, everyone has access to any interior trend or style at the click of a button. What an interior designer brings to the table is the experience it takes to implement that design, create the finer details that render the space unique while simultaneously having the knowledge it takes to avoid the pitfall that an interior fitout project can bring.
In regard to sustainable interior design, there is no doubt that we are all on a rapid learning curve. There is no perfect solution at the moment, however, an interior designer who recognises the importance of creating a healthier environment can work with clients so that they too can understand the damage that the production and transport of certain materials is causing.
Is sustainable interior design something you would consider when it comes to your own home? If so, and you would like more information, check out Caoimhe’s Definitive Guide to Sustainable Interior Design for further tips and advice.