Is That Vegan? – An Insider's Guide to Vegan Interior Design

by Kelsey Betancourt, Brooklyn Pruitt

 The family cat is protective of her new favorite spot on the new custom linen bedding of this coastal guest suite.

The family cat is protective of her new favorite spot on the new custom linen bedding of this coastal guest suite.

Whip up a slice of avocado toast and pull up an ethically-sourced chair, because everything you wanted to know about vegan interior design lays ahead. What we know as modern veganism has been a growing movement since it’s conception in 1944, when it was defined as “the principle of the emancipation of animals from exploitation by man.” Vegans do not eat meat or animal byproducts as an expression of their respect for the autonomy of all animals, and may extend this practice into other facets of their lives. While veganism is familiar to most as a dietary lifestyle, many vegans and non-vegans alike strive for home solutions free of animal byproducts. Often made with fewer harsh chemicals and natural plant-based materials, vegan interior design options can benefit anyone concerned about the welfare of animals and the health of their home and family.

 Mixed linens and cotton “wool” makes for a cozy and comfortable bedroom retreat. Plants are the perfect finish to a vegan home.

Mixed linens and cotton “wool” makes for a cozy and comfortable bedroom retreat. Plants are the perfect finish to a vegan home.

Vegan interior design is about creating a happy and healthy space that respects the lives of people and animals alike, and it’s no surprise it’s caught the attention of the creative thinkers in Hollywood. Known for their activism and progressive ideas, it was only natural for starlets and screenwriters alike to gravitate toward vegan interior design. Sarah Barnard explains, “It’s a common misconception that a demand for vegan interior design has been a recent phenomenon, but in my experience, environmentally responsible living has been a consistent interest in the industry.” When it comes to Hollywood personalities, Barnard adds, “My clients are the 1% with a conscience. They’ve always been interested in healthy home design stemming from a love for animals.”

 Ceramic and natural stone make fast friends and a guilt-free bathroom.

Ceramic and natural stone make fast friends and a guilt-free bathroom.

Despite it’s long-standing popularity, it’s no doubt that vegan home design has begun to garner mainstream attention. When asked about the increase in visibility Barnard elaborated, “While people have had an interest in vegan interior design, the resources hadn’t caught up until fairly recently. For a long time, vegan homeowners had to compromise their beliefs for a beautiful home—that’s not the case anymore… We have the technology!”

Barnard’s firm has worked with a roster of vegan celebrity clients and is no stranger to accommodating the grueling lifestyle many Hollywood stars commit to. Animal rights activism aside; artistic, sensitive, and compassionate people need recuperation time and space that embodies their healthful ideals within their home and studio environments. The solution for many of them is a space aligned with veganism.

 Flemish glass adds sparkle to the upper cabinets while the simple ceramic backsplash tiles balance the excitement of the adjacent space.

Flemish glass adds sparkle to the upper cabinets while the simple ceramic backsplash tiles balance the excitement of the adjacent space.

Hold the quinoa. What exactly is vegan interior design? Many of the fabrics and finishes on commercially made furniture are sourced from animals or their byproducts. Vegetarians may allow animal byproducts like wool or beeswax as long as the animals are treated with kindness and the fibers are processed organically. However, most vegan clients desire truly vegan interiors, spaces free from any and all animal products. 

Many vegan clients take it to a higher echelon of sustainability by rebuking any products containing animal byproducts. Fabrics like silk may be out—but they make space for innovation of new plant-based products. “Just because it’s vegan doesn’t make it healthy by default.” Barnard’s firm works closely with responsible manufacturers and local artisans that care deeply about animals and the environment, and she warns of the danger of low-quality man-made materials, “Many vegan leathers are made from chemical-rich synthetic materials. Non-toxic materials that are safe for clean indoor air do exist, one must know where to look.”

 Plants and art pieces inspired by nature, like this beautiful tortoise, are especially healthy additions to a vegan home.

Plants and art pieces inspired by nature, like this beautiful tortoise, are especially healthy additions to a vegan home.

A good way to ensure a product is vegan is to inquire with the manufacturer. Sometimes, a product that may appear vegan at first glance, may be finished with an animal byproduct like beeswax or a noxious chemical. It’s an intimidating task to take on alone and all the more reason to work with a professional designer who understands the unique needs of a vegan lifestyle. Research is the first step, but Sarah reminded, “Interior designers have access to trade resources when it comes to finding out what ingredients are in a specific piece of furniture. It’s time consuming and diligent work, but the tradeoff is existentially rewarding.”

Silicon Valley start-ups have been exploring using mycelium, or mushroom spores, to grow durable leather products, and the humble silk worm is beginning to play second fiddle to luxurious banana silk fabrics. In a world quickly shifting toward a more sustainable future, Barnard analyzed it as such; “This is a growing pattern. It makes perfect sense: a happy, healthy, vegan home contributes to the ease and enjoyment of one’s life. This is a natural progression for people who care about animals, their health, and environmental responsibility. As an interior designer, I create spaces that help my clients express their values and passions. As more people embrace their connection to nature, interior designers will have more opportunities to push the envelope and create breathtaking, innovative vegan homes.”

 Hand-thrown pottery in a cobalt blue glaze supports a heliconia vellerigera, a gorgeous plant that looks like a furry bird of paradise.

Hand-thrown pottery in a cobalt blue glaze supports a heliconia vellerigera, a gorgeous plant that looks like a furry bird of paradise.

Bringing in plants, rocks, and other finds from nature is a simple way to introduce sustainable, vegan practices to your home, but working from the ground up with a designer is one of the only guaranteed ways to completely customize a home for vegan sensibilities. As increasing numbers of homeowners commit to environmental responsibility, opportunities to work within the vegan framework increase in parallel. Big names and flashing lights may have put vegan interior design on the map, but it’s the dedicated designers and passionate followers of vegan culture who will continue to carry on the torch.

If you are considering going green, contact a knowledgeable interior designer to get started! For every conscious choice we make, the planet thanks us for our consideration.

 Renae Barnard, a local and responsible artist, created this sculpture out of paper.

Renae Barnard, a local and responsible artist, created this sculpture out of paper.

Undertaking a broad range of projects, all of which are grounded in smart design and mindful of healthy living, Sarah Barnard’s diverse body of work includes upscale private residences, chic restaurants, luxurious spas and impressive corporate headquarters. Her projects have been featured in local and national publications, and have placed prominently in several noted design competitions. Sarah holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Claremont Graduate University as well as undergraduate degrees in Art and Interior Architectural Design. Her interior design practice is the culmination of education and interests in art, architecture, textiles and the environment and she has written several articles for important publications including the USGBC, United States Green Building Council.

Sarah is intrigued by clients who have unusual requests and lives for a challenge. She hasn’t met one yet that she didn’t like. Sarah loves designing for anyone with pets! She adores people who are avid collectors of anything they love. Sarah is often retained by clients who have never worked with an interior designer because they thought designers weren’t for them (until now). Sarah is incredibly down to earth and people love her for her frankness. Sarah and her staff will do just about anything for a client, build a custom sunroom for the kitties, organize and alphabetize boxes in the garage, take the kids out shopping for their own bathroom tiles…

Barnard is a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), is certified by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), and is recognized by the International WELL Building Institute as a WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP), the International Institute for Bau-Biologie & Ecology as a Building Biology Practitioner (BBP) and by the United States Green Building Council as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP). She has served on the Santa Monica Conservancy"s board of directors and specializes in sustainable interior design, health and wellness and historic preservation.