Recycled Interiors Podcast 009: Creating a Healthy Home Interior

Kate St James is an interior designer and the Editor-in-Chief of Universal Magazines’ Home Design Group, including Grand Designs Australia and Home Design. Her specialty is sustainable architecture and design. Kate’s early working life was as a journalist in London in the early 1970s, followed by a 20-year career in interior design including running her own interior design, architectural design and construction company in Brisbane, specializing in top end residential and commercial projects.

Kate has written three e-books on sustainable design and interiors, and continues to collaborate on design projects with her husband Ian Cleland, providing the interior expertise to complement his sustainable building projects. Kate and Ian recently collaborated on an eco-apartment development, which they plan to build in northern New South Wales, where they have a second home. Her vision has always been to promote an awareness of Australian and international architecture and design – with a heavy dose of sustainability – to demonstrate to the wider community the meaningful way it can impact on our lives. Kate has lived in 49 homes and renovated and built many more!

Since winning an award at the Home Show for her sustainable bedroom design, she has stepped back into the design arena with her colleague, Catherine Whitting, to help people create a beautiful, sustainable home.

Kate has the following tips:

  • If you live in a home, the home will live too
  • Once you build an eco friendly home, you need to fit out the interior with a sustainable approach
  • Once the building is built, even the materials that you use on the walls etc need to be considered – talk to your architect and builder about this
  • Consider flooring – there are plenty of things to choose from. Pure wool carpet is a good choice, but consider what is on the bottom of the carpet, what is is adhered to, what is the underlay? Ask questions of the supplier and if they don’t know, do some research. You want a natural cotton, hemp, or jute base for example
  • Timber floors are great
  • Ceramic tiles can be good if fired correctly and a lot of tiles use recycled materials
  • Sisal flooring made from the agave plant is a great choice, it can be great in living rooms
  • Alpaca is a beautiful carpet choice – it is the natural colour of the animals and very sustainable, as well as being lovely to walk on. They also make rugs out of Alpaca
  • Cork – the modern cork looks fantastic, it is warm, natural material, is biodegradable and comfortable to walk on. Also has the benefit of glass not breaking if you drop it!
  • Lino are great choices – Lino is not Vinyl – which is not sustainable –  Lino is made from linseeds and natural oils, as well as bits of recycled chalk. It is a natural, biodegradable material and modern lino is durable and looks great, it is also warm, easy to clean and works in many spaces
  • You can have different floorings in different parts of the house – your home is your individual space where you do what suits you
  • Recycled materials such as recycled fishing nets, or plastic bottles, are fine in your flooring, as it is making use of rubbish that would have gone into landfill – there are quite a few options around now
  • When it comes to textiles, also look for the  most natural materials as possible – stay with hemp, 100% organic linen, organic cotton, jute etc as far as possible
  • Paints and wallpapers – you can look for zero VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). A low VOC is better than nothing but better to go with zero if you can. It works as well as any other paint, you can wash it out in water, a huge range of colours and some companies deliver to your door
  • Wallpaper – there are companies now using sustainably sourced paper and environmental inks – do your research and ask questions. Many companies are embracing this
  • Recycling is great but we also need new things – it provides an economy and jobs across industry but we need to do it in a sustainable way, and providing eco friendly options is a great way to go
  • VOC’s – what are they? Imagine that new house smell – or even a newly painted room? – that smell is the chemicals that are in things such as your paints, your carpets, your joinery – the glues, dyes etc You can get products without VOC’s in everything from paint to kitchen benches
  • One of the things that painters have suffered with is bladder cancer, due to all the chemicals in the paints over the years – you can avoid these things by choosing the zero VOC products
  • Consider mattresses, bedding etc and look for what is in the products you are bringing into your home – what is in it, what is it made from, where has it come from?
  • Don’t go for permanent press or wrinkle free! Look for organic cotton as far as possible when going for cotton, but hemp or 100% organic linen are your best choices for bedding
  • Linen is more expensive but it lasts for years and years – buy once and buy well
  • Go for neutral colours which will last forever – add pops of colour with your cushions and other accents in the room. The materials that are close to your skin need to be healthy
  • You can get cushions which are locally designed and made, from eco materials, and often made under fairtrade conditions supporting communities who benefit from your purchase
  • The stories behind these kinds of products makes them even more special
  • Stay away from trends and design your home to suit you and your taste
  • Buy things that are beautiful
  • Product stewardship is starting to happen – for example a company in Sydney is buying back funiture they originally made, repurposing it and reselling it – what a brilliant idea! It is about manufacturers taking items back and turning the materials into something new – a closed loop
  • When you purchase something always consider how you are going to dispose of it when you no longer need it
  • Know the chain of custody as far as possible – where have the materials come from, how were they harvested, who made it, how were they treated?
  • Look for the GECA or Green Tag certification – this shows you the chain of custody
  • When you buy local you are supporting our economy and community, you get something unique and well made. Ask questions and always consider what is going into your home.

Kate is creating a room at the Renovate and Build Show in October in Sydney with her colleague Catherine – you can visit and have a chat with them about sustainable design – find out more here.

Links you will want to check out

St James Whitting
Such Developments
Global Green Tag

This was originally posted as a podcast episode, but the podcast has now been closed. 



  1. Helene Wild on September 2, 2016 at 11:46 am

    Fabulous interview U0001f49dU0001f31fU0001f31fU0001f49d

  2. Recycled Interiors & The Sustainable Home Hub on September 2, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    she is brilliant

Leave a Comment