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Design studio Amber Road Design wants your home to be sustainable – inside and out. For some home improvement inspiration, we spoke to the design company’s founding sisters, landscape designer Katy and interior designer Yasmine.

Can you tell us a little about Amber Road Design?

The name ‘Amber Road’ stems from an ancient trade route used to transfer amber between the Baltic nations and north Africa. As Katy’s father’s origins are Latvian and Yasmine’s father’s Egyptian, we saw this as a wonderful [and romantic!] phrase to weave our stories together as well as hint at our love of travel and exotic places. Our studio merges our love for interior design, landscape architecture, music and art. We particularly like projects that engage our two different disciplines so we can create a seamless experience, inside and out.

Where does your focus on sustainability come from?

As designers, we have always felt a responsibility to make clients aware that their choices make a difference. There are more ‘sustainable’ ways of living, let alone renovating a home or building one from scratch.

What kind of projects would we recognise you from in Sydney?

We’ve recently worked on Paper Planes in Bondi Beach, Redfern’s Charlie’s Garden refurbishment. We’ve also worked with David Winterton from Ecological Design on refurbishing the communal garden area at Beaconsfield Neighbourhood Centre so people have a place to congregate and grow produce.

What are some of your favourite emerging sustainable trends in both interior and landscape design?

There are so many. We love the move towards more ‘compact’ forms of residential development and housing and the emergence of warehouse or house conversions that permit flexible-use spaces. And we love the community gardens that foster a sharing of knowledge about food growing. There’s also growing demand from clients to ‘open up’ their houses to their exterior spaces – to create seamless integration between inside and out.

Yasmine, what are some of your favourite sustainable materials to use when decorating a home?

I’m a huge advocator of sourcing pre-loved, bespoke furniture. I spend most weekends perusing auctions and second hand furniture stores. I also love using natural materials such as floor rugs made from natural fibres, and recycled timber or bamboo flooring when a project permits.

The secret is finding environmentally-aware suppliers who create handmade products from scratch, rather than on a mass scale.

Katy, what’s the best way to make the most of a small backyard, courtyard or balcony?

I’d suggest to introduce elements that can serve several functions. For example, a raised planting bed can incorporate a seating edge or a pergola structure can be decorative, give shade and serve as a washing line!

Renovating a home usually means upgrading – adding more appliances, more lights, or more bathrooms. What simple things can you do to make a home beautiful, comfortable and still sustainable?

For a more ‘sustainable’ lifestyle, people have to consume less -Full stop. Adding more efficient appliances doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve become more ‘sustainable’.

Consider retrofitting the house to allow for better light penetration and ventilation.  And keep the spaces flexible to allow for the changing needs and uses of their occupants.

(For more renovation tips see our list here)

If someone had a small budget, what’s one thing they could do to update their home?

Purge, purge, purge – we all own too much stuff! Pass on things you don’t use – give them to your local charity – and showcase the things you really love.

Updating your home is not necessarily all about buying new things, but about reinterpreting or reusing the space you already have to make it work better for you. If this seems an overwhelming or daunting task – give us a call!

Katy, how can a backyard, or courtyard help make a home more sustainable?

Fusion of inside and out should be integral from the conception of any project. Buildings should be located, adapted and/or designed to best respond to the site. Think of them as a ‘living organism’ with closed cycles of energy, water and nutrients.

In a truly ‘sustainable’ system, there should be no ‘waste’. Rainwater captured in tanks can be reused to flush toilets. Grey water from hand basins and washing machines can be used to water the garden. Worm farms and composting systems can transform food wastes into valuable nutrients that can be used to grow food.

Some great examples of this approach can be seen in the ‘Earthship‘ first pioneered by Michael Reynolds in New Mexico and now springing up globally. These buildings, constructed largely of ‘waste’, truly work as living systems that can sustain all of their inhabitants needs. I had the opportunity to assist in constructing one of these this year in Queensland.

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Image credits:

Hero image: Photographer Tim Jones; illustration, Laura Baxter

Above images are from a collaborative installation Katy completed with landscape architect Marta Villota: Bio-Tech-Tastic.

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