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How to furnish your home sustainably

How to furnish your home sustainably

If you’re after a new look for your home, you might consider paint shades, furnishings and light. You might, if you’re an eco-conscious person, delve a little deeper into the impact of buying new products might have on the environment. While consumption does have an impact, many interior designers are working hard to reduce the effect and encouraging as all to think smarter about our choices. Here, leading interiors experts discuss how to furnish your home as sustainably as possible.

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How would you define sustainable interior design?

“If you ask 10 people in a room to define sustainable design, chances are you will receive 10 different answers,” says Anna Whitehead, who will be discussing sustainability at The House & Garden Festival.

“Sustainable design is a way to deliver aesthetically beautiful homes and workplaces that are ethically-sourced, energy and water efficient, use innovative products and materials that engage and inspire, and are designed for client’s physical and mental health, wellbeing and happiness.”

What are the biggest eco issues in the interior design industry?

“So much modern furniture is made from MDF which has a shelf life of under 10 years, can never be restored and is often expensive,” says Mary Claire Boyd, fair director at The Art & Antiques Fair Olympia.

“Many people, particularly the younger generation, have a lower disposable income and therefore end up buying cheap furniture that has a shorter lifespan, which has a detrimental impact not only on their finances, as they’re having to buy again in five years’ time, but also on the environment. It’s this mindset that we need to change; we need to encourage people to not only buy for style but for investment and longevity. And not to be put off by a hand-me-down from a relation that could be an incredible statement piece and will combine well with more modern styles. Similarly, many people are under the impression that antiques are expensive but they’re not; you can get some amazing finds at great prices.”

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What would you say to people who think eco-friendly interiors might mean sacrificing style for ethics?

“Until recently, there was a case for saying you had to pick a side: either to have a sustainable or a stylish interior,” says Anna. “We’ve come a long way and some of the most creative and innovative products are now sustainable and ethically-sourced. A good example of this is companies using biomimicry principles, where nature is used to develop products such as textiles with colour but without using solvents.”

How can we ensure our interior choices have minimal environmental impact?

“To reduce energy consumption, good loft and roof insulation, well-fitted double glazed windows, harnessing renewable energy such as solar or battery power, and installing automated controls for lighting and heating will all make a difference,” says Jenny Gibbs, principal of KLC School of Design

“Our role as lighting designers is to ensure that lights are used wisely and controlled sensibly – the most efficient light is the one that is turned off,” adds Rebecca Weir, creative director of LightIQ.

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“A well-designed lighting scheme will always start with natural light and use artificial lighting as a compliment to that, ensuring that it is only provided where required. Another aspect of lighting that will hopefully be considered more fully in the future is the entire recycling of light sources. This currently does not sit as a major priority when purchasing but it should.”

What are your tips for updating a room without causing too much environmental impact?

“Choose energy efficient LEDs for an atmospheric glow and opt for light colours and reflective surfaces to save on lighting,” explains Jenny. “Install energy efficient appliances, including efficient shower heads to save water. Opt for organically-produced materials, finishes and furniture to avoid chemicals and specify paints with low volatile organic compounds (VOC) which are a much healthier option. Lighter colours and reflective surfaces will help to reduce the need for lighting but make sure you go for colours that make you feel good, as colour can have such an impact on mood. Insulate with curtains, blinds, carpets and rugs, which are also good for acoustics and counter the effect of hard surfaces such as wood and stone. Avoid throwing things away by getting creative and upcycling or recycling. Try to source locally-manufactured materials, finishes and furniture. If you have to order furniture that has to come a long distance, go for flat pack which keeps transport costs down. And when it comes to accessories, add plenty of plants to the finished space to reduce pollution and enhance air quality.”

What advice do you have for first time antiques buyers?

“I would suggest that we need to be more open-minded when it comes to antiques and seeing their value,” says Mary Claire Boyd.

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“Rather than existing only in a traditional setting, antique furniture can complement contemporary pieces and work beautifully in a modern setting resulting in a look which is much more individual, but with longevity. When buying new products, we should really consider how and where the product is made. Does the brand promote their eco-credentials? Do you know if it was made using FSC certified wood? Is it biodegradable? And most importantly, will it last a long time – and if so, are you willing to recycle it, sell it or pass it down to friends or family once you’ve finished with it? I urge people to look after their belongings. Antiques are made often hundreds of years ago, with skill and craftsmanship, but will last for hundreds more with basic care. And that could stand for some furniture made today; never take anything for granted and look after it so that it never needs to be thrown away.”

Words: Keeley Bolger