The renowned interior designer, author, and pioneer of the ethical/wellness design movement discusses the transition towards more humane living spaces.
Words by Spoorthi Satheesh
photos courtesy of DiMare Design
The sumptuousness of a leather sofa, the impact of a crocodile accent pillow, the luxury appeal of a fur throw. Yeah, we love 'em... but to what extent? Might we spare a thought for the creatures that might suffer for our luxe home decor? And further, while we'll agonize over a design decision... are we willing to get sick over it?
It's food for thought from Deborah DiMare, a leading interior designer who has been envisioning and executing beautiful living environments for nearly 20 years. Her designs most certainly catch the eye, but it's her mission that captures the heart.
Working tirelessly on the frontlines of the vegan design movement, Deborah - through her public appearances, her coffee table book Vegan Interiors, and her impressive design projects - is passionate about her cause... and that, friends, is an understatement. Get her started and there's no stopping her. Deb's Miami-based company DiMare Design prides itself on being the only 100% cruelty-free interior design firm specializing in the creation of organic, optimal spaces, and sourcing textiles and sustainable furniture that bear zero-to-low toxins is a significant part of the process.
a first look at DiMare's stunning vegan design
SS: It seems we are hearing even more now than ever before about cruelty-free and vegan products in the food and fashion industries. Why do you think this is, and why is it also so crucial that these practices carry over into the interior design biz?
DD: Twenty years ago, if you talked about organic tomatoes, people would look at you like you were speaking Martian. But the world has evolved; people now understand the value of our environment and what we are doing to our planet and its living beings... particularly the animals. That's how the idea of vegan interiors began for me. The concept of vegan products has definitely seen prominence in high-end fashion houses that are embracing materials such as faux leather and fur. What we need to remember is that the same cow leather it takes to make a jacket destroys even more animals to make a sofa.
scenes from an oceanfront Summer home in Deal, New Jersey by DiMare Design
SS: Walk us through your journey of becoming a "vegan designer". What were some of your inspirations and triggers along the way?
DD: I became a vegan designer several years ago when I learned about dog leather. Animals - especially dogs - are an integral part of my family. I had been completely ignorant about the practices and tremendous suffering that animals endure for their precious parts to be sold around the world as luxury items. When I found out that a certain kind of leather was crafted by killing dogs, my heart broke. As an active participitant in a variety of organizations including PETA and Farm Sanctuary, what kind of hypocrite would I be if my designs included down-feather pillows, leather sofas, wool rugs, and fur blankets? It is part of our responsibility as human beings to protect those who can't protect themselves, so I learned to create spaces that are in the best interest of both animal and human health and well-being.
DiMare's captivating and cruelty-free design of a waterfront home, Miami
SS: We understand the animal-cruelty aspect, but could you explain further about the human aspect?
DD: Throughout the world, poverty and hunger cause people to work in factories that are unsafe and harmful. In India for example, 90% of tannery employees die before the age of 50. They spend their days working in pools of toxic chemicals used to treat animal hides. These same chemicals stay on the fabrics and can be absorbed into our bodies through the pores of our skin. Chemicals surround us and our families with toxins that our bodies absorb - which can trigger illness or make existing illnesses worse - whereas cruelty-free materials and furnishings contain significantly less toxins than animal-based textiles and decorative items.
cocktail table made from reclaimed wood
SS: Are cruelty-free products and materials as enduring as their non-vegan counterparts?
DD: Actually, it's a misconception that vegan materials are not durable. In fact, faux leathers, for instance, are more durable than leather. Think of it this way: leather is animal skin, so just like our skin, it scratches and is porous. If you spill grape juice on leather, it is going to stain, unlike faux leather. There are durable and expensive vegan materials on the market which we often use for luxury spaces that demand the look, but there are also inexpensive options. Personally, I love using the ones that aren't heavily soaked in chemicals. They're not quite as durable, but it's a much healthier choice.
"I hope my enthusiasm and excitement about compassionate design jumps off these pages and touches you as it has me, " says the designer of her coffee table book, Vegan Interiors. You can click this link to purchase it!
SS: Could you give us some tips on sustainably approaching interior design without sacrificing style?
DD: My first suggestion would be take it one step at a time so you don't get overwhelmed. Set yourself a goal of six months or so to turn a single room into a healthier environment. Bedrooms are a convenient place to get started. For example, consider replacing your down-feather pillows with buckwheat or kapok and changing your sheets to ones that are Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS ) certified. Or, you could select five items in your home and switch them out with healthier alternatives. Make sure that your furnishings have no strong varnishes on them. Choose low VOC paint for your walls. With all the excellent products out there (think organic cottons, natural hemps and sisals, banana silks and more) there's no reason the luxury of a space needs to be compromised.
SS: So, what does the future of vegan design look like for you?
DD: I am looking forward to seeing this movement getting bigger globally; as more and more people want to find themselves in healthier environments , it's my hope that vegan and wellness design will become more popular and maybe even the primary focus of design . As I see it, the future of materials is going to be mostly plant-based. Believe it or not, there are leathers being made from apples and pineapple strands. And there are even labs all over the world producing fabrics made from mushrooms, tofu juice, and more. (And no, you can't eat them!)
Deborah's pet pooch models the latest in cruelty-free bedding
BELOW ARE A FEW OF DEBORAH'S VEGAN DESIGN PRODUCT PICKS:
SS: We're all in! How can we find out more? And where else can we shop?!
DD: While DiMare Design focuses more on my design projects, my other company Vegan Design vegandesign.org mainly concentrates on offering courses for both industry professionals and consumers who want to learn about vegan design and safe spaces. We also offer virtual consultations for your home for as little as $600. As far as products are concerned, you can shop our looks and products directly at Cruelty Free Casa. The products are all curated by my team and a lot of them are available through Amazon, Target, and other retailers.