This Is the One Easy, High-Impact Sustainable Swap You Can Make at Home, According to Interior Designers

published Apr 7, 2021
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Living room designed by Rebecca Hay Designs

Spring cleaning season has officially arrived, and there’s no better time than now to spruce up your space with sustainability in mind. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American produces about 5.91 pounds of trash daily and only recycles about 1.51 pounds of that amount. This means over four pounds of waste, which will likely wind up in a landfill and contribute to the greenhouse effect, is generated per person every single day.

If you’re looking to be a little more mindful of your consumption at home, here’s some good news: Whether you’re on a tight budget or planning for a major eco-friendly interior overhaul, there’s one simple but highly effective decor swap that designers say can help lower your home’s negative impact on the environment. It’s as easy as shopping for used furniture items instead of buying brand new pieces when outfitting your space. Sure, this might seem like NBD or obvious, but it’s by far the most popular piece of advice sustainability-minded interior designers have to give in this arena, and this simple swap can make a big, cumulative difference.

Not only is sourcing secondhand furniture an eco-friendly way to update your home, interior designer Emma Beryl says it prolongs the life of an item that could otherwise end up in a landfill. “You’re also not contributing to further deforestation by buying a new furniture piece,” she says. “Additionally, the vintage pieces that you find will also most likely have more personality, soul, and interest than something new and mass-produced would.”

Along with all of the environmental perks of shopping secondhand, interior designer Kirsten Grove of We Three Design says that decorating with used items has aesthetic benefits, too. “Mixing vintage and new can create a space that feels special and unpredictable, and I encourage my clients to mix the two looks for both aesthetic reasons and for sustainable purposes,” she says.

Interested in making the switch to secondhand furniture when upgrading your home this spring? These designer-approved tips will help you get started and hone your own unique style in the process.

Know where to shop

When searching for quality used furniture pieces, interior designer Rebecca Hay, whose work is shown at the top of this story, suggests hitting up antique and flea markets as well as secondhand shops. “These markets often have lower-priced items, and you can come about some unique finds for furnishing and decorating your home more sustainably and at a lower cost,” she explains.

If you prefer shopping for home decor and furniture online, Beryl recommends checking out virtual resale sites such as Chairish, 1stDibs, and Etsy. “There’s a lot to dig through, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, the ‘Staff Picks’ section on Chairish is a great curation of the best new items they’re offering at any given time and is a great place to start,” she adds.

What to source second hand

Whether you’re looking for a table lamp, rug, or a sectional sofa, Grove says options are endless when buying used furniture pieces to outfit your home. “If I see a new table lamp, I remember the design in my head and hunt for a similar style at one of my favorite antique shops,” Grove explains. “You can do this for virtually any furniture item that you may need at home — and tracking down the right piece is half the fun.”

If you’re concerned that a gently-used furniture item won’t be as reliable or efficient as a new version, Helen Rutledge, owner of Bibelot Home, a vintage shop in Charleston, South Carolina, says not to worry. “Incorporating antiques and vintage pieces instead of mass-produced items means that you’re focusing on quality items instead of those that are intended to last for just a few years and then end up in our landfills,” she explains. “We scour the country looking for unique, vintage pieces that are perfect as-is or with an easy update like a new coat of paint or a quick fabric update.” Translation: They really don’t make things the way they used to, and all most pre-loved pieces need is a little facelift to keep on keeping on.

Reupholster (and repurpose) whenever possible

Whether it’s a mid-century style lounge chair you purchased secondhand or an outdated loveseat you already owned, interior designer Gray Walker of Gray Walker Interiors says that reupholstering old furniture pieces is an eco-friendly (and affordable) way to update your space. “This allows you to be creative with fabric and welting so that the item looks completely different,” she explains. “For example, you can use a solid contrasting welt with a patterned fabric on a chair.”

The same sentiment can be applied when repurposing used decor items throughout your home. “For example, you can update a used table lamp with a different lampshade or switch around lampshades you already own from room to room (if they’re the same size),” says interior designer Tina Ramchandani. “You can also purchase pre-made curtains from a resale shop or auction, open up the lining, and re-sew it so it fits your home’s needs.”

Either way, you’ll be upgrading your home and helping the environment at the same time.