How to Plan a Home’s Design Around People and the Planet

Tuesday, December 29, 2020   /   by Frank Hornstein

How to Plan a Home’s Design Around People and the Planet


How to Plan a Home’s Design Around People and the Planet






Trends took a back seat at the annual Decorex interior design event this year, as design experts engaged in a range of discussions focused on how they can create interiors that are good for the environment as well as those who spend time in them. The conference, held virtually Nov. 17-19, is typically an in-person event in London but was held remotely this year because of the pandemic.

“We need to create environments where humans can thrive,” color and design consultant Karen Haller said at the conference, in a statement that summed up the focus of the event. Here are seven big-picture takeaways from Decorex about creating healthy homes.




Sarah Hayes Design

1. Go Beyond Looks

“What is it that makes up that slightly nebulous, hard-to-pin-down ‘home’ feeling?” design journalist Arabella Youens asked during a Decorex panel discussion titled Designing for True Well-Being at Home.

The panelists talked about how to design a home for health and happiness rather than just aesthetics. They highlighted the importance of scent, sound and air quality, as well as how the residents use the space.

“I usually concentrate on how a space makes someone feel, focusing on the senses, from the stylistic elements your eyes focus on as you enter the space to the textures you touch, as well as the elements that make up the acoustics,” designer Irene Gunter of Gunter& Co. in London said.

“At the beginning of each project, we spend a lot of time getting to know the clients, from the first thing they do when they come home to the last thing they do when they go to bed,” she said. “We try to discover what they find invigorating, what they find relaxing — what makes them tick. Do they long for a clutter-free environment to unwind [in] after a hectic day? Or do they really enjoy seeing lots of cheerful colors and personal artifacts to boost their mood?”

Gunter uses this information to build a picture of a space that works for that particular client. She makes sure clients focus on this vision, rather than becoming too distracted by other images. “It’s easy to get carried away by an amazing picture of a space and forget how you want to feel,” she said.







Zawadski Homes Inc.

2. Be Bold With Biophilia

The importance of bringing nature into our interiors came up in many Decorex discussions. Design professionals highlighted the benefits of a view to the outdoors and of using natural materials in interior design.

During a talk titled Back to Nature Is the Future, panelists were asked whether adding plants and painting a wall green are enough to bring a natural connection to a home. “If you’re living in a high-rise, perhaps the only way is to bring in lots of plants,” said Haller, the color and design consultant. “But as designers we can do more.”

She recommends the book Biophilia by Edward O. Wilson, which delves into the symbiotic connection humans have with nature. “When we live in harmony with nature, we really do thrive,” Haller said.

Designer Nicola Keenan of Boxx Creative in London highlighted the benefits of biomimicry, which is when designers solve a human challenge by learning from and mimicking the strategies found in nature. In a recent restaurant project, for example, Keenan’s firm used a shell as the starting point, realizing the lines on its surface were an effective way of dividing the space. “There’s so much you can benefit and glean from nature,” Keenan said.







Three D Media

3. Bring in Fresh Air

Indoor air quality was another theme of the event. “The World Heath Organization has defined air pollution as the No. 1 environmental health risk,” Philip Dowds of OKTOair said at the Designing for True Well-Being at Home discussion. “Particulate matter, which are very fine particles, can, along with other pollutants, make their way into our lungs. As it’s invisible, we as a human race have kind of ignored it.”

He followed this alarming information with more positive news about the development of air-purifying technology. His firm manufactures a system that uses artificial intelligence to measure the pollutants and particulate matter in each room. The system then purifies and disinfects the air.

Designer Gunter said that people who are becoming more aware of the air quality in their homes are saving elsewhere on their project budgets to allocate more to their family’s health. For instance, she fitted out one client’s home with a mechanical heat-recovery and ventilation system. “It’s a really big difference when I step into that house versus stepping into another,” she says. “The air quality is far superior and you feel alert for longer.”

