Clients often ask me how they can be more Eco, more Green and do their bit for the planet without compromising aesthetic ideals or values. They think it’s hard and that their house is going to look like a hippie’s den! A few years ago this might have been true, but as über-swish design companies are being forced to design and manufacture greener products they are actually driving a market which is answering client’s needs and requirements.
It’s all about re-use, re-new and re-cycle. Remember that whatever you discard will end up in a landfill – so a little imagination can go a long way to mitigating your refurbishments. Here are my top tips:
What’s already there
Look at what you already have; decorating a room is often about refreshing what is already there. Re-use. Re-use the carpet if it is still in good condition and looks good – add some new rugs to jazz up and create layers, these can often be found in second-hand shops or car boot sales.
Find a new use for a tired piece of furniture : perhaps that old dining room sideboard might be just the thing to strip, repaint and re-use as a TV/audio/entertainment centre Old fabric can be re-used for a different purpose, as a new cushion, for example. It can be renewed by jazzing it up with buttons, appliqué art sewed on or used as a message cushion.
If re-painting try to use solvent-free paints and varnishes. Known as VOC free paints, there are numerous companies out there providing these – also important if you have a highly allergic child or family (see below for suppliers).
Need new curtains? Again, why not re-use those you have and add decorative touches to them with banding on the edges. If worn or a bit grubby at the bottom, add a horizontal band to create interest – it always looks elegant and never fussy. For those decorative touches only a few metres of fabric are needed, so remnants are great
Renew old furniture. Update and bring them into the 21st century with a few simple touches.
Revitalise old furniture by re-upholstering with new material or fabric. Have a rummage in a charity shop or remnants bin. Classical patterns in a screamingly modern interior can look stunning and add an architectural feel to the design of the room.
A retro pattern can jazz up the look too as long as it is in either the same colour palette or in a very subdued but interesting texture A new trim around a piece of furniture, or interesting nails, can often completely change the look of an old and tired chair for example If you don’t have anything at home that can be re-invented then hit the flea markets, antique centres or boot sales to find interesting pieces that are looking for a new home. It’s fun, it’s cheap and it’s Eco! I often go to regional auctions for furniture that can be renewed.
Old and tatty pieces can be re-invented with new fabrics very cheaply indeed. As long as the frame is in good shape then you can totally transform a 19th century chair and re-interpret for a modern contemporary look using the latest fabrics If you are getting a piece of furniture re-upholstered professionally, something I would recommend for larger pieces, ensure you have someone who is properly trained and belongs to a trade association like the Association of Master Upholsterers & Soft Furnishers. It’s important to employ local crafts people with experience. They are often cheaper than you think and will really listen to your likes and dislikes. Services range from simply stripping of the fabric and replacing with another to stripping the furniture to its bare frame and starting from scratch, replacing springs, padding etc.
When repadding with foam, ensure it is not treated with brominated fire retardant as this is a harmful chemical. Try substituting with hemp, cotton, wool or nettle fabric that has inherent fire retardant qualities Sometimes foam is the only way to go but …to get round the fire retardant requirements of today your upholsterer can use natural latex made from the rubber trees as opposed to polyurethane foam made from petroleum. Ensure the upholsterer uses FSC certified wood batting for the frame. For the cushion the upholsterer can use feather or down or sheep wool as a filing (remember allergies so use accordingly) If you need new fabric then this is the time to invest in Green fabric manufacturers. Fabric these days can be made from hemp, organic natural cotton and nettle fibres for example.
Companies such as those listed below have some beautiful fabrics in a range of styles and designs to suit all tastes. Ask your upholsterer what type of glue he uses, if any. Water-based adhesive are best if you want to be green and they are also biodegradable Perhaps a tad far fetched but this Cactus chair right at 100% Design London this year was inventive, right!
A well-planned strategy is also part of being Green. When I am sourcing for clients, whether it’s for paints, construction materials, fabrics, furniture and even bedding, I arm myself with my room layout and dimensions. Each room has its list of requirements attached to it. A more focused strategy means achieving as much as possible in one outing and not driving around needlessly, wasting time and petrol.
Antiques centres, architectural salvage yards and auctions are also some of the best way of re-using furniture and houseold items.
Manufacturers now have datasheets that shows someone like me the nitty gritty details of how, where and with what it was produced. If I have all that information to hand I can make an informed choice- fulfil my client’s brief but also keep to my green credentials and ideals. If they don’t have the information or datasheets I won’t buy from them – there are many others I can go to.
Always, always. Always ask a supplier about their Green credentials. If they get asked many times, eventually you will influence their marketing strategy. The client is king (or queen!), isn’t that so? If the supplier does not have what you need then tell them why you will not be buying from them – if they don’t know they cannot report back to management. Again I always tell them why I won’t buy from them The world has evolved. Consumers now demand a Green alternative and the manufacturers and retailers have had to comply, and even innovate. Green is trendy, Green sells. There is an incentive to be ahead of the competition, and this can only mean a wider, better and nicer choice for the consumer.
Local community support
First and foremost, buy in your own area. It makes economic sense, it supports dying crafts and considerably reduces the impact on travel CO2 When we work in a new area we always try to source locally. Familiarise yourself with the new community and see what’s available, where and from whom. It’s usually cheaper, boosts the local economy and keeps people in jobs There is nothing more organic than hand crafted wood pieces from local artisans, art work from local artists, wood sourced locally and even local contractors. Locally promoted artisans are, in general, easily approachable and can often create a custom piece that is not only in keeping with sustainable practices but also bespoke. Scan organic shops, grocery stores or small artisan/craft open markets and look at bulletin boards for new sources/addresses.
Buy old furniture from local Emmaus centres, they offer homeless people a home, work and a chance to rebuild their lives. They sell quality furniture and household goods which have been re-furbished in their workshop – good bargains to be had. See below for more information.
Finally, re-cycle – why not get rid of unwanted interior items to the local Freecycle? It’s an internet based giving & exchange network. All you have to do is post your unwanted item(s) online, or if you want something, post a wanted notice. Easy, fast, free and it stops more stuff clogging up the landfills. http://www.uk.freecycle.org/
More information: Nettle fabric: www.camirafabrics.com/content/pages/index.asp Hemp, linen fabrics: www.ecotextiles.com/ The Association of Master Upholsterers & Soft Furnishers, www.upholsterers.co.uk/ Natural paint and varnishes, www.earthbornpaints.co.uk/index.php Natural and organic paint and varnishes, www.ecosorganicpaints.com/ Emmaus, www.emmaus.org.uk/shops