As reducing our environmental footprint becomes more important than ever, Australians are increasingly conscious about how the choices they make at home can impact the planet. These eco-friendly interiors tips from Neale Whitaker are good for your home and Mother Nature.
From sustainably-sourced furniture to researching your suppliers' eco-credentials, there are plenty of ways to ensure your home renovation is up to scratch when it comes to looking after the environment.
"Whether we realise it or not, we’re a lot more environmentally-aware than we were a decade ago," Neale believes.
We spoke with the experts about how to integrate eco-friendly design into our homes.
Be part of the sharing economy
If you're looking to adhere to the principles of environmentally-friendly interior design, your first step should be to re-use or upcycle existing furniture and materials.
"There’s a contradiction in our thinking these days because, on one hand, we think we should be buying well and investing in quality, but we also don’t like the idea of not changing things, so clever recycling and upcycling is the way to go," Neale tells us. "We’re also better at using tools like Gumtree and eBay, so the sharing economy is growing with consumers having a much greater understanding of this."
"I think the most interesting and sustainable homes are the ones which use new and old pieces mixed together - my own home is the perfect example of that," he says. "We’ve got pieces we’ve had for at least 20 to 30 years, which sit comfortably with pieces we’ve acquired in the last 18 months. Every now and then we will recover a stool or chair and give them a new lease on life."
If you're unable to upcycle or re-purpose exactly what you want, your next step is to source environmentally sustainable materials.
"We need to be buying with more of a conscience," says Neale. "We should be thinking about what we’re buying, how long we’ll keep it for and how it’ll work with existing pieces."
Look for furniture and fittings made from 100% recycled materials.
Be aware of where your furniture comes from
"My advice is to research your supplier’s eco-credentials," Neale says. "People are far more interested in seeing where their furniture is coming from, so jump online and check where it’s made."
Wherever possible, eco-conscious home renovators should seek out renewable, low-mile resources. While we love that Scandi aesthetic, importing furniture from across the world is energy-intensive, and there are plenty of Australian designers making beautifully-designed furniture which could easily be mistaken for a hand-crafted Danish piece.
"I prefer to buy furniture made in Australia and having something from Australia is something to be proud of – it’s lost that cultural cringe," Neale says.
The process of researching your suppliers couldn't be simpler in the age of the internet, Neale believes, and if we find something we like in-store, we'll often research it online before making the purchase and find out where it was made and what it’s made from during the process.
Organic finishes and textiles
While many people are careful to ensure their diet is full of unprocessed, organic foods, we are less conscious of the chemicals we could be surrounding ourselves with at home.
Wall paints, glues, furniture stains, fabrics, rugs and carpets often contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are known to have a negative impact on indoor air quality.
"Your best bet to avoid these harmful chemicals is to look for natural, organic fabrics and paints labelled 'low odour' or 'low VOC'," says Natalie Krafczyk, director at Pony Design Co. "Using water-based paints is another option to keep your home free from these potentially harmful chemicals."
Natalie says you can easily pick up these low VOC paints from brands like Porter’s Paints, Murobond and Dulux.
It's been proven time and time again that plants are good for us, with research showing that adding just one plant to your living environment will improve your air quality by 25 per cent.
A carefully selected range of plants helps to add that 'je ne sais quois' to your living spaces while creating feelings of relaxation, inspiration and positivity.
You can also use salvaged materials from nature - think a fallen branch, washed up driftwood, dried up sea sponges and stone (just make sure you're not nicking them from national parks) - to uniquely style your home, without needing to nip to your superstore for a home accessory that is likely to have been mass-produced.
While it might be stating the obvious, careful consideration of the placement of windows, doors and skylights is crucial to keeping our homes energy efficient.
"In Australia, north-facing windows will help to maximise our home's soft natural light, reducing our reliance on artificial lighting," says Natalie. "West-facing windows will cause heat from the sun to penetrate rooms, creating issues on hot summer days and, potentially, the need for air-conditioning, which uses a huge amount of energy to cool the space."
Sensor-light systems, which turn on automatically when a space is activated, will also help minimise your electricity usage, Natalie advises.
It's a good idea to position balconies with sliding or bi-fold glass doors away from the western sun if you want to keep your energy bill down.
Top-quality insulation is also a worthwhile investment if you're building a new home, and will help to keep your house warm in winter and cool in summer. There are plenty of sustainable insulation materials available these days, including cellulose, newspaper, straw bales and wool.
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