Sustainability in Interior Design: A Vision for Timeless, Eco-Friendly Style

As designers, architects and material producers, we all have a deep responsibility for sustainability in interior design.

The interior spaces we create have the ability to meaningfully impact people’s lives, including issues of health and wellbeing. Whilst good design lifts us effortlessly, creating a feeling of space, ease and beauty in our day-to-day routines, the opposite is also true. That’s why we must prioritise the feel and functionality of our interior spaces, giving them careful consideration, just as we should use sustainable materials and green design principles to help us create increasingly sustainable buildings. Each of these factors has an enormous impact on ourselves, our planet and the environment.

Whether it be the sense of family connection and tranquillity a beautiful kitchen with natural stone flooring and sustainable tiles brings to your home, or the energy-saving benefits gained from sustainable house design - implementing good design choices means designing in a way that creates a feeling of calm and comfort and exists in harmony with our natural environment. We should only notice design for the sense of aesthetic pleasure it brings and the feeling of well-being it creates within us. The rising focus on sustainability in interior design is making this increasingly possible, and the life benefits our clients and end-users experience from this evolving design ideal are powerful.

As human beings, we have a deeply rooted and instinctive reaction to our natural world and the interior design of our spaces should reflect that reality. Making use of natural light, greenery, airflow, water and materials like sustainable wood flooring can impart a powerful sense of well-being. The recent trend towards biophilia brings those into our lives with creative, interior design practices like living walls and these design elements can be enhanced by beautiful surfaces like sustainable hardwood and recycled glass tiles.

At Find Surfaces, we’re proud of our commitment to sustainability in interior design and know your projects will benefit from that commitment with products like our natural stone collection, glass mosaics and terrazzo tiles. We recognise that the ways in which we source and process our materials are highly important. For example, quarrying and processing stone is less energy-intensive than the production processes of other materials like bricks and concrete. In addition, the long-term durability of both stone and porcelain means a reduced lifetime impact cost, with a lesser replacement cost. These are important principles of green design, which aims for the most sustainable and ecologically minded products possible. You can rest assured that our products are carefully selected and curated with the highest sustainability credentials, including a holistic approach to project delivery focused around highly efficient, bespoke manufacturing techniques.

Our aim is to reduce waste and create beauty. We delight in bringing inspiring, luxurious materials into your world that will last for years to come and bring you an ongoing sense of inspiration and pleasure. We’re also deeply committed to people. Relationships are at the heart of everything we do. Our work with a wider team of sustainable product producers and designers is a key part of that ethos, which is why we spoke with London designer Sara Rocha and asked her to share her passion and expertise for sustainable interior design with you. Sara has been advocating for sustainability in interior design for more than a decade. Her interest in the topic was borne back in 2007 while studying for an MA in Interior Design at IADE Lisbon, and she’s since worked to integrate sustainable solutions into projects around the world. We spoke to Sara about the role of material in sustainable interior design, her vision for the industry’s future, and tips for choosing sustainable products to bring lasting style and beauty to your spaces. 

Find Surfaces: What does ‘sustainable design’ mean to you, and what does it mean to have a ‘sustainable home’? 

Sara Rocha: Sustainable design takes into consideration the impact it has on the environment and on us - through the materials it uses, the way it’s produced, how it’s used and, most importantly, where it’s going to end up - the same way a sustainable home is a space that has a positive impact on the environment and on people through design, construction, implementation, and use.

Find Surfaces: Why is sustainability an important consideration in design right now?

Sara Rocha: Everyone who creates should consider sustainability. As everyone knows, humans have been using and abusing finite resources, neglecting their importance and generating extreme quantities of waste material. Not only do we not appreciate products the way we used to, we’re now also cluttering our lives and landfill. We don’t need more of the same, but new iterations of what already exists. 

Find Surfaces: How does it manifest in your projects and what are your favourite sustainable products?

