Wood is good, what wood is best?

One difficult thing about having a conscience is that even when you have decided to do the right thing,  it is hard to know what choice is right!  When confronted with this complexity, it is easy to throw up your hands and make a quick decision, based on the best information you have at the time.  You cannot always find the FSC logo conveniently stamped on your furniture: 

 Forestry Stewardship Council Logo.

Forestry Stewardship Council Logo.

Therefore one of our jobs as a green interior designer, is getting people to make environmentally sensitive choices in their interior design and furnishings purchases, and explaining clearly what ARE good choices.

Luckily we have some great partners in making those choices clear.  I have written about the Sustainable Furnishings council and their  #GetYourGreenOn contest previously, and was lucky enough to win last year.  They work to educate both manufacturers and consumers on making green choices.  

One of their biggest goals is to educate the furniture industry on how they can do better in sourcing the raw materials used in furniture.  It is not a huge surprise that most furniture is made with wood.  Making sure the wood in furniture is ethically sourced is especially important considering that the furnishings industry ranks as the third largest consumer of wood after the construction and paper industries.   Furniture also is a large consumer of the beautiful exotic hardwoods, which are more likely to be poached out of a natural forest than construction wood.

  Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams  are one of the top 7 scorers on the Wood Furniture Scorecard.

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams are one of the top 7 scorers on the Wood Furniture Scorecard.

The SFC has launched a new wood score card,   in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation.  The Wood Furniture Scorecard was developed to promote good forest management, based on an understanding that the furniture industry might, knowingly or not, be using illegally logged and otherwise unsustainably produced wood within their complex supply chains.  It assesses wood sourcing policies for over 50 of the largest furniture retailers in North America. Published on a dedicated website, the scorecard covers publicly available information on how companies source virgin wood. It also evaluates company use of recycled and reclaimed wood. 

So check out the Wood Furniture Score Card, it is a good source of information.  And consider patronizing only those retailers that are making a strong effort to do the right thing.   Knowledge makes it easier to make good, responsible choices. 

 custom table by The Joinery

custom table by The Joinery

A couple of discoveries from High Point!

High Point Mart is the largest furniture show in the world, and it is overwhelming for the first time visitor.  They have 11,000 square feet of showrooms in 180 buildings with 2000 exhibitors.  Who knew there were that many vendors of furniture, rugs, pillows, antiques, accessories, and bedding.  Blessings upon the Sustainable Furnishings Council for having this wonderful Guide to the mart, that shows where it's member companies are located.  Even so, I saw less than 1/2 of their member showrooms, I definately will plan on going back.  I am happy to have made contact with some of these vendors, and I hope to work with them in the future, to deliver healthy, sustainable furnishings to my clients. 

Some highlights include:

Gus* Design Group makes modern furniture in Canada, using FSC certified wood frames, and recycled PET cushions on some of their soft back styles.  I think of my self as being pretty knowledgeable about what green furniture vendors are out there, so I was pleased to discover Gus* as a new resource at this mart.   I was struck by their sectional options, and love the little blocks, with which you can work out your ideal configuration: 

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Jaipur Living  make rugs, pillows and poufs.  They are very open to using fibers that are sustainable, made from recycled plastic bottles, recycled Saris or Blue jeans, or Jute, which is one of the most sustainable plant fibers.  I love this Jute and Blue jeans rug for it's quiet, almost neutral texture.  

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Selamat Designs is one of the showrooms that I was super excited to find.  They make furniture out of rapidly renewable materials, and sustainably sourced woods.  They are riding the Boho Chic wave, which I love, but many of their solid Rattan pieces are timeless and useful for a traditional or modern interior. 

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I love their Ambrose Banquette, and not just for the fabulous green color.  Furniture that delivers a sense of enclosure is wonderful to use in larger rooms, when you might need to float some pieces in the room.  This would look great from the back or the front.  

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I did squeeze in a visit to one of my favorite vendors, Gat Creek.  If you have followed my blog for any time at all you know that I consider quality to be one of the most important characteristics of sustainability.  If your furniture ends up in the landfill after 4 years, it is not sustainable, you are just making ecologically sourced trash.  Gat Creek makes quality solid wood furniture, out of sustainably sourced wood, while tracking all of their waste and energy use, and striving to be the best and fairest employer they can be.  And, BONUS, I met Gat!

