Eco friendly interior design – going shopping

This post is part of a series of tips on interior design and working with an interior designer.

shopping for sustainable interior designAs we started discussing last week, as a designer I prefer to create designs that are lighter on the environment, eco friendly, sustainable… there are many ways to describe it.  However, I am not a fan of very rustic-looking, eco-style, crafty style.  So, how do I get eco friendly interior design without it looking that way?  There are several things to think about and there is no right answer – it’s a matter of considering everything in balance, focusing on what’s most important to you and thinking about the big picture.  Then you can make an informed decision.

This week we’ll look at eco considerations when shopping for individual items.  Check last week’s post for thoughts on the bigger picture.

Once you’re happy with your overall plans for the space, you can consider three things about each potential item you want in the space – What, How and Where:

What?

What is it made from?  Look out for the following:

  • Sustainably produced materials, particularly for items made from wood and paper
  • Recycled, reclaimed, reused materials remade into your item, could be plastic, ceramics, glass, wood, etc
  • Recycled, reused, reconditioned items themselves, such as antique/vintage/second-hand furniture, fabric, vases etc
  • Non-toxic materials, especially paints, dyes, varnishes and glues
  • Natural pigments
  • Durable materials – will it last?  Is it fit for purpose?

How?

If it’s a new item, how was it made?  Things to consider:

  • Factory-made or individually crafted?
  • Fairly paid adult labour or barely paid child labour?
  • Does the factory / workshop use renewable energy, does it dispose of its waste responsibly?
  • What chemicals has it (or the raw materials) been treated with during its life?
  • Is it made to last (e.g. dovetail joints) or for the short term (e.g. glue)?

Whether new or not, how does it work?

  • How energy efficient is it?  (for electrical items, appliances etc)
  • How efficiently does it use water? (for taps, toilets, appliances etc)
  • How does it help save energy / materials etc, if at all?  E.g. you could line curtains with thermal lining instead of standard, to keep the heat in during winter, and keep it cooler for summer.

Where?

  • Where were the raw materials sourced?
  • Where was it produced?
  • Where is it now?
  • How far away are the above from where it will end up?

In my opinion, tiles made from recycled glass in an energy and water efficient factory may sound great, but they’re not that eco-friendly if they’ve been produced in Australia or the USA and then shipped over to the UK.  Try looking for tiles made from recycled glass sourced locally.

Informed decisions

I’ll be amazed if you find something that ticks all these boxes, particularly if it’s affordable and doesn’t look crafty / rustic – this is just a list of things to consider when making your purchases, so you can make an informed decision.  There is no perfect solution.

As an example, something that I find tricky myself is chipboard & veneers versus solid wood.  Imagine you’ve found a dining table that you like the look of.  It’s available in either chipboard & veneers or solid wood, made in the UK from wood grown sustainably in Europe.

  • Chipboard & veneer is essentially waste wood (good) glued together (bad unless non-toxic glue), with a veneer on top (good as uses less raw materials, bad as less durable).  Light to transport (good).  Probably won’t last so long (bad).
  • Solid wood uses more raw materials (bad) but if it gets scratched you can sand it down and refinish (good).  It’s heavy to transport (bad) but is likely to last a long time (good) and be in better condition if you want to sell it on in the future (good).

So as you can see, eco friendly interior design is a matter of considering all angles and making an informed decision.

Was this useful?  Do you have any eco-dilemmas of your own?  Let me know in the comments!

Coming soon – specific tips for individual rooms, lighting, tips on how to use colour, choose floorings, wall coverings, paint…

If you have any questions you’d like me to answer in this series, leave a comment or send a message via the website – I’d be delighted to help!

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