sustainability | Jun 25, 2024 |
Want to reduce waste on install day? 3 designers share their secrets

The interior design world is shifting to more sustainable practices, but change is coming in fits and starts. To get their distinct perspectives on reducing waste, we spoke to three interior designers with successful strategies.

The Experts

When the amount of waste in the interior design industry began to sink in with her, Katie Storey of San Francisco–based Storey Design was inspired to launch a nonprofit to address the issue: the Good Future Design Alliance, which she leads while also running her own sustainably minded business.

For his part, Los Angeles–based designer Patrick Ediger developed what he calls “the rule of thirds” for his firm: He strives for a third of the furnishings he specifies in projects to be vintage or reused, a third to be sustainable, and a third to be created locally, which has helped to significantly reduce his firm’s install-day waste.

Installation is a very different experience for Fish Creek, Wisconsin–based designer Kate Smith. Unlike with designers living or working in a big city, all her orders come via last-mile delivery services, so she has found creative ways to reduce waste during this stage—which for her business often stretches over two weeks instead of two days.

Here’s how these pros achieve low-waste installations.

Separate Your Trash
“Make piles for each type of packaging—cardboard, newspaper, plastic, tape, Styrofoam—so they can be discarded properly,” says Storey. “Do not pile everything together and hope the installers will sort through it: They most likely won’t.” If you want to be sure your trash makes it to the right spot, ask your install/disposal crew to provide a receipt upon delivery at the recycling center, a strategy that has worked for Storey Design.

Invest in Admin
Having a staffer dedicated to procurement and install coordination has been “a game changer” in improving Ediger’s firm’s efficiency, which in turn reduces waste. The procurement manager carefully orchestrates orders so the items spend the least amount of time with the receiver, which also makes clients happy. “If something’s going to sit in storage for six months, our clients are going to pay those fees, but if it is there for under 30 days, it is a teeny-tiny drop in the budget bucket of the project,” he says.

Batch Your Orders
Smith and her team try to cluster orders, so the goods are more likely to come in fewer boxes. “With some of the folks we work with, we have a close relationship where we can say, ‘Hey, can you just do one shipment? Don’t ship it piece by piece—cram ’em all in a box,’’’ she adds.

Use Your Client’s Existing Things
Ediger loves to give new life to his client’s furniture through refinishing and reupholstery. “I’ll try to use as much of their existing stuff as possible,” he says. Those pieces get restored locally, so the shipping materials and distances are minimal. “The carbon footprint of shipping fabric is a lot smaller than [for] the entire sofa,” says the designer.

Plan for Zero-Waste Meals
Install-day meals can create a lot of trash. Storey suggests arranging for a big thermos of coffee and reusable bottles for beverages, so your team doesn’t have to use a bunch of plastic bottles. “Do the same for food: Order locally, and choose a restaurant that can accommodate a request for compostable packaging or platters that can be returned,” she says.

Pick Up Product Yourself
Working in a remote area, sometimes the best way to reduce waste is to pick up furnishings from vendors yourself. “I wouldn’t drive for one stool, but for six stools, two coffee tables and two side tables, absolutely,” says Smith. By strategically planning pickups for a day she already has a meeting in the city, she figures she’s also reducing her own carbon footprint.

Shop Locally
Ediger feels lucky to be in a city with an abundance of “amazing local showrooms,” where “a lot of what they make is made right here in Los Angeles.” Those homegrown pieces are much less likely to come as multiple components in multiple boxes. “It’s always less trash that’s created,” he says.

Request Blankets
Try to have as much furniture delivered in blankets or reusable packing boxes, rather than landfill-bound materials like Styrofoam. This is easier if you’re purchasing locally, says Storey. “Most local makers would actually prefer to deliver with blankets because it saves them material costs as well,” she adds.

Keep the Boxes in Circulation
During the height of the pandemic, when packing supplies were hard to come by in Smith’s community, a local business posted in search of boxes, which she was able to provide. She has been redistributing boxes ever since. “Facebook Marketplace is a magical realm when used correctly,” says the designer. “We remove all the tape, break the box down, then just put it in a pile. Once a month, I just post saying, ‘free boxes,’ and someone comes to pick them up.”

Patronize Small Businesses for the Small Stuff
Ediger prefers to source accessories and other small items from local and independent shops, in part because he can ask them to use biodegradable packing peanuts and cardboard boxes rather than Bubble Wrap and bags. “Everybody’s been very amenable to it,” he says. (Conversely, some big-name online retailers are the worst offenders when it comes to excess packaging: “Those smaller accessories and side tables use a bunch of Styrofoam,” he warns.) And when shopping locally for styling items, follow Storey’s lead: Bring your own reusable crates and boxes.


Laura Fenton is a writer with a special interest in the intersection between homes and sustainability, and is the author of the Living Small newsletter and two interior design books, The Little Book of Living Small and The Bunk Bed Book. She has written about home and design for nearly 20 years, and her work has appeared in many outlets, including Better Homes & Gardens, House Beautiful, Real Simple, and The Washington Post, as well as online publications and regional design magazines.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our newsletter, which recaps the week’s stories, and get in-depth industry news and analysis each quarter by subscribing to our print magazine. Join BOH Insider for discounts, workshops and access to special events such as the Future of Home conference.