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What is green design/sustainable design/ eco-friendly design and how does it affect me?

Green or eco-friendly interior design focuses on improving indoor air quality as well as reducing the impact that furniture purchases have on the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that most Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants are often two to five times higher than typical outdoor concentrations. Since so much of our time is spent indoors, it’s crucial that close attention is paid to the products that we bring into our homes.


Skip the flame retardants, go organic. Standard upholstered goods are made from polyurethane foam (poly-foam) wrapped in dacron. Both materials are man-made and petroleum-based. They contain isocyanates and polyols that are highly flammable and are often treated with flame-retardant chemicals to reduce combustibility. The chemicals in these flame retardants have been linked to a wide range of health problems such as impaired fertility and IQ and developmental problems in children.

Image by Mel Poole
Image by Huy Phan


Opt for furniture made from solid wood such as walnut, teak, oak or maple. Wood furniture is typically held together by basic wood joinery techniques, ensuring a stronger bond and requiring less adhesives, which are the main culprits in harmful VOC emissions.

Avoid furniture composed of MDF or particleboard, which is made from compressed shavings or sawdust held together by synthetic resins, binders and glues. One of the ingredients often found in these adhesives is formaldehyde, which can cause wheezing, nausea, and severe allergic reactions and is known to cause cancer in animals.


Choose natural fibers such as wool, cotton, or jute over synthetics. Wool is naturally fire retardant unlike its artificial counterparts, which are prone to igniting more easily. Wool absorbs moisture and captures dust or pollen, thus reducing humidity and allergens in the air.


Synthetic rugs are often made from nylon, acetate, or polyester. These man-made fibers are highly flammable and are often treated with synthetic chemicals to reduce flammability, increasing the potency of toxins off-gassing into your home. If you are sensitive to chemicals or odors, off-gassing from newly installed synthetic rugs and carpets may cause headaches, dizziness, or nausea.



Choose zero-VOC or low-VOC paints. We like Benjamin Moore’s Natura line, which is available in any of their wide range of colors.

Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)

These are chemicals that off-gas into the air – some of which have harmful long-term health effects. Read more about VOCs on our indoor air quality post.