Consumer Society and Interior Design

The Impact of Interior Design on the Consumer Society

Good interior design is the ultimate sustainable practice. Poor choices lead to overconsumption. But creating a plan with a good interior designer can help you make remodeling and furnishing choices that are built to last.

consume society
credit to stijn dijkstra

Sustainability is at the heart of every project we take on at Brana Designs. Because we care about the environment we weave the concept through all of our efforts. In fact, it is a key reason that many of our clients choose us. But it’s subtle. We don’t hit you over the head with it. In fact, we talk a lot about trends, design shows, and one-of-a-kind interiors. And when you peek behind the scenes into any of our luxury interior design projects, you can see it in practice.

Before we get into the details we want to say that this article is not about sustainability as a buzzword. When the process and elements are not sustainable, the term is just marketing noise.

Because we want to have a real impact, Brana Designs focuses on sustainable practices. So we battle the consumer society in the interior design process with a positive approach.

There are many in our industry who follow this. And one shining example is Chelsey, founder of Chelsey Home in Sioux Falls. Chelsey focuses specifically on functional and sustainable kitchen & bath remodels and takes sustainability as seriously as BRANA Designs.

The Biggest Environmental Issues When Remodeling and Furnishing a Space

Consume society
Credit to Imaginechina at corbis at www.wired.comed

Packaging

Have you ever thought about the impact of packaging? 

The original artist designs the piece, then sends that design to the manufacturer to produce and package it for sale. Next packaged products ship to each of the retail outlets where they are often unpacked for display. Next you, the consumer, purchase the product. In order to deliver it safely to your site, the item must be repackaged. After it is transported, it is again unpacked and the packaging is thrown away. If you move or decide to sell the piece it must be packed up again and transported to the next destination. Of course, any product returned or exchanged goes through additional repackaging. Then opening for inspection, repackaging, and transportation to the next buyer.

Ultimately one item may be repackaged and transported 7 to 10 times during its lifecycle. This is just one small example of how packaging is a significant problem in our consumer society. 

Fig. 2. Global product:packaging life cycle e
Towards Integrating Sustainability in the Development of Product/Packaging Combinations - Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Global-product-packaging-life-cycle_fig2_271210726 [accessed 19 Jan, 2021]

The good news is that some materials are recycled and reused. The bad news is that there is a lot of waste. This is bad for the environment. It fills our landfills and creates wastewater. And breaking down waste also uses electricity and chemicals that are harmful to people and the environment.

The Consumer Society

The consumer society is where this all starts. Because people know that they can return products, they make quick choices when ordering. They don’t take the time to properly measure their space. They don’t read about the materials. And they don’t think about how the item will look in their space. When they receive the items, they find the piece is too big or too small or they aren’t happy with the material so they return it.

Taking a Note from the Recent Past

Because this was not the practice 10-15 years ago we can learn from the recent past. Likely you remember your parents keeping furnishings for their entire life. In fact, some pieces were heirloom pieces. And they were passed down from generation to generation.

In working with clients from previous generations we rarely see returns. Because they take time to make a decision, buy classic, high-quality pieces, and stick to their choice.

Today we have the option to furnish a whole house, then change our mind a week later. And the only thing lost is restocking and shipping fees. Behind the scenes, the environment and future generations lose. But that’s not readily apparent so the repacking and shipping cycle continues.

We’re not writing this to say that you should feel bad for disliking a purchase. Especially when the item is different than it was pictured or described.

The problem occurs when this is the practice, not the exception. But the good news is that all is not lost. Taking a more measured and deliberate approach to item selection can eliminate this issue before it does any further damage.

What Studies Say

According to the EPA, Construction & Demolition materials constitute a significant waste stream in the United States. In 2018, 600 million tons of debris were generated. This is more than twice the amount of generated municipal solid waste. And demolition represented more than 90% of this.

According to a compositional survey of more than 2,500 households in Sydney each household disposes an average of 24kg of wooden furniture per year.

How to Be a Better Buyer Without Feeling Guilty About Shopping 

The issue is not the buyers who return items that are misrepresented. Because that problem needs to be addressed by vendors. The biggest challenge is with the buying pattern of the consumer society. 

