Sustainable Ethical Interiors – Living Room 2021

scandi style living room

I struggled with how to write post on interiors. Whenever I write a post 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’ blogs 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 post I’m trying to strike a balance between pretty pictures that make the post 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.

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terracotta coloured wall

First things first, paint! Most commercial paints are simply a form of liquid plastic that cures to provide a coating to your walls. The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in standard paint is a know trigger for some asthmatics.  We have a history of asthma in our family and I always suffer with flu-like symptoms after I paint with standard paint.

You have two options if you want to avoid / reduce this problem. Either buy 100% natural paint made from natural materials or buy plastic based paints that are low on VOCs. Here are some of the brands or both.

Little Greene Paint make their water based low VOCs paint in Wales. The state that their paints excellent coverage means that fewer tins are needed to paint a room, making it a more sustainable option than thinner paints. They also supply their paint in recycled metal tins which can be recycled again at the end of their life.

Auro paints in the UK make paints and finishes for walls, ceilings, floors, wood, metal based on organic and mineral raw materials, which are compostable. You can buy their paint through Ecological Building Systems in Meath, Healthbuild in Sligo or Ecohub in Westmeath. I found this page on organic paint by The Organic and Natural Paint Company, a UK agent for Auro Paints very useful.

UK-based Earthborn Paints (see photo above) make eco paints that have negligible VOCs. They are also free from acrylics, oils and vinyls, and other than their casein paint and furniture wax, are vegan friends. None of their products are tested on animals. They state that the breathability of their paints, in particular the moisture absorbing qualities of claypaint, helps asthma and allergy suffers. Earthborn hold a UK licence of The EU Ecolabel for Indoor Paints and Varnishes, an independent accreditation scheme. Conservation Technology supplies their paint in Ireland.

Eco Friendly Paints sell water based paints that are free from formaldehyde, glycol ehter, benzene, toulene/xylene and phenol.

Lakeland Paints sell a paint that free of solvents and heavy metal and said to be VOC free.

French Chic chalk wall paint is a washable, ultra matte chalk wall paint with very little odour. It is breathable and as with all products from this company it is EN 71:3 certified and is said to be ideal for painting nurseries and children’s rooms. Check their website to find a stockist near you.

Porter Paints is an Australian brand of low VOC paints that are now available from an Co Down based distributor. Their paints have been classified by APAS (Australian Paint Approval Scheme) as Very Low VOC (<5g/L) and Low VOC (5-49g/L). They also have a very traditional paint finish that is Zero VOC (Milk Paint). The company are also founding participants in PaintBack®, an Australian national waste paint collection and treatment scheme for left over paints and packaging.

If you live in England or Wales you can get your hands on eicó paints that are manufactured in Iceland and Sweden using 100% geothermal or hydropower energy, making the production process carbon positive. The company states that their paints have the lowest VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) ratings of any paint sold in the UK and that it is washable up to 2000 times.

Also based in England is Edward Bulmer Paints which are made from natural ingredients and free from dangerous solvents, pesticides, herbicides or toxins. Reassuringly the company give a full list of their ingredients and how they make their paint.

Biofa Paints and Woodcare products are made in Germany and imported to Ireland by Biofa Ireland in Clare. This paint is free from MI (isothiasolinone) chemicals, potentially harmful chemicals found in almost all paints which can cause serious allergic reactions to those sensitive to them.

UK based e-tailer Natural Paints sell Earthborn paints, and brands Beeck mineral paints, Aglaia and Cornish Limewash.

Bauwerk Colour use 100% renewable power to make their toxin-free paints from clay, minerals and beautiful natural pigments and so 100% natural and completely plastic free.

Ralston paints work to reduce waste where ever possible and only incinerate as a last resort. They use a cleaning system in their factory that allows them to waste less paint and create less water pollution and any water used to clean pipes has paint particles removed and is reused for pipe cleaning. They provide bikes for staff to commute between their two factories, use a bicycle courier company locally and have reduced the carbon emissions from transport by 20% over the past 5 years. They use a heat exchange system to passively heat and cool their HQ and motion controlled LED lights to illuminate it. Their paint pot is made from recycled plastic and is said to be fully recyclable, although not sure if that’s the case in Ireland. This brand of paint is available to buy through Pat McDonnell stores almost Nationwide

Akzo Nobel have a few ranges that have received an European Eco label meaning that they minimized the content of hazardous substances, reduced the content of volatile organic compounds in products that perform well. You can buy their products from the Dulux Decorating Centres. Just remember to ask for products with the eco-label because not all of their products have them.

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.

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. You can buy these rugs in Howbert and May Garden Centres in Ireland.

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.

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 posts 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 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 post I’m not Mean I’m Green.

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 on Francis Street in Dublin 8 made bespoke shades from a range of fabrics including the clients own.

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.

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.

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. 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 currently 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.


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

Published by livinglightlyinireland

I am a reformed interior architect that now campaign for and write about sustainable living in Ireland.

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: 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,



  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.


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