There are many things I love about the interior design industry.
I love picking apart a space, chasing a vision, and witnessing said space slowly transform to reach its full potential. I love designing and editing with clients until we land on the perfect solution that meets their needs and fits their style. And I love that the work I do as a designer positively impacts the lives of my clients on a daily basis.
But one thing I do not love about my industry is its history of negatively impacting the environment on a global scale.
As a whole, the interior design industry is a regular and major contributor to environmental pollution across the world. Manufacturing textiles and other furnishing materials contributes directly to air pollution, water pollution, and landfill waste. Not to mention that these cheap materials tend to be toxic, even carcinogenic—all in the name of churning out fast, low-cost furniture to keep up with design trends that seem to change at breakneck speed.
Don’t get me wrong, having a beautiful and functional space is absolutely worth pursuing… But at what cost?
Lucky for us, more and more manufacturers, interior designers, trendsetters, and consumers in our industry are beginning to understand what fast-paced, insatiable consumerism is doing to our planet and to our bodies. The demand for eco-friendly furniture and green design options has grown in response to this problem, and I’m happy to report that the design trends coming down the pipeline are swinging in a more hopeful direction.
Here’s what you need to know about the future of green design.
Eco-friendly Design Trends
Since the onset of the pandemic, consumers worldwide have become much more concerned with what they bring into their homes. Awareness of the health risks caused by the pollutants released by traditional furniture is increasing and people are opting for materials that don’t cause migraines, allergies, or trigger asthma. These natural or raw materials are made with a minimal amount of harmful chemicals include bamboo, rattan, wicker, and reclaimed wood, among others.
In addition to posing less of a health hazard, these eco-friendly or “clean” materials are sustainable as well. Bamboo has antimicrobial properties and can be cultivated and then harvested quickly. Recycled wood can be repurposed and is known to stand the test of time. Rattan furniture is natural, light, and the perfect, weather-proof solution for furnishing your outdoor space.
In short, the benefits of environmentally-friendly
furniture are manifold. Being good for the climate and
good for your health is a win-win in my book.
Another trend worth noting is the rise of multipurpose and modular furniture.
The concept of multifunctional pieces isn’t new, but the flexibility and sustainability these sort of furnishings afford us is being rediscovered on a massive scale as a response to the more dense urban living that has become necessary as the population grows. This type of furniture saves space and offers creative, innovative solutions worth exploring. And since the nature of multipurpose products is to meet many needs at once, they eliminate the need for more stuff by getting the job done with less. So on top of being uber functional, you can add being sustainable to the list.
The heavy-hitters in the furniture supply industry are facing more raw material shortages than ever and are responding by reframing how they approach the recycling process in relation to the lifespan of the resources used.
In other words, the decision-makers in our field are waking up to the fact that our resources are finite and renewable materials may be the solution we’ve been looking for. They offer a viable way forward at the very least.
So instead of turning a blind eye to the ever-growing mass of environmental waste, furniture manufacturers are finding ways to use recycled plastics in their products.
And instead of sticking to synthetic materials to construct fast furniture, they’re incorporating bio-based production materials that won’t clog up our landfills for the next millennia.
America is the dominant source for eco-friendly furniture with more than a 43.4% share of the market in 2022, but even China—the world’s top contributor to environmental waste—is turning a corner by adopting sustainable materials as the demand for green furnishing options grows.
The point I’m trying to make is this: People across the globe are taking notice of what rapid, unchecked, and frankly irresponsible furniture manufacturing is doing to our planet and how it’s affecting our collective health.
Toxic materials that harm us and manufacturing waste that harms the environment are the past.
Eco-friendly furnishings and green design practices are the future.
The Problem of Greenwashing
One very important issue we have to address whenever we talk about going green or striving to be more environmentally friendly is the problem of greenwashing.
Here’s what greenwashing is in a nutshell: It is any act that makes misleading or false statements about the environmental benefits of a specific practice or product.
And let me tell you, examples of this type of deception are a dime a dozen.
In order to make more money off the backs of well-intentioned consumers, companies will use nature-based imagery to advertise their products even if what they’re selling is indirectly or actively harming the environment. Using images with leaves, trees, or animals in their marketing materials doesn’t mean a company is taking steps to limit their carbon footprint.
Other greenwashing tactics include using unregulated buzzwords like “eco-friendly” or “natural” without any evidence to support the company’s claims. Or products that have official-looking symbols or labels that seem greener without necessarily being greener. Companies who adopt these buzzwords or use these labels can still be guilty of irresponsible waste disposal or using hazardous materials to produce their goods.
