10 Ways you can Design Better Interiors by Going Green

In honor of Earth day (22nd of April), I’m writing this post to spread awareness.. blah. No.

This is not the case here. I am trying to spread awareness, yes, but not just for Earth Day; it’s for the 365 days we have in a year on this Earth. This is the only planet we have, and if we don’t do our very best to coexist with it, it’ll give up on sustaining life and all hell will break loose.

For real, not kidding. #2012 #DayAfterTomorrow

I’ve put together ten ways a Green Design can help your creativity as a designer; how Green Design can be an inspiration, how it can make your process a lot more simple, and make you a responsible human + How a Green Design can make your clients thank you; since designing green is not only beneficial to the planet, but also gives to the well-being of the occupants of that space in more than one way.

Food for thought: Green Design can reduce Stress Levels, Improve Cognitive Functions and Creativity as well as Boost Immunity, and Help with overall Well Being.

Now let’s get started on these 10 Green Design methods; you can use any of those 10 points at any stage of your design process, and no matter what your client is ready for, at least two or more will fit right into your project.

1- Perfect Sun/Heat ratio


No matter what space you’re designing, you can orient to gain better sunlight and maximum/minimum heat exposure, so you the occupants rely less on artificial lighting and let nature help set the best atmosphere for that space.

The best way to do so is to know the best direction for each space to face depending on its function:

  • North: North facing spaces get a lot of sunlight during the day, and not much of the heat when shaded properly (E.g.: Summer sun is much higher than Winter sun, so make sure you shade the windows horizontally, to protect from heat gain in summer but allow passive heat gain in winter).

Optimal for: Living rooms, lobbies, receptions, outdoor seating, long corridors etc.

  • East: East facing spaces are most suited for activities that can benefit from early morning solar gain throughout the year and will be cooler in the late afternoon. They provide initial warming and then get cooler as the day progresses.

Optimal for: Kitchens, Dinning rooms, offices, meeting rooms etc.

  • South: South-facing rooms are not suitable as activity spaces as they have lower levels of daylight during parts of the year and have little or no heat gain.

Optimal for: Garages, laundry rooms, bathrooms, toilets, storage, short corridors, stairs, etc.

  • West: West-facing rooms get low-angle, late afternoon sun, and they usually require some shading to prevent overheating and excessive glare, particularly during the summer. They have good afternoon daylight but can overheat in the late afternoon for much of the year so they may require vertical shading to prevent excessive overheating and glare, yet in the winter they provide good direct solar gain for thermal mass heating of spaces in the evening.

Optimal for: Areas in a building where occupants are away during the day-time but are present in the evenings.

Tip: Keeping those four points in mind will let you play around and get creative with circulation and distribution of spaces while guiding you to create a perfect habitat. win-win!

2- Windows: Big + Smart


We’ve all seen those interiors with huge windows and tons of sunlight, and we all want to recreate them in all our designs. Not so fast there, buddy.

  • First of all, take the previous point into consideration when planning how big or small those windows are, because chances are, if you don’t have the flexibility of orienting spaces or manipulating windows, you’ll need to either solve an existing problem or take advantage of those perfectly placed doorways to nature.

Allowing natural sunlight into a space can eliminate the need for artificial lighting, and thus save energy + give the space an all natural ambience from sun-up to sun-down. Windows can also become a downside when they are not properly insulated and the glass treated to block UV rays, so tread wisely.

  • Next thing you need to know is how to make those windows and openings help with the ventilation of the space; so check a weather website or step outside for a minute and find out the main wind direction in your area, and work it to the advantage of the space.

You can look at the illustration below for some ideas on how to direct your air flow in a space.

Green Design
Source: sustainabilityworkshop.autodesk.com
  • One last thing you need to take note of when using windows: Scenery. Connect the occupants with nature, and give them something to look at. If you have no yard or natural view, then go for a window box! Yes, when a window box is artfully arranged it can be a delight to look at (think plants with colored leaves or climbing vines that also double as shading).

3- Let Nature DESIGN with you


I’m gonna go outside for a minute and talk Landscape. I mentioned in the last point window boxes, but what if we have a yard, courtyard, or a balcony? Get nature to do some of the designing with you! I’m not just saying plants and trees, I’m talking fountains, bird feeders, bird fountains, stones, rocks, and even ponds. All these elements have endless variants that add to the beauty of a landscape and offer you so much to mix, match, and add your personal touches.