Sara Rocha: First and most importantly, it manifests in being conscious of what I’m designing. The designs I create are multifunctional, timeless, and flexible to people’s evolving needs. By understanding the true essence of my client, I can design spaces they won’t tire of. I favour products with longevity and strive to design versatile layouts that enable clients to maximise the space. When choosing sustainable products for projects, I tend to: 

  • Approach local brands and choose handmade products that will last
  • Look for certified items
  • Use natural materials, ideally those that are easily renewable (bamboo and rattan), or are produced using low energy (linen)
  • Consider recycled and upcycled products
  • Choose reclaimed and salvage, in natural materials (e.g. reclaimed wooden boards)
  • Assess the life cycle of the product and consider whether it can be reused or recycled
  • Select products that are organic and low in VOC.

Find Surfaces: How can other interior designers achieve sustainability in their projects?

Sara Rocha: It’s important to explain to clients the benefits of sustainable solutions for their homes and the environment in comparison to traditional solutions. Knowing your suppliers is incredibly important too. Find out about their sustainable values and ensure materials and products are responsibly sourced, ideally with certificates that promote low environmental impact. Consider every other option before buying new, and when you do try to ensure it’s reusable and can easily be upcycled.

I’d assess the product life cycle, ensuring you choose natural products which haven’t been compromised with toxins. Also, it’s worth considering a circular economy with your designs and studio – including cradle-to-cradle products, which have a continuous lifecycle and therefore don’t contribute to landfill. Make sure to design for energy efficiency, using quality insulation to maintain room temperature, and use quality materials and products that endure. Strategies like biophilic design are also worth noting as they incorporate natural elements (form, shape or texture) into the space, while good indoor air quality and organic materials can minimise air pollutants.

Find Surfaces: And what are some of the challenges they might face?

Sara Rocha: Managing a client’s needs with sustainable design strategies can be challenging unless they are already concerned with climate change and willing to apply sustainability. It also adds another challenge due to – misconception or not – sustainability being more expensive and with limited options in the market. Until recently it’s been difficult to find sustainable alternatives that would transmit the same luxurious, aesthetic sense we’re used to. Times are changing, though, and both designers and manufacturers are investing more in sustainable design. Taking your time to source items is important. Shipping and other factors make it difficult to be totally sustainable, but the main thing is to start putting together a list of suppliers you know that apply sustainability using their certifications and adopting international sustainable shipping. 

Find Surfaces: What role does material play in sustainable design? 

Sara Rocha: Material is where everything starts. From croplands to quarries and forests, the way material is grown, harvested, and produced and the natural resources it consumes all complement the finished material. When it comes to sustainability, we should consider certified and reclaimed versions if possible. We use materials everywhere in design. So, materials can be responsible for irresponsible harvesting, high consumption of natural resources, unsustainable and unethical production, increased landfill usage, and much more. 

Find Surfaces: Can you share some tips on how you choose and work with materials?

Sara Rocha: Firstly, make sure it’s from an environmentally responsible source, ideally with a certificate. Then focus on its mechanical and visual properties: durability and performance and how it responds to the clients’ needs. Make sure to see a larger sample of it to get the feeling and see any variants. I like to play with strong contrasts, so when I choose my main material I select a couple of others inspired by the original material’s colour, design or texture.

Tips:

  • Accent and bold materials – to create detailed areas
  • Natural and plain materials – to work as your canvas
  • Different textures– to bring depth to the space
  • Contrasting colours – to make it fun

Find Surfaces: What role do suppliers have in the quest for eco-friendly design? 

Sara Rocha: The product’s creator is the true game-changer. The one that chooses the material, decides how it’s going to be produced, how it will be used and where it will end up. They are the ones that hold the key to sustainability in the design industry. I like to believe suppliers, producers and manufacturers one day will refuse to create and sell designs that are not sustainable and will positively influence people’s behaviours and slowly change their perspectives.

Find Surfaces: What do you feel the priorities are when choosing surfaces - both from the perspective of creating great design and also in terms of sustainability? 

Sara Rocha: When choosing surfaces there is so much you can do nowadays. Adding technology to the material you are choosing, regardless of the use will definitely make your project stand out. The opportunity to do so many designs and textures allows designers to use surfaces as a canvas for unique projects (e.g. perforated, 3D, fluorescent pigmented resin, backlit stone, etc …). Using strong contrasts of finishes will also highlight a more timeless and traditional surface option so your project stands out. 

In terms of priorities when choosing, first you need to consider if it’s for residential or commercial use as the options in the market will vary. The mechanical properties are very important in order to fit the needs. You want it to be durable, stain and weather resistant, to have easy maintenance if possible and a long-life cycle in order to reduce the impact on the environment.

