Kate St. James is an interior designer, with more than 30 years’ experience in the field.

She is also a magazine editor was recently invited to design and fitout a room at the Sydney Home Show for the Sustainable Rooms by Design exhibition.

Architecture and Design spoke to St. James about changes in the industry, designing with environmentally friendly products and how sustainable interiors can become a normal part of design.

You've been in the industry for more than 30 years. What have been some of the most significant changes in the industry since you started?

I have worked in architecture and interior design since the late 1970s. During that period I have seen many changes both in the profession and in the built environment. I think the most significant change is that of our understanding of the natural environment and our impact on it, and hence the need to design, manufacture and build with a more environmentally-aware approach. 

Technology has also changed the way we work from offering online design services, e-commerce, to sourcing of products from around the world and even using social media, as well as TV programs which show consumers “how it’s done” – although I hasten to add they make it look easier than it is in reality.

Do you think consumers expect more from their designers now than they did 10 years ago?

Consumers are far more aware of and educated about design today. There is a huge interest in architecture and interior design, brought about mainly by a buoyant housing market and the plethora of magazines and TV programs. This means that for designers to remain relevant, they must keep ahead of trends, products and design directions and provide consumers with solutions to complex problems.

There is more comprehensive training available for designers today and many are highly skilled, allowing them to work at different levels that previously. Designers must have a wealth of product knowledge and an understanding of relevant building codes and regulations, design, manufacturing, lifecycle analysis and supply chain knowledge. They need to understand about energy ratings, air quality, water usage, waste management and their environmental impact.  

Can you tell A&D about your involvement in the Sustainable Rooms by Design exhibition?

I have always been passionate about environmentally sustainable, eco-friendly design. Part of my commitment to the cause is to participate in judging the International Green Interior Awards and the Eussen Living-Home Design Student Design competition, which focuses on ‘green’ interiors.

When the HIA Home Show decided to create the Sustainable Rooms by Design, MC John Eussen from Eussen Living naturally considered that I would be interested in participating. He was correct! I was one of three designers who participated.

Image: Facebook

What was your approach for the exhibition?

I was given the choice of two rooms and a bedroom. I wanted to demonstrate the importance of creating a healthy environment in a room where we spend some eight hours of each day.

I wanted to show how using products from organic, natural and renewable sources with no VOCs, you can create a beautiful, healthy environment.

My products were sourced from companies who share my passion and ethos for eco-friendly, hand-crafted products and materials. These included 100 percent sisal flooring, zero VOC paint, eco wallpaper, 100 percent organic linen, organic cotton, recycled and reclaimed timbers, and artwork and accessories created by hand from natural products and materials.

I was delighted that my room took out the People’s Choice award and hope that people were inspired to take some of the ideas away with them to use in their own eco abode.

Image: Facebook

You recently gave a talk about normalising sustainable interiors. What is your opinion on this?

In my world, sustainable interiors are the norm. It is no more difficult to create sustainable interiors as there are plenty of products, finishes and materials available in Australia and from around the globe, which look as ‘normal’ as products that are not ‘green’. 

A sustainable interior does not need to look retro, upcycled or recycled; although there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you like.

There are many materials from new, renewable sources that can be used to create contemporary designs. New green products can also be made using recycled, upcycled, repurposed or reclaimed materials but in a contemporary fashion, providing ongoing employment for designers and producers. 

What is one key attitude that you think needs to change in order for sustainable interiors to become a normal part of design?

One key attitude that needs to change is the desire for cheap, throwaway products that have more to do with the latest fashion or fad, than quality and enduring style. Manufacturers and consumers must consider the cost of the products and materials they use, not just on their pockets but also on their health and the environment.