This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

How To Approach Interior Design, Sustainably!

Sustainable Homes

Even when making cosmetic updates to your home, there is always the opportunity to make more sustainable choices.

That being said, once you start thinking about sustainability, the questions that arise are seemingly endless. What are the eco-friendliest materials to use? How do I optimise energy efficiency? Should I only source locally-made items?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, so we asked interior designer Megan Norgate, founding director of sustainable design practice Brave New Eco, for her expert advice.

19th August, 2020

Interior designer Megan Norgate is the founding director of Brave New Eco, a design practice with a key focus on sustainability. Pictured is their Tuppen Street project. Photo – Emma Byrnes

Image on left: Sourcing second hand furniture is an accessible and sustainable way to update an interior. Home owned by Imogen Milford, captured by Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Annie Portelli. Image on right: Quality window furnishings are an effective way of improving energy efficiency. Home owned by designer Mardi Ola, captured by Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Amelia Barnes
Wednesday 19th August 2020

‘If you have been involved in some way, and met the people who have made the things in your home, you’ll care about them more, and for longer.’ – Megan Norgate

Determine your key objectives

Interior designer Megan Norgate of Brave New Eco recommends first defining your project’s key objectives. Understanding your priorities will help you decide where to spend most of your money!

‘Some people are more focused on energy efficiency, and they will really go the extra distance on appliances and systems; some people are really focused on protecting forests and responsible timber selection; and others are very focused on non-toxic materials,’ says Megan.

It is possible to have it all, but inevitably you will have to make some compromises along the way. ‘You will still try and achieve good outcomes across the board, but there will be times when you need to push your focus one way or another,’ says Megan. For this reason, it pays to be crystal clear on your goals.

Fashion-proof your choices

For a residential interior to be truly sustainable, it needs to have a long lifespan, which means choosing a timeless design scheme.

Think about it, how often have you fallen in love with a certain trend, which you’ve then actively detested just a few years later? Rather than considering if you’ll definitely love that black matte tapware/millennial pink scheme/velvet sofa down the track, Megan asks clients the opposite: ‘Would you have loved this look five years ago?’ If the answer is no (be honest), it’s likely you’ll end up throwing your entire interior design scheme out before the end of its natural life – and there’s nothing sustainable about that. ‘It’s about containing what I call the ‘kid in the candy store effect’ says Megan.

One way to ensure a space will have longevity is to develop what Megan calls ‘emotional durability,’ whereby almost every element of your home has sentimental value. To create this, integrate items into your home that (already) have meaning to you, and where possible, develop direct relationships with the makers of your furniture and homewares. ‘If you have been involved in some way, and met the people who have made the things in your home, you’ll care about them more, and for longer,’ Megan says.

Choose decorative materials wisely

Determining the most sustainable decorative materials is a complex task, as there are so many factors to consider. ‘We look for companies that are transparent with their manufacturing processes and sustainability objectives, and or are accredited with third parties such as Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC),’ says Megan.

Megan also advocates for local products and small scale makers as the top priority, as these tend to often offer more transparency in how their products are made. ‘The more you can put your money into local people doing quality work, the better the outcome will be, and it’s better for the environment, she says. ‘It’s a movement towards a higher skilled way of making things, rather than mass produced.’

In saying that, there are some materials Megan tries to avoid or use only sparingly, including chrome, and building products containing formaldehyde (such as MDF board), exotic rainforest timbers (recycled is better, or locally sourced), and natural stone.

Paints and sealants should always be low VOC types, so be sure to specify this to your painter and tradespeople from the outset. Megan says you’ll be able to tell if this hasn’t happened simply by the smell of your house immediately afterwards. ‘The smell test is pretty powerful, and houses that have used natural sealants (everywhere) actually smell kind of good – there’s not that burning nostril feeling!’

Invest in window furnishings

Curtains are one of the most effective ways to retrofit greater energy efficiency into a home, and yet these are also one of the most overlooked.

Megan says the best options for curtains are, in order: floor-to-ceiling thermally lined curtains, then thermally-lined fabric roman blinds (for when your curtains can’t go all the way to the floor), then honeycomb blinds (for when you can’t mount your curtains around a window).

Quality curtains such as these are high cost, so it’s important to include these in your budget from the outset. ‘It’s not unusual to spend between $10,000 and $20,000 for window furnishings in a three-bedroom renovation,’ says Megan. It’s also crucial to think about these early from a design perspective, to allow space for mounting, and where the curtains will gather when open. ‘In a lot of spaces it’s difficult to retrofit them without them looking awkward because it hasn’t been considered at a design level,’ says Megan.

