Suited to Sustain: the best interior moods for sustainable living

One of my biggest frustrations as an interior designer is how we as humans compromise our values in order to get what we want, when we want it. The fast fashion industry has been under scrutiny for years now, however, the world of interiors and construction is lagging behind. Our trinkets and furniture are made overseas with little accountability for employee wellbeing and often with ambiguity on raw materials present. Our construction companies in New Zealand continue to build with the cheapest materials in seriously outdated ways, because that’s how to build houses fastest, and re-training an entire labour force takes time and money. So here we are, sitting in our cold houses with our heat pumps blasting at full force, heating the city as our bills soar, filling our homes with very stylish junk that will likely be in landfill within 2 years’ time. Whether you get your decor from Kmart or an award-winning interior designer, the impact on our world is often the same. From our exterior cladding through to our furniture, our homes are laced with poor choices for ourselves and our planet. Sinister, but true.

In my blog post Sustainable Interior Design (yikes…from 2 years ago…sorry, not sorry, I’ve been busy having another baby!) I tackle a few ways in which we can make better choices for our homes, with locally sourced and natural products, including flooring, cabinetry, furniture and decor. Another fantastic option is to go hunting for secondhand items, which save tons of money, reuse existing product, limit carbon footprint and often can be much better quality than what middle-range shops have on-offer. However, the look and feel of a space shouldn’t be compromised either. Design impacts employee productivity, mental health, sales (in commercial settings) and those are important factors to consider. I recommend staying away from current trends, as it’s always too easy to go for the quick-cheap option which you regret later on, and looks outdated once the fad passes. Listed below are some of the best design styles which can achieve a great look while keeping things sustainable.

Arts & Crafts

The Arts and Crafts movement was started in the mid-1800’s in response to rapidly-growing industrialisation. The focus, as the name suggests, is on craftmanship and bespoke pieces made from quality, local materials. I love the natural timber grain textures against hand-woven textiles or block-cut prints. Pairing op-shop solid timber pieces with bespoke linens and locally made art creates a welcoming and cheerful atmosphere, as shown by this stunning image by UK House & Garden.


Exposed is probably the best word to describe industrial design. This means there is no where to hide, with raw materials on display, as seen in this kitchen-dining by LA-based design firm, Alexander Design. You save on expensive accents like wallpaper and flashy art, but your basics demand to be top quality material for performance, and the design needs to be in right-angles with as little detail as possible. Second hand is tricky with this style, since the name of the game is stark visual impact, making the area feel bold yet calm. You gain function and longevity from every design choice, meaning quality and sustainable products that can last a lifetime.


Throwback interiors can be so much fun. This is a go-to style if you love old music, hosting get-togethers and a good snoop around an op-shop for secondhand gems. Throwback art, like this playful 1960’s print, can guide colour choices for drapes & furniture, while giving you the mood and shapes. This design style can get a bit sloppy if you don’t pick an era, so it’s best to centre it around a decade, a colour scheme, a piece of art, or even an outfit from an old celebrity to keep you in a fun vibe without losing your way. Simple cheap accents, like locally made pottery and throwback coffee mugs found at thrift stores complete this look well!


Architect Taka Shinomoto created a stunning concept apartment in Japan, captured by Caroline Williamson of Design Milk. While most minimalistic design schemes don’t stray too far away from grey or beige, this scheme has captivated the essence with a calm, controlled room, no clutter and only the essentials seen. This design style is the quiet younger sibling to industrialism, with the main difference being that minimalism has a more restrained and organised feel, and a more intentional harmonious colour scheme. Sustainable and natural materials are also a must with this look.


This delicious design style looks relaxed and playful, but takes quite a bit of planning and coordination for success. Clever combinations of vintage and new pieces contrast, but brought together by a harmonious colour scheme or cultural thread has the opportunity to showcase the client’s personality in a dramatic way, such as in the home of Lara Bezzina. The beauty is that it can be achieved sustainably with locally made bespoke pieces paired with secondhand or heirloom items. I think to pull this look off, you need to make some wild-ish decisions that may leave some family members thinking you’ve gone barking mad, but very fun for those willing to make a statement.

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