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September 30, 2013

What to Look for in Sustainable Home Decor

by Annalisa

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When you want to go green, inevitably you’ll find yourself on a journey. It often starts small, with a decision to do something like switch to reusable grocery bags or make a conscious effort to use less electricity at home. From there, you realize how easy it is and start looking for more advanced ways to live in harmony with the planet.

The next step on the journey of sustainability often includes surrounding yourself with a sustainable environment, which often begins with home décor. Besides the environmental benefits, sustainable design is trending and can add value to your home. But how do you know sustainable products when you see them?

The Four Rs


Reused, restored, recovered and repurposed materials are essential to sustainable design.

A particularly popular material to repurpose is wood. You might see this in big ways, such as carefully deconstructing a home so that the lumber is reusable for a renovation or suitable to resell. You might also see the four Rs in small ways, such as milling recovered wood into slats for blinds and shutters. (Did you know that Hunter Douglas Renewal honeycomb shades are made with 25% recycled content?)


However, the four Rs certainly don’t stop at wood. Talented artisans are able to create beautiful, decorative elements to spruce up every corner of your home, using everything from recovered fabrics to bottle caps to scrap metal to old silverware.

Another popular material is recycled paints, which prevents paint remnants from being dumped in a landfill. Some waste management companies sell recycled paints to the public and local businesses.

Fully Recyclable or Biodegradable Materials

Sustainability also encompasses what happens at the end of an item’s lifecycle. Natural, fiber-based materials such as hemp, cotton, wood and bamboo are popular for sustainable home décor because they’re biodegradable. Glass and metal are entirely recyclable and are widely used in sustainable decor. For example, unique glass tabletops might be made of reclaimed or recycled glass, while eco-friendly furniture frames might be made of recycled metals.

Padding in furniture is notoriously unsustainable, but there are eco-friendly furniture companies that use recycled materials such as fibers made from plastic bottles to make durable padding. At the end of the furniture’s life cycle, every component can be recycled when it is made from recyclable or biodegradable materials.

Locally Produced

Mass-produced goods are known for being unsustainable, partially because of the fossil fuels required to transport raw materials to the factory and, in turn, deliver the finished products to you. Whenever possible, buy home decor and furniture made in your city or region to reduce the amount of fossil fuels burned on your behalf.

Local artisans and small producers tend to be some of the most sustainable businesses because they can pick and choose purveyors and must run a tight ship to stay in business. They tend to use less energy and other resources in production to keep their operating costs as low as possible. Besides the practical benefits of buying locally produced items, you can bet you’ll find unique decor by shopping locally.

Renewable Resources

Renewable resources are tremendously important to sustainability. You’ll find common materials like cotton and wood as well as less common materials like grass, plant leaves and even silk used to make sustainable products.

Hunter Douglas Provenance Bamboo Shades

Hunter Douglas Provenance Woven Wood Blinds

Bamboo is particularly popular because it replaces wood in many products. Bamboo grows much faster than wood and is believed to consume more carbon dioxide than wood, making it a valuable sustainable resource. You can brighten your home with attractive bamboo flooring. Additionally, the material can be fashioned into many things, from picture frames to desks to woven wood window treatments.

Low or No Fume   

Paints, carpets, flooring and adhesives are notorious for polluting the air inside your home. Another element of sustainable design is to source materials that produce few or zero fumes. Paint is one of the most challenging décor items to produce sustainably, but there are manufacturers that make thousands of colors of less toxic paint and even a handful that make natural paints.

Gently used carpet, tile and slate are terrific options for flooring and décor. Used carpet emits fewer fumes, and when carefully uninstalled, tile and slate may be repurposed. Slate is durable and natural so it emits no fumes. Low and no-fume grouts and sealers are available to use instead of traditional grouts and are ideal for the sustainable home.

Get creative

Finding sustainable home decor can be fun and can draw out your creativity. If you’re not sure where to start, start small. You might be pleasantly surprised by the competitive pricing and relatively abundant options. Often you can find “four Rs” materials for free, or for reduced costs through sites like Craigslist. Then, all you have to do is apply creativity and some work to make them into beautiful, functional parts of your home. (Remember Kim’s tips for repurposing furniture? Fun, contemporary, and eco-friendly!) 

If you need to hire a professional, ask about the material they use, their business practices and how they source raw materials. Any company owners focused on sustainability will proudly explain how they conduct their business and will demonstrate transparency throughout the project. It’s easy to tell who cares about the environment, as enthusiasm and passion are key characteristics of sustainability-minded professionals.

Check out our Green Design Pinterest board for more sustainable decor ideas!

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Your home is your sanctuary, I thrive on pulling together the latest interior trends and classic design elements for a space where you can completely let go.

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