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Animal lovers will be happy to know there's another way to be kinder to their furry friends. And it all starts at home.

Many people aren't aware that they can opt for cruelty-free products when decorating their homes, says Sasha Josipovicz, creative director of Studio Pyramid in Toronto.

You can start by simply choosing manmade, cruelty-free options instead of wool, fur, leather, down and exotic skins, he says. And we're not talking polyester -- manmade fabrics have come a long way since the 1960s. French and Italian companies are creating fabrics that look like the real thing and offer extra benefits as well.

For example, silk is expensive and disintegrates in the sun. Manmade silks, on the other hand, don't break down in the sun, says Josipovicz, adding that he can't remember the last time he used real silk in a project. Faux suede and leather require less maintenance, are more durable and come in larger sizes than their animal counterparts. It's the same with manmade wool, which is just as pleasing to the eye but comes in wider widths and is less expensive. The wider widths make it more practical for interior design uses, because items such as drapes for large windows can be made with fewer seams, he says.

Many furniture manufacturers, both low and high end, are offering alternatives to animal skins and hides, including faux leather couches and canvas chairs.

The Compassionate Closet has a cruelty-free fabric guide that can help when selecting materials.

For some people, like real estate agent Eva Szczepanek of Re/Max Realty Specialists in Mississauga, Ont., being vegan is a way of life. She decorates her home with vegan products but also carries her belief to her work world. When she has clients' homes staged, she says she insists that only vegan materials -- "no feathers, wool or leather, no animal materials -- are used, and I don't use faux fur because it promotes the use of real fur."

Even working on a tight timeline, she ensures homes are staged with vegan products because it "brings a good energy into the home."

The best way to find vegan products is to read labels to ensure that they do not contain animal products or are not tested on animals. Sometimes it can be tricky, says Josipovicz. He once designed an entire home with cruelty-free products. Then he went with the client to a china shop and suggested she buy fine bone china. The client was outraged. Josipovicz said it took him a few minutes before the "ah-ha" moment. He had always thought of "fine bone china" as almost a brand name, not realizing the china contains ground animal bones. It was a lesson learned.

But as long as you're honest and open minded, and try your best, there's no harm done, he says.

The winning entry from the Cruelty-Free Home of the
Year Contest. Photo by Mary Summers Photography

People don't have to start big and throw all of their possessions away. Start small and when you replace items, buy cruelty-free products, Josipovicz says. "People feel good when they can make even a small contribution. If you give them the option, the majority will say, ‘let's try'. Every little effort is recognized and applauded. It's a reasonable approach."

You can start small with decorative items such as a selection of super cute pillows from Velvet Moustache in Montreal or vegan candles from Two Blooms in Victoria.

In an effort to spread the word about cruelty-free decorating, Josipovicz came up with the idea for a Cruelty-Free Home of the Year Contest. Interior design magazine Objekt International (of which Josipovicz is the honorary editor-in-chief Objekt USA-Canada) and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) teamed up to launch the competition and recently announced its winner: the peaceful home of lifestyle blogger Molly Tuttle of Dallas.

To be eligible, homes had to be 100-per-cent vegan, meaning no wool, fur, leather, down or exotic skins were used in the designs. Interiors could be enhanced by faux fur, canvas, linen and other cruelty-free fabrics.

Tuttle's entry stood out, Josipovicz says. "It met all my esthetic thresholds of visuals and practicality. It's an eye-popping house done on a not serious budget."

The principles of good design -- layout, colours, materials and practicality were met, with the added restriction that everything had to be cruelty-free (a kinder choice), he says."…The real highlight of her vegan lifestyle is her home: an earthy, modern house that she shares with three giant rescued dogs….The leather is vegan, the pillows are down-free and the only animal fur you'll find is on her rescued pups," says the story in Objekt magazine. "As more people become vegan and vegetarians, more people are interested in finding ways to make kinder choices. And they can do so without sacrificing looks, as Tuttle's home shows."

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