Source quality furniture

Furniture is an area where it’s very easy to make sustainable design choices, simply by buying second hand, or investing in quality pieces made by craftspeople.

With the internet giving rise to so many vintage furniture platforms, sourcing second hand pieces has never been easier, and this is often more affordable than buying all new items. ‘It’s a no brainer, especially if you take something and restore it – you’re taking something that already exists and you’re giving it a second life,’ Megan says.

Pieces made by craftspeople are generally high quality, and can often be custom designed to suit your specific needs. As an added benefit, if you do need to sell them down the track, they will likely have retained much of their value.

Furnishing a house can be a significant cost when done all at once, so aim to make better choices by doing this gradually over time, with careful consideration of what individual pieces will stand the test of time.

When in doubt, think big picture

It’s worth noting that even with all these tips in mind, sustainable interior design is not always a straightforward process.

In instances where decisions are difficult, ask yourself ‘will this product support a sustainable way of living, and will it stand the test of time?’ If the answer is yes, you can rest assured you’re on the right track.

In partnership with Bank Australia, we’re bringing you ‘Building Better’ – a series aimed at demystifying sustainable renovation ideas and building upgrades. Revisit the first story in this series here.

If you like building better and are interested in green homes, Bank Australia’s Clean Energy Home Loan offers a discounted home loan rate if you buy or build a home that exceeds a 7-star NatHERS rating, or have made ambitious green upgrades in the last 12 months. Find out more here!

This Week

Studio Visit

Inside Bianca Pintan's Vividly Colourful Ceramic Practice!

The Brazilian-born artist now works and lives in Byron Bay, pushing the boundaries with her bold and bright ceramics.
Christina Karras

News

Nicole Lawrence Studio And Curio Practice Pop Up In Sydney

The two rising design stars open the doors to their week-long shop and showroom in Paddington.
Bea Taylor
  9 hours ago

Gardens

A Thoughtful Native Garden Anchoring A ‘Floating’ Home In The Byron Hinterland

Explore the diverse and lush landscaping of Coolamon House, perched on ancient volcano crater with uninterrupted views to the ocean.
Christina Karras

Interiors

A Majestic Garden House That Transcends Aesthetics

The landscape is the mesmerising star of the show in Garden House by Arent&Pyke and Polly Harbison Design.
Amelia Barnes
  10 hours ago

News

Local Chef Ella Mittas' First Cookbook Brings Us A Taste Of The Mediterranean

The Greek-Australian chef shares her most delicious recipes and personal essays in Ela! Ela! – To Turkey and Greece, Then Home.
Christina Karras
  12 hours ago

Architecture

A Contemporary Barn-Style Home On A Working West Gippsland Farm

Green Hills Farm owners Neil and Kristy Plumridge share their barn-inspired West Gippsland home designed by Slap Architects.

News

Bid On Spectacular Contemporary Art From Australia's Best At The IMA's Benefit Auction!

Snap up works from award-winning artists thanks to the Institute of Modern Art Brisbane’s glamorous annual gala and online auction!
Christina Karras

Food

Julia's Handmade Strozzapreti With Tiny Meatballs

Julia Busuttil Nishimura shares a recipe from her new cookbook 'Around The Table' – an instant family favourite!
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

Homes

An Artist’s Spanish Mission Home In Newcastle

The recently-renovated home of artist Annie Everingham and family feels like a piece of California… in Newcastle!

On The Market

For Sale: An Ultimate Sydney Dream Home, With Waterfront Views

This new Balmain family home has it all - a resort-style backyard, swimming pool, gym, steam room, home theatre, and it's for sale!
Christina Karras

News

Treat Yourself To A Better Sleep With DOMO's Epic Bed Promotion

Now’s your chance to upgrade to your dream bed – DOMO are offering 20% off all King and Queen beds in stock!
Sponsored

At Home With Sheridan

The Minimalist Inner-City Sanctuary Of Skincare Guru James Vivian + Ben Esakoff

A Prahran Edwardian cottage meets a minimalist architectural addition, with exposed materials, an impressive art collection, and textured Sh...
Lucy Feagins
  18 hours ago

Interiors

The Colourful, Creative Home Of Adelaide Designers, Daniel + Emma

The renovated home of Daniel To and Emma Aiston is perfectly playful, complete with a charming yellow kitchen, and plenty of personality!
Christina Karras

Art

Announcing The Winners Of The 2022 Telstra NATSIAA!

See the winners and finalists from the most prestigious award for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, the 2022 Telstra NATSIAA!

