Sustainable Interior Design Tips for Your Next Home Project

My living room, which features a secondhand side table, and thrifted wall art and books.

I love to decorate my home. But I’m also acutely aware that a lot of the things I use to decorate it aren’t exactly reversing climate change. Like fashion, food, beauty products, etc., home decor and furniture are manufactured items that use precious resources, and can also require toxic chemicals, and create waste. So, I’ve spent a lot of the last few years thinking about sustainable interior design. Ways that I can still get my creativity fix and decorate my space in a way that makes me feel relaxed and comfortable, without putting my own aesthetic over the much greater issue of climate change.

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I don’t have it all figured out yet. Some things that I need for my home are just not eco-friendly, point blank. Sometimes, the sustainable version of something I want or need isn’t in my price range. But! I have figure out a number of ways to make interior design more sustainable, and I do my best to choose the eco-friendly alternative as often as I can.

If you’re also weighing creating a home you love with doing so in an eco-conscious manner, here are some of the tips and ideas I use for sustainable interior design.

This one is hard, especially as a design writer,. I have written about home decor trends for years, and I love trends. But, trends aren’t sustainable for a whole bunch of reasons, and ignoring them is one of the biggest ways to cut down on wasteful production.

For one, trends are happening faster than ever. The lifecycle of a trend used to be a decade or so. Now, thanks to our digital world, we see SO many images and ideas. We get tired of them quickly, and things feel overdone faster, so we look for the next idea. This means we’re replacing things faster, and they’re often perfectly good things that are in fine working order, just because they’re out of style. Our old things go to the landfill, and our new things fill our homes for a short while before the next trend comes along.

At the same time, retailers are able to produce items faster and cheaper than in the past, so they’re feeding this desire for new and now items, often without sustainability at the forefront of the process. A lot of trendy items like decor and throw pillows are made cheaply, because retailers know people won’t spend a ton on them. They end up not lasting, and in the garbage.

Instead of focusing on trends, go for classic pieces you can update if you need to. Timeless silhouettes, classic prints like stripes and botanicals that have been around for centuries, furniture made from real wood that will last until your grandkids need it for their first apartments.

Once you have a base of furniture that’ll last from a style and quality standpoint, you can finish the space to your personal style using some of the ideas below.

Shop secondhand

I love to decorate, and then redecorate and the do it again a year later. I know, I know. I just said it’s wasteful to constantly redecorate your home. But, instead of just giving up on my favorite hobby, I do it a sustainably as I can by shopping secondhand instead. So, if I want a new side table or I’m sick of my wall art, the first place I go is to secondhand sources like thrift store finds, Facebook marketplace, antique shops, and online retailers like Etsy or 1stDibs. Things that are already in existence are not only better for the environment and less wasteful, but they often have more character and are more unique, too.

It’s also crazy what you can find on Facebook marketplace. I’ve felt like I was winning the lotto a few times with my finds (a brand new Pottery Barn headboard, a set of Thonet chairs for $50) because it saves money, too.

On the other hand, when it’s time to get rid of your old stuff, don’t just toss it. Instead, take sustainable interior design full circle, and give your old stuff new life as part of the secondhand marketplace. You’ll give someone a chance to get an item they need while saving it from a landfill. And, if you sell it, you can make money, too.

Buy low VOC paint

VOCs or volatile organic compounds, contribute to ground-level ozone and Smog, so it’s best to avoid them. While VOCs off gas from new furniture, rugs, and building materials, one of the most common places you’ll find them is in paint. Buying low-VOC or zero VOC paint (offered by most major paint retailers) is an easy way to avoid VOCs.

Purchase from sustainable companies

Shopping sustainably doesn’t mean never shopping for new items again. The good news for the design industry is that sustainability is becoming a priority for many companies, so there are lots of ways to get a style you love while also supporting eco-friendly initiatives.

Avocado Green, for example, not only makes eco-friendly mattresses and bedding, but is Climate Neutral certified, Furniture retailer Room & Board has a sustainability officer whose entire job is to oversee the company’s green initiatives. H&M makes the decor from its conscious line with at least 50% sustainable materials.

A few top furniture and decor brands that have a commitment to sustainability:

Burrow

West Elm’s sustainable collection

Avocado

Room & Board

Sabai

Floyd

Pottery Barn’s sustainably sourced collection

Parachute Home

Choose sustainable materials during renovations

As you update your home, or do remodels or renovations, look for materials that are recycled, renewable, energy efficient, or contribute to making your home more energy efficient. Bamboo flooring, sustainable/recycled glass tiles, energy-efficient windows and doors, adding home insulation, and installing window treatments that help limit energy transfer are all ways to make your home more eco-friendly overall.

Get your DIY on

Instead of throwing things away, upcycle or fix them to give them new life. Paint your furniture, frame your kids art, refinish or strip an old table, rewire an old lamp, paint your tile floors … all of these projects are pretty manageable no matter what your DIY skill level, and can add to the sustainability of your decor.