Sustainable interior design means styling your space with products that are as beautiful as they are functional, without negatively impacting the planet. There are hundreds of products out there that fit into this category, and unfortunately, thousands more that are making false claims of being “eco-friendly”.
If your living room is at the top of your list to redesign this year, there is a way to design it sustainably. You can buy products you love while supporting future generations if you know what to look for.
The easiest way to do this is by working with an interior designer that lives, breathes, and designs sustainably. Their expert eye can spot greenwashers from a mile away, and can help you pick out the most sustainable products for your location.
Regardless of whether you’re designing alone or investing in extra support, we recommend starting with our principles of sustainable interior design blog. This post will help you understand all aspects of sustainable interior design, like certification criteria and product life cycles.
Then, deep dive into the information below, that’s living room specific, to make the most comfortable, stylish, or best entertaining space possible!
Windows and Window Treatments for Sustainable Interior Design
We know that it’s unlikely that everyone who reads this blog post is going to punch out new holes in their walls for windows. For those of you building a new home, or who need your windows replaced, the windows you pick matter greatly when it comes to how eco-friendly your home is.
How well a home is sealed, and its ability to keep in heat or cold, plays a big role in how sustainable a home is. Windows and doors are two of the most common areas for home’s to expend their energy.
If you are replacing your windows, invest in double-glazed window panes. A second layer of glass can help keep the weather out. Plus, your living room will be the perfect temperature to unwind.
Plan to maximize your natural light. Consider the placement of your living room windows in regards to whether they face north, east, south, or west. For example, eastern windows can help warm your home up in the mornings. Western windows can make your space scorching in the afternoons.
Invest in stylish yet sustainable window treatments. Your needs will influence your choice of window treatments. If you must have west-facing windows in your living room, you may want light-blocking curtains to keep all the light out for your annual movie night. Or if you have east-facing windows, you may want timers on your window treatments so they automatically open in the morning, giving you a little extra vitamin D!
Wallpaper and Paint that’s Safe and Sustainable
Paint is pretty straight forward. When it comes to selecting something sustainable, and good for your family’s health, look for paints that have low or no VOCs. VOCs (volatile organic compounds) aren’t just a problem for paints (we’ll touch on where else you can find VOCs as we go). Reducing the VOCs in your home wherever you can is a smart investment.
High VOC levels can lead to eye, nose and throat irritation, cancer in animals (and potentially humans), fatigue, headaches, and more.
Other than that, the next step for paint is choosing the right color. If you’re unsure of how to pick a paint color, start here!
Wallpaper can often be a more sustainable choice given that it needs minimal to no repair for up to 15 years. Yet, it’s also a product that can contain VOCs, so look for wallpapers that aren’t made with PVCs. Also look for water-based inks, toxic-metal free labels, and organic products, such as grass-cloth. A few wallpaper brands we love, that offer sustainable products, include:
Be Picky When it Comes to Flooring
Most living rooms use carpet or wood flooring. If you’re considering using tile, check out our blog on sustainable tile options.
For carpet, or even picking out large area rugs, it’s good to learn about the lifecycle of carpeting first. This includes how it’s made, what it’s made of, how long it lasts, and how you dispose of it when you’ve moved on. You can find more details on sustainable carpeting here. For a high-level overview:
- Start by getting familiar with sustainable carpeting certifications, including Greenguard and Indoor Air Comfort Certification.
- Look for carpets that are certified low or no VOCs.
- Try and pick carpets made of sustainable, biodegradable materials. These materials are usually marketed as natural materials, such as wool.
- If that’s not an option, look for a carpet made of recycled materials.
- Does the manufacturer have a take back recycling option when you no longer want to use the rug or carpet? If so, that’s a great option.
Carpeting can be a great insulator, helping to retain 10% of the room’s heat. So if you’re constantly cold, adding carpet could help keep your feet warm.
If your plan is to go with wood flooring, you’ll also want to learn about the lifecycle of the product you’re buying. Generally, sustainable wood flooring includes bamboo, reclaimed wood, cork, engineered wood, and palm wood. Many of these types of woods are abundant and fast growing. Some are harvestable without hurting the plant, like cork.
While it’s a good idea to do an internet search and get familiar with sustainable flooring options, it’s an even better idea to book a call with an interior designer in your area who specializes in sustainable interior design. They can help guide you through the nuances of sustainable materials in your area.
