Words  Anna Lonergan

Part 1 The emotionally sustainable home

Written by Anna Lonergan ( TAFENSW Design Centre Enmore Bachelor of Design (Interior Design) Internship student

In current times of constant change and uncertainty it is of paramount importance to create and maintain emotionally and physically sustainable homes that adapt to our changing needs. Kate St James and Catherine Whitting have over 40 years of combined experience in interior design and decoration, art, journalism and education. The dynamic duo will share their design process that is curated to create residential interiors that capture and celebrate the uniqueness of a client, or your own family through concept development, art curation, colour theory, space planning, garden design, functionality, and above all designing for human need not for fashion or trends.  When design makes living easier, connects you to people you live with and your core being, provides time and energy saving functionality, transcends trends through transformation and adaptability, enables you to work, rest, entertain, connect and is also a nurturing healthy sanctuary and place of reflection, we delightfully embrace the essence of home.

Learn how to craft your customised and personal emotionally and physically sustainable home with Kate and Catherine as they share key projects and design strategies over the next four blog posts written by TAFENSW Design Centre Enmore’s graduating student Anna Lonergan as part of her Bachelor of Design ( Interior Design) industry internship. 




There is no place like home to unwind, relax and spend time with family and friends. Our homes provide more than just shelter, they also give us a sense of our own place and space in the world and satisfy other important requirements for security, control, belonging, identity, and privacy. We invest a lot in our homes and the decisions we make about them affect our quality of life now and in the future. For this reason, it is important to consider how to make our homes sustainable.

Practicing sustainability helps us create comfortable homes which have a low impact on the environment, are economical to run, healthier to live in and more adaptable to our changing needs. This four-part article looks beyond the environmental factors we usually associate with sustainability and considers what makes an, “emotionally and physically sustainable home” (parts 1 and 2) before going on to provide some practical tips on how interior design can help us create one (part 3).

The relationship between wellbeing and sustainability is two-fold. Sustainable practices and solutions benefit wellbeing and wellness in turn strengthens resilience and our resolve to endure which is the essence of sustainability.

Arguably, the most sustainable home interiors are those that endure – spaces that enhance wellbeing and, in doing so, provide occupants with a timeless sense of their own place and space in the world. We know that living environments influence our wellbeing physically and mentally and that improving our homes can be a positive and productive step in the pursuit for health and happiness.

In Part 2, we will look at physical measures contributing to wellness and sustainability at home but the topic for Part 1 is the “emotionally sustainable home.” The idea of homes being, “emotionally sustainable” is a bit abstract but, essentially, refers to homes that:

1. contribute positively to wellbeing by proactively addressing our psychological and emotional needs; and

2. are emotionally durable in that their perceived value and the regard we have for them is long lasting.

Designing for emotional sustainability is about creating mood-boosting homes that help us relax, embody comfort, encourage connection and give us a positive and enduring sense of place.

Considering the effect on people’s feelings and emotions when we make choices for interiors is a form of environmental psychology that has been practiced for thousands of years. Ancient examples are the Chinese art of Feng Shui and the Indian discipline of Vastu Shastra both of which involve arranging spaces to promote universal ideals of balance, harmony    and happiness.

Neuroscience informs interiors today with studies highlighting the ability of designed elements to evoke positive or negative emotional responses in people. Colour psychology is an obvious example of this. Warm shades at home generally inspire relaxation and boost creativity while cooler colours encourage a sense of calm.

Light is also a recognised regulator of mood. Natural light is best, of course, and the number and size of windows in a room can boost happiness, increase sadness or even create anxiety. Light design influences the ambience and atmosphere of a space. Using different colours, temperatures, strengths, reflectors, and filters for light can set the right mood, whether it is calming, cosy, romantic or energizing.

The size and the spaciousness of a room also influences mood. For example, high ceilings activate sections of the right brain associated with freedom and abstraction and lower ceilings are more conducive to constrained thinking.

Incorporating and referencing nature (biophilic design) is another mood enhancing strategy for homes since the sight and the presence of natural elements tends to calm us and reduce stress. Proximity to plants has been shown to improve mood, concentration and even memory retention. Materials such as timber and textiles derived from nature also contribute positively to our emotional wellbeing when used in interior spaces.

Functionality is paramount at home and spaces that are well organised and planned with plenty of storage help us avoid the feelings of anxiety and stress often associated with excess clutter or mess. Similarly, open floor plans and kitchens situated as home ‘hubs’ encourage communication and connection facilitating positive human interaction and thereby contributing to wellbeing.

