Sustainable and Healthy Interior Design

Kathy Russell is the Principal Designer and Client Relationship Director for Red Scarf Equestrian. In today’s blog, she gives us some tips and other pieces of advice to improve your home decor for 2019. 

We hear a lot about sustainability these days. And for good reason. Sustainability, from one perspective, means meeting our current needs without having a negative impact on the environment of future generations. It is an important concept, suggesting a way for us to work at being at peace with the earth. It is equally an important concept when it comes to considering sustainability with regard to interior design.

As an Interior Designer, I strive to do my best to use sustainable furnishings wherever I can and encourage my clients to do the same. I say this all the time, “use what you have that is well made” and “add some pieces that are new and sustainable”. In this we are Reducing and Reusing all in the same breath.

Another important related concept is ethical sourcing. In one sense, it can’t be ethical if it’s not sustainable. There is a growing emphasis in the Interior Design industry on rethinking its suppliers, choosing ones that use sustainable practices in sourcing ethical furniture, fabrics & décor. For us as decorators, and Interior Designers, this means asking lots of questions and trying to understand the issues from the perspectives of manufacturing, labour conditions and responsible sourcing.

Having pieces that are well-made and knowing where the material is sourced from are both important interior design ideas. We look here both for the protection of the environment and for the longevity of the piece. These two ideas compliment and support each other.

A third and very important concept related to the above two is that of the health effects of the various materials that are used in the products we place in our homes. Do the products we choose sustain us?

What is interesting here is the way that sustainability holds implications with respect to ethical sourcing on the one hand, and the health of our interior space, on the other.

Here are some ideas that I would like to share with you:

Living & Bedroom Furniture

An important approach to creating a sustainable custom design piece of furniture is to ensure that the furniture is made entirely of certain sustainable, even recyled, materials. This is an advantage which derives from having the item custom made. You want to make sure the product you are choosing is of a quality design and is well made.

So, when looking at bespoke table-tops, for example, you can source ones made from reclaimed floorboards, soft timbers, driftwood and reclaimed timber wood. They’re eco-friendly types of wood. This applies to headboards, footboards, dressers as well.


... are everywhere and everyone appears to have lots of them. They do offer us comfort, don’t they? Did you know, however, that some of them have an inner material of polyurethane foam, a plastic polymer containing toxic chemicals like Propylene oxide, that you might not be aware of? We all want our places to be beautiful, but not if it’s bad for our health, right? Un-zip the decorative pillow and see the label inside (that’s the only way you will know for sure what it’s made of). You may have heard of soy-based foams as an eco-alternative, but again, it contains a maximum of 20% soy and the rest is polyurethane.


Choosing natural fabrics, like linen or organic cotton are very important. Do your best to stay clear of vinyl (PVC Polyvinyl chloride) which produces the toxic dioxin. You’ll know that a piece of furniture has been made with it when you sit down, because it sticks to the back of your legs. If you can, ask instead for untreated fabrics, (since they say) stain and fire-resistant chemicals are linked to a slew of health and environmental risks. A better option is to choose a natural rubber foam cushion, known as a natural latex, which is renewable and sustainable as it is harvested from a rubber tree. Fabric Certifications to look for are the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS).

Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS)

Cabinets & Storage

Most cabinetry is made of wood. The wood might be sourced from old fallen down trees, barns etc. We need to be aware of the use of glue and paint finishes by some manufacturers. Some use products that have low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) or have none at all, which means minimal or no toxic chemicals come into your home. Always check labels and if none, ask the sales representative. We should include a special mention of desks because of the growing number of people who are working from home. It doesn’t hurt to check for Greenguard certifications. They appear, for example, on the products of companies like the large furniture manufacturer Steelcase (Canada). Greenguard has an important testing program for indoor air quality.

Greenguard has an important testing program for indoor air quality .  Forest Stewardship Council


Around your home – this is the easiest one to do ...  make your yard more sustainable. That also has the side benefit of adding some curb appeal. Without wasting too much water, you can power-wash the outside and plant annuals and perennials.

Purchase furniture that is wood, wherever possible. Stay clear, for example, of the plastic chairs that are out there. Reading the labels is always helpful.

If you want to go big, you can add edible plants to your landscape. Along the same line, if you wish, you can start a compost in the back corner of your yard. 

Ever consider planting deciduous shade trees? They can make a big difference in keeping your home cool in summertime and help with your air-conditioning bill. And in the winter when they lose their leaves, they allow more natural light into your home.

People tend to forget that landscape is also design. For most Interior Designers, however, we leave outside design to the experts, the landscapers. However, we do want to note how important it is to look at your outdoor equipment and furnishings to ensure they are green, or wood based.

You know, in 2002 I took the program at University of Toronto, St. Michael’s College, “Corporate Social Responsibility.” My boss looked at me as if I was from outer space! Anyhow, it was an amazing program. It’s interesting back then that they had this program, which is finally now at the forefront of most environmental impact discussion/decisions. I believe we are as individuals and corporations becoming more and more aware of our environmental responsibility.

I can only speak for myself and my team, but as Designers we do work hard finding products that are re-generative and are kinder to our planet. We also work hard with our clients to share this standard.

Anything that we can do to help the environment by making sustainable and healthy choices, whether through choosing products that are biodegradable or participating in the replanting of trees, to mention just two examples, makes an important statement, while at the same time making a contribution to the health of the planet and our own community and families.

A healthy, happy home is good for all of us!

Photo Credits:
House on 3rd - Tracy
CC 2.0


Kathy Russell enjoys helping her clients create spaces they can “happily call home.” She holds a diploma in Interior Design from the Interior Design Institute and is an Accredited Member of Decorators and Designers Association of Canada. You can find her at WWW.DESIGNSMARTINTERIORS.COM.

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