4 Sustainable Interior Design Ideas

4 Fresh Ideas for Creating
Sustainable Interior Designs

Sustainable interior design is more than a buzzword these days. Recycled plastic bottle rugs, low-VOC lumber and organic cotton are in high demand, and clients are requesting interiors that don’t just look and feel good, they also want to feel good about them.

But sustainability doesn't just have to be about vintage furniture and bamboo floors. Well-rounded sustainable design is also about encouraging more sustainable habits and raising the profile of sustainability as a whole.

We want to help you wow your next sustainability-minded (or just sustainability-curious) client by thinking outside the box a little. So here are four unexpected ideas for you to consider.

1. Cabinetry and Lighting Are Big Opportunities

Choosing eco-friendly options for the big stuff, like cabinetry and feature lighting, can seem risky. Sustainable materials have a reputation for looking rustic or obviously repurposed, and that simply doesn't jibe in many designs. But there are actually a number of beautiful options for these big-ticket, big-impact elements that embrace sustainability without sacrificing on aesthetics.

For eco-friendly cabinetry, it's a whole new world thanks to sustainably sourced wood. These products are much more easily identified these days, thanks to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This non-governmental, international organization certifies products that come from responsibly managed forests. By choosing cabinetry made from FSC certified wood, even brand-new installs can be done with sustainability in mind.

As for lighting, look for companies that make their fixtures in America, such as Hubbardton Forge, Robert Abbey, Fine Art Lamps and A-19. Minimizing the number of items that need to be shipped around the world is always a good step toward sustainability. You can also look for fixtures made of recycled glass and steel, both of which are becoming more common in the industry. There are designs made from recycled materials in just about every aesthetic, such as this futuristic sconce by Varaluz or this elegant pendant by Progress Lighting.

Finally, any light can be made much more sustainable when it's lit with LED bulbs. Nowadays, switching to LEDs is easy thanks to widespread availability and adoption throughout the industry. Many homeowners may be unaware of the 80% in energy savings an LED bulb provides, or they may assume they're expensive or cumbersome to implement. Designers are optimally positioned to overcome these roadblocks for their clients, seamlessly implementing the switch as part of the overall project and cutting the home's carbon footprint in the process.

2. Talk about textiles

Sustainable upholstery fabrics and other interior design textiles can be a headache to figure out. Sure, everyone knows that virgin polyester, nylon and acrylic are at the bottom of the sustainability barrel. But there’s a lot of variability among natural materials as well.

The most prevalent example: cotton. Regular cotton fabric generates far fewer greenhouse gases than virgin polyester fabric. But both pale in comparison to organic cotton, which cuts greenhouse gases even further by reducing the use of nitrogen fertilizer.

Being able to speak knowledgeably about fabrics with a sustainability-minded client will go a long way toward impressing them. It will also make your own selection and buying process a lot easier. So, here’s a quick cheat sheet to help you out:

  1. Polyester, acrylic and nylon are out. These materials produce the highest amounts of greenhouse gases during their production.
  2. BUT recycled polyester is a big exception. Recycled polyester fabric generates 70% fewer emissions than virgin polyester during production. When used in furnishings and décor, it also helps trap plastic waste in a stable, non-polluting form.
  3. Organic natural fibers (cotton, linen, hemp and bamboo) are better than their regular counterparts. Their production uses less water and fewer pesticides, and the reduction of nitrogen fertilizer significantly cuts back on greenhouse gases.
  4. Recycled cotton is even less polluting than organic cotton. However, it can also be expensive and difficult to come by, and the final fiber is not as fine a quality. It often has a distinct re-purposed look, which doesn't mesh with every design aesthetic.
  5. Rayon (viscose) production contributes to the deforestation of endangered forests. So, despite it being a natural fiber, it has a particularly harsh impact on the environment.
  6. Tencel (lyocell, modal) is a good viscose alternative. It’s sourced from sustainably harvested eucalyptus or beech trees.

3. Incorporate reusability

Reusing items as décor is a tried-and-true sustainable design strategy. Who hasn’t repurposed a vintage bottle as a vase, or a stepladder as a shelf? But this piece is about fresh ideas. So what about new, modern décor items that are all about encouraging reuse?

Many homeowners already try to save plastic bags, twist ties and the like, but they're stuck improvising and fighting the clutter creep. During kitchen and entryway remodels, designers are in a prime position to change all that. Discrete, dedicated collection points can be worked right into cabinetry and islands, turning reuse into a natural part of life in that home.

Another excellent opportunity to encourage reuse comes with the thank you gifts you choose for your clients. For example, multiple companies now sell tablet-based cleaning solutions, where the user adds an effervescent tablet to water in a reusable spray bottle. Gifting aesthetically pleasing reusable spray bottles that work as both décor and cleaning tools is an easy (and unexpected) way to embrace sustainability through your work.

If cleaning supplies aren't your style, then what about luxurious refillable candles? While any container could theoretically be refilled by a sufficiently ambitious client, there are now several luxury companies that sell refill kits specifically for their candle vessels and scents. An easy-to-refill candle is a thoughtful gift that can make a big impression when sustainability is a priority.

4. Keep an eye on the future

Watching out for the next best thing is a part of every interior designer’s job. That’s true for aesthetics, objects and even basic materials.

Reclaimed wood, bamboo, rattan, recycled glass and ceramic are all high-quality and sustainable material choices. But they’re all also pretty old hat these days. It’ll take something wild to get the sustainability-savvy to perk up.

So, how about ... mushrooms?

It’s still experimental, but Forbes wrote an excellent piece all about mycelium and the designers experimenting with its potential applications. Production-scale feasibility still seems pretty far off, but definitely don’t take your eye off of this one.

Then there are bioplastics, which are plastics made from a bio-based and/or biodegradable source. Furnishings made from these materials are much closer to being widely available than the mushrooms, with one French company already claiming to have produced the world’s first bioplastic chair.

And finally, let's talk about linoleum. The so-old-it’s-new-again flooring has been gaining steam, thanks to being made entirely of natural components including flax-derived linseed oil. While not futuristic like mushrooms and bioplastics, it's positioned to make a big, sustainability-fueled splash in the coming years, as eco-friendly flooring options gain more traction with homeowners.

Happy Clients, Healthy Planet

A well-designed, sustainable interior delivers more than just a beautiful aesthetic. It’s exciting and inherently feel-good. We hope these ideas feed your creative mind, and that your next sustainability-minded project is an absolutely unqualified winner.

Shop with your BellacorPRO account to get exclusive PRO pricing on all our products, including a large selection of furnishings, lights and décor items made with sustainable materials.

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