Small Steps Toward a Sustainable Home



Going "green" has become much more the norm these days as all of us are coming to terms with the fact that our planet can't sustain lifestyles dependent on single use, disposable goods.  And we're all at different stages of transformation when it comes to changing our practices to ones that are more sustainable.  If building an eco-friendly home from the ground up isn't part of your next 5 year plan, what's the next best way to go green in your home?   I'll give you a hint, it has to do with slow style and the expert on making small but powerful changes in your home, right now, is Sara Bird.  She's my guest today and she's been working in interiors for over 20 years as a stylist, art director and editor.  And along with photographer Dan Duchars, she's just come out with a new book called Home For The Soul: Sustainable and Thoughtful Decorating and Design.  Let's hear what she has to say about the direction the sustainability movement is taking inside our homes.  


Home For The Soul on Amazon 


All photos by Dan Duchars © Ryland Peters & Small 2020

Photo: Dan Duchars

Photo: Dan Duchars

Photo: Dan Duchars

Photo: Dan Duchars

Photo: Dan Duchars



Going green has become much more the norm these days, all of us are coming to terms with the fact that our planet just can't sustain lifestyles dependent on single use disposable goods. And we're all at different stages of transformation.

When it comes to changing our practices. If we could start from scratch, when it comes to designing and building our homes, we could maybe incorporate the most environmentally friendly, heating and systems. We could limit our water capacity and our electricity usage with fancy gizmos and build composting right into our pantry spaces. But if building an eco-friendly home from the ground up,

isn't part of your next five-year plan. What's the next best way to go green and your home. I'll give you a hint. It has to do with Slow Style and the expert on making small, but powerful changes in your home right now is Sarah Bird. She's my guest today, and she's been working in interiors for over 20 years as a stylist and art director and an editor.

And along with photographer, Dan<inaudible>, she's just come out with a new book called home for the soul sustainable and thoughtful, decorating, and design. So let's hear what she has to say about the direction sustainability is taking inside our homes. Sarah Bird, welcome to the Style Matters Podcast. I am delighted to have you with me today. I'm delighted to be here.

Wonderful. We are going to talk all about sustainable living in our homes, but before we jump into that and your beautiful new book, I'd like to talk a little bit about your background. How does one become a stylist in the first place and a magazine editor and an art director and explain what our direction is and then, and then we'll move on.

Okay, well, so I've been styling for over 20 years now. I started very young, of course. Yes. And I think there's, there's not any particular way to get into styling. This there's lots of people that come through different design practices, textiles, that kind of thing. But my particular journey started as I studied architecture and I was always into,

or interested in a home renovation. So it wasn't just the building. It was the layers within it. That was always something that really triggered something in me. And so I actually started out because of the, the degree I did and my connection with William Morris. Actually I did my dissertation. I went into interior as PR with the Mo the Morris team Morrison co and Sanderson.

So I kind of got in by a fabric and wallpaper and paint background, William Morris. Fantastic. Yeah, He, he he's amazing. Anyway. And so landing that role after having done a dissertation about him was just like dream, dream meeting a movie star. Oh my goodness. I know. I know. So, and so I started going on to shoots with the team via that route,

but I was the wrong side of the fence for styling. I was promoting the brand, so I basically had to hop over and become a Style assistant. Ah, and, and I made lots of contacts working through the ranks and eventually a job was on a magazine and I was at the right place at the right time. And that's how I went on boards,

starting styling for magazines. What is your current editorial position? So I work on country homes and interiors for a few days a month. And that just for our American listeners, that's a really fabulous UK design shelter magazine. Yes. Yes. And then also I work commercially as a stylist and art director and I obviously write and Style images, that kind of thing.

So I'm not, I'm an author as well. Yes. I know. I know fitness. That was a amazing opportunity. Quick, tell us what an art director does or what does art direction mean? So art direction, it basically is the person that leads the team at the, the vision of a team. And they have to fuse together, lots of elements for a photo shoot to answer a brief from a client it's really balancing visuals and words.

And you kind of become a storyteller for creating pictures and vision for the brand. It's like, I liken it to being a chef topless chef where you have lots of ingredients and you're the one that's responsible for bringing it all together with all the various team members. All right. So let's talk about Dan<inaudible> and your company, which is the contented nest.

What does that all about? Yeah, so the contentedness is a content company and we create visuals and stories, and even sometimes events for clients in a commercial and editorial sector, It must be really nice to have this person that you know, so well that you probably talk in shorthand a lot between, between photographer and stylist slash art director, which is your part of it.

Right. I mean, you must work together pretty seamlessly at this point. Yeah. Yeah. So we've known each other for a long time, but you realize fairly quickly if you've got a really good connection with someone. And so we have this kind of symbiotic connection with how we create images. I don't need a camera to set up an, an image and he knows how I'm envisaging that image in my head.

