The goal of great interior design is to create a harmonious and cohesive space that is personable and feels aesthetically pleasing to you and anyone who enters your space.
On top, great interior design supports your lifestyle, activities and needs as well as your well being and comfort in all parts of your home.
Many articles about eco-friendly interior design focus on the sustainable principles like energy efficiency or salvaged materials but not how to make them a part of the interior design process.
How do we actually incorporate sustainable and eco-friendly measures into the planning and decision making process during a home improvement project? How can they become an integral part of the whole interior design process from planning to execution?
What I am missing is the link – how the interior design process works with sustainable principles in mind. I think it is important to put the two together and see the whole picture.
When sustainability and interior design are looked at separately, sustainability seem more a constraint than a powerful enhancing part of great interior design.
If sustainability is incorporated as an essential factor in the interior design process I believe it will make any interior design result superior.
In this post I give you an overview of how I incorporate sustainable principles into the interior design process.
I rely on experts in their respective field to define a sustainable home and a well rounded interior design process.
What is sustainability in interior design anyways?
Sitting in your comfy chair right next to a big window on a chilly yet sunny spring day, you enjoy the warm comfort of your home.
You discover the little buds that just sprung from your favorite native lilac bush right outside the window with the greens of the tulips pushing their way out of the ground below the tree.
While you can see the chill outside, there is no draft or cold window surfaces to be had because you are sitting in a high performance home where room and surface temperature is comfortable anywhere in your home, no matter where you are indoors.
Ahhh, how wonderful and relaxing, spring is coming, and with it the anticipation of warmer weather! How long will it be until the lilac will be in full bloom and its scent will reach you when you open the window, you wonder.
When you had your landscaping designed it was important to you to curate it with the seasons in mind. In addition, you persisted on local plants so you could not only enjoy the seasonal changes of your garden but also the seasonal life that comes with local plants, the birds and bees and butterflies.
You might wonder, what does that lilac tree and landscaping have to do with sustainable interior design?
Actually, a lot!
When you had the foresight to connect interior design decisions with your landscaping you took care of one important feature of sustainable interior design – Biophilia – the human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature.
While I will certainly mimic the scenario with the lilac tree for my own home remodel, here is the actual point I want to make with this little story.
We look at interior design and decorating ideas, at another time we decide on landscaping options, maybe a patio overhaul. After that we might look into fixing up our roof or walls for more energy efficiency to lower utility bills.
Usually, we look at all of these in separate home improvement projects. We spread them out over time to keep stress and budget under control. We also work with different professionals and products.
How often do we consider that a decision in one area might have consequences, good or bad, in the other areas?
I will never forget the afternoon I walked into an expensive home and loved the beautifully interior layout, tasteful and lavish with huge windows and a sliding door towards the back yard patio.
But then, my stomach turned when I looked out. My eyes were glued on an ugly back of a monstrous build-in BBQ. No way to get your eyes away from that! No matter how many other beautiful points in this backyard, you would never notice because your view will always be occupied by this monstrous cement block.
What happened is that the property was remodeled by a developer. They spent most of the budget on the interior and then, at the end of the project when most of the budget had been spent, added all the landscape perks their listing real estate agent told them the property needed to fetch top dollar – a build-in BBQ was one of those.
Unfortunately, they saved on a proper landscape designer who would be able to make the interior/exterior design connection. Get the point?
Ok, I rather shift my mind back to the comfy chair and the beautiful view of the budding spring garden…
How does all this fit into the whole context of interior design and home improvement projects?
Interior Design and other Areas of Home Improvement
Planning a home improvement project, we usually focus on one of these three area:
- exterior landscaping,
- (high performance) building enclosure and,
- interior design & décor
Different to new build homes, home improvement projects start with something already existing in these three areas, and we do not have to address all of them at once.
We can plan independent home improvements for each of the areas, and we can budget separately and focus on area specific trade professionals and products at different times.
The danger is that we get into a tunnel vision and forget about the transitional nature between each of these areas and the consequences change in one can have on the other two.
I am not proposing we have to tackle all areas at once , rather be aware of the transitions.
Look at changes to your home within a holistic context, from all angles. This way you will understand the impact a decision in one area might have to your home overall.
All features of a home need to flow effortless without boundaries between exterior and interior where beneficial and be closed off otherwise to work together for maximum results in performance and aesthetics.
This is where sustainability shines!
Bringing Sustainability to Interior Design
In a sustainable home all areas are seen as part of a holistic approach and transitional aspects are recognized and employed to the advantage of the building occupant, you!