Stays

A Serene Architectural Getaway Overlooking Vineyards In Central Victoria

Barfold Estate's new boutique accommodation is the best kept secret in the Heathcote / Kyneton region – for now!

Similar Stories

Building Better

Everything You Need To Know About Installing Solar

The complete beginner's guide to installing solar power at home.

Sustainable Homes

An Ultra Energy-Efficient Makeover Of A Victorian Country Home

In this country Victoria project, MRTN Architects prove even the coldest period houses can be updated to achieve incredible sustainability s...

Sustainable Homes

An Unbelievably Energy Efficient 100-Year-Old Workers’ Cottage!

With the expertise of Altereco Design, this cute cottage in Yarraville is now an ultra sustainable homed home, powered predominantly by sola...

This Week

Interiors

A Majestic Garden House That Transcends Aesthetics

The landscape is the mesmerising star of the show in Garden House by Arent&Pyke and Polly Harbison Design.
Amelia Barnes
  10 hours ago

Architecture

A Contemporary Barn-Style Home On A Working West Gippsland Farm

Green Hills Farm owners Neil and Kristy Plumridge share their barn-inspired West Gippsland home designed by Slap Architects.

Studio Visit

Inside Bianca Pintan's Vividly Colourful Ceramic Practice!

The Brazilian-born artist now works and lives in Byron Bay, pushing the boundaries with her bold and bright ceramics.
Christina Karras

Homes

An Artist’s Spanish Mission Home In Newcastle

The recently-renovated home of artist Annie Everingham and family feels like a piece of California… in Newcastle!

News

Nicole Lawrence Studio And Curio Practice Pop Up In Sydney

The two rising design stars open the doors to their week-long shop and showroom in Paddington.
Bea Taylor
  9 hours ago

Art

Announcing The Winners Of The 2022 Telstra NATSIAA!

See the winners and finalists from the most prestigious award for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, the 2022 Telstra NATSIAA!

News

Local Chef Ella Mittas' First Cookbook Brings Us A Taste Of The Mediterranean

The Greek-Australian chef shares her most delicious recipes and personal essays in Ela! Ela! – To Turkey and Greece, Then Home.
Christina Karras
  12 hours ago

Gardens

A Thoughtful Native Garden Anchoring A ‘Floating’ Home In The Byron Hinterland

Explore the diverse and lush landscaping of Coolamon House, perched on ancient volcano crater with uninterrupted views to the ocean.
Christina Karras

On The Market

For Sale: An Ultimate Sydney Dream Home, With Waterfront Views

This new Balmain family home has it all - a resort-style backyard, swimming pool, gym, steam room, home theatre, and it's for sale!
Christina Karras

News

Bid On Spectacular Contemporary Art From Australia's Best At The IMA's Benefit Auction!

Snap up works from award-winning artists thanks to the Institute of Modern Art Brisbane’s glamorous annual gala and online auction!
Christina Karras

News

Treat Yourself To A Better Sleep With DOMO's Epic Bed Promotion

Now’s your chance to upgrade to your dream bed – DOMO are offering 20% off all King and Queen beds in stock!
Sponsored

At Home With Sheridan

The Minimalist Inner-City Sanctuary Of Skincare Guru James Vivian + Ben Esakoff

A Prahran Edwardian cottage meets a minimalist architectural addition, with exposed materials, an impressive art collection, and textured Sh...
Lucy Feagins
  18 hours ago

Interiors

The Colourful, Creative Home Of Adelaide Designers, Daniel + Emma

The renovated home of Daniel To and Emma Aiston is perfectly playful, complete with a charming yellow kitchen, and plenty of personality!
Christina Karras

Stays

A Serene Architectural Getaway Overlooking Vineyards In Central Victoria

Barfold Estate's new boutique accommodation is the best kept secret in the Heathcote / Kyneton region – for now!

Food

Julia's Handmade Strozzapreti With Tiny Meatballs

Julia Busuttil Nishimura shares a recipe from her new cookbook 'Around The Table' – an instant family favourite!
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

Similar Stories

Building Better

Everything You Need To Know About Installing Solar

The complete beginner's guide to installing solar power at home.

Sustainable Homes

An Ultra Energy-Efficient Makeover Of A Victorian Country Home

This extended Victorian country cottage achieves sustainability standards most new homes don’t even dream of!

Sustainable Homes

An Unbelievably Energy Efficient 100-Year-Old Workers’ Cottage!

With the expertise of Altereco Design, this cute cottage in Yarraville is now an ultra sustainable homed home, powered predominantly by sola...

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net