Sustainable Ethical Interiors – Living Room 2021

scandi style living room

I struggled with how to write articles on interiors. Whenever I write an aricle on where to buy things I worry that I’m just contributing to our epidemic of shopping porn. Then my brain argues that by emulating mainstream ‘buy me’ websites. I will reach a wider audience and be more successful in enticing some of them to reconsider their participation in the our disposable goods culture.

In this article I’m trying to strike a balance between pretty pictures that make the article enjoyable to peruse and a useful directory for when you consciously choose to purchase a sustainable ethical replacement for something you actually need something, because after all that’s the only time we should actually be buying anything.

Nothing mentioned in this article has been sponsored. It’s all just my own personal opinion. If you like your sources to remain independent then please;
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terracotta coloured wall

First things first, wall decoration. If you’re thinking paint, check out my article on Eco & Natural Paint. If you’re thinking wall paper then read on ….

lemon stickers on pale wall

If you fancy adding a bit of jazz to your freshly painted walls consider these reusable fabric decals. This one is from the company Mej Mej.

If your heart is set on wall paper Barbeline’s smoothwallpaper is printed in the UK and uses water-activated adhesive backing. Their woven wallpaper is made from a polyester textile and is repositionable. Both are printed using eco-friendly, water-based latex inks, FSC-certified, and are free from PVC, phthalates and formaldehyde.

day bench with rug on timber floor

The sustainable options when it comes to rugs at the moment would be to buy long-lasting Fairtrade versions, made from natural or recycled materials. Here are a few companies offering such rugs.

Connemara Wool is a new startup offering a few 100% natural products include rugs made with Irish wool woven in Donegal or recycled cotton t-shirts.

Hug Rugs are made from 90% cotton recycled from the clothing industry, recycled drink bottles and bottle tops with a backing made from recycled rubber backings in a UK factory approved by the Carbon Trust. It is printed with organic printing inks, made from recycled materials and pure Yorkshire water.  It is also washable, although it does contain moisture absorbing microfibres, which we tend to avoid because of their impact on marine life. The company also says that it’s 100% recyclable but knowing a lot about recycling in Ireland, I would question that.

Weaver Green (see photo above) in Devon, England create rugs, blankets, footstools, cushions and bags from recycled plastic bottles. Their rugs are made from up to 3000 recycled plastic bottles each look and feel just like wool or jute but are hard-wearing, water-resistant, easy to clean and machine washable (size permitting). The company says that they take care to ensure that everyone involved in the process of turning a discarded plastic bottle into their products is treated fairly and paid accordingly and that their South East Asian and Turkish weavers are independently inspected to ensure the safe and fair working conditions of our craftsmen and women.

Located in Scotland Braided Rug Company’s standard braided rugs are made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. The company says that these types of rugs are tough, machine washable, and soft underfoot, even going so far as to say that they feel like wool. Also as they’re 100% plastic you can also use them outside and they won’t rot or mildew. They also offer multi-coloured braided rugs made 100% Recycled Man-made carpet fibres, which are also machine washable. If you’d prefer to stay away from all plastic goods then the Braided Rug Company also offers stunning braided jute rugs. On their website they explain that although not ‘fair trade’ accredited, they have visited and worked with the supplier of the jute, and can confidently say that their products are ethically sourced. Although soft underfoot, Jute is durable, can be harvested up to three times a year and needs no pesticides to grow. It is also compostable too at the end of its life.

Sukhi in the UK sells a range of made-to-order rugs by artisans around the globe, each with a 5 year warranty. They’re not independently certified as being ethical but they they list the email addresses of the makers of their rugs so you can contact them directly to praise them for their work!

The Natural Rug Company in the UK sell rugs and runners made from a range of natural materials.

The Real Shetland Company offer rugs made from Shetland wool, woven in Yorkshire onto a jute backing. You can buy their rugs from UK etailer Adam Curtis.

Gudrun sjoden sells brightly coloured, natural fibre rugs, some organic. Their manufacturers are certified to standards such as GOTS, Fairtrade and STeP by OEKO-TEX.

Love Welcomes is a US brand with a base in the UK that sells welcome mats, made from old life vests by refugees in Greece. Proceeds from each sale go directly to the woman who wove it and all profits are used to support Syrian refugees including language lessons, computer training and transportation to things like lawyer meetings or going to the market to buy food.

