To me, a home that feels good is one that does good as well. It’s one that creates a healthy space for you and anyone else that you live with, and doesn’t cause unnecessary harm to the planet or to other people in the process. It can even promote good practice, by supporting skilled artisans and sustainable industries.
Lots of us are more aware now of the damage that fast fashion is doing to the environment and to the individual workers and communities who produce our clothes, but the interiors world has a few dirty secrets of its own. Mass produced furniture is often of poor quality and made using environmentally damaging practices; paints and textiles can be highly toxic products which hurt us as well as the natural world; and the fast furnishing industry is putting smaller firms and tradespeople out of business.
But all is not lost. We can love our living spaces and have fun redecorating and renovating them without causing damage to the world around us. And making more sensitive choices can also help you to create a home that’s individual and unique. You don’t need to make huge changes. Do what you can within the budget you have available, make small shifts, and bit by bit you’ll be aligning your home to a new groove – one that you can feel really good about.
Read on to find out how you can keep your interiors footprint light, and support other people’s livelihoods along the way.
Buy second hand
Call it second hand, call it vintage, call it pre-loved: if you’re buying something that someone else is getting rid of, you’re a double hero. Not only are you preventing that item from ending up in a skip or in landfill somewhere, you’re also reducing the amount of new stuff that you’re purchasing. You can find pre-owned items on websites such as Etsy, Vinterior, and Selency, but my personal favourite is antiques markets – a great source of quirky, one-off items. Go with a friend, get chatting to the stall owners, and take room measurements with you so that you can snap something up knowing that it will fit the space you’re thinking of. My local is Sunbury Antiques Market, which is where I bought the gorgeous quilt in the picture above.
Buy from retailers who care
When we buy anything new, particularly if it’s mass-produced, there are many potential impacts to our purchase. One is the environmental footprint: what materials is the product made from, how are these materials grown or manufactured, and how much waste is the factory or workshop producing? The second big impact is on people: who is producing the items you’re buying, are they employed on fair terms, and is their well-being looked after? Finally, does the manufacturer or retailer play a responsible role in their community: are they trying to reduce their impact, protect traditional skills, and do they contribute fairly to the local economy?
If you’re buying something new, look to retailers who set high standards for themselves and those they do business with through transparent policies around sourcing, waste, production and trade. If they don’t talk about sustainable business, ask them about it. I love Nkuku, which is where I sourced the hurricane lamp pictured above.
Reuse and repurpose
One of the ways you can create a unique and interesting living space is to reuse and re-purpose items that might otherwise have become waste. Glass bottles and jars can make beautiful vases and candle holders, while scraps of fabric from treasured but unwearable items of clothing can be framed to create art. If you’re handy with a power tool and like a creative challenge then there are even more possibilities.
Reclamation yards are a great place to find items that can be reused and re-purposed to fit your home. From old floor boards to reclaimed stained glass, they are treasure troves full of materials with plenty of life left in them.
Buy products made from recycled or sustainable material
Most of us are pretty wary of buying plastics now, for good reason, but natural materials are problematic too. For example, non-organic cotton uses lots of chemicals and water, and causes health problems for cotton workers. By choosing organic materials, or low-impact fibres such as bamboo and linen, you can reduce these harmful effects. You can also buy products made from recycled or reclaimed materials, such as these soft furnishings from Weaver Green, which cleverly reuse old plastic bottles.
And then there’s paint. I’ll blog about it more another day, but suffice it to say that conventional decorating paints can be highly toxic. Thankfully there is an ever-greater choice of brands that are based on natural materials, and Graphenstone’s paint range even absorbs carbon dioxide. Other eco brands include Earthborn, Paint the Town Green and Edward Bulmer.
Make do and mend
If you have a favourite piece of furniture that’s broken, see if you can mend it before rushing out to replace it. You might be able to manage a small job yourself, but otherwise find an expert who can do a professional job. If you have the time you could sign up for a furniture restoration course. That’s what I did to restore the wooden chair featured in the photo above, which needed a new cane seat. Doing it myself was hard work but fun, and it’s given me a new respect for upholsterers who make it look so easy.
Buy from artisans or small-scale producers
The word artisan is possibly a little over-used these days, especially in the corner of south-west London that I inhabit, but what it means is someone who works in a skilled trade, and who is usually making a product by hand. Buying interiors products that are well-crafted by small-scale businesses and individual producers helps to keep these valuable and often traditional skills alive. Also, because these kinds of products are not mass-produced, they can often be customised or made to measure.
Buy less and buy to last
Fashion writers and bloggers talk about cost per wear and we can certainly adopt a similar concept when it comes to our interiors. If you buy cheap, you may end up buying twice. If your budget will stretch to a slightly better quality and more sustainably-produced item, it is more likely to last and your cost per year of use will be lower overall. So, go for the best quality you can afford, and invest in classic items that you’re less likely to tire of, rather than trend-led pieces that will quickly feel like old news.
Recycle your old goods
Of course there are times when furniture, fittings and textiles no longer suit us and we need to say goodbye to them. Most of us own too much stuff, and decluttering can be life-changing, but how you get rid of things is in important part of keeping your interiors footprint light. Divide the items you want to get rid of into piles and try your best to keep things out of landfill. Items in good condition can be sold on GumTree and Ebay, or given away to charity or via Freecycle. Unused paint that’s still useable can be donated to Community RePaint. Recycle everything else if you can, and keep landfill waste to a minimum. In the UK, household recycling centres can help you to work out what can be recycled.