We invest a lot of time, money and effort into our homes to make them comfortable, secure and personalised places so it is important to feel an enduring emotional connection. Art helps us establish such a connection and can play an important role in making a house into a home. Art tells our unique story, stimulates our emotions and memories and often provides a sense of wellbeing. 

Emotional durability comes when we create homes with enduring narratives that reflect us and features that sustain us in the lifestyles we want to lead. Good design, great quality, and longevity are all key to achieving “the emotionally sustainable home”.

For some practical tips on how to implement this type of sustainability in your home, please read on to Part 3.  

The Commons by Breathe Architecture

Photography by Tom Ross

Winton Ponds

Winton Ponds Limited Edition Print by Catherine Whitting from the St James Whitting Art Collection Photography by Marian Riabic

Part 2 The physically sustainable home

Written by Anna Lonergan ( TAFENSW Design Centre Enmore Bachelor of Design (Interior Design) Internship student

The “physically sustainable home” is a home designed and constructed with occupants’ physical health in mind as well as environmental considerations. We spend up to 90% of our time indoors, and roughly 70% of that time in our homes so it is especially important to focus on making them healthy environments.

Interior conditions affect our respiratory and immune systems, heart rates, blood pressure, anxiety and stress levels, mood, productivity, creativity, relationships, sleep and more. Factors ranging from the quality of the internal air we breathe to how much space and light there is, even how much storage space is available can all be designed with health and wellbeing in mind.  Investing in safe, comfortable and functional homes contributes to physical wellbeing which supports emotional wellness, resilience and sustainability.

Passive design principles not only help us create homes that consume less energy, they also provide effective heating and cooling which benefits our health, comfort and enjoyment at home.

Home air quality is particularly important for good health.  Well-designed ventilation and air flow help to remove toxins and dangerous gases and prevent the build-up of allergens, moisture or mould in our homes. Indoor plants can also help improve ‘breathability’. 


Green’ or environmentally responsible design has helped to raise awareness about the harm manufactured products and finishes can introduce in to our homes. Examples include materials emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or formaldehyde which can cause issues such as skin and membrane irritation. Materials and furnishings made with minimal chemical intervention are better for us and independent certification helps us verify both their health and environmental claims. Natural materials such as wool, cotton, hemp, linen and timber tend to be the healthiest choices for our homes but it is also important to ensure that these materials and products using them are responsibly sourced or made.


Access and exposure to natural light is another priority when designing homes for wellbeing because sunlight is a key modulator of our circadian rhythm, a cycle which encompasses brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration, hunger and sleep cycles, all of which influence our health. Natural light is a source of vitamin D which helps us absorb calcium for bone formation and stability and daylight also inhibits the production of melatonin ensuring that we get tired when it is dark.

Comfort is also a key factor to consider when designing homes for physical wellness. Ergonomically designed products and spaces address user comfort in terms of psychology, physiology and anatomy.

Ergonomic items are particularly important for home workspaces and specially designed products such as adjustable chairs or sit-to-stand desks can be selected for potential health benefits. Comfort also involves considering the acoustics in our homes, ensuring there are quiet spaces to facilitate relaxation and rest.

Spaces that are purpose designed for wellness such as home gyms, spa-like bathrooms or parent retreats have obvious benefits and welcoming and functional kitchens will also help if they motivate us to cook and eat healthily at home. 

Physically sustainable homes support well-being that is experienced in our living environments through all that we breathe, smell, see, touch, and hear. We are starting to make conscious choices in our homes to reduce their impact on the planet but sustainability also requires us to focus on creating homes that nurture our physical wellness, energy levels and capacity to endure.

Ergonomic Seating by King Living

Forest Nest Design Project by St James Whitting    Photography by Liz Kalaf

Ergonomics and Comfort

Site visit with clients to ensure ergonomics and comfort are achieved in personalised furniture specification and selection at King Living 

Part 3 Implementing Sustainability – where to start?

Written by Anna Lonergan ( TAFENSW Design Centre Enmore Bachelor of Design (Interior Design) Internship student

In parts 1 and 2, we explored the concept of the emotionally and physically sustainable home and the link to wellbeing. We outlined some of the things that contribute to our wellbeing at home but there is a lot to think about so, in this part 3, it is useful to look at some practical resources together with real-life examples in homes designed by SJW.

Whether you are building from scratch or renovating your existing home, prioritising sustainability will support health and happiness.  In practice, sustainability comes down to the choices we make. This means doing research or obtaining good advice at the outset for any project.