You can also source rugs from the following are e-tailers;

  • The Ethical Superstore (UK – fairtrade rugs, some made with recycled cotton and wool)
  • Traidcraft (UK – fairtrade rugs made from natural, organic or recycled materials)
  • Maison Bengal (UK – fairtrade rugs in natural materials)
  • Namaste (UK – fairtrade rugs made from natural materials, the sale of which also contributes to community initiatives where they’re made via the charity Goodweave)
  • Chandni Chowk  (UK – fairtrade hand-woven veg dyed 100% wool fairtrade rugs)
  • Ferm Living (Denmarks – rugs made from natural fibres)
  • Goodweave are a charity working to eradicate child labour in the rug making industry. You can find agents for their rugs on their website.

stacks of colourful fabric

I’ve written extensively about fabric in relation to clothing and you can read all about it in my articles on Sustainable Ethical Fibres and Fabrics. Recently I had to order upholstery fabric my dining rooms. Initially I tried to source organic fabric but couldn’t find any in upholstery grade. Then I tried to source natural fibre fabric. Google was of limited use and all but one of the stores I visited didn’t stock 100% natural fibre upholstery fabric. The one that did was Murphy Sheehy in Montrose, Dublin 4. In fact they have quite a very decent offering of cotton and linen blend upholstery fabrics in a huge range of colours. I decided to opt for a washable cotton/linen fabric from Romo called Linara (see photo above), which had been certified as being free of toxins (OEKO-TEX standard).

Tinsmiths is a UK company that specialises in natural fibre fabric, some of which is upholstery grade and if you’re upholstering your own furniture, check out the Natural Upholstery Company who offers natural upholstery materials including wool batting, organic cotton batting and organic cotton ticking.

Chandni Chowk in the UK sell readymade Fairtrade hand-printed curtains , and Gudrun sjoden mentioned above sells printed natural fibre voile curtains, some of which are organic. But if you want to have your own made the following companies offer organic and natural fabrics by the metre.

If none of these stock what you need try searching organic fabrics on Etsy

refurbished locker

It’s hard to define what we mean by sustainable ethical furniture. Is it locally made from local materials? is it fairtrade? is it pre-loved? or made from recycled materials? I’ve decided to focus on pre-loved furniture – upcycled or restored – and furniture made from recycled materials. To see a list of retailers offering pieces that fit this bill check out my article Second Hand Stores in Ireland.

Before I leave the topic of furniture I want to mention the Big Bean Bag Company who do a range of UK made 100% cotton bean bags filled with compostable plant-based plastic and stitched with recycled thread.

Another quirky entry into this section is ‘rebirthed’ (their phrase not mine) pianos from Fox and Wolfe. Personally I just love their bold reimagining of these wonderful instruments.

I also want to give a shout out to Michael Murphy Furniture, who are one of the few furniture companies in Ireland that look for FSC certification on the furniture they stock. They also take away your old mattresses for recycling when you buy a new one with them.

white modern light fitting

When it comes to sustainable lighting you need to be looking at something that can take energy-efficient bulbs, allow bulbs to be changed (a lot of lower-end models don’t facilitate this) and be made of materials that are compostable and/or recyclable infinitely, like metal. Don’t assume that glass components on lamps are recyclable. The glass has a different chemical compostition and like Pyrex may not be recyclable.

Kathleen McCormack in Ireland makes beautiful woven lampshades out of willow as does fellow Irish basketweaver Cathy Hayden in Tramore who makes hers out of willow and bark.

Shady and the Lamp in Terenure, D6W makes bespoke shades from a range of fabrics including the clients own.

The Happy Lamp Shade in Cork can make bespoke lamp shades with GOTS certified organic cotton fabric and thread. They also make paper shades.

Steampunk Studio in Drumcondra, Dublin 9 make industrial light fittings to order from copper, glass containers and wood, some of which are salvaged.

Kopper Kreation makes lighting from reclaimed and recycled materials sourced from local scrapyards.

Copper Fish creates light fittings with copper and salvaged timber. They use  high-performance LED bulbs and their packaging is compostable card.

Re-luminate in Kildare makes bespoke light fitting from pretty much any item.

