Forget Ikea – how sustainable slow decorating has become a new home trend – South China Morning Post

Forget Ikea – how sustainable slow decorating has become a new home trend – South China Morning Post

How slow decorating is a new sustainable home trend fighting against fast furniture like Ikea, encompassing vintage pieces, upcycling and quality that lasts

In a world where speed and convenience have become a siren song to consumers, there’s a movement toward buying more mindfully, sustainably, slowly.

You’ve heard of slow fashion. Slow food. Slow travel. Now, when it comes to the home, there’s “slow decorating”.

A reaction against rooms filled with mass-produced “fast furniture”, slow decorating embraces a more deliberate approach that prioritises a personal connection to the things we live with.

It might mean giving new life to heirloom or found pieces. Or buying new items that have the quality to last.

In Gideon Mendelson’s home in Sagaponack, New York State, the designer framed some vintage deli signs to add a playful element to the dining room. Photo: AP

New York-based designer Gideon Mendelson thinks the movement echoes the Japanese philosophy of ikigai, which centres on finding meaning and purpose. Applied to interiors, it’s about creating spaces that promote all-round well-being.

“To me, good design makes room for living and doing. Decorating with meaningful pieces isn’t about chasing an aesthetic, but curating spaces that resonate with authenticity and personal stories,” he says.

“It’s not just about how it looks, it’s about how you want to live.”

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And you don’t have to spend a lot, he says. He framed some inexpensive yet eye-catching vintage deli signs, adding a playful element to the dining room of his Hamptons home.

The trend toward “slower”, more thoughtful interior design, Mendelson thinks, lies in subtleties, such as “the cherished heirlooms and the intimate connection between a space and its inhabitants”.

Fast furniture’s association with cheaper materials, excessive packaging and frequent replacement clashes with consumers’ growing interest in minimising our lasting impact on the planet.

Now, we’re buying more mindfully, but we’re also having a lot of fun DIYing.

Designer Jillian Hayward Schaible of Susan Hayward Interiors says it’s worth investing in the pieces that you sit, sleep and eat on as they tend to have longevity and be more comfortable. Photo: AP

During the pandemic, slow assembly lines and stalled container ships meant a lot of brand-new homewares weren’t getting made or sent to market, so upcycling things we already had or found became a hobby, and often necessity.

If you could find a great sideboard at a flea market or online reseller that just needed a little TLC, why not?

Not too long ago, decor trade shows would include a handful of studio labs offering reclaimed wood items and organic textiles. Today, at global fairs like Ambiente in Frankfurt, Salone in Milan and Paris’ Maison et Objet, hundreds of companies show new designs made with environmental and social impact in mind.

Things that have already stood the test of time often have another 50 years left in them. Side tables, desks, even cabinets are great pieces to look for

Dan Mazzarini of BHDM Design

There’s fair trade manufacturing. Fast-growing renewables like hemp, bamboo and cork. Cushions made of soy-based foam instead of petroleum-based foam. Recycled glass and metal accessories.

People in the mid-20s to 30s age range are seen as drivers of the slow design trend. TikTok and Instagram feeds are full of refinish-and-reveal videos, and modest abodes full of found treasures.

Stephen Orr, editor in chief of Better Homes & Gardens, says he’s spent the past couple of years renovating a 1760s house on Cape Cod.

“The first year was during the pandemic, so antiques and flea markets were a godsend considering all the supply chain disruptions,” he says.

“But during that process, we came to the realisation that pieces with a patina of age better celebrate the house’s long history anyway.”

Peter Spalding of Daniel House Club says “slow decorating” includes buying the most authentic versions of furniture that you can afford. Photo: AP

He also added some new, modern pieces, “so it doesn’t look like we should be dressed in period Colonial Williamsburg costumes”.

Furniture for sitting, sleeping and eating is where you should spend more money on quality, says Jillian Hayward Schaible of Susan Hayward Interiors.

“We encourage clients to invest in pieces like sofas or sectionals, beds, dining tables, and upholstered items, because you can really feel the difference when these items are well made,” she says.

Peter Spalding of the designer furniture sourcing platform Daniel House Club says that imitations of Chippendale and other legacy-style pieces – think cabinets and wingback chairs, for example – were common in the ’80s and early ’90s.

“Now the imitations aren’t very valuable, but the originals remain highly sought-after,” he says. “As you collect ‘slow furniture’, buy the most authentic versions you can afford.”

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Dan Mazzarini of BHDM Design and its editorial arm Archive echoes the advice.

“If you’re looking for a good investment, go straight to vintage. Things that have already stood the test of time often have another 50 years left in them. Side tables, desks, even cabinets are great pieces to look for,” he says.

Mendelson mentions a pair of vintage French plaster shell sconces in his home in Sagaponack, in New York State. He bought them 15 years ago “and they still feel fresh and relevant today”.

“I think a desire for one-of-a-kind and bespoke is at least starting a conversation about handmade,” he says. “Quality versus quantity. Living with intention.”

Mendelson’s pair of vintage French plaster shell sconces “still feel fresh and relevant today”, he says. Photo: AP

Many US retailers are getting seats on the slow train. West Elm, for instance, was early among home retailers in joining the production certification organisation Fair Trade USA, which ensures that suppliers maintain good workplaces and wages, and support their communities.

The global reforestation project One Tree Planted receives a percentage of every purchase from furniture brand Joybird. Herman Miller’s rePurpose programme gives used furniture to non-profit organisations. And Ikea has initiatives like moving to bio-based glue, and instituting a buy-back/resell programme that saw 230,000 items given a new life in 2022.

For the past five years, the United Nations Refugee Agency’s Made51 initiative has helped artisans partner with fashion and home accessories businesses worldwide to create sustainable, fairly traded goods.