So it's, and you don't have that often. And it kind of sets teams apart. And we really value that we're both perfectionists and he really drives me to go that one step further. And sometimes it's a bit annoying, but equally I think I'm the same with him. So we're both as bad slash good as each other in, in really, really making sure we're delivering as best as we can.

Well, and that showed up in spades in this beautiful new book of yours home for the soul and the subtitle is sustainable and thoughtful, decorating, and design. I would like to know what drove the two of you to write this book, why this subject? Well, I think for me, it always began with when I had my children, I think as a stylist,

particularly in the editorial world, you see a lot of new trends come and go really quickly. And whilst that's engaging, when you, when I had my children, they were also trying to get the Nate latest looks and toys and whatever it was really quickly. So it was really fast. And I actually started to feel very negative about how quickly we were racing through different looks and things and ideas.

So I just kind of wanted to slow down. And then also for me, I've got a lot of things that I've being handed down from my parents, and I want my girls to appreciate these things and not move on too quickly and learn to respect things that have been given to us. And I think, and also make sure that you treat things really well.

So there was, there was a lot of that. There was a lot of heirlooms and Slow slowing down, slowing down our styling. And then also I think I, especially nowadays, I think we spend a lot of time and money in particular in our homes. And I think that should be valued. You know, we don't turn things off for keeps or they're to be used a long time.

And I think it's really worthwhile investing that time. And then also there's the environmental impact of fast styling and fast deck, or it's about not wanting to waste resources and cause harm to our surroundings or ourselves mentally and physically, I guess I think that's what I loved so much about this book was it started from this very personal place. I didn't know that story about how you were feeling as a parent,

but it's still, but still the book felt personal to me or talking about sustainability at the human personal individual level, as opposed to focusing only on the planetary impact, which is very important and it's a big deal. And I definitely feel passionate about not wasting our natural resources and not creating more things just to go to a landfill. But I think for us to make real change,

we need to personalize it. And there are so many layers to what you're talking about when you're parenting your kids about first of all, not being driven by, as you say, the trends. And I always think about the fashion industry, right? Because they it's, it's increased, it's incredibly fast. The turnover there's, you know, there's four seasons of clothing,

but then, you know, in the last, I don't know, several decades, they've added many seasons in between the seasons so that you're always being encouraged to buy new, buy new, buy new. And I do think that's definitely creeped into the design world. I, I call it disposable decor and teaching our kids to appreciate what they have or what's old or what's been used or what stood the test of time.

I mean, those are goals. I think we all have as parents. And, and I just love that in this book. You're really modeling that for us. Yeah. I think it's, it's, it's really respecting our past and how many dads, but also I think it's appreciating how things have been made. And so when we are purchasing new,

it's going for those artists and where's, it's going for those things that people have really spent a long time thinking and creating and thoughtfully crafting whatever it is. And I think that taps back into the environmentally friendly products, as well as because people have tried to reach out, find a better way of doing things Right. And recognizing our responsibility in, in,

in our world and just doing, doing what we can. Yeah. I think the other thing for me, cause I didn't want to make it too worthy of book two word worthy. So I wasn't harping on so much about eco design because I think it's such, it can be overwhelming. And I think it really is the small changes that probably have the better impact and our people can take that more on board Paired with that goal of yours to not be preachy or hit people over the head with,

you know, what we must do and, and how we must kind of live in this much more restrictive environment where we're only using certain products and maybe certain things, which, I mean, I think those are good goals, but the photographs and the styling work that you guys did together showcase these homes that you don't look at these homes and go, Oh,

that's an environmentally sustainable home. Well, and I think that gets to the first part of the title of your book home for the soul. These are soulful homes that, that are full of layers and sometimes they're minimalist, but sometimes they're maximalist and they're both old and new builds. So let's, let's get into the soul part of things and really interested in knowing what connection you're making between what a soulful home is and how that fits into where is connected to our ecological footprint.

I think a lot of the thing with soulful styling and eco resources is soulful living and sulfur deco is, is much more than just the practical elements that you purchase. There's a beauty in them that resonates. And I think one for myself, I feel much better about purchasing sustainable and artists on an eco ways anyway, but the finishes and the natural materials,

they also have mindful and health benefits, which can make us feel better. So vintage and upcycling would have less or no pollutants, all the, every single item in your house that you purchase emits toxins of some sort. And so older things have already done that. They've expired those things. And I think also where we respect nature and the environment and surround ourselves with these elements,

it gives us an energy and it's linked back to our wellbeing. It's it's mind it's in early stages of a design ethos, but it basically is a scientifically proven way of designing that links back to nature and how nature can improve the quality of our home spaces. Let, let's talk more about the wellbeing because I have to say that was something I really picked up on as a thread,