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Altogether a wonderful (if overwhelming) furniture mart.  

Getting High (Point, North Carolina)

High Point Market is the largest home furnishings and accessory show in the world, and I have never been!  The typical show includes over 2000 vendors, 11 million square feet of exhibit space, and educational, social, and entertainment events.  (if you were a single guy, who is into designers, I am sure it would be a must see event)  It is a chance to find new sources of furnishings, look at the trends in my industry, and look at more furniture options than the average consumer would believe exists.  

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I am lucky enough to live close to a large design center, the San Francisco Design Center, and to have worked for several designers before I went out on my own.  So I felt like I had my furniture sources pretty nailed down.  Also, my business is a lean mean designing machine, and I didn't want to take the time or travel budget to visit a furniture show across the continent. 

 An image from the winning design

An image from the winning design

But last year, I entered, and won an award in the #getYourGreenOn design contest, sponsored by the Sustainable Furnishings Council, and they asked if I would sit on a panel discussion.  Well, I do enjoy talking about green and sustainable interior design, almost as much as I like doing it!  So my answer was yes.  I am going to High Point, and I am speaking on Sunday the 15th at 4 pm, yikes.  Good Golly, whatever am I going to wear?

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Some thoughts on evolution, the concept of quality, being a responsible consumer.

In the natural world, there are two reproductive strategies that creatures use to get their babies to survive to the next generation: K and r.  The ‘r’ strategy is to have lots and lots, without investing too much in nurturing any of them, knowing that some of them will survive.  Think of the hundreds of baby sea turtles being hatched, and then braving the  gauntlet of shore birds to get to the sea.    The ‘K’ strategy is to have a few offspring, and invest a lot of life energy to make sure they survive.  Think elephant babies, learning from the herd for more than 7 years.  Or think of our human children, my youngest is 20, and is (arguably) still under my teaching influence!  The r strategy species tend to be quick to mature, are less intelligent, live in unstable environments, and have short life spans.  The K-strategists tend to live in stable environments, are long lived, intellegent and mature slowly.  

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When my eldest son explained this to me (they are useful creatures, these human children), I realized there is a similar binary in items of furniture.  Some people choose to buy the best they can afford, knowing that the quality sofa might last their lifetime, and that a strong frame is worth the labor to be reupholstered to update it in the future.  They feel that there is a value in their life to having something of quality in their home, and are willing to invest up front for an experience that will last a long time. 

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Other purchasers seem to want the cheapest sofa they can afford, and will discard it on the curb, rather than move it to a new home.  (news flash, no one wants your grey micro fiber sofa)  This type of consumer will buy this sofa again, when they get where they are going.  Many, many sofas purchased, used, discarded, and then purchased again.  

(I am not so foolish to believe that cost is not a factor in these decisions, but old things are often made well, and inexpensive)

 Before, in all it's optimism. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and after

Before, in all it's optimism. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and after

In nature, both the K and r techniques are perfectly wonderful.  The sea turtles are a tasty snack for the gulls, and the gulls, in turn, can be snacks for sharks or microbes, at the end of their lives. The elephant baby has time to learn the many water holes and kinds of food it needs to survive.  There is no such thing as garbage in a natural system.  Every waste product is food for another cycle. 

I do not need to tell you that this is not true of consumer products.  That sofa, and all of the wood, foam, screws, fabric that were so carefully harvested and created for it’s manufacture, will be in the landfill forever, leaching flame retardant and plasticizers into the environment, and never disappearing.  I find this to be very sad. 

In addition to this environmental impact, there is a loss in experience.

There is an aesthetic thrill in living with something that is made really well.  The amount of time and effort that went into making an artifact is equal to how much pleasure one gets touching, looking at, and using a thing.  The wear on a well made item just adds history and patina, without decreasing its usefulness.  

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One even might be motivated to mend a loved item.  Somehow there is an investment of liking and care when one owns a item of quality.

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This does not exist with carelessly made consumer items.  There is a  lack of investment: from the designer of the sofa, from the manufacturer seeking the cheapest materials possible, from the purchaser who is making the minimal purchase investment.  It leads to an equivalent lack of reward for the the consumer.  Every object tells a story,  the cheap item tells the story of someone's idea of a sofa, and tells it best in the store, and at a distance.   A cheap sofa will not wear it’s age well, and will not be comfortable by the end of it’s short life.  And I find this sad also.  

