Home is where the heart is
Make time to consider animals, the environment, and your health when styling your space to truly reflect who you are.
Home is much more than simply the place we live. It can also reflect who we are and how we nurture ourselves. Just as our food needs to nourish us, so, too, do our environments. And just as we make ethical decisions about the food we eat, perhaps we also need to consider the impact our homewares have on the animals, the planet, and even our own health.
Despite the rise in eco-friendly and vegan homewares, decorating your home in line with your values can get complicated once you scratch the surface. Unlike the food we buy, most household items don’t come with a detailed ‘ingredient list’.
HIDDEN ANIMAL PRODUCTS EVERYWHERE!
Most plant-based households will know to actively avoid products that contain animal-derived substances. Well-known offenders include:
- Down (doonas, pillows)
- Wool (carpets, upholstery, some mattresses)
- Beeswax (candles, furniture polish, paint sealant)
- Leather (upholstery)
- Silk (soft furnishings)
- Mohair (upholstery, soft furnishings)
But even when you are aware of the common culprits, avoiding animal products can still be tricky. According to vegan interior designer Risha Walden of Walden Interiors, the vast majority of furniture and decorations contain at least one form of animal-derived product.
One common example is hide glue – an animal-based glue that is frequently used in furniture production. The furniture industry love using because it dries slowly, allowing time to position timber while being strong enough to hold without inhibiting repositioning, if required. Cochineal is another substance that can be overlooked. It is derived from beetles and often hidden in red furnishings and paint. Then there’s shellac, which is derived from bugs and used as a colourant or wood finish.
The disappointing truth is that most household furnishings will contain animal-derived products, unless explicitly stated as being vegan.
STYLING WITH SUSTAINABILITY IN MIND
Being highly durable, wool might be considered as environmentally friendly, because it is a natural-fibre option and will require replacing less frequently. However, it is without doubt reliant on the exploitation of sheep. Add in the environmental impact of sheep farming, and suddenly wool doesn’t seem nearly as appealing.
Synthetic leather is also controversial due to its plastic content. While the argument against plastic is sound, Risha invites people to consider the process of creating leather from animal skins. “It uses lots of water, and the initial processing often takes place in countries like Bangladesh and India, where there are no environmental regulations.
Wastewater is drained into local waterways, there are toxic work conditions, and noxious chemicals and acids have to be added so the leather doesn’t decompose.” Like sheep farming for wool, the land and water resources used to create animal leather may outweigh the environmental impact of plastics, and that’s not even taking into account the innate cruelty involved in farming animals for their skin.
NEW CAN BE NOXIOUS
In addition to ethical issues and unsustainable resource use, most new products will off-gas, meaning they give off a gas that is produced as a by-product of the industrial processes used to create them. This releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air you breathe. These are most common in furniture polish, paint, wallpaper, floor lacquers, moulded plastics, medium-density fibreboard (MDF), and soft furnishings. Regardless of whether a paint, bookcase, or sofa is animal-friendly, these VOCs are part and parcel of new household products.
Low-VOC products are becoming far more common, with paints, carpets, and faux-leather now on the market that are considered a healthier choice. Risha is currently working on a range of custom, luxury vegan carpet designs, with properties similar to that of wool. She recommends the use of linen, cotton, bamboo, and jute for natural and low-allergy furnishings. She also suggests crypton fabric for furnishing, as it’s more sustainable and naturally antimicrobial, with similar qualities to wool.
THE MOST CONSIDERATE DESIGN
Vegan decorations are, without doubt, far less cruel than animal-based options, but one important piece of advice is to keep the quality products you already have. “It’s unsustainable to throw everything out and replace it with vegan options,” says Risha.
Vanessa Cullen is the vegan CEO of Forward Thinking Design, an interior fit-out design company. Comparing design with food, she explains that food is ingested, then either burned as energy or excreted, with nutritional benefits occurring along the way. However, with new interior products, every resource used is extracted from the Earth in various damaging ways, and to less benefit. Trees are cut down, plastics are petroleum-derived, and cotton requires vast amounts of water. These products temporarily grace our homes and then when we’re done with them, up to 80 percent end up in landfill, causing a further negative impact.
Saving an item from landfill is more sustainable than purchasing a new one, plus second-hand items are also likely to have finished off-gassing, meaning they are a healthier option for you, too. So, get creative and breathe new life into old items – it’s good for the soul and all concerned.
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