Maybe you’ve swapped plastic bags for canvas at the farmers’ market, invested in a hybrid car, and even offset your carbon emissions when traveling. But how does it work to be more sustainable as you outfit a new home or refresh your current one? Thankfully, there are designers across the country making it infinitely easier to decorate your home in an eco-minded way than ever before.
Andee Hess, Oregon’s interior design darling for the state’s most prominent brands and residents (think: Stumptown Coffee and Fred Armistead of SNL and Portlandia fame) says growing up in the Pacific Northwest means sustainability is in her blood. But even if it’s not in yours, her talented, creative eye helps guide clients to a more eco-conscious way of designing.
“Being surrounded by green space and nature definitely has a direct impact on your desire to preserve and care for it,” Hess says. “It is wonderful to see how the mentality towards responsible design continues to evolve and become more of an awareness and regular practice. Good change is happening in the world!”
Hess’ top tips for sustainable decorating include shopping local and vintage, which may feel limiting to some, but she says doing so actually makes her creativity thrive when she has those sorts of parameters and challenges set before her.
“While shopping and sourcing locally does reduce your furnishing and materials options, design inspiration truly can come from everywhere else,” she says. “There is always the opportunity to take what is available to you and reimagine it or rework it in a new way. I love fueling my client’s excitement and imaginations by creating truly bespoke environments and furniture that take inspiration from their life experiences, intertwined with smart, responsible sources.”
She says decorating with antiques and pieces made from reclaimed materials are your best bets for finding accessible ways to make an environmental impact. This means considering how far an item has had to travel to get to your home to reduce the amount of energy used, as well as how it has impacted local makers and industries to support the community around you.
“I love vintage and antique things because of the story that they carry and the way they enable you to embrace past generations,” Hess says. “Also, design has a clever way of re-circulating through ideas and aesthetics, so if you catch pieces at the right time, you might even be able to start a new trend wave!”
Depending on where you live or your personal needs, shopping local or vintage might not be cutting it, especially if you are looking to invest in a specific piece that will last you for a long time. These days, there is a burgeoning number of American-made options that seek to minimize environmental impact and actively support employees. Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams (MGBW), a home decor and furnishings brand based in North Carolina, is one such company who has held itself to a higher standard in considering environmental impact and employee support long before it became the thing to do.
“Mitchell was on a flight to New York when he came across an article about the furniture industry in The Times explaining why it was one of the biggest polluters to the environment, and he was so moved by it that he called Bob and said they were going to do things different with their new venture,” says Allison O’Connor, president and CEO of MGBW. “This was in ‘89, and from the first day, they’ve been making eco-friendly foam for cushions, and to this day, we challenge ourselves to always do more. We have a sustainability team and lead to constitute how we do business, helping us make every effort to build, ship, and source responsibly.”
O’Connor says there are several critical factors to consider when decorating your home in a more environmentally friendly manner. She advises consumers to first and foremost know where you’re buying pieces from and the amount of transparency being offered by these companies. If possible, she advises choosing to support companies that put the health of its planet, employees, and consumers first. Do some browsing on your favorite furniture and home sites to see how they stack up in these areas—or if they share any information regarding these topics at all.
“Sustainability goes way beyond materials,” O’Connor says. “We believe that customers are going to become and are increasingly focused on what brands stand for and how products are made. For us, it starts at home, and we provide all sorts of services to our employees. We even have a full-time nurse on staff. Our products are in many homes around the world and people continue to come back, not just because of the design and quality, but because of our everyday commitment to do things right.”
O’Connor also advises investing in quality pieces in timeless colors instead of chasing fast furniture or every trend that comes our way. She says MGBW’s variety of customization options allows for customers to purchase something that will last them a long time and might even become heirloom pieces to pass down instead of find their place in a landfill after a few years. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean you have to stifle your unique taste.
One of the biggest concerns that can come up when looking to decorate in a more sustainable fashion is the lack of fashionable options to decorate with. While it may often seem like you can only decorate sustainably if you like Scandinavian or ultra-modern interiors, Hess believes that sustainable decorating can actually help you delve further into your personal aesthetic.
“Everyone’s personal style can be enhanced by mindful consideration of the choices we make,” she says. “It is super-enjoyable to be able to tell the story of your home through the lens of how and why you made your decisions. There are so many wonderful resources now for smart ways to reduce your environmental impact, from appliances to finishes, that you can easily take on the challenge of creating a deep, warm and meaningful space that has it all!”
Above all, it’s important to give yourself grace as you either begin or continue on this journey to decorating and fostering an eco-minded home. While it’s certainly possible to decorate with all or mostly vintage—prime example being Athena Calderone’s immaculate Cobble Hill townhouse designed with 90% vintage pieces—that might not be in the cards for everyone. Asking the right questions, seeking local and vintage pieces when possible, and pursuing an overall mindset that prioritizes timeless over trendy (most of the time) are sure to get you on your way to a more sustainable, healthy, and well-decorated home.
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