We love to see more and more designers making sustainability a priority. It helps that there are more non-toxic and recycled products than ever before — from paints to furnishings.
Toronto-based interior designer Rebecca Hay shared these sustainable home design ideas with us and has us inspired to refresh our homes responsibly as the seasons change…
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
This might be my favorite topic when it comes to sustainable design. I absolutely love taking pre-loved, existing pieces in a home and repurposing them. I love that it adds character and personality and can be completely unique and one-of-a-kind. The added bonus: You’re not creating an additional carbon footprint because the piece has already been made!
Pro tip: I love to shop our clients’ homes for existing furniture and lighting that they have perhaps overlooked. We can refresh the item and give it new life in a new room or color.
Prioritize Eco-Friendly Paint
The truth about eco-friendly, non-toxic paints is a little bit complicated. For a paint company to be truly eco-friendly, they should be able to provide evidence by telling you what ingredients they use. This should be displayed on the paint pots or available upon request from the company. Traditional paints that contain plastic create a plastic barrier on walls when applied trapping air, which leads to mold and other problems. Eco-friendly paints should be breathable as a result of using only natural ingredients.
Pro trip: A note about “water-based” paints. Paints that are labelled as ‘water-based’ might just mean they’re watered down, but still harmful to the environment. Ingredients like vinyl resins, synthetic dyes, petrochemicals derived from oil, acrylics, formaldehyde, and ammonia can contribute to a variety of health issues. If you’ve got any doubt, look at the ingredients list.
Hunt For Antique Finishing Touches
It will come as no surprise that I love to use items I find at antique markets and consignment stores. There’s no carbon footprint (it’s already been made), there is no toxic off-gassing (this has already happened) and these items will seem one of a kind in your home.
I am not a fan of grabbing a bunch of inexpensive products at big box stores. They are often poorly made and end up in a landfill sooner than any of us would like to admit.
Pro tip: It’s all in the accessories! Look for items that speak to you to create a more curated look. Thrift shops are a great place to hunt for very inexpensive items or invest in high quality items from a beautiful store. Less is more when it comes to accessories.
It may come as a surprise (or not) that many interior design products (hardwood, tile, wallpaper, furniture, fabrics etc.) are not sustainably sourced and can also have negative effects on our health. When we talk about health we are most often referencing the air quality in your home and how the products we put into our homes affects the air we breathe. I feel very strongly that this information needs to become a part of the design dialogue. Flooring is often a big-ticket item and important purchases for your home. I like to call flooring the “canvas to your design.”
Pro tip: Sustainable flooring is any flooring that has little or no impact on the environment during production, use, and end of life cycle (disposal). Look for these factors when choosing a sustainable floor: Sustainable harvesting practices made from natural or renewable materials. This type of manufacturing has little to no waste.
The Ground Up: Sustainable Construction
In case you didn’t know, the renovation industry as a whole is extremely wasteful. More so than new construction!
A lot of products go to landfills (unwanted kitchens, perfectly good but outdated flooring… You get the idea); The majority of this waste is NOT recycled, which is why I always recommend to prioritize a quality remodel with materials that can either be reused or recycled in the future. Make sure you’re doing your due diligence and asking your builder to provide you with safe and eco-friendly options.
Pro tip: Instead of throwing perfectly good materials in the bin, you’d be surprised to know there are many alternate ways to dispose of products. Check out companies like Habitat for Humanity who accept donations or consider restoring or selling online.