Learn more about improving the air quality in your home







McCollum Studio Architects

4. Cut Out the Chemicals

Panelists at Decorex also stressed the importance of choosing products that don’t pollute the air in the first place. During a discussion on Sustainable Sourcing for Interior Designers, Keenan talked about off-gassing.

“When you’re looking at a material, depending on how it’s been treated — from stain-resistant treatments to fire retardants — it off-gasses,” she said. “These are invisible [and odorless], so people don’t know. [With] fresh paint, there’s often a smell — that’s VOC — but you can be sitting on something upholstered with foam in it and you don’t realize the chemicals that are in the air. Now that everything is double- and triple-glazed — sealed — and people don’t have windows open in the winter, all these gases stay in.”

To avoid off-gassing, Keenan advises designers and homeowners to look for products with a natural fire retardant.

Sean Sutcliffe of Benchmark Furniture also brought up the challenge of finding alternatives to fire-retardant chemicals in a talk called Design With Purpose. “We no longer use plastic foam — we only use coir, latex and wool, all of which are sustainably sourced and don’t require any fire retardants,” he said.







Feldman Architecture, Inc.

5. Design for Life

Longevity in terms of designing was another key topic at the event. “To make sure it’s sustainable, one of the things we always come back to when installing [a product or material] is, is it suitable for [the intended] purpose? Have you met the brief?” Keenan said. “If you haven’t done those things, it’s not actually sustainable, because it’s going to end up being replaced.”

Susie Rumbold of Tessuto Interiors in London emphasized designers’ responsibility to make sure things can be easily maintained and disassembled. This helps ensure they last for a long time.

“I think this comes back to having a designer involved in the early stages to help plan out all these things,” said Chloe Bullock of Materialise, who also highlighted the value of reusing and repurposing existing products. “I try to encourage clients to slow down a bit and look around to check we’re not getting rid of something that would work with the scheme.”

6 Reasons to Hire a Home Design Professional







Buchanan Construction

6. Find Value in Waste

If we do more to increase the longevity of products and materials, we shouldn’t need to throw so much away. In the meantime, however, there are still plenty of things that end up in the landfill. Some of the Decorex speakers focused on how we can instead repurpose these products and materials.

“I’ve just written a book about things made from waste and I feature 30 makers, all of whom are using things that would have ended up in [the] landfill as their primary material,” writer Katie Treggiden said during the Design With Purpose discussion. “What’s interesting is that many of the makers said, ‘I don’t think we should call it waste anymore —it’s not waste, it’s a resource.’ Increasingly, the things we need are in [the] landfill rather than in the ground.”

Sutcliffe cited his brother, who previously worked in mining. “He used to say to me, ‘Today’s landfill [sites] are the mines of the future,’ ” Sutcliffe said. He explained how sorting technology can help this process, as can the initial design of the products.

Treggiden gave the example of a tagging system that can be put into materials at the design stage so people can easily identify the particular material, disassemble the product and reuse it later on.







Anna Stathaki | Photography

7. Shop Wisely

When it comes to choosing products and materials, the panelists’ advice for home design professionals was that they do their homework. Stefan Dodds of consultancy Dodds & Shute explained at the Sustainable Sourcing for Interior Designers discussion that he always asks suppliers whether they know where the product comes from, whether they make it themselves or, if they outsource it, how much control they have over that process. “It’s so important to understand the people who are making the product,” he said. “Are they looked after?”

Certification is often the first port of call when checking out a product’s sustainability. But even this requires some research, according to the panel. “There’s a plethora of labels out there. They’re a very good starting point as a guide, but for us, having a conversation with a supplier is very valuable,” Keenan said. “It’s only when you speak to them that you can really drill down and understand. Also, discussing whether someone is not quite there but has plans for the future is something I’m hugely supportive of.”

Your turn: Is health or sustainability something you’re considering as you plan your own home remodeling project? Please share in the Comments.

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