Sustainable home interior design reflects a commitment to protecting the future of the planet – something we all know is a high priority. Interior designers are increasingly building in sustainable design options; but what exactly are these practices, and how can we incorporate them? We spoke to ARJAN NIJEN TWILHAAR, lead designer and owner of design firm Aiden-T, to find out his take on sustainable home interior design and how to create an environment that works for both the planet and you.
How has sustainability in home interior design developed over the past few years?
A lot of emphasis has been placed on renewable resources and using products that lower the carbon footprint. However, I believe it is the longevity of the materials and the aesthetic that should be at the core of each scheme and material selection.
For example, let’s look at one of the largest surfaces that make a design impact – flooring. A popular choice now is vinyl flooring, a cheap alternative to hardwood floors. Most brands produce this material fairly sustainably, but vinyl flooring is still a product that does not age well and often gets replaced in the short term. Hardwood flooring may well be a better option.
Another area to be aware of is how products are made – for example, if they produce harmful gasses like formamide. Although I do try and support local and smaller businesses, it seems suppliers haven’t caught up with this issue as yet. I therefore usually use Benjamin Moore paints, which do not produce harmful gasses.
What sustainable materials are really making an impact in home interior design?
Heirloom quality should be at the core of each decision. This means choosing good, quality material that has lasting power against changing styles and trends. When we selected bathroom tiles for our own bathroom 12 years ago, we picked neutral tiles with a natural finish. I added some wood on the vanities and a stone on the countertop. After more than a decade, I am still happy with this choice.
The same goes with furniture choices. One of my first furniture purchases was a suite of Provençale French furniture from the 1800s. These pieces have travelled with me from the Netherlands to the US, Hong Kong and eventually here in Singapore. More than 30 years later, I still love the pieces. This is true sustainability – these are items that can easily pass down generations and they also have a sentimental value.
Does sustainable design mean a bigger bill at the end?
While the initial outlay might be higher, in the long run you can save substantially. We get a lot of requests to do renovations on the cheap, which we always decline. Using inferior materials, cheap chipboard furniture and mass produced items seems to be a short-term solution to renovating and interior design. For some furniture pieces, you pay a premium because it’s made out of solid wood or natural fabric, but then these pieces can last years.
What tips can you give on waste reduction?
We all accumulate products, often bought cheaply and of a low quality. If you invest in items that you can use for longer, this helps to reduce waste. I recently changed my dining table; we had a good five years use out of it, but I decided to go a different direction. Because we bought a good quality, timeless piece, we were able to sell it within two hours, for about half the cost we paid. It went to a new loving home where it can be used for many more years.
For my very first home, I decorated with many hand-me-downs; some items I upcycled, some items were perfectly fine still. We need to come back to that habit of looking for items that have more life in them. Unfortunately, recycling furniture and purchasing second hand, vintage or even antique pieces is not an overriding trend in Singapore just yet.
Why is good home interior design so important for a person’s wellbeing?
When I was young, I realised how interiors made me feel or how they changed my experience. I noticed how they changed my emotions and the people around me. Interiors impact all our senses.
This has become more evident through the pandemic as our time at home has increased. Well-appointed homes envelop you with belonging, while familiarity helps to soothe and relax you. One element is space, and while we might not have large spaces to live in, we can plan our homes to hide clutter, and use items that bring enjoyment and happiness.
This can come from the simplest things. Every morning, I drink my coffee from a Wedgwood mug. I purchased it in my early days of earning. The history and quality not only brings joy, but it elevates that simple morning routine to an experience to enjoy.
Homes provides shelter and a place to live, but they are so much more than that, especially when you live a hectic life, or you travel or uproot frequently. Creating a home that is familiar helps reduce stress and creates affinity and attachment.
What principles of home interior design can have an effect on mental health and wellness?
The way a home is laid out and how each space functions, is important. One of the most important things we seem to have lost is a foyer. To me, this is the perfect decompression zone. We may not all be blessed with that space but we can make simple tweaks to create it. From adding a simple cased opening to de-mark the space to erecting some walls to create a foyer.
Meal time is also an important aspect. To have a dedicated dining space – away from a television or other distractions – is a must for my own home. Again, I see this tradition slowly fading, where homes don’t even have space for a dining table.
Another area that should reflect calm and tranquility is the bedroom – this should be a personal space that cocoons you and helps you unwind and relax. Often we see clients running out of budget when it comes to designing the master bedroom, but here window treatments, bedding and artwork play an important role.
I like to design homes where the elements keep revealing themselves, and there is something to discover each time you look. These might not be apparent on first glance (for example a marbled skirting), but the depth of layering in the details is what makes homes interesting and shows personality.
When designing for clients, I like to find out what pieces have meaning and history for them. Objects gathered over the years are a great way to keep giving that home personality, comfort and a familiarity that you want from a well-designed home.
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