A Guide to Sustainable Interior Design

We look at sustainable interior design: responsibly sourced and ethically manufactured materials (recognizing the importance of sustainable materials for interior design), improved air quality and aesthetics, and a healthier planet.

By Zoe Dromgolle of Wood Flooring Ireland,

Conservation and saving the environment from further damage have become some of today’s most urgent issues. Industries of all descriptions are actively taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint while maintaining productivity. Interior design in particular has a great advantage as it’s a creative, imaginative process.

Traditionally, interior decor has always greatly impacted our homes, influencing us to accept new trends from Art Deco to industrial chic. It is now introducing innovative ideas that concentrate on sustainability. Although a large proportion of materials may be recycled or reclaimed, style, sophistication and elegance are still at the forefront of contemporary interior design.

What is Sustainable Interior Design?

Sustainability in interior design means achieving a balance between old and new materials. Recycling, upcycling and reusing are key directives. They help reduce the amount of waste produced by renovation and building projects. Sustainability also ensures that the use of new materials is kept to a minimum. Interior designers are helping us realise how sustainability works.

Sustainability gives a new lease of life to unwanted components and spares sending materials such as old tiles and kitchen cupboards to landfill sites. Instead, they are reused and upcycled. Innovative ideas using materials, such as bamboo and jute that are responsibly sourced, provide a refreshing originality to stylish homes. So, in what ways can we be sustainable when looking at interior design? See below for some pointers. 

A Guide to Sustainable Interior Design: Inside a school made from bamboo
BALI, INDONESIA – FEBRUARY 2012: Classroom interiors at Green School on Februray 27, 2012 in Bali, Indonesia. The school is known for promoting eco-friendly concepts to its students. — Photo by paulprescott
Credit: depositphotos.com

Designing for Energy Efficiency

According to research from Statista, the UK’s dependence on fossil fuels may have declined, but it still stands at 88%. Reducing the expensive burden of household energy use is a priority for everyone. Interior designers are planning for the future by introducing simple ideas that can realistically reduce energy consumption for all.

There is now a much greater emphasis on natural daylight. Skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows and doors help admit the maximum amount of light during the day. At night, key features such as reflective surfaces such as mirrors and metal increase the available amount of artificial light. Rooms decorated in pale, neutral colours will inevitably be part of the future as they help increase the home’s interior brightness.

The UK Government’s data reveals that around two-thirds of today’s households have switched to LED lighting. It’s an economical, energy-saving form of lighting that is also versatile. LED bulbs last up to five times longer than conventional incandescent bulbs, providing the longevity that’s an essential principle of sustainability.

Country living room, eco interior design in blue tones, sustainable parquet, dining table with chairs, potted plants and bamboo ceiling.
Credit: depositphotos.com

Environmentally-Friendly Paint

Paint is an integral part of interior design, adding highlights of colour while helping create welcoming moods and atmospheres. Traditional paints have always included Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These paints are solvent based. they emit toxic fumes that can continue to reduce air quality inside the home for many years.

Eco paints are water-based, making them much safer to use and live with. According to greenseal.org, they are very low in VOCs and generally contain less than 50 grams per litre. Once again, interior designers are likely to recommend pale shades for our walls as eco-friendly paints are usually gentler in colour than those high in VOCs. The advantage though is a healthier home that’s restful and relaxing.

Responsibly Sourced Timber

A home can only be sustainable if it is filled with responsibly sourced materials. Interior designers have long used timber for structural elements, cupboards and floors. According to the Timber Trade Federation, the UK imported 30% more hardwood during the first quarter of 2022 than in 2021. Approximately 40% was from managed forests of oak located across Europe.

Disturbingly, data from Forest Industries stated that 57,900 tonnes of tropical hardwood was imported from Cameroon. The African country is one of the largest producers of exotic timber. However, the Cameroon authorities often have difficulty controlling illegal logging. These clandestine activities may soon threaten the unique habitats of the Ebo Rainforest.

Interior designers have already found a solution to include the elegance of wood in our homes. Engineered wood flooring uses only a thin veneer of timber. Their preferred species is usually responsibly sourced European oak, which creates a hard-wearing surface that can last up to one hundred years.

Preventing Waste

When renovations are launched, they inevitably remove fixtures and fittings such as kitchen cabinets, skirting boards and floorboards. Sustainable principles encourage designers to use these discarded materials in their new projects. Many timbers are still in excellent condition and are ideal for some of the most contemporary trends inspired by rustic or Scandinavian homes.

The UK’s Forest Recycling Project is an initiative that reclaims all types of timber including scaffolding boards. For every 10,500 kilograms of wood that’s reclaimed, it saves 3,098 kilograms of carbon emissions that would have been used to process raw timber. It also prevents perfectly usable materials from being left to decompose in overcrowded landfill sites.

Reclaimed timber is ideal for natural, eco-friendly homes. It can be transformed into shelving, new cupboards, and structures such as staircases. Reclamation demonstrates the power of upcycling. It’s a fully sustainable process that prevents unnecessary waste while prolonging the longevity of materials.

Cosy wooden sustainable living room and dining in green tones with bamboo ceiling. Bookshelf, table with chairs. Potted plants. Ceramic floor.

Longevity and Innovative Materials

Longevity is a crucial factor in sustainable interior design. Materials and structures are intended for long-term use and need to be intelligently constructed. Modular storage units are a perfect example of how upcycled timber can be restructured. They form systems of practical containers and shelving that can be adapted over the years to accommodate a growing family’s possessions.

Alternative materials are also chosen for their adaptability and long-term potential. Bamboo is incredibly versatile. It is currently being used as room dividers, wall panelling and window blinds. It generally has a restful, golden-brown colour that adds warmth to a room. It also has a high moisture resistance, making it ideal for accessories in the kitchen and bathroom. An advantage is that bamboo grows extremely fast. Plants are easy to propagate and the stems, which can reach heights of up to sixteen feet, are considered mature after just four years.

Other Key Sustainable Materials in Interior Design

Natural plant materials are once again becoming popular in interior design. Jute and hessian can be woven into eco-friendly rugs that are highly durable and easy to maintain. The fibres are also self-coloured, adding subtle, restful shades to our homes. When these rugs are finally worn out, they can be shredded and added to a compost heap where they’ll harmlessly decompose.

Cork is another natural material that has sustainable qualities. It doesn’t harm the trees when it is harvested and has a warm, elegant appearance when used as tiles. For a bolder design, consider rugs made from recycled plastic bottles. They are usually strong in colour, won’t fade and can be sent for recycling at the end of their lives.

Recycled foam is proving to be a useful insulating material. It’s now a popular choice for carpet underlay, helping to avoid waste while providing comfort and warmth. Recycled polyester can be spun into upholstery material that’s used for covering furniture. It can also be made into beautiful curtains, adding elegance to rooms while helping to insulate them at night.


Sustainability in interior design is now becoming part of today’s homes. Designers have a great influence on fashionable trends in our choice of materials to create sophisticated, comfortable interiors. Choosing reclaimed timber, natural fabrics and environmentally-friendly paint are essential in sustainable interior designs.

In addition, they help improve the air quality of rooms while protecting the environment at large. Choosing responsibly sourced, ethically manufactured materials is instrumental in following the core sustainable principles of recycling, reusing and upcycling. Contemporary, sustainable homes are ecological, long-lasting and prevent waste. They are also wonderfully elegant and adaptable for the future.

About the Author

Zoe Dromgolle is the marketing executive at Wood Flooring Ireland, a bespoke engineered wood flooring company based in Ireland.