In my approach to a sustainable home, I let voluntary Green Building Standards guide me in all areas of the home, including interior design projects.
Green Building Standards have been developed by experts in the field and have been implemented and adjusted over the years. They are wonderful guides and a great way to learn about sustainability. This is how I got started to connect sustainability with the building trade and my own well being.
Over time I have settled on 2 of the most rigorous green building standards. I think they complement each other rather nicely:
- The Passive House Standard (refers to a high-performance building enclosure, which is not part of this post) and
- The Living Building Challenge (refers to interior, exterior and enclosure)
The Living Building Challenge is a powerful guide for any interior design project to make better design decisions that are good for your well-being and that of our environment, at the same time.
Incorporating the wisdom of the Living Building Challenge’s seven petals with common principles of interior design is my way to come to a holistic approach for interior design.
It marries the wisdom of experts in sustainability with the expertise and creativity of the interior design profession.
While I am a certified expert in high performance building enclosures and sustainability, I am a student in the interior design trade.
I am having great fun to learn about interior design through studying and speaking to professionals. There is so much more to learn, and I am looking forward to the road ahead.
Exploring a Sustainable Interior Design Process
The way I decided on 2 Green Building Standards to lead my way to a sustainable home, I have chosen experts in the interior design field to lead me to a interior design process that is easy yet comprehensive.
To Lay the Foundation for a successful design project I chose the wisdom of the award winning designer Kelly Hoppen.
In her book How To Achieve The Home Of Your Dreams she has a great way to explain why it is so important to start with Function and Space.
It’s a great book with lots of good advice and beautiful images to make her point. Although I am not necessarily looking to Kelly Hoppen for her signature style, I do find it absolutely stunning and beautiful, just not my style.
In her free online course Design Basics: Simple Steps to Your Perfect Space she explains how to use the four main design principles to come up with a successful design that suits my personality. She also explains different styles and how I can determine my own.
Lauren’s course is fun and easy to follow with lots of visuals supporting her teaching. Great class for beginners!
Sustainable Interior Design Process Steps
Laying the Foundation
- Scale & Proportion
- Rhythm & Repetition
- Your Personal Style
As outlined by Kelly Hoppen, the 2 essential factors of great design are Function and Space.
First you have to come to an agreement how your home should work (function) to support the activities and needs of all household members.
Then you have to evaluate all spaces in your home and decide on the activities that will happen there and at what time of the day.
To me, Sustainability should be the third aspect to focus on, together with function and space. It makes your well-being and that of our environment an essential part of good, successful design – the best design possible.
Together with the other two pillars it will guide you to find the best design and decorating choices for you home.
I don’t think design can be truly considered good or beautiful if it does not have the well-being of the inhabitants and the environment in mind.
Too often we equate beauty in design with one of our senses – eye sight. We often consider design successful if it simply looks great.
I believe good and beautiful design satisfies all our senses: touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell. And it satisfies it’s intended function and the space it is in.
Pain is part of one of our senses, the touch. Is a sofa that is very pleasing to your eyes but you can’t sit still on because it is so uncomfortable a good and beautiful design? I don’t think so, especially when my back starts complaining.
Sustainability is the pillar that ensures that all senses are satisfied and your well being should always be on the forefront of every design decision and purchase.
Once you know how to look at the three essentials first – function, space and sustainability – you will be able to make much better design and decorating decisions for your home.
You can also have much better discussions with your designer. It empowers you to keep them on track to stay aligned with your goals.
Always remember to align your designer’s goals with yours. Make sure they understand what is important to you and that they are 100% supportive of your goals.
Once we explored all three pillars we are done with the groundwork:
- We have an agreed upon list and understanding on how our house should work and support our daily activities and needs.
- We created a space plan that lays out zones within rooms and their associated function with the time they occur.
- We determined the sustainable aspects of our home and how they will be incorporated in design and decorating decisions.
With this important information as a foundation we can make much better choices planning furniture layouts, looking at colors, texture, material and accessory choices.
If we would not have done the groundwork, we would be easily distracted by first impulses, flashy marketing and perhaps make design decisions that don’t support our goals.
Next in my series about Sustainable Interior Design, I am looking at the first step to capture the lifestyle, activities, needs and wants the home and new interior design should support.
At each step of the way I provide you with templates to successfully create a master plan to support your interior design projects.
5 Part Mini Series: Sustainable Interior Design Process