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Green and graceful

Sustainable design

  • Property Style
  • 21st Apr 2024

Sustainable design is possible

Noz Nozawa never thought she’d be passionate about antiques. When the San Francisco designer bought her first home in 2010, her style was firmly rooted in Mid-Century Modern. And since 2014, when she career-hopped from marketing to the world of interiors, she has honed a maximalist aesthetic – big, bright, bold.

So colour her surprised at the way old footstools (she now has a collection) and other French antiques have resonated with her over the years.

“It’s totally weird that in this modern boxy condo where I live, the most visible piece of furniture in my bay window is this 19th-century gilded, hand-carved French settee that I recovered in a denim fabric,” Nozawa says.

It’s not a choice she envisioned a decade or so ago. The interest and appeal came on slowly, over time.

Noz Nozawa design

That same kind of open-mindedness and easy-does-it pace is what Nozawa preaches when it comes to sustainable design. She’ll be the first to admit: sustainability is tough to pull off in the design world. Most clients think it’s all about the products—bamboo floors, say, over oak. But the sustainability quotient of bamboo diminishes considerably if it has to be shipped from halfway across the world. Sustainable design is more than a magic set of materials. It’s a mindset.

Here are Nozawa's tips for putting that mindset to work.

Think first (about your consumption), buy later.

The greenest step a home enthusiast can take is the first one – to be mindful of the steps to come, and realise your choices can and will make a difference. For example, if you buy something – whether it’s a hammock or a Herman Miller sectional – knowing you’ll only have it for a few years and toss it, then it doesn’t really matter how eco-friendly its materials are.

This goes for homes, too.

If you care about the environment, Nozawa says, but find yourself drawn to a house that was remodelled five years ago, and you hate the renovation and plan to redo it, that’s a sign that you need to rethink.

Renovations use up natural resources. Buy a house you won’t change as much, she suggests. Or find a fixer-upper and save it from the bulldozer. This may mean living in the midst of your renovation for a time, with some rooms redone, some unfinished, some empty.

“It’s a huge ask,” she admits. But a commitment to sustainability often requires accepting a certain level of inconvenience.

Noz Nozawa sustainable designer

Invest locally.

If the latest supply-chain issues have taught us anything, it’s that a sofa upholstered one town over is worth 10 (or pick your figure) in a container ship.

“Our clients are proud of the number of local makers we work with,” Nozawa says. Look around, she advises. Perhaps you live in an area with great furnituremakers, or upholsterers. Besides being more sustainable, supporting local artisans helps your community, and makes each item feel more special.

“And nothing comes damaged or in a huge box,” she adds.

Play the waiting game.

If you have to purchase items from a distance, try to resist the urge to get them here faster.

She calls herself old-fashioned, preferring to buy items in actual stores, rather than online, where the “express shipping” button is so seductive.

The faster something comes to you, she notes, the more likely it is that every part of the process – from production, to the extra packaging needed to ship it, to the pollution churned out by air transport – has a harsher impact than buying something locally and with a slower delivery rate.

Spend more, care more, enjoy longer.

While construction and renovation are, in essence, consumptive, when done right they needn’t be wasteful, she explains. High-quality goods tend to last longer, and caring for them will only extend their lifetime.

The same can be said for life’s creature comforts – objects and spaces designed purely for beauty or pleasure. If that creature comfort brings you joy, if it keeps you happy and settled in one place, instead of roaming to the next home, the next renovation, then the purchase – no matter the price, or the materials, for that matter – was likely well worth it.

Noz Nozawa designer

Like Nozawa’s bay-window settee.

“My husband takes naps on it, my dog uses it to stand on and bark at other dogs on the sidewalk. It’s the best.”

And it looks much better there than in a landfill. ◊

This story was originally published in Sotheby’s International Realty’s RESIDE magazine.

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