A great place to start is the Australian Government’s ‘YourHome’ website. Here, you will find a wealth of information and useful links to detail about sustainable practices and features that add value when buying, building or renovating a home in Australia. www.yourhome.gov.au



Hazelbrook Eco House

The ‘Hazelbrook’ is a great SJW example of a new build designed and built to Passive House standards, that is airtight and includes features providing for a cleaner and healthier lifestyle with low energy usage

The FuturePOD

Adding extra space to an existing home can prioritise sustainability too as demonstrated by the SJW ‘FuturePod’ option. 

We know that eco-friendly materials are better for our health as well as the environment. Good choices for products like joinery, flooring, paint and adhesives avoid formaldehyde use or VOC emissions. SJW’s ‘Elementals paint collection from Resene is not only a fabulous curation of inspired colours, it is also a sustainable zero VOC choice. Using natural textiles in interiors can benefit our health and the environment too.  For helpful information on fabric qualities and selection see SJW’s ‘Fabulous Fabrics blog post.

Selecting the best materials to use and items to include in your home is key for sustainability and eco-product databases such as Ecospecifier allow us to us check sustainability credentials for a broad range of materials and products.  Looking for ecolabels such as Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA), Global Green Tag and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is good practice too. For more useful links, visit SJW’s Environmentpage

This upcycled chair featured in ‘Catherine’s Cottage, blog about a renovation in Lithgow is upholstered in a beautiful Banksia inspired textile by a local artist and designer Julie Patterson who makes contemporary and natural furnishing fabric sustainably by hand. The Banksia was taken from a series of Julie’s lino prints based on her sketches of native plants growing in her studio garden. Printed on unbleached heavyweight upholstery linen in bone, soft red oxide and a splash of  indigo 


This same project also showcased a budget-friendly kitchen incorporating pre-loved joinery.

Other sustainable priorities for our homes include maximising natural light, providing superior air quality and encouraging connections to nature. Windows, ceiling height and clever ventilation along with good flow and views to the outside are features to look for when selecting a new home or planning a renovation. Designers often need to resolve deficiencies in one or all of these areas and expert advice can be invaluable when renovating or even just rearranging spaces in your existing home. Superior choices for small things such as window coverings, wall colours or furniture orientation can make a big difference. 

A simple way to connect your home to the outside is to select décor that references your site and surroundings. In their Forest Nestproject for example, SJW used a colour palette derived from surrounding bush lands near Lake Macquarie comprising of sage green and white, rustic copper, blush ghost gum pinks, watery greys, solid matt charcoal black warm ochres and verde greens. The site inspiration was also captured in a stunning painting by Catherine Whitting which was included in the design.


Life cycle assessments for the products in our homes consider the upstream stage (extraction and manufacture), the in-use or operational stage and the downstream stage (disposal or reuse). Sourcing products and services locally and recycling or reusing items where possible supports sustainability (for some SJW tips on this see ‘Sustainable Interior Design – what is it and how do you get it

The most sustainable homes are those that address our emotional and physical needs in an enduring way. They support us in the lives we lead now but can also adapt to meet our future needs. Before building or renovating, it is key to consider how you will use your home and how it can best reflect you, your lifestyle and your taste. Taking time to pinpoint the functionality and level of comfort you need is vital and it can also be useful to see examples or get professional advice. Space planning is an important aspect of functionality and well-designed spaces often offer customised solutions especially in important areas like the kitchen which many consider to be the heart of a home. SJW’s Breakfast Pointproject is an example of a kitchen carefully crafted to fulfill the owner’s brief by ensuring everything had a well thought out place and purpose.

When designing a home, the end goal is always to achieve that unquantifiable aspect or ambience of a space that gives it emotional durability. SJW describe their focus as being on crafting residential interiors that, “capture and celebrate the uniqueness of a client, through concept development, art curation, colour theory, space planning, garden design, functionality, and above all designing for human need not for fashion or trends.”

Certainly, we promote our own wellbeing and sustainability when we forge emotional connections with our homes and the things in them. Homes and household items that resonate with us are looked after, shared, repaired, loved and passed on.  With Covid19 keeping us at home these days, we are more focused than ever on ways to promote health, wellbeing and happiness in our residential environments. Sustainability is an imperative rather than a passing trend and it feels good to practice it at home.  Hopefully, this piece has inspired you with some examples and strategies for integrating sustainability into your home interiors by focusing on quality materials, timeless design elements and ways to create and sustain meaning rather than just matter. Of course, if it all seems too hard or you need a helping hand,

please reach out to Catherine and Kate at SJW anytime.


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