Buyers who return too much because of their own approach cause the issues. And this could mean taking wrong measurements, not choosing pieces that fit their style, or just changing their mind. By taking the correct measurements, researching the materials used, reading reviews, and matching the overall style of the home takes more time but prevents this problem. 

Furniture purchased with a focus on quality and long-term use is sustainable.

How an Interior Designer Can Help

The Role of Interior Designers.

Interior designers can have a positive impact on this process. An interior designer that understands quality materials can create timeless designs that last aesthetically and functionally. 

These interior designers guide the process of choosing materials and furnishings taking your taste and the architecture into account. And they take the proper measurements and scale of a room to prepare floor plans considering movement, ergonomics, and much more. 

At Brana Designs, we go a step further to create visuals before moving to the shopping phase. So we actually help people to gain confidence in their choices before proceeding to the ordering phase.

How to Select Sustainable High-Quality Exclusive Furniture, Lighting, Finishes, Cabinets, and More.

Choose the right size items. Because we recommend furnishings and materials in the right size and dimensions, interior designers can help you to generate less waste.

Consider sustainable materials that fit your style. At Brana Designs, we work with naturally derived materials. And we are intentional about choosing sparingly from scarce resources such as marble. When it comes to wood, we work with brands that practice sound reforestation policies. And we recommend innovative materials including mycelium, that support an organic approach. More information about this practice is found in our article about unique organic materials.

Work with sustainable brands. A few of our favorite sustainable furniture brands include Cappellini, Roche Bobois, Bocci, Gubi, Moooi. For kitchen remodels, brands that are ESP certified by KCMA (Kitchen Cabinets Manufacturer Association) include Kith Kitchens, Eurotechmiami, Crystal Cabinets, or Benedettini Cabinetry.

Practice sustainable sourcing. Instead of shipping items piece by piece, we bring items from Europe into our warehouse. Because we consolidate orders we use one carrier to the United States and reduce transportation emissions. 

Request proper packaging. We select vendors that smartly employ recycling schemes and waste management services. And up to 95% of packaging waste gets recycled. Old pieces are disassembled and materials like wood or metal are recycled while combustible materials are turned to fuel.

And this is just a sampling of the planning and forethought that an interior designer can employ to minimize waste.

Doing More

Recycling & Reusing.

Recycling and reusing construction materials and furnishings can have a positive impact on the environment as well as the people living in it. And according to the EPA it can:

  • Boost the local economy as recovered materials are typically locally sourced.
  • Lower construction and renovation costs while maintaining building function and performance.
  • Ensure materials collected from reuse and recycling programs will be used again in the manufacture of new products and/or new construction.
  • Preserve local architectural character and historic significance (in cases of preserved or restored buildings).

Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

A great place to purchase from or donate items to is the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Because remodelers can schedule a pick up for old cabinets, countertops, light fixtures, and furniture pieces, it’s easy to work with them. So various building materials become part of the recycled eco-system. The company sells everything for a low price. And it’s a great way to recycle without any packaging!

Buy Vintage.

If you have an older home with a specific architectural style, don’t be afraid to find vintage pieces that fit the home. Because you can do this locally at thrift stores, antique stores, and estate sales!

Chairish, Pamono, or 1stdibs are fantastic websites to find specific items catered to your style. Because you can’t skip packaging, preventing new furniture from entering the sales cycle is a positive step. And since yesterday’s pieces are well-made, the furniture is classic and beautiful.

There are a ton of vintage sellers on Etsy as well. For example, Chelsey has her own collection of vintage kitchenware on Etsy called the Apricate Collection. And she is intentional about using sustainable packing that is either breaks down or is recyclable.

Select High-Quality Pieces.

Quality matters. And low-quality items need to be replaced frequently. But buying high-quality furniture gives better value. In addition, some low-quality items are toxic and can cause allergic reactions.

So the reality is one high-quality piece is a better value than 10 low-quality items that get replaced over and over. And by high-quality pieces, we don’t mean items that are expensive. We actually recommend items made from natural materials, ethically made, handcrafted, and assembled without the use of toxic materials such as glues, etc.

Think sustainably friends and thank you for reading!

Helena & Chelsey