The next step (if not at the same time) is to align your choices with your aesthetics requirements (finishes, colours and patterns) as well as within the budget and lead times available. With sustainability in mind, you should look for green/eco/environmentally friendly options while selecting your surfaces, preferring products with recycled materials and/or certificates - for example, Find Surfaces’ recycled glass mosaics, or the terrazzo tiles made of post-consumer and recycled content, or even the porcelain tiles which are produced in accordance to the Building Council's LEED sustainability protocol. In the end, like any other product you are bringing to a project, the option you choose for your surface, should have been produced in a responsible and sustainable way, respecting economic, environmental and social aspects. 

Find Surfaces: What sustainable materials do you like to use or see in other projects? 

Sara Rocha: I like Terrazzo. A clever man-made product that uses small bits of other stones and glasses - a surplus, waste, or by-product of the industry - combined with a binding agent. It is a hard-wearing option with a long-life cycle. Aesthetically it gives this Mediterranean and relaxed style while bringing the sustainable ethos to your project. I particularly like large format terrazzo or so-called Venetian terrazzo.

I like natural stone also. It is impossible not to. Whilst it can be an ambiguous subject the sustainable uses of natural stone - because of it being a non-renewable resource - this option has been considered to be environmentally friendly and an efficient option for many years due to its properties, the way it is manufactured and because it can be recycled – as opposed to some of the synthetic options in the market. Within natural stone, there are more environmentally friendly options with a lower carbon footprint than others. Make sure to ask all the questions to your supplier and manufacturer in order to understand the process the material undergoes. 

I particularly love Travertine. It is elegant and timeless in my opinion. It has a natural non-slip texture, is durable and resilient, it’s also considered to have a more sustainable manufacturing process than other natural stones. Other preferences for a more sustainable approach could be reclaimed and salvaged wood, ceramic tiles, plasterwork surfaces, and bamboo finish options – either on wallpaper or as a hard finish. 

Find Surfaces: How do you think design will evolve its approach to sustainability?

Sara Rocha: Material scientists are coming up with recycled alternatives and biodegradable materials, including waste coffee and mushroom growth materials. Skilled artisans and designers are starting to approach alternative materials, like banana fibre, and developing bio-fabricated products. Upcycled designs are coming to light and waste is becoming a resource. Designers are more aware of the responsible alternatives and manufacturers are starting to certify their products. As long as we maintain this speed and present new designs, I believe we can change perceptions and perspectives of what it means to be sustainable in design. 

Find Surfaces: What would be your ultimate vision for creating a more sustainable interior design industry?

Sara Rocha: A Sustainable Interior Design Association would be a big step forward. Sustainability cannot be seen as a trend or something that’s short-term, it has to become a philosophy. Design can no longer be seen as only aesthetically pleasing and functional, but must also be sustainable. I hope the industry can be a driving force in pushing sustainable practices. 

Find Surfaces: Thank you, Sara!

At Find Surfaces, we’re looking forward to joining Sara and other eco-conscious professionals on our continuing journey towards a truly sustainable interior design industry. We hope our collections will help designers and architects more easily reflect these values, achieving stunning, eco-friendly designs for their clients.

In addition to the energy efficient production and reduced lifetime impact of our highly durable natural stone, we also offer recycled glass mosaics, as well as engineered Terrazzo tiles (made with up to 72% of post-consumer recycled content).

Designers will also benefit from our porcelain tiles, produced in accordance with the Building Council’s LEED sustainability protocol. Large numbers of products are already made with 40% of recycled resources, and our production management systems meet the UNI EN ISO 14001 Environmental Management System standard for pollution prevention, waste reduction, and energy and materials consumption reduction. We hope you’ll join us as we work towards this greater vision - beautiful, eco-friendly interiors which benefit both people and the world.

Below we have shared some stunning examples of natural stone from our collections. Please get in touch with our team today to discuss your needs.

Explore our Semi-Precious collection; creating a unique opulence and upholding sustainability.

View our carefully selected, contemporary and elegant Lavastone collection here.

Sourced with care from across the globe, our 12mm collection is available to view here.

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