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An interior designer’s tips for a stylish and sustainable home

July 9, 2021By Eva Ramirez

As we aim to lessen our environmental impact, our homes seem like a logical place to start. Award-winning interior designer Brian Woulfe shares his expert tips on how to design a home that’s stylish and sustainable.

Our homes have a huge effect on our carbon footprint. The way they are built, decorated and used can all have an environmental impact – either good or bad – and while some of these things are out of our control, many of them are not. 
There are many ways in which we can tweak how we decorate and manage our households in order to lessen the carbon impact our homes have on the environment, it just takes a little (fun!) research and thought. The number of UK households using renewable energy has risen from 1% to 30% since 2015, which means more of us are making the effort. By fusing our sustainability values with our interior design goals, we can create homes we are proud of and that are better for the planet, the economy and our wellbeing.

Many interior brands are using technology to change people’s perceptions around waste through innovation, creating products that look amazing and work efficiently too. Waste materials such as plastic are being reused to make kitchen worktops, tables and even acoustic panelling for walls. You can even find lighting designers making beautiful pendant lights from plant-based fibres such as hemp, tobacco leaves and pomace. Searching for these exciting, eco-friendly brands can be half of the fun when it comes to decorating your home. 

There are also many interior designers who take sustainability into account. Brian Woulfe is Managing & Creative Director of Designed by Woulfe, a london based interior design company that works internationally on residential and commercial projects of all scales. Through his work, Brian champions young designers and craftspeople and enjoys using his choices to promote sustainable design while also educating clients in the process. The design studio sticks to their values by addressing sustainability at three levels – while working on interior design projects, by ensuring their operations are as environmentally friendly as possible, and by influencing the wider community.

Brian is a founding signatory of ‘Interior Design Declares’, an influential group of designers who are demanding collective action from the interior design industry to confront climate and biodiversity emergencies. Here, Brian shares his tips for upgrading your home in an eco-friendly way without compromising on beautiful aesthetics…

Blend the old with the new

Invest in long-lasting design that tells a story and adds character to your interiors. Vintage and antique furniture and homewares are often high quality and built to last, so they’ll make great heirloom pieces that can stay with you for a long time. You can have fun blending the old with the new by reclaiming, reusing, repurposing, upcycling and re-upholstering old or second hand items to give them a contemporary touch that will make an impact alongside the rest of your interior design scheme. There are some incredible vintage fairs and antique markets in the UK where you can hunt for one-off pre-loved items from big pieces such as bedroom furniture to decorative items like tableware and vases.

Support small manufacturers and artisans

Prioritise manufacturers that are committed to sustainable interior design through the use of eco-friendly materials and ethical production practices. If possible, support smaller, independent furniture makers and commission bespoke, hand carved or made-to-order pieces. They can be more expensive but are a worthy investment and not only will you have a well made, long-lasting and unique piece of furniture, you’ll know that it’s more environmentally and socially sound. 

Use eco-friendly wallpaper and paints

Adding colour and pattern to your home is one of the funnest parts of decorating that can really set the tone for a room and provide the basis for the rest of the design. Having said that, the materials we use to cover our walls are often overlooked. Prolonged or high exposure to paint fumes can cause headaches and trigger allergies, but the VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) that are emitted during the drying process also contribute to the earth’s ozone layer. We’re now seeing more and more organic paint products on the market which are free from VOC’s, carcinogens or toxic substances. They offer an ecological range that even purifies the air we breathe inside our homes. Some paint companies offer stick-on sample patches which are easy to use and far less wasteful than ordering paint samples which often create lots of waste. If you’re planning to incorporate wallpaper, choose one that’s made using eco-friendly inks and be sure not to over-order so that there’s as little wastage as possible.

Bring your space to life with plants

Studies have found that having indoor plants boost your mood, productivity, creativity, concentration and reduce your stress. Aside from these psychological benefits, plants also purify the air in our homes, absorbing toxins and producing oxygen. They add the finishing touches to your home, make great decorative features, add colour, and can really help to bring a space to life. Experiment with different sizes and shapes, and be sure to double-check that you’re selecting the right plant for the right space. For example, some prefer indirect sunlight or more humid environments, making them ideal for bathrooms.

Incorporate elements of biophilic design

Personal wellness is becoming an increasingly important topic when considering home design and improvements too. Our lives have centred around the home far more in the past year and many are eager to carve out dedicated spaces for all aspects of wellbeing. A great way to do this is by incorporating elements of biophilic design, which is essentially the act of increasing your connection to the natural world through design. Embracing natural, fluid shapes, colours and materials are great methods, as well as maximising natural light and including plenty of living plants as mentioned within my other tips.

Consider insulation

The average household in the UK emits 2.7 tonnes of CO2 every year from heating their home. If your home isn’t properly insulated, you’re probably losing a lot of the energy used in heating and cooling through your walls, roof, windows and doors. There are plenty of options for insulating, such as simply installing double glazed windows which can reduce draughts and heat losses, draught proofing of floors, windows and doors, and natural fibre insulation which uses eco-friendly materials like cork, cotton, hemp, wood fibre or cellulose. Different areas in your house will need different kinds of insulation, so be sure to keep this in mind.

Upgrade your appliances

Making sure the appliances in your home, from your kettle to your cooking hob are energy efficient too will also have a huge positive impact on the carbon footprint of your home. Energy Star-certified appliances are easy to find and look both modern and stylish, so they certainly won’t ruin the look or feel of your kitchen if they’re visible. Bigger appliances like dishwashers and refrigerators and well worth updating too, as newer models are far more energy-saving than older ones. They’re more likely to have better functionality too.

Switch to LED lights

Switching to energy efficient lighting is one of the easiest ways to make your home more eco friendly. Traditional incandescent light bulbs may be cheaper, but LEDs are far more cost-effective in the long run because they use about 40% – 80% less energy and also reduce heat in the home.

Make the most of natural light

Exposure to daylight is closely linked to our wellbeing and mood, increasing our body’s serotonin levels and keeping our circadian rhythms (internal body clocks) in check. The right lighting can make a world of difference when it comes to interiors too. It influences our mood, sets the tone, and can even alter the way we perceive colour. When it comes to colours, paler hues will reflect more light and expand its impact, while darker ones tend to absorb it, so keep in mind that if a room is darker, it may require more artificial light – this goes for flooring as well as walls. Maximising natural light in your home will cut down on the need for artificial lighting, and you can boost light by using mirrors and other reflective features such as glass. If possible, installing skylights are a very effective way of drawing a steady stream of light into a space which may not have windows. 

Choose natural materials 

Everyday, mass-produced furniture contains a surprisingly high number of chemicals such as formaldehyde which can be harmful to your health. Choosing furniture and soft furnishings made from natural materials over synthetic ones will have a huge impact. When it comes to soft furnishings such as bedding and blankets, go for premium quality textiles that are woven from natural fibres. As for pillows, feather rather than synthetic pillows can help prevent dust mites and are also better for the environment. If installing or replacing a fireplace, look out for eco-friendly bio-ethanol, which is a renewable energy source that gives off clean emissions that are non-toxic, smokeless and odourless. 

Keep it all clean…naturally

The homecare industry generates around 29 billion plastic containers each year, with a considerable chunk of this made up of cleaning products. Keeping your home clean with natural, eco-friendly, non-corrosive homecare products is better for you and the environment. They are just as effective but without the unpleasant and harmful chemical residue.