Alongside outdoor living spaces and a finished basement, today’s homebuyers demand sustainability in the properties they consider purchasing. It’s clear that homes have a significant impact on the environment; they require substantial resources to build, and they require even more resources to manage and maintain. Buyers want to see eco-friendly enhancements, like solar panels and energy-efficient appliances — but they also want to feel like their homes are more natural, too.
The hottest homes on the market tend to look green, replete with plenty of natural elements that lend the feeling of intimacy with the environment and the Earth. It is possible for most homes to cultivate this type of atmosphere; all it takes is using the right materials in the right ways.
Despite messages like “Save the trees,” the truth is that wood and paper products are some of the most sustainable materials in the world. Except for some exotic woods like mahogany, rosewood, ebony and zebrawood, most woods are harvested from tree farms, where trees are grown specifically to be harvested. If people stopped using wood or paper products, the land devoted to growing those trees would be used for other industrial processes that would undoubtedly be more environmentally destructive. Thus, you should strive to decorate with wood as much as possible — as long as you opt for sustainable woods like bamboo, ash, pine, cherry, oak and cedar.
You can use wood to great effect pretty much anywhere in interior design. Wood floors have never gone out of style, and these days wood paneled walls — especially in shiplap form — are all the rage. Undoubtedly, wood furniture is the easiest to integrate into your home. You should feel free to mix and match wood types and finishes to add diversity and interest to your space.
Stone makes a space feel especially rugged and natural, perhaps because it was among the first building materials humans used millennia ago. You can use natural stone as a wall covering, especially in wet spaces like the kitchen or bathrooms, to add an inimitable texture and shape to your rooms. You might also use natural stone around a fireplace or in garden areas around your home. Some homes have natural stone countertops, but these do require specific care and attention to prevent chips and stains.
However, it’s important to remember that not all natural stone is environmentally sourced. Plenty of quarries devastate the surrounding environment, removing large tracts of land and making it uninhabitable for flora and fauna alike. Plus, quarry machinery pollutes the air and can contaminate waterways as well with petroleum products, dust and worse. Finally, because stone is not renewable — we can’t grow new stone — quarrying is inherently unsustainable. You must take pains to use stone that has been reclaimed, recycled or removed from the ground as safely as possible.
Leather is an incredibly sophisticated natural material that adds masculine gravitas to most spaces. The most common leather décor is large leather furniture, like sofas or chairs, but you can also add smaller leather decorative pieces like pillows, poufs, wall hangings and knick-knacks. When you are upholstering something in leather, you should be certain that the padding underneath the leather is organic, as well; for example, you can purchase a natural latex pillow free of chemicals like pesticides and VOCs.
There is some contention about the use of real leather in decorating. On one hand, it is a renewable, natural resource; on the other hand, most leather comes from the beef and dairy industry, which means that most leather is obtained through the mistreatment of cattle. If you want the leather look in your home, you should opt for cruelty-free, vegan leather products or purchase leather goods that have been pre-owned or recycled.
While many metals occur naturally, iron imparts the most natural effect in interior design; other metals, like aluminum, steel, brass and copper, tend to impart a more refined look that doesn’t feel as raw as wrought iron. Like leather, iron tends to be a stronger and more masculine design element than other natural materials, and you should strive to use it sparingly to avoid making your space feel like a jail. Often, iron works best in structural elements, like banisters or as details within a room, like light fixtures or door handles.
Like stone, iron must be pulled from the ground, which requires significant resources and substantial environmental disturbance. Fortunately, iron can be used and reused indefinitely, so the iron pieces you use to decorate likely haven’t been underground in ages. Most iron is recycled, making it among the most sustainable materials you can use in home décor.
A home that looks and functions naturally and sustainably is a rare treat, and homebuyers are sure to compete to live in such a wonderful space. By being conscientious with how you build and design your home, you can impart lasting value for you, future homeowners and the environment at large.