Get creative with nature, instead of shading gazebos with wood, use vines! Or instead of paving a walk way, lay it with stones and let the earth breathe life through them. The key is to design a garden that needs as little maintenance as possible and that lets nature’s unkept beauty shine through.

Just keep one thing in mind, one very important thing, if it is not local and it cannot survive in your weather (Green Houses aside) then don’t use it. Period.

4- Let the Green in

Plants are not meant exclusively for the outdoors, they are highly valuable indoors due to their amazing impact on the occupants’ health + their unique ability to liven up a space.

Wherever you can, and whenever its possible, use something green and alive. Indoor plants filter the air, create positive vibes, and provide an aesthetic that grows and shapes over time; they’re never dull and require minimal effort compared to outdoor landscaping. Some plants even require watering once a week and need to be fertilized once a year.

There are even a lot of shapes and sizes for the pots and containers that can go with any theme or style.

If no one wants to deal with dirt in the space, you can go for water plants or air plants! For some unique compositions, terrariums are becoming more and more popular because of how easy it is to find the tools necessary to create them.

5- Organic and natural

Sounds like a diet. It is like a diet; plastics, iron, chrome, etc. cost nature an arm and a leg everywhere they are manufactured, painted, and assembled. Not to mention how they impact our health in every way imaginable; we touch them, we breathe them, and whether we like it or not some of these particulates make it into out stomachs.

Furniture made out of natural materials have a way of making a design stand out in a way that synthetic materials don’t; they provide a feeling to the space that appeals to our nature as creatures of this earth + they age and show wear beautifully. Think aged wooden stool vs. aged acrylic stool.

Try using more wood and organic materials in your designs; if you’re looking for durability, go for stone instead of ceramics, if you’re looking for mite and bug resistance, use wool based fabrics and furnishings.

6- To the Floor!

Using organic and natural materials doesn’t only apply to Furniture, it can also apply to floors. Flooring materials see a lot of abuse; walking, running, dragging, and high heels can cause a lot of damage, as well as heavy furniture and the occasional spilled liquids that leave impossible stains. So it’s only natural to use flooring that can withstand all this + look good. Flooring also accounts for a big chunk of the amount of materials sourced for any space. I’ll go over a few options for the flooring that are considered Green, have the ability to give a nice boost for your design, and will not raise eyebrows when it comes to cost vs. value.

Ceramic and Porcelain tiles are the usual choice in a lot of spaces since they are budget friendly and offer a lot of colors, patterns, shapes, and sizes to choose from, but consider going for tiles that are made from recycled waste; I’ve heard they can be very durable compared to their other friends.

The downside of ceramics and porcelain is that if one tiles breaks, it needs to be changed, right? what if the manufacturer ran out? The it’s either you leave it broken and cover it up or if a budget is available then it’s an overhaul! Off to the waste lands! (Or recycle?)

To avoid such a dilemma, you can either make sure there is a stock available in storage for such events, or you go for some better and more flexible choices.

Marble can be one of those choices, since it’s a mammoth when it comes to durability but it can be a mammoth when on a budget too.

Fly Ash Concrete can be a really good choice, since it is considered Green, durable, and when chipped or cracked, it can bet touched up and ready to go.

Wooden floors are natural, organic and have a really nice appeal to them, but personally wooden floors are too much to ask from Trees (Papers, Furniture, etc. are already taking a huge chunk out of them).

What about carpeting? I’ll tell you. When I was doing some research for my dissertation I came across a gold nugget in the name of Entropy; it’s a carpet designed and manufactured by Interface and it’s a Green Design’s wet dream. You can read more about it here. Basically Entropy was designed after an extensive research in Biomimicry and Sustainability to produce the perfect carpet tile with beautiful colors, shapes, and patterns as well as minimal impact on the environment.

As for rugs and runners, you can find silk and wool (even cotton) based versions of any design or color in any market these days, so I don’t have to elaborate much on that.

7- Don’t throw them out on the street

When you first walk into a space that needs to be redesigned, take a look around. There will be a few pieces that you can salvage and reuse in the new design; all they need is to be upholstered, repainted, fixed, or even just morphed into a whole new object. This applies to furniture, accessories, furnishings, and even old cutlery and knick knacks.

If you do have to get rid of something, send it to a flea market and reuse that money into the design budget, donate them, or even send them somewhere to be recycled. Just don’t throw them out.

