Danny Seo is the Editor in Chief of “Naturally, Danny Seo” and the author of several books. His fourteenth book Naturally, Delicious Dinners will be published in September. Read our conversation with Seo below about the art of curating your space, the reality of eco-friendly living, and creating a home that feels like you.
Q: How do you express your individuality through your space, while also maintaining functionality and sustainability?
A: One of the things to remember when looking at sustainable/eco-friendly home furnishings is that it’s also closely associated with high quality, timeless design, and the idea that they’re literally made to last a lifetime. Look at your home through the lens of time-tested and classic design, instead of “fast fashion” looks that resonate as trendy. When I look at furniture, I tend to shy away from pieces that are very unique, very different, or very special-looking because it’ll quickly sour when it’s everywhere. The same way you wouldn’t wear a giant shiny cluster of jewelry everyday (but maybe for a special event), should be the way you think about designing your home.
Sustainable furniture can also mean mindful personalization. Use a repurposed slab of marble or stone as a table top to a base that’s made from repurposed wood. A local quarry or countertop fabricator can be a treasure trove of slabs too small for countertops, but perfect for table. Little quirks, chips, and “errors” in their patterns can actually enhance for individuality in design.
Q: When deciding to redesign a space, what questions should readers ask themselves before buying a bunch of new things?
A: First, make sure what you want to part with goes to a good home. For higher quality furniture, I like these burgeoning resell sites like KAIYO that act like TheRealReal, but for nicer furniture. They actually will come to your home, take the furniture, shoot it, store it, sell it and give you a commission. Literally, they do all the work and it keeps furniture out of the landfill.
For anything else, use Facebook Marketplace to sell or FreeCycle to just give it away for free in your community.
Then, avoid simply buying it all online. Going to a showroom means you can be absolutely sure you love the piece of furniture, and it’s something that will be part of your home for a very long time.
Q: What are your favorite ways to repurpose furniture and/or decor to spruce up your space without waste?
Reupholstering is a smart thing to do. Right now, I’m obsessed with these fabrics from Crypton that are made right here in the United States with recycled fibers. They are embedded with Crypton technology that makes them stain resistant. If you’re in a family with accident-prone kids, pets or–heck–guests, this is a must have. Because any liquid literally just beads right up.
I also think it’s nice to move furniture around the house. Seeing a side table moved from one room to another is literally like getting a new piece for your home.
Q: As a designer with a strong aesthetic eye, do you ever feel like you have to compromise your taste in order to live greener?
A: Don’t sweat the small stuff. When I was traveling in Africa, I found some great accessories that I had shipped in from Mozambique and Tanzania. It’s important in my design aesthetic to understand the history of where your objects come from. A home is like a living diary of your life, so saying a horn bowl came from a village where you met the craftsman sure sounds better than saying, “IKEA!”
Q: We often think about sustainability as a challenge that requires extra effort. What are your tips and tricks to incorporate eco-friendly practices into the design of your space, to make green living easy and accessible in daily life?
A: Make a list of the big items that have the most impact. If you’re planning to do a lot of paint, look for ZERO VOC paints but also are low VOCs when the pigments are added (a lot of base paints are low to zero VOC, but once you tint it, it can go through the roof on off gassing in the room…so ask!). Upholstered pieces should be made with both the smallest impact using Forest Stewardship Council wood, natural fill inside (like cotton and wool), natural fire retardants, and American made if possible. Mix in antiques and vintage pieces, but try to find items from local places to cut down on shipping if possible.
Q: What’s your approach to antiquing and finding pre-loved home pieces? Is thrifted always the better option, or can we find ethically and sustainably sourced pieces?
A: Search by zip code on resell sites like Chairish. It’ll eliminate the vendors who are in Paris or across the country. That way you can narrow it down to those who are, say, within a 30-50 mile radius of where you are. This way, you can either pick up the pieces, see them in person, or have them easily delivered to you.
Estate sales are also a good place to get some art and unique pieces that have character. I always like to have one weird thing in a room, so it feels personal. Remember floor samples at stores of new pieces are also a good way to get something new at a discount, and keep it local.
Q: When it comes to homemade art and decor, what have been the most beloved home pieces that you’ve made yourself?
A: Not sure it’s a “made” piece, but I found a large wood mold for a huge pipe at a junk store. It was gray, architectural, and kind of brutalist. I loved it.
In Ireland, there was a giant rhino head taxidermy in a bar (it’s faux…calm down!), but it was advertising a beer brand. That guy lives in my gym now.
I’ve also had pillows made from deadstock military fabrics by a seamstress. They are inexpensive to have made because sewing square shapes with zippers is sewing 101.
Q: What is one interior design trend that is not sustainable, and what’s your greener alternative?
A: Fast. Fashion. As. Furniture. If it’s made from cheap materials like MDF and you have to assemble yourself, it’s just not a good option. And for those who complain that’s what people on a budget can only afford, I implore them to research local auction houses, estate sales, Facebook Marketplace, and Kaiyo. It is cheaper and better in those places to find scores. Remember, when you score the coffee table of your dreams as a resell, you’re done! It’s not like you have to find a coffee table every week!
Q: Tell us about the designers who inspire you and why.
A: I’m a fan of Nate Berkus. He’s famous, but he really started this movement of understanding the meaning of things. He designs not to get a room done, but to make sure there’s intention and thought behind it.
Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams—the namesake founders of their brand–also were revolutionary. They introduced sustainable methods to their furniture making without sacrificing quality. They also took strong social stances on everything from childcare for their workers to LGBTQ rights. It was groundbreaking to do this in a town that formerly did not welcome LGBTQ culture or people.
Also, Cisco Pinedo, the founder of Cisco Home, is a true pioneer in sustainable design. He recently passed away and it felt like a punch to the stomach to hear about his passing. He truly challenged the furniture industry to focus on quality over quantity and designers flocked to him. He’s my hero.
Q: Lastly, what’s your secret to turning a space into a home?
A: Your home isn’t a museum. If people aren’t sitting comfortably inside or have to ask, “should I take my shoes off?” it might be a wee bit too stuffy. You really set the tone for your own home, so why not a tone that says, welcome!
Enjoy a home tour given by Danny Seo himself on our Online Studio Instagram handle now.