In an ideal world, every home would be built from sustainable materials and equipped with eco-friendly features such as solar panels, double-glazed windows, and energy efficient appliances. But even if you lack the ability or the budget to make big changes to your house or rental apartment, the good news is that it’s possible to make any space a little greener by making thoughtful, more conscious choices about interior design and décor.
What is Sustainable Interior Design?
Eco-friendly or sustainable interior design consciously attempts to limit the impact of humanity on the natural environment. This can mean utilizing organic, non-toxic, and repurposed materials and finishes that improves air quality in the home.
Check out these 11 simple, accessible expert interior design tips for making your home a little gentler on the planet, no remodeling required.
Meet the Expert
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Choose Linen Sheets
Made from zero waste flax fiber, a recyclable raw material, 100% pure linen is naturally thermoregulating to make it comfortable in all seasons. “A material like linen gets softer over time, is surprisingly durable, and is naturally hypoallergenic,” says pillow designer Lauren Meichtry of Elsie Home. “So not only does it look beautiful and effortless, it's going to last you a long time. While the home decor industry can often be seen as wasteful, in terms of how quickly we move through trends and replace items in our home, using materials like linen is one way you can be more sustainable.”Continue to 2 of 11 below.
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Use Low or Zero VOC Paint
Microplastics found in traditional paints contaminate the ocean and can have negative effects on indoor air quality that can impact human health. Interior designer Rebecca Hay of Rebecca Hay Designs suggests using sustainable paint. “Always check for VOC content on paint labels,” she says. “The lower the number, the better. Ingredients like vinyl resins, synthetic dyes, petrochemicals derived from oil, acrylics, formaldehyde, and ammonia can all contribute to health issues.”Continue to 3 of 11 below.
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Decorate With Plants
Plants make a room feel as good as it looks. Be sure to do your research about the best indoor plants that affect air quality in your home and which can be sourced sustainably.Continue to 4 of 11 below.
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Dried and Preserved Flowers and Plants
Dried flowers aren’t just for grannies anymore. A new generation of eco-conscious designers and home decorators who love their florals but hate the environmental impact associated with fresh cut flowers have made dried flora relevant again, from graphic Billy Balls to trendy Pampas grass to preserved moss wall art and dried bouquets frozen in time under a glass cloche.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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Maximize Natural Light
Maximizing natural light will create a sense of well being in your space while cutting down on energy consumption. One simple way to increase the amount of natural light in your space is by decorating with mirrors, ideally positioned opposite windows or on an adjacent wall to amplify natural light.Continue to 6 of 11 below.
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One of the easiest fixes you can make to cut down on electricity use is to swap LED light bulbs when your stash of old energy-guzzling incandescents burns out. When purchasing new light fixtures, consider opting for a contemporary designer USB-powered LED lamp, or a portable update on a classic, like the cordless indoor-outdoor USB-powered 1968 Verner Panton Flowerpot lamp.Continue to 7 of 11 below.
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Depending on your home and climate, interior or exterior shutters, solar shades, bamboo blinds, or light-blocking curtains can be drawn during the hottest times of the day to limit the use of air conditioning, then opened at nightfall along with your windows to let the fresh air in. Conversely, leaving your windows naked during winter helps warm the space naturally.Continue to 8 of 11 below.
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“Opt for consignment stores or vintage markets for accessories,” says interior designer Hay. “There’s no carbon footprint, there’s no off-gassing (this has already happened) and these items will seem one of a kind in your home.”Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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Rattan, Wicker, Bamboo
Artisans around the world have long been making furniture and décor from natural materials like rattan, wicker, and bamboo. But these materials have been on trend in recent years as designers and home decorators look for ways to reduce the use of plastics and manmade materials in the home. Whether it’s a vintage wicker chair, a rattan headboard, or a woven lampshade made of bamboo, furniture and accessories made in natural fabrics add texture and never go out of style.Continue to 10 of 11 below.
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Interior designer Jennifer Jones of San Francisco-based Niche Interiors is an Ambassador for the Sustainable Furnishings Council and a Founding Member of the Good Future Design Alliance, a group of designers and builders committed to reducing their collective waste by 50% over five years. Niche Interiors likes to avoid mass produced furniture upholstered with petroleum-based flame retardants and work with local artisans to build custom upholstered pieces made from natural latex foam wrapped in organic wool.
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Jones of Niche Interiors also recommends using furniture constructed from solid wood like walnut, teak, oak, or maple. "Avoid furniture composed of MDF or particleboard, which is made from compressed shavings or sawdust held together by synthetic resins, binders and glues," Jones writes on her website. "One of the ingredients often found in these adhesives is formaldehyde," which the National Cancer Institute has flagged as being a health risk. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends using "exterior-grade" pressed wood to limit exposure.
“Linen – the Original Sustainable Material.” Vam.ac.uk. N.p., n.d. Web.
"Paint fragments as polluting microplastics." Researchgate.net. N.p., n.d. Web.
US EPA and OAR. “Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” (2014): n. pag. Web.
Davidson, Ros. “The Environmental Impact of Cut Flowers? Not so Rosy.” Ted.com. N.p., 5 May 2021. Web.
US EPA and OAR. “Controlling Pollutants and Sources: Indoor Air Quality Design Tools for Schools.” (2014): n. pag. Web.
“Formaldehyde - Cancer-Causing Substances.” Cancer.gov. N.p., 2015. Web.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Formaldehyde. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2013. Available online.