The goal of this predatory practice is to capitalize on the growing number of global consumers that are willing to dish out more money on green products rather than their more harmful counterparts. If you want to be sure that the products you’re investing in—your home decor, for instance–are as environmentally friendly as they say, you have to do your research. Referring to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one place to start.
Ways to Green Your Home on a Budget
While current interior design trends are leaning green, adopting an environmentally friendly approach to furnishing and decorating your home has lifelong benefits if you stick to it. Investing in sustainable options can save you money over time, reduce your waste, and help you avoid all the toxic chemicals that are involved in the speedy production of cheap furniture. So it’s not just the climate, it’s your health and the health of your children we’re talking about.
Here are some ways you can green your home without breaking the bank.
Purchase furniture at a slower pace Bringing your dream interior to life shouldn’t feel like a race no matter what marketers want you to think. In the age of fast fashion, fast furniture is also thriving and is best to avoid at all costs. That means sacrificing trendiness for timelessness and quick furniture acquisition for slow, thoughtful decision-making. Once you let go of staying on top of every trend that hits the market, you can focus more on cultivating a design style that fits like a glove and less on getting the hottest new piece that wouldn’t last more than a year. It’s about prioritizing quality over speed and buying less frequently but biting the bullet once.
Thrift or invest in antique or vintage furniture Buying green isn’t the only way to protect the environment. When you buy secondhand, you limit waste production by keeping more goods out of our landfills. So the next time you feel an itch to add something to your space, consider visiting your local antique shop or flea market instead of booking it to the nearest Ikea.
Replace your gas stove with an electric or induction stove Stick with me on this one because I had no idea this was a thing until a few years ago. One way to protect your lungs and your environment is to nix your gas stove and use an induction stove instead. According to a PSE Health Energy study, gas stoves can produce as much benzene as a cigarette which makes their fumes as toxic as secondhand smoke. If you want to do what you can to keep your family healthy and the environment they live in safe, this should go at the top of your priority list.
Add a plant or two to your space Adding a plant will liven up any room, but that’s just the cherry on top. Plants go through a process called photosynthesis during which they clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen in its place. This cleaning process can also eliminate common toxins like ammonia, calcium, volatile organic components (VOC), and other pollutants. One type of plant called a snake plant (also known as the “mother-in-law’s tongue”) is known to be just as or more effective at purifying the air as the top-performing air purifiers on the market.
Support brands that are active in their efforts to protect the environment I’ve dished on the methods companies use to trick well-meaning buyers so it’s only right that I highlight the ways other companies are helping the environment and fighting climate change. Some furniture companies create furniture fittings using plastic waste from the ocean like fishing nets. Others use injection mounding technology to make castors, wheels, and even furniture glides from renewable materials. Maybe creating a beautiful and sustainable space is something you want to explore but have no idea where to start. If your home needs a facelift and you want to do some good in the process, the Heather Cleveland Design team can help you achieve the guilt-free, stunning interior of your dreams. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
More food for thought before I go. After spending more than 26 years as an interior designer neck-deep in my industry, I’ve become familiar with the kinds of trends that come and go. And I know that despite the fickleness of our tastes and moods, there are just some things that remain firm in our collective consciousness.
One thing I know for sure the we cannot shake is the way the COVID pandemic touched nearly every life on this green Earth.
This worldwide, devastating event affected every area of every society and is even manifesting itself in our interior design trends. I’ve noticed a“back to nature” attitude in designers, where earthy color palettes are embraced, raw materials are used to make a statement, and more live edge, nonlinear shapes are
making a reappearance.
My theory is that in response to the havoc COVID wreaked on the world, people find themselves drawn to calming, organic things that represent the acceptance of natural processes in a way. And because we’ve had no space or time to recover—if anything, it’s been full speed ahead since the end of quarantine—we are still healing and are looking for more ways to make our homes feel safe.
Protecting the environment and protecting people living in that environment is what HCD thinks about when we first enter your home. We’re thinking about longevity, quality, and health. We’re thinking about what’s worth investing in and where we can cut corners and still deliver the highest quality possible. It’s not just about how a space looks. To us, it’s about how a space functions. If it does you good instead of cause you harm.
Our attitude towards the planet is similar. Not all of us can afford to live sustainably in our homes but those of us who can, should. We should support companies that are doing what they can to protect the planet that provides for us. Wealthier, early adaptors who make green selections and purchases drive the cost of sustainable living down so it's more affordable and accessible for others to do so in the future.
At the end of the day, green living is about being a good community member. It’s about making an effort to right the wrongs we can identify. It’s about doing what we can to be a net positive to the world and the people around us. When we know better, we should do better.
https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/eco-friendly-furniture-market#:~:text=The global eco-friendly furniture market size was estimated at,USD 46.33 billion in 2023.