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How to Decorate Your Home Sustainably, According to a Designer

how to decorate sustainably- entryway with slipcovered chair and vintage table

Design: Rebecca Hay, Photo: Mike Chajecki 

We know sustainability is important to the future of our planet. Most of us use reusable water bottles in lieu of plastic, we recycle and bring our canvas bags to the grocery store, and some of us may even throw in a Meatless Monday every week.

But what does sustainability look like when it comes to home design? Designer Rebecca Hay, of Rebecca Hay Designs in Toronto, has the answers, and it's easier to get started than you might think.

Meet the Expert

Rebecca Hay is the president and principal designer of Rebecca Hay Designs in Toronto. Before starting her own company, she worked for Stephen Taylor, one of Toronto’s top high-end residential designers, and was a designer on HGTV's “Income Property,” and “The Property Brothers."

"Sustainability is about mindful choices when decorating your home," Hay tells MyDomaine. "Disposable design is detrimental to our planet, but sustainability is more than just being environmentally friendly. It’s about paying attention to what items you bring inside your home and how they affect the indoor air quality."

The easiest way to do this? Think vintage.

Sustainability is about mindful choices when decorating your home.

"We decorate and design beautiful family homes by repurposing heirlooms and using vintage finds and mixing these in with new quality sustainable furnishings," Hay explains. "We are passionate about our planet and aim to use ethical and environmentally sustainable materials wherever possible."

Read on for more of Hay's tips to bring sustainability to your own decorating process.

Why Design Sustainably?

One person can make a big impact. Hay has three main reasons for choosing vintage or secondhand furniture over something new.

"There is little to no new carbon footprint," Hay explains. "Older craftsman furniture has been made to last, and has a longer lifespan over new big-box store furniture that is sometimes not well-built, causing you to shop again and throw away yet another piece of furniture into a landfill, and the imperfections in the furniture add to its character and can tell an old story in a new space."

How to Shop Sustainably

how to design sustainably - white kitchen with vintage dining table and chairs

Design: Rebecca Hay, Photo: Mike Chajecki 

When redecorating your home, Hay recommends shopping for these big-ticket furniture items secondhand: vanity mirrors, dining room tables, and metal bed frames.

"I love old vintage brass frames, they add warmth and elegance," Hay explains. "Just make sure the glass is in good condition and it's fitted properly for hanging. Otherwise, you may need to take the mirror to a picture framer to add a wire or mounting bracket to the back."

When looking for dining room tables, durability is key, especially for a family with kids, Hay says.

"Look for solid wood versus veneer so that you can re-finish and potentially re-stain it to fit the colors in your home," Hay says. "Also, check to ensure the legs and base are fastened tightly and that there are no chips." 

For bed frames, it's all about adding that special vintage touch.     

"My daughter has a century-old four-poster bed frame that adds so much interest," Hay says. "It's painted white but could be painted any color to suit. Just keep an eye out for rust when you're buying an old metal bed frame. A little rust can be tidied up but a lot could mean more structural damage than is worth it."

How to Blend Your Love of Interior Design With Sustainability

how to decorate sustainably - vintage chair next to wicker suitcases

Design: Rebecca Hay, Photo: Stephani Buchman 

You can love redecorating while taking steps to create a healthier planet. Hay recommends starting with mixing old decor with new, hitting up antique markets and secondhand shops, and including natural materials in your home when possible.

That old vintage chest of drawers could be your new vanity or an old trunk can be turned into a coffee table, Hay explains.

"Hang on to those heirloom pieces that are well-built and mix them in with your new pieces," she says. "It's all about balance."

If you want to save a little money and do some good, an antique market or secondhand shop make great options.

"These markets often have lower-priced items and you can come about some unique finds for furnishing and decorating your home at a lower cost, and sustainably, since you're not creating an item with another carbon footprint," Hay explains.

When shopping new, look for natural materials in rugs, wood furniture, and other common pieces.

"What is sustainable and eco-friendly is also good for your home health," Hay says. "Using natural materials rather than synthetics equals a lower carbon footprint, and in the end, will be disposed of in a more eco-friendly way because it will decompose faster."