For example, in Colorado, reclaimed wood is the most sustainable option for wood flooring. Then, engineered wood, cork flooring and hemp wood are the most sustainable. Bamboo is, unfortunately, an unsustainable option given the distance the product has to travel, as well as its inability to handle the dry climate, and fluctuating temperatures.
Yet, it’s a great option for folks in Florida, especially if you find a local bamboo provider.
Make the Most of Your Fireplace
If you want a fireplace, chances are you envision a wood burning one. There’s something about a wood burning fireplace that provides an ambiance in your home. There’s a soft glow of light, a warmth, and a crackle from the fire.
Unfortunately, most wood burning fireplaces aren’t as environmentally friendly as gas burning fireplaces. Even the best wood fireplaces produce an average of 97 lbs of annual pollution. Plus, many jurisdictions do not allow new wood burning fireplaces, unless they meet a strict set of criteria for efficiency.
While it may be tempting to put in an open fireplace, the sustainable option is to consider a wood burning stove.
You’ll want to find one that’s certified by the EPA. As stove technology advances, so do the luxury of the stoves. Rather than having a fully iron stove, you can now purchase a stove with a big, glass window for viewing the fire and creating some of that same ambiance an open flame provides. Some other benefits of a wood burning stove include:
- Cutting down on your heating bill
- Stoves use ½ the amount of wood of an open fire, making the most of each log
- Wood burning stoves are safer for your overall health
- Open fires are far less safe than a stove
An open fire, without a stove, can actually suck the heat out of your home and make it colder.
Gas fireplaces, on the other hand, only produce ⅙ of a pound of pollution annually. They also don’t require trees to be cut down for you to burn in your fireplace.
There are two kinds of gas fireplaces, vented and non-vented. The most sustainable option is a vented gas fireplace, which can help reduce your exposure to VOCs. Unfortunately, these gas stoves do emit less heat.
The non-vented gas burning fireplaces increase the amount of VOCs exposure, but can emit more heat.
Picking Out Sustainable Living Room Furniture
As we’ve mentioned time and time again, think of the entire life cycle while picking furniture. Choose materials that are durable. Also, the more biodegradable at the end of their lives the better. Furniture is also a great place to practice the sustainable principle of “reusing”.
You don’t need all new furniture. In fact, we love it when clients come to us with pieces they love so we can build a design around them! If you don’t have anything you can reuse, consider picking pieces that other folks would want to inherit from you later on.
If you need a new piece of furniture, turn to the label. Understanding the materials used to make a piece of furniture can provide key clues into how sustainable it is.
Sustainable Interior Design Materials that are a Good Choice for the Whole Family
The following materials are great options for your floors, walls, windows, fireplace, and furniture. Beyond that, look for furniture that is built to last. It’s even better if you can find your furniture locally!
Wool: While wool is often a more sustainable option when it comes to materials, be sure the wool you’re purchasing has the right certifications. Unfortunately, some sheep are treated incredibly poorly by the farmers who harvest their wool.
Leather: If you’ve had your eyes on leather furniture, it’s worthwhile to learn about how sustainable leather is versus pleather. While pleather may be a more humane option, the plastic used to create pleather becomes microplastics, which pollute our earth. We’re hopeful we’ll have more ethical and sustainable options in the future.
Wood: Look for a solid wood rather than a composite. Solid wood often lasts longer, and can help you avoid formaldehyde, synthetic resins, binders, and glue. Plus, who doesn’t love a great wood grain?!
Other sustainable materials worth noting:
- Organic cotton
- Reclaimed wood
- Recycled metal
Leafing through all these material and furniture options can be overwhelming. Some of it can also be incredibly expensive. Learn where to spend your money when it comes to furniture.
Additional Tips for a Sustainable Living Room
Place mirrors across the room from windows. This will help reflect extra light into your space, reducing the lighting you’ll need and making the space warmer.
Forgo faux plants. Instead, consider putting your green thumb to work and getting some real ones. Or, you can always invest in dried flowers rather than plastic potted plants.
Refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle. The most basic principles of sustainability apply to living rooms, too. Consider what the space really needs, what you already have that can help get you there. Then find new, biodegradable or recycled products to take the room to the next level.
Invest in help – you’ll be glad you did. There are lots of benefits of working with an interior designer on a project, like gaining access to unique, stand-out pieces, and ensuring you’re getting the most sustainable products for your space.