architecture & design
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Sustainable Interiors

Specification of ecological materials, recycling and reuse is no longer the future, but the present. We, the designers, have the responsibility to introduce these elements in our designs, communicate the importance and relevance of the use of sustainable materials and inform clients of the many alternative options and how to apply them responsibly. Subtle changes in lifestyle can really impact climate change on a larger scale without detracting from lifestyle.

1.    Sustainable design strategies and materials. 

If you have the opportunity to start from the beginning of a project there are a few things which are really easy to achieve that will make your house eco-friendly. Taking this approach can also give a more comfortable house with lower bills to pay. There are a few basic considerations: 

  • Kitchens looking to North-North East. Kitchen needs to stay fresh and having plenty of natural light in the mornings makes a really big difference to wellbeing.

  • Living rooms looking South-South West will ensure that the rooms where you spend the most time benefit from maximum exposure to the sun, meaning warmer rooms and less use of lights. 

  •  Bedrooms to the East-South East. Bedrooms are mostly inhabited at night and in the mornings, so getting morning light will save electricity when you wake up and allow for a more natural transition to the day. A room with less afternoon and evening light is also beneficial for sleeping babies and young children or shift workers.

  •  Cross ventilation with manually opening windows when possible is an amazing idea to avoid overheating in summer and avoid stuffy rooms.

  • Although a more expensive initial outlay, high quality materials and insulation, double or triple glazing for windows and solid quality doors make a big difference. Is not only a matter of how eco-friendly these products are but also a matter of how these elements will save extra energy throughout a regular day and the building lifetime. 

2.    Sustainable Products.

The environmentally sustainable interior design movement (ESID) has grown in recent years, allowing large brands to adapt and incorporate new eco-friendly products of ethical origin and allow new brands to emerge with new products.

FSC certified wood stamp

FSC certified wood stamp

As architects and interior designers, we explain to customers the different options related to materials and the possible future effect that these materials can have on the environment. In most instances, concrete or ceramic products are highly polluting materials that require an incredible amount of energy to be produced, whereas wood can be obtained ethically and even reused in the future. Giving consideration to ease of maintenance and disassembly of built elements at the end of their use is also critical to encourage reuse.

As for wood, it is easy to source wood of ethical origin. It is also important to verify that it is FSC certified. FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council®, an international non-profit organization dedicated to promoting responsible forestry. When buying FSC certified wood floors, you can be sure that you are buying wood of ethical origin and, therefore, you are helping the environment.

Not everyone knows that aluminum is the third most abundant material on earth after oxygen and silicon, and it is infinitely recyclable. Aluminium, generally considered the most sustainable building material in the world, creates high quality aluminium that does not lose any of the physical properties of primary aluminium and also uses only 5% of the energy needed to create primary aluminium.

As they dry, oil-based paints release volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, into the atmosphere. VOCs are a major contributor to the formation of ground-level ozone, the primary component of “smog.”

As they dry, oil-based paints release volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, into the atmosphere. VOCs are a major contributor to the formation of ground-level ozone, the primary component of “smog.”

Other types of materials can also be ecological and sustainable, such as paints or even tiles. These days it is easy to find ecological paints that help reduce pollution and prevent dust from adhering to the surface such as Airlite organic or natural paints without toxic products to the environment. Water based paints are also healthier to to work with than traditional oil based products, so safer for tradespeople working on your project.

Lately, more local companies are emerging with really creative and sustainable ideas in interior design and architecture, such as decorative panels made of waste materials like plastic manufactured by Smile Plastic, which transforms waste materials into decorative panels unique to the architecture and design industry.

Above: Product images from Smile Plastic [Image credit: Smile Plastic]

In our shortlisted Sevenoaks Wildlife Trust proposal we incorporated sustainable materials, heating and user strategies to ensure the best balance between flexible use and specific design which makes the project as long lasting as possible. We also incorporated dedicated amenities for educating the public on sustainable solutions and the environmental impact of climate change.

3.     Reuse and Recycling

The Vintage, antique and DIY recycling movement is something that has come to stay. Reusing old furniture and giving it a new look or buying preloved furniture is an amazing way to contribute to not generating more waste and at the same time not using new resources. Recycling also involves a smart application of materials that cannot be recycled, like glue on carpets. There are other ways to apply carpet down, for example, that allows them to be recycled when it comes to changing them. Tac-Tiles are an example that uses small double sided sticky pads rather than a liberal application of destructive adhesive. If we can make smart use of these products, we enable them to have another life after we’ve done with them. 

 Examples of upcylced and reused furniture. [Image credit: Pinterest]

4.     Low carbon footprint 

The important thing with the low carbon is that we have to think in terms of manufacture and also in terms of transportation. Here is where buying local makes a huge difference. You can find furniture that is produce locally with local materials by local artisans which both reduces the carbon footprint, transport pollution and supports specialist trade. We can support local communities and protect the art of traditional trades that are dying out, thereby protecting the culture of an area and creating sustainable communities. These actions therefore have the extra benefit of not only contributing to addressing an environmental global problem, but contributing also to the local economy and skilled labour.

The interior design of a residential property we have been working on in Kensington makes use of as many British materials as possible. We engaged with local stone masons to craft elegant finishes and skilled joiners were appointed to create beautiful bespoke furniture with a long lifespan and a really low carbon footprint.

Mood and spec boards for a luxury residential project in London that uses local craftsmen and British suppliers.

5.     Green everywhere (planting!)

Adding greenery to your home is a great opportunity to help the planet in global terms. Indoor plants help you to clean the environment inside your house or office, softening air currents and helping to regulate temperatures. You can introduce a green wall in your house with a low maintenance system, or by choose suitable indoor plants.

Green walls and internal planting [Image credit: Google Images]