Mr Kite in Cork make cushion and lampshades from brightly coloured fabrics.

Blue Marmalade (see image above) in the UK creates stunning lamp shades from recycled plastic. They also use water based eco-printing on recyclable cardboard packaging, create zero landfill waste during production and make in Britain for a low-carbon footprint.

Owl Paper lamps in Portugal create beautiful etheral lamps in various animal shapes from paper.

Kabo in Lithuania make impressive cradle-to-cradle certified lights from recycled paper, that look like concrete.

cushion with detailed print on it

I don’t like clutter but a house completely devoid of a consciously curated selection of accessories is a hotel, not a home. As with other items in your home choose homeware that is locally made, useful, durable, made from natural or recycled materials, or compostable or infinitely recyclable at the end of its life. Fairtrade certified goods or those made by social enterprises are desirable too. Of course you’re not going to get something that ticks all those boxes so just shop consciously and do the best you can. Here are some companies to consider.

Kilkenny based Cushendale Woollen Mills create blankets from 100% wool, a large proportion of which is sourced from Irish sheep farmers.

Wild Atlantic Wood in Ireland makes very desirable wooden docking stations and soap dishes from locally sourced timber.

In my opinion nothing beats the beauty of woven baskets and those created by basketmakers in Ireland are absolutely first class. Not only are baskets repairable, they’re made by-hand without machinery and so low-energy, typically don’t involve any chemicals to treat the materials and are compostable at the end of their life. The link above is to a list of makers on the Irish Basketmakers Association’s Website.

If you like your baskets more colourful, check out the stunning collection from Dublin-based Sahara, who import baskets from artisans in sub-saharan Africa using naturally dyed elephant grass. The goal of the Ghana born owner is to pay artisans 50% of the profits from each sale.

UK company Palava (see image above) make colourful duvet covers and cushions from offcuts from their dresses and are made in factories in Turkey, Romania, and Lithuania.

If you fancy something fluffier Devo Home in the Ukraine can give your hemp fur cushions and blankets.

Celtic and Co in the UK sells wool blankets and sheepskin rugs. Their rugs are handmade in Cornwall and use a by-product of the food industry that would otherwise go to waste. They use sustainable natural and organic fabrics and they aim to source as much as possible in the UK in order to keep their carbon footprint as low as possible. They recycle widely in the company and print all catalogues and promotional literature on FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper, and offer a Carbon Neutral delivery service.

We Make Good sell a beautiful collection of Irish designed and Irish made homeware pieces and are hands down my favourite place for homeware. Each piece is made by someone in Ireland that’s faced social challenge and may not be in a position to get employment in the general workforce.

Aerende is another one of my favourite homeware companies primarily because it sources its wares from social enterprises in the UK. It doesn’t hurt that the person who runs the company, Emily, has the most fantastic eye and curates a stunning collection of pieces.

The Braided Rug Company (mentioned above) also offers a range of woven baskets made from organic jute.

The following are e-tailers of eco products that offer a range of natural, organic or fairtrade homeware goods.

E

PS – Given the season that it is this time in previous years I’ve written all about Hallowe’en including

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

4 thoughts on “Sustainable Ethical Interiors – Living Room 2021

  1. Hi there,

    I have been following your blog and Instagram for a while now, and it is really very informative and sometimes an eye-opener, keep up the good work!

    Not sure if you are doing a Christmas post, or if you are interested at all in suggestions, but I would like to boldly introduce  my own small new business – Mrs. C’s Herbs and Candles. I am making natural beeswax candles by hand, partly from the wax of my own bees and partly with wax that I buy in from other beekeepers. We also grow organic herbs on our farm in West Clare, and these are just in drying process and will be added to the product range shortly. I am not using any plastic in producing, packaging and shipping (not even sellotape), all my materials are biodegradable/reusable/recyclable.

    It would be lovely if you could have a look: http://www.herbsandcandles.com. If you wish to receive a sample, or have any questions,  just let me know. And maybe, maybe, you could mention the business in one of your blogs…..this would be a dream.

    Thanks a lot, talk soon,

    Irmgard

    Like

  2. This is an incredible resource, so informative. Just wondering if you’ve come across Ralston paint and what you’re thoughts are? Many thanks.

    Like

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