7 TIPS TO SUSTAINABLY FURNISH YOUR SPACE

When I moved into my new apartment two years ago, I was determined to fill it with sustainable furniture and decorations. I had sublet my three previous NYC apartments so that I could travel, and they all came pre-furnished. I didn't own anything other than a couple of suitcases, lots of books, and lots of clothes. I needed a bed, bookshelves, and a desk for my room. I also needed bedding, a mattress, curtains, and lighting. I share my apartment with a roommate, so my priority was my bedroom. In my next apartment, however, I look forward to furnishing every room sustainably. Check out my tips below for furnishing your small space sustainably, and see my bedroom too!

Model4greenliving_Sustainable-Bedroom

1. MEASURE YOUR ROOM'S DIMENSIONS

Bedroom plan example.jpg

Measuring may not seem like a tip for sustainability, but it's actually quite important. If you buy things without knowing how they will fit in the space, you are more likely to be disappointed by how your room looks and feels, and therefore create more waste if you have to replace them. Measure each wall's length, to determine where furniture can be placed. Also measure the height of your ceilings, doorways, and any windows your room may have. Make a simple drawing of your room's floor plan, and write down each measurement as you go.

You can use this to reference when you're searching for each piece of furniture. What piece do you want where? How much room will they have on each wall? How much free space to walk will be left around each piece after you bring them in?

2. MAKE A FURNITURE LIST & PLAN LAYOUT

mock room setup

List your must-have pieces first. What do you have to have right away and what can wait? My must-haves were my bed frame and mattress, bedding, hangers, and curtains. My next priorities were a bookshelf, desk, and a mirror. The least pressing items were decorations such as paintings, plants, rugs, and lamps. Knowing exactly what you need allows you to avoid impulse buys that often end up in a landfill later. 

Leave room next to each item on your list. You will want to right down the measurements of each possible furniture purchase you find and reference that with the floor plan you measured earlier before you buy them. Does the bed you love have enough room? How much room does that leave for the dresser you found to go with it? 

 

4. MIX OLD AND NEW MATERIALS

Vintage Table Legs for Desk Top

My room has a mix of newly made pieces along with used ones, as I couldn't find everything new that I needed sustainably made, at a price point I wanted to spend. What does your budget allow? Invest in sustainably made, new pieces that you want to keep for decades if you have the money and desire to do so. You can also find amazing refurbished and used furniture in vintage stores or on websites like Craigslist and Ebay.

I decided to invest in my bed and bedding, and be more creative with the rest of my budget by searching for a secondhand desk and shelving. I found amazing steel table-legs for the base of a desk, similar to the one shown here, at a flea market in Williamsburg. Later I was able to find a wooden desktop at Big Reuse Brooklyn that fits perfectly on top. Mixing old and new things is fun and a wonderful opportunity to be creative.

5. LOOK FOR MULTI PURPOSE PIECES

Urban green furniture_urban basics bed maple .jpg

If you want to make the most of your small space, invest in furniture that has more than one function. Choose pieces with unexpected storage compartments and space-saving extensions. I got my sustainable bed frame from Urban Green Furniture. They are based in Brooklyn and build beautiful, modern furniture that is sustainable and built to last. I was able to save valuable space, that would have been taken up by a dresser, with its built-in drawers underneath. 

 

6. THINK ABOUT YOUR NEXT MOVE

Pieces need to last a long time in order be categorized as sustainable, and not just made from organic materials. Because of this, I made my furniture choices based on their versatility and ability to transition with me into new spaces. I purchased Elfa shelving brackets, so that I could move them and change the layout of my shelves depending upon the spaces I may occupy in the future.  I also loved the Elfa system because you can choose your own shelves for them. Mine are made from reclaimed wood also from Big Reuse Brooklyn! Versatility is essential to sustainability, and in a small space transformable systems are key.

model4greenliving_sustainable-shelving.JPG

7. DECORATE WITH ORGANIC FABRICS AND LOW-WATER PLANTS

organic fabric pillows

Shop for plants at your local farmers market, and ask for plants that require less water if possible. I have chosen a variety of succulents for my room, including 3 cacti species and a Yucca tree, because they require very little water and a hardy. The less resources required to keep a plant alive, the better!

I purchased my organic cotton duvet from West Elm, my sheets from Ettitude, my natural hemp curtains from Rawganique, and my mattress from Keetsa. There are so many fantastic sustainable bedding options, so I encourage you to shop around and go with whatever your budget and location will allow for.

Q&A WITH MELISSA CANTOR OF ETHICA

Tell me a bit about yourself.

     My name is Melissa Cantor. I'm originally from Tegucigalpa, Honduras (which is part of what sparked my interest in commerce as a tool for international development and positive social impact). I started my career as a magazine editor in Miami; later worked on digital media launches for companies like NBC, AOL and Fox; and most recently spent a couple of years working on web and social content at Tiffany & Co. and L'Oreal.
     I'm the co-founder and editor of Ethica, which I launched with my sister and husband in 2012, as well as an occasional freelance writer whose work has been published by CNN and New York magazine, among others.

What is Ethica?

     Ethica opened its virtual doors in September 2012 with a pioneering proposition: to make it simple and, above all, exciting to support ethical and sustainable fashion. Our brands range from buzzy up-and-comers to industry pioneers to tiny artisan outfits. In 2015, we expanded our selection to include a small selection of change-makers in the world of clean beauty as well.

What does “Sustainable Fashion" mean to you?

