Nick Acaster is Managing Director of the soft furnishings and home accessory retailer Rugs Direct. Here, he shares his top home décor tips for material swaps you can make to help ensure your home is decorated sustainably.
We’re all becoming increasingly aware of the need to be doing more to reduce the environmental impact our lifestyles. You may have already bought a reusable water bottle that you refill throughout the day, instead of buying plastic single-use versions. You probably have a stack of reusable shopping bags that you take with you on each supermarket trip. You may have started cycling to work, rather than taking the car. However, have you considered that the way you decorate your home could also affect the environment?
The home décor materials you choose to use all come with their own environmental footprint. So, if you’re looking to live a greener life, it’s worth putting plenty of thought and research into choosing furniture and decorative pieces that are going to be as eco-friendly as possible. Here, I’m going to outline four material swaps you can make with this in mind.
1. Opt for natural fibres instead of synthetic materials
While furniture and soft furnishings made from synthetic fibres tend to be a more affordable option, they’re typically made using non-renewable resources. The production processes giving us these materials also tend to require the use of chemicals causing environmental damage.
You should also be aware that many synthetic fibres contain plastic, which takes centuries to break down. In fact, almost every piece of plastic that has ever been made is still on the planet in some form. Only 12% has been incinerated, which comes with its own environmental issues.
When you’re looking to shop more sustainably for furniture and decorative accessories, look for those made from natural fabrics instead. The likes of cotton, linen, and wool are all typically better for the environment, and you can reduce their carbon footprint even further by choosing items that have been made right here in the UK.
If you’re specifically shopping for a rug, look for pure wool designs, and find out whether or not the materials have been sourced in a sustainable way. Jute rugs, for instance, are ideal if you like an earthy and bohemian look for your home. Made from the jute plant, which grows incredibly quickly, makes it a sustainable resource. As a bonus, rugs made from this material are great for insulating heat, so may help towards making your home more energy-efficient, too!
2. Choose hardwood floors
When you’re shopping around for new flooring, it’s very easy to opt for the likes of laminate or vinyl, because these are often affordable and easy to install. However, their convenience comes at a price, and the fact is these aren’t particularly sustainable or environmentally-friendly options. They usually cannot be recycled and, because they’re created using plastic, they’ll take hundreds of years to break down once they’re thrown away.
Hardwood floors are a much more eco-friendly choice, as these floorboards are much easier to reuse or recycle. You may even be able to pick up some reclaimed wood to use in your home, which means you’ll be saving it from landfill and reducing the demand for new wood. This can help to make your real wood flooring more affordable as it can be quite expensive when bought brand new.
You don’t have to sacrifice on style when you’re trying to decorate your home in a more sustainable way, either. Wood flooring is actually very on-trend, and you can achieve the exact look you want with stains and varnishes.
3. Avoid new leather furniture
Real leather furniture is certainly on-trend. While we’re often told it’s one of the most durable options to go for, it isn’t particularly environmentally-friendly. The leather industry requires intensive rearing of cattle, which is a huge contributor to environmental damage. This means, even if you haven’t decided to adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s worth considering going down this route with your home’s furnishings.
You can still get the leather look if it’s something you really love — go for sustainably made faux leather instead. While these materials might have had a poor reputation in the past, you can now buy very high-quality versions, which look almost exactly like the real deal. More people are looking for vegan furniture, which means brands are always looking to improve their options. That’s why you can find great artificial leathers with a very similar texture and durability these days.
Alternatively, if your heart is set on a piece of real leather furniture, try to buy second-hand instead of brand new. Old and vintage designs have already stood the test of time, so you’ll know whatever you buy is going to last well. Plus, you won’t be creating more of a demand for new leather, which means you won’t be contributing to the environmental issues that come along with creating new leather furniture.
4. Fall in love with bamboo furniture and décor
Bamboo is a very sustainable material, as plants grow incredibly quickly. It can be harvested just four years after planting. While this sounds like a long time, it’s actually very impressive when you compare it to the fact that hardwood trees take 60–70 years to mature. Other bonuses include the fact that bamboo is very easy to grow, and requires the use of very few pesticides or fertilisers.
Bamboo furniture and decorative pieces have a very boho vibe that’s huge at the moment. It’s also a very versatile material, so you’ll be able to find almost anything you need that’s made from it. Bed frames, plant stands, side tables, chairs, and even lampshades can all be made from this great and sustainable material.
5. Look for paint brands that care about the environment
Traditionally, interior paint was made with lots of nasty chemicals, and there are still some companies formulating their products with ingredients that aren’t great for the environment. However, because people are more conscious of how their lifestyles and purchases affect the world around them, paint brands are increasingly focusing on making their products sustainable.
What makes paint more environmentally friendly? Well, it’s complicated but the main thing to remember is ideally, paint should be low in VOCs. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are harmful chemicals that can have a detrimental impact on the environment, as well as your health. They also give paint the strong smell you’re probably used to.
Old-fashioned paints are made with an acrylic base, which basically means you’ll be painting your walls with plastic. So, while water-based paints aren’t always environmentally friendly, they can be a better choice helping you narrow your options when shopping around for eco-friendly paint.
If you’re looking to update the look of your home, make sure sustainability is at the forefront of your mind. There are plenty of eco-friendly options when it comes to furniture and decorative pieces — you’ll just have to put a little bit of thought and research into finding the perfect ones. It’s well worth it if you’re determined to make your home a little bit greener.