through many of these homes that, that people were attuned to not just the environment for the environment sake, but how their own, the tiny environment within their homes was affecting their wellbeing. Can you give us some examples? Yeah. So I know in the few of the houses, they could have been quite cold and as in austere, but because of the layering introduced,

they'd broken down that barrier, Alexandra van Rens home, she had lots of textures and it found many authentic sourced homewares to give character and personality. The reason I say it could have been cold is because it was a monochrome monochromatic scheme, but chili, it felt really warming because she'd got all of these really well-sourced items and layered and layered textures. And then I know in Carla roster's home,

she had, she basically taught London with a screwdriver going into dumpsters for salvage fines. But what was she also had was lots of family hand me downs. She could see all these stories reflected in her family treasures and the way she upcycled ideas from her father's toolkit to Kate's clothing. It was just, it made such great stories for her. Well, I think that's the layering of the soul part that you were talking about,

that, that there's, this she's being environmentally friendly, right. And conscious by recycling and upcycling and, and reusing and all of that. But, but it's the impact is the story that, that is told throughout her home. And that, that gives it, that, that soul. Yes. This is it. I mean, I think every single house we went to,

there was a story with every single element that was in it, Sam Thompson, she was getting rid of anything. She almost had to interview the person who was inheriting her items to know that they were going to look after it really well. You mean like if she was giving something away, we want to know what they were going to. I love that.

I know she's had, she's still had at that point in time, a dining table in her, in her home, but I know that it was going, it was odd it's way off somewhere. So she's kind of, you know, it's being responsible for the journey of her products and items. Yeah. Well, and it is in that whole journey is so interesting in,

in our, you know, in our, in our modern life where the world is our marketplace and we're able to get things from anywhere in the world. And, but you really lose the supply chain. You really don't know where did this start? And then where was it sent to be put together? And then where was it sent to be packaged?

And then, you know, I mean, it's, it's very complex. And I think if you're able to follow that journey by having that item in your home, that makes you feel good anyway. And it kind of connects us back to the maker or the material or the design journey and how you get you gain that soulful insight that then sits in your home.

Mm, yes. I think, I guess that's the point of it all is that it, these objects, when we know their history, we know where they've come from and we know how they're made. They mean more to us. And so they have this they're imbued with this sense of soul, that something that you don't know anything about the object or how it was made,

just doesn't have yeah. And can be new Or old grandsons. I think, you know, we are, we still do buy new things and there are an amazing amount of designers out there. And by buying their design, you're connecting with them and you're connecting with their design process and how they came about making the item and what principles they really thought were important to them.

Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I want to wrap up with, with my signature question about asking you, why does style matter? Why does the beauty of our homes matter? And I guess I'd like to connect it to this idea of moving more slowly that you brought up when you were talking about raising your daughters and how to incorporate soul and an awareness of our ecological footprint.

There's something about Slow in there. I know, you know, that I, that I think you, you were onto something. Yeah. I think, I think I said before, I just, I'm very aware that people are rushing to design. And for me, the most inspiring homes are always those that being gradually gathered and put together. And I think you need that time to make a story work within your home.

And I think there's also, there's a lot to be said with, say, for example, if with buying a brand new place, it's not throwing everything at it straight away, you need to spend time connecting with the building that you're in and understanding how you're going to use it and having all of those kind of tactile stimulations and processes of knowing how you're going to react at in-home as well as the look that you want to achieve.

It's far, I think so styling Slow deco is far more about how you feel than, than how something looks. Absolutely. Yes. And, and it it's, you know, it really is a different way of thinking. I was just picturing somebody who was moving into a new home and before they moved into it, they wanted to do a bunch of renovations before they moved in.

Because frankly it is easier before you've gotten all your furniture in there and all that kind of stuff sure. To repaint the entire house or do some renovations. But like you just said, you don't yet know how you're going to use the space. No. And at the end of the day, being in your home, it's, it's, you have to love being in the,

and the best homes. They, they are, they reduce anxiety and stress. They slowed blood flow. And in our increasingly digital way of life, I think we just need to have this slowness and be able to have touch points in the home and where can interact just with the move, gentle pace. Yes. Well, I think that also answers the first part of my question,

which is why to Style matter. I think, I think That's it. Well, Sarah, thank you so much for talking with us today. I just love the book. Once again, it's called home for the soul sustainable and thoughtful, decorating and design, and it is an absolutely beautiful book. Congratulations. Thank you very much on I keep inviting me.

I hope these episodes leave you feeling energized and inspired to create a home that gives something back to you because in this crazy world we live in. It's good to remember that things like beauty and happiness are within reach. Now don't forget to take the quiz. What's the number one mistake you're making in your home [email protected] And we really appreciate all of the reviews that you've been giving us over on iTunes,

or I guess it's called Apple podcasts now, whatever. Please keep them coming in because they help other people find us, which makes it possible to keep this show running. Have a great day. And we'll be back in your earbuds.



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