Speaking of flea markets, pre-loved items can do wonders for a design budget! Let’s say a brand new credenza can cost 300 Simoleons (yes, Sims.) but a pre-loved one can cost 50 to buy and 50 to repaint it, get new handles, and fix it up. Talk about a bargain.

8- Light it up (responsibly)

Light sources have always been as much decorative as they are functional (at least since the middle ages?), and they can be placed almost everywhere. So why not make the most out of it and make sure they don’t only serve the occupants of the space, but the planet & wallets too!

LEDs have come a long way since they first became a thing, they come in different intensities, colors, and even shapes and sizes. LEDs also cost a bit more compared to the normal incandescent light bulb, but they are worth it; they have longer life spans and they don’t consume much electricity. One more nifty thing, they don’t emit heat. Like, ever. Another alternative would be Fluorescent lights.

They can also be used on any type of fixture; whether its indoors or outdoors.

Speaking of outdoors, go for Solar Landscape lighting, they store energy all day from the sun and can be set to automatically turn on after sunset. Since they mostly use LEDs, they will not run out as quickly as you think. They also come as Strings! remember those gazebos with the vine shade I mentioned above? Add to that some solar-powered strings and your clients will love you for it!

They are even cheaper to install, since they don’t need a power grid to operate them. win-win for you and nature!

One last thing to keep in mind, when sourcing for appliances try going for energy-efficient, they cost the same, look the same, operate the same, but have a frugal appetite for electricity.

9- Material on the Wall

Just like for every picture there’s a background, your walls are the background of your entire design. They could also do a lot of harm, when the wrong materials are used. Consider going for low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, since VOCs get released into the air as the paint dries and they can be harmful to humans inhaling them, they also get carried by the wind and contaminate the surrounding environment.

As for wallpapers, they are a hoot in a design, they add amazing texture and beautiful patterns. But unfortunately their production process is a buzz kill. Not to mention the fumes of their adhesives are as bad as (if not worse) than VOC paints. Good news is, there are more and more manufacturers coming up with Eco-friendly wallpaper that is of good quality, doesn’t require toxic adhesives, and are manufactured in a way that is environmentally safe.

Tip: Since we’re talking about walls, insulate your walls well so your spaces don’t need much heating/cooling during different seasons, this will cut out on energy consumption and make you a responsible inhabitant of this planet.

10- Use the System

The system I’m talking about is this

Adapt • Reuse • Reduce • Recycle

This is a system I personally use for my whole life, and not just when designing. It has proved to be a golden standard in more than one way. I’ll give you an example below of how I used each:

  • Adapt:

By adapt I mean, Adaptive Reuse of a site’s resources. Simply put, anything that is being torn down, taken apart, or replaced can be used again. For example, unwanted tile pieces can be assembled into mosaic murals and construction lumber (used by some contractors as catwalk and temporary support) can be remade into decorative rafters, beams, and even vertical shading.

  • Reuse:

Reusing here is meant for a building’s overlooked refuse, like Grey water. If you’re designing a place with a garden, make sure that the occupants can switch their gray water from showers, sinks, dishwasher, and washing machine to be filtered (reusable fiber filters, of course) and sent to their garden.

  • Reduce:

Reducing a building’s consumption of a certain resource is highly recommended; it guaranties that there will be minimum waste of that resource (if not zero waste). In my graduation project, I used a rain water collecting system that basically exists everywhere on the lot, in hidden places; this allowed for maximum collection of that water during the rainy seasons. Where did that water go? To a collection tank (with certain properties to prevent algae formation and rot) that served the laundry room and toilets (the grey water system mentioned above was in the same project).

  • Recycle:

Obviously I don’t need to elaborate on recycling, I talked about it enough in the points above.

I’m not going to delve into how bad things are, just google ‘Australia’s Great Barrier Reef’ and see what we’ve done so far. A hell of a thank you to this planet, isn’t it?

Now that I’ve listed those 10 methods, I’ll give you one more incentive.

Interior Architecture and Design, is an industry that actually has a lot in its hands to fix what’s happening; designers, architects and even home owners have control over how much our habitats impact this environment.

There are more buildings than there are mountains on this planet, and if we do it right, these habitats could contribute to humanities’ existence instead of contributing to its demise.

Look out your home, office, or car windows and imagine if all these structures were actually more environment friendly and aided towards improving the health of this planet; wouldn’t that be nice.

You may also want to check out how to design the prefect space, here.

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