     It's timeless, high-quality clothing made with respect for people, the planet and other living beings. On a personal level, for me it's come to mean understanding the story behind a garment and falling in love with that aspect of it, in addition to the way it looks and feels. When I receive a compliment on an ethically made or sustainable item, I always have something I could share about it (though of course I don't always do so!), whether it's the fact that it's made of reclaimed materials, made in one of the few knitwear factories remaining in the U.S., etc. It adds a layer of enjoyment to it for me.
     From an industry perspective, I really like this question because it underscores the fact that ethical and sustainable are broad and subjective terms. From day one at Ethica, we have spelled out on every product page exactly why we consider an item ethical and sustainable, so that the shopper doesn't have to rely on our definition and can make her own decision. We hope that this translates into more empowered and informed consumers all around, not just when they are shopping with us.

Does the sustainable design trend we are currently seeing in fashion reinvigorate your passion for the industry?

     Yes, absolutely. I left my career as a fashion writer to launch Ethica precisely because I no longer wanted to be part of the status quo, and it's very encouraging to see how many people have embraced this movement in the past few years, from all aspects of the industry – you're a great example of this! I love meeting people who are contributing different sets of talents toward this common goal. For me as a writer and communicator, the creative and anthropological aspects of fashion are what have always been appealing, and both of these are magnified in sustainable fashion. There is so much creativity in terms of use of materials, designing for longevity, using commerce to make a positive impact, and so many takeaways when you look at this movement from a social and cultural perspectives. So yes, I'm really encouraged by everything I see, and it's so fulfilling to be able to create awareness about these issues and also offer people a platform where they can turn that knowledge into action.

Do you think an on-trend / contemporary wardrobe is possible, while maintaining our ethics?

     100 percent. Ethics aside, I don't think cheaply made, trend-driven clothing is the foundation of a good wardrobe. Deliberately investing in well-designed, well-made pieces over time is much more likely to lead to a strong wardrobe, so I think ethics and style go hand in hand.
Returning to the idea of story, when you have a personal connection to the things that you purchase, and when your closet is full of things that you want to keep over the years (instead of picking something up and going, "What was I thinking when I bought this?"), your wardrobe becomes an aspect of your personal narrative, and isn't that ultimately what style is?

The average consumer doesn't believe that they have the extra income required to pay the true cost of their clothing. Many seem to believe more sustainable options are too expensive or simply unavailable. How do you respond to this claim?

     I say that supporting ethical and sustainable fashion doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. That creates such a barrier to entry, mentally, and it turns it into something that people will do "someday." If you can't afford to buy ethical and sustainable fashion exclusively, that's ok. But there's surely a step that you can take, like maybe giving up shopping at one fast fashion store. Or buying just some things ethically. I know someone who's very committed to ethical fashion and sustainability, but who makes an exception for shoes because she can't find affordable options. I think that's perfectly reasonable, and it doesn't minimize her support for sustainable brands in other categories. It's about taking the first step, and then the next one, instead of thinking of it as this big, restrictive, expensive lifestyle. The more that you explore the field, the more options you'll find. There are a lot of great, affordable brands out there, along with plenty of sales and secondhand options. 

Is sustainable fashion able to reach everyday consumers who may shop in "fast fashion" now?

     It's certainly available to anyone with an interest in it. The bigger challenge, in my view, is creating that interest. Some people just don't want to engage in these issues, even if you tell them that the fashion industry is nearly as bad as the oil industry, or that a lifetime of wearing formaldehyde-soaked clothes might give them cancer someday. And I understand that, because that's not exactly an uplifting message. That's why good design is so important, because it's a way of attracting people through something positive, and once they have a positive experience, they can hopefully start to outgrow fast fashion.

What does "green living" mean to you? How do you incorporate green living into your life?

     It means to tread lightly, and to try to at least not leave anything worse than I found it–whether that's a person on the other side of the world who is affected by my choices, or whether it's a more direct environmental impact. I've always thought of myself as someone who cares for and about the environment, but giving up single-use plastic and aspiring to zero-waste living in recent years has absolutely blown my mind. I'm not zero-waste yet (or even close), but I work toward these goals every day.
     When people ask me how or where to start on a journey to sustainability, I suggest seeing how long they can go without buying something that's made in China or how long they can do without single-use plastic bottles, bags or straws. It's really eye-opening as to how pervasive these things are.

THE CLIMATE MARCH, NYC 2014

Join the Largest Climate March in History!

On September 21st, hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens will gather north of Columbus Circle in NYC to take part in the 

People's Climate March

—what will soon be known as the largest march in support of global climate action.

When:

 Sunday, September 21

Where:

 Columbus Circle, New York City, New York

Time:

 11:30 am

This Climate March gives us an opportunity to use our collective energy and speak out minds for something extremely important. It is an invaluable way to show our governments, companies, and policy makers, how many people actually care and want to make a difference to the way in which we use natural resources and consequently affect our environment.

If you have any opportunity to participate, please consider attending this peaceful march.

Visit

HERE

 for more details.

***Even if you do not live in the New York City area, there will be buses, trains, and other transportation solutions to help you get there. 

All you need to do is RSVP

, and the Environmental Defense Fund will send you travel information specific to your state, as well as information on where to meet up with other EDF activists and staff  for the march.

 
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Renee Peters

Renee Peters is a NYC-based model, blogger, and advocate of mindful, sustainable living. She strives to be a role model by using her platform for positive change. Through her blog, Model4GreenLiving, Peters seeks to reshape the way people think about environmental issues and provide practical tips and everyday actions for readers.  Peters uses social media to promote that same message, as well as one of self-love and body-positivity. She also volunteers, is an environmental activist, and is an avid learner of anything relating to the planet and its health. For booking inquires visit Muse Models NYC or Nomad Management Miami.