Home for the soul: How to create a sustainable and thoughtful home.

As a society, we are increasingly conscious of the scarcity of earth’s resources and many of us are looking for different ways we can lighten our footprint on our beautiful planet. This shift in awareness means that it’s all the more important to reflect these ideas in our own homes; to be more mindful of seeking out sustainable, renewable or reclaimed materials, rediscovering traditional skills and carefully choosing natural, hand-crafted homewares

In their stunning new book, Home for the Soul, Sara Bird and Dan Duchars show us simple ways to create a thoughtful and sustainable home, balancing minimising the damage to the environment with maintaining a sense of cohesion, cosiness and individual style. We spoke to authors Dan and Sara of The CONTENTed Nest about why this ethical mindset has become so important in their lives and their tips for adopting the same ideas in your own home. 


When did you first realise that creating a sustainable home was important to you?

There wasn’t a specific “Eureka moment”, it was a gradual process. I realised over time all the objects in the house, that I had spent foolish amounts of money on, were actually the ones that I tired of quickest and would then ‘re-vamp’ with another purchase. All the treasured items that had travelled through life with me were either personal family objects with a meaning behind them or vintage and second-hand items that had already lived a life before I became the custodian of them.”  - Dan 

In my childhood, I was brought up in a ‘make-do-and-mend’ family environment, but on leaving home and in my early adulthood this was lost a little. Having my own children reminded me to slow down, treasure things, be more resourceful and to try to lessen my eco-footprint.’ - Sara 


What is your favourite salvaged or re-purposed item in your home and why?

A 1950’s wooden desk that I rescued from a skip and restored when I was 15 years old. It’s still the desk I work at now.’ - Dan 

I have lots of hand-me-downs but my favourite salvaged item is my Aga – I found it dismantled on a farm. There was a lovely story of it originally being one of five wedding gifts from a father to his five sons. It had done its time with them when I found it, so I arranged for it to be transported and refitted into my kitchen. It is now the heart of my house and myself, my daughters, visitors (and cat!) lean against it and love it too.’ - Sara 


What’s your favourite spot or room in your home and why?

One corner of my sitting room where I have an old battered leather chair next to the fireplace. There is nothing I like more than sitting there with the sound of the fire crackling and the clock ticking on the mantlepiece. It somehow makes me feel as though I am in another era, sitting in an old corner of The Bodleian Library, even though I know my teenagers will be next door arguing over streaming accounts and who's moved their trainers.’ - Dan

Aside from sitting near the Aga, there is a lovely spot on my landing with a window looking East. I can watch the sun come up and see the colours of the sky in the morning. It’s beautiful and my personal weathervane – red skies etc! I occasionally get treated to a fly-by of hot-air balloons as we are on a balloon route and they often cross the house very early in the morning.’ - Sara 


Can you give us your top 3 tips for creating a sustainable home?

Look into small ways you can reduce your energy consumption in the home. I started with:

  1. Turning the thermostat down a few degrees.
  2. Only filling the kettle with the amount of water you are about to use
  3. Changing the system of your toilet cistern to a dual-flush one  - Dan 

It is important to think more carefully about each purchase you make and ways you can extend the lives of items you love:

  1. Buy with consideration
  2. Follow care recommendations to keep possessions at their best
  3. When an item is no longer needed and cannot be recycled, try and find a new home for it rather than just cast it aside - Sara 


If someone wants to buy a new item for their home, what should they consider when purchasing it?

If they want to reduce the impact of a ‘throwaway’ society one thing to consider when buying items is whether that object is something that can live on beyond them. Is it something that their children might want in years to come or if that doesn't apply, is it something that might retain its desirability or usefulness if passed on to a thrift shop.’ - Dan 

Look into how an item has been made, with what, by whom and who is selling it. For example, was it made with ethically-sourced materials? What is its provenance and making-journey? Does it have eco credentials such as Oekotex, FFC or Organic? Finally, research who is selling it and where they purchased it from, buying from companies registered with and respecting environmentally friendly values and requirements.’ - Sara 


No matter how new or old a house, or what your particular style is, there are always simple, sustainable ways to add warmth and soul to your home. With a slight switch in perspective, some considered spending and a dash of imagination, you too can feel like you’re playing your part in protecting our precious planet, quite literally, from the comfort of your own home.


Home for the Soul by Sara Bird and Dan Duchars of The CONTENTed Nest (Ryland Peters & Small, £19.99).

Photography by Dan Duchars © Ryland Peters & Small.