3 Ways to Embrace Sustainable Interior Design

As interior designers, we create spaces where families live, work, and play. But as the global community grows increasingly aware of the impact each of our choices has on climate change, the decisions we make in how we build and furnish our homes are no exception. Our clients aim to create spaces that serve as a lasting haven for their families, and they wish to do so in a way that ensures the long-term health of our shared home: planet Earth. In result, the industry has grown increasingly focused on sustainable interior design in recent years.

In honor of Earth Day, we explore some of the core approaches to sustainable interior design, the designers who are paving the way to environmentally conscious practices, and what we all can do to be more aware of the long-term environmental impacts of the spaces we design today.

Biophilic Design

Biophilic design in residential architecture

From the Greek root bio (life) and philos (to love), biophilic design aims to create a deeper connection between humans and the environment around us—to engender love for the flora and fauna with whom we share the planet.

What is Biophilic Design?

The biophilic movement today might be compared to the transcendentalist movement of the 1800s. Philosophers and writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau rejected the cities and urbanization that characterized the Industrial Revolution and found peace and solace in nature. Today, the biophilic movement aims to do the same. By connecting humans to the natural world through design, biophilic designers improve health and wellness while inspiring deep respect for the natural world.

The guiding principle of biophilic design is creating a positive feedback loop: As we realize a closer connection to nature by living in biophilic spaces, we feel positive health effects, including reduced stress and improved cognitive function. Consequently, this positive sentiment encourages us to appreciate nature’s gifts and inspire us to protect the natural world. As the animals and environment around us remain safe, we fall even more in love with the beauty and power of nature, and thus the cycle begins again. In the realm of sustainable interior design, creating a positive feedback loop is something we can all get behind.

Leaders in Biophilic Design

One of the leaders in biophilic design is UK-based designer Oliver Heath. His design firm now focuses exclusively on biophilic design practices, and his spaces are often filled with lush greenery and upcycled materials. Heath has even launched a series of classes to teach the principles of biophilic design to others interested in the practice.

Circularity

Circularity in interior design: upcycled furnishings

Sustainability has become a buzzword in many industries, and the phrase’s ubiquity tends to create some gray area around its actual meaning. In result, some designers looking for a more environmentally-friendly approach are instead leaning into the concept of circularity.

What Does Circularity Mean?

Circularity is grounded in the idea of creating pieces that are meant to last and should be recycled back into the economy after they’ve reached the end of their life in one space.

New York-based interior designer Laurence Carr is a vocal advocate for the circularity movement. For her, the concept of circularity extends well beyond hunting through thrift stores or patronizing furniture rental startups. It’s about crafting furniture designed to stand the test of time and shifting our collective mindset to be open to the idea of recycling and re-imaging old pieces in new spaces.

How to Embrace Circularity

For those looking to embrace the concept of circularity, consider incorporating family heirlooms in your spaces. Perhaps there’s an armoire from a great aunt or a curio cabinet from your grandfather that can be put to use in a new room. Placing restored pieces alongside new finds is a wonderful way to create an eclectic, environmentally-friendly space. Some of our favorite sources for a lived-in look include local antique shops and the much anticipated Brimfield Flea Markets.

For those who wish to source new furniture for their spaces, the focus should be on selecting durable pieces that are built to last. Your great-grandchildren will never inherit your particle board bookcase. If you want to place environmental concerns front-and-center, opt for a handcrafted bookcase made by a skilled artisan with natural wood that’s designed to be there in 150 years.

While buying solid pieces may incur more cost today, it pays dividends in the future. Not only does investing in pieces help end the cycle of fast furniture, but it also ensures future generations can use and love these same pieces.

Regenerative Design

Solar panels on house

For others focused on sustainable interior design, it’s all about regenerative design. So what is regenerative design, exactly? The term “regenerative” places the focus on long-term sustainability. The regenerative movement is not about merely creating something with sustainable practices in the here and now; it’s about ensuring that it can positively contribute to the environment in the future.

Regenerative Design in Residential Architecture

Architects and designers interested in regenerative design must begin considering sustainability long before the foundation is poured. Regenerative architects consider a home’s placement on the land to ensure heat retention and lower electrical costs. They build with sustainable materials or create building materials from the surrounding land. These examples of eco-friendly homes show just what is possible when regenerative practices permeate the design process.

Regenerative Design in Interior Spaces

For interior designers, regenerative design can focus on reducing the carbon footprint of purchases. Sourcing furniture made locally reduces the enormous carbon footprint generated by international shipping. It also funds local makers engaged in sustainable practices and helps them continue to grow their businesses. And, it feeds into a virtuous cycle of communities taking an interest in the environment in their backyard as a way to make a broader positive change.

Amanda Sturgeon is a leader in both the biophilic and regenerative design movements. She advocates tirelessly for creating zero-carbon buildings, and much of her writing and advocacy focuses on how architects and interior designers can work together to create homes that have a positive environmental impact now and well into the future.

Sustainable Interior Design

Data shows that more than 75 percent of individuals want to live more sustainably. So for interior designers and homeowners who wish to embrace more sustainable practices in furnishing your spaces, where should you begin? 

There are several organizations driving change and providing resources for sustainability-focused consumers. Consider, for example, the Sustainable Furnishings Council, which aims to educate readers on where to source furnishings that adhere to best environmental practices.

It’s not only niche craftspeople and artists making environmentally-friendly products. Architectural Digest shares that many brands, such as Boll & Branch and Pottery Barn, are taking sustainability practices seriously. When sourcing items, speak with sellers to learn their environmental bona fides. If they cannot produce tangible evidence of a sustainable focus, consider a source that can.

Then, as we increase our collective knowledge, we are empowered to deliver better results for our homes. And by doing so, we create more and more spaces that are both havens of happiness and beacons of hope for the long-term sustainability of our shared planetary home.