I do not know what to do about this, other than to say that, if you own things, good things are better than bad things.  Perhaps in our unsettled times we are living our lives more like r-strategy species.  Perhaps Quality is a layer of meaning too complex to convey in a low-res photograph on the internet.  

But I will say this: have a few things in your life that are beautifully made.  You deserve it, and you are changing your world, just a bit, by having them.

 Chair by Sam Maloof

Chair by Sam Maloof

More awards for Sustainable Home

I am really proud of the award that we received for a recent project.  The reason this award is special to us is that the organization that sponsored the contest, The Sustainable Furnishings Council has a mission that is very much aligned with my business.  Heck, even our names sound the same.  I love creating beautiful interiors, with stylish furnishings and beautiful upholstery, but I think the manufacturing process for all of these items should follow the Hippocratic Oath, "First do no harm."  The SFC shares this value, here is a pledge I signed:

As a business leader I am concerned about the health of our world - my employees, customers, communities, and the global environment. I am committed to reducing the use of chemicals that pose harm to human health and the environment.

As a first step, I commit to ask my suppliers about the presence of the following chemicals of concern in the products that we produce, specify or purchase: flame retardant chemicalsfluorinated stain treatmentsantimicrobialsvinyl and VOCsincluding formaldehyde.

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This seems like a no brainer, you furniture shouldn't make you sick, but it is harder to achieve than you might think.  Furniture contains many component materials, from sources around the globe, to create a product that is usually evaluated by a consumer by two characteristics: how it looks, and what it costs.  (sadly, comfort and quality are seldom considered, but that is another tragic topic for another blog post.)

Despite the size of the challenge, the SFC works to educate consumers, reward companies who do the right thing, and research what changes in furniture manufacturing make the most impactful changes in human health and environmental preservation.  

So you can see why I was excited to win for in SFC's Get Your Green On contest in "Shared Spaces" catagory with my family room project.  I deeply researched the individual materials in each of the items of furniture used in this home, and I feel confident that they are some of the healthiest couches, chairs, tables and cabinets around.  

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Size is not everything

I recently came across this great news article about Jay Schafer, who really helped to start the tiny house movement: 

I like his houses, because his has really explored two interesting areas deeply.  He clearly has thought about what functions take place in a home, and how to make space for those functions in his designs.  If you do not design the space for the tasks/hobbies/interests that a client needs, they will end up feeling that their space is too small.  This is not actually because their space is not the right size, but because it does not do the things that they need it to do.  In the video linked above, Jay mentions that he designed a folding bulletin board system, so he could pin up current projects and look at them.  He clearly needed to see things laid out when he is designing his projects, and if his house design did not include space for that to happen, he would not have been happy in his home.  If you need it, if it makes your heart happy, make room for it in your home, however small.  

The second thing he has explored is the way that home design details make people feel at home in a building.  Whether you love modern design, traditional or eclectic design, it is the details of a home that make a difference and make that home feel right for you.  Jay's houses have details like porches, beautifully proportioned windows, and woodwork detail, that make the small spaces feel luxurious. 

I know myself well enough to know that I could not live in 200 sf, my design books and wind up toy collection alone, demand a little more space.  However the lesson of the tiny house is that we should know WHY we want things in our home, and WHAT is truly important.  If you do not love it, if it is not improving your life, perhaps it does not need you to make space for it.  

If you want to check out small houses, There are so many wonderful resources, don't miss Sarah Susanka's book "The Not So Big House",

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” 
― William Morris

Recent design awards for Sustainable Home, now in published in Luxe Magazine

Sustainable Home is pleased to have been awarded two 2017 Design Excellence Awards from the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) California Peninsula Chapter. Founded in 1975, ASID is the oldest, largest and leading professional organization for interior designers. The American Society of Interior Designers is a community of people — designers, industry representatives, educators and students — committed to interior design.

The ASID CA Peninsula Design Awards Competition is a prestigious award bestowed upon the most talented designers in the CA Peninsula Chapter. This award recognizes interior designers for their hard work, making their designs the benchmark of the industry, and inspiring a new generation of students and emerging professionals.

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Kirsten  was presented with these  Awards at the Design Awards Celebration in July.  Her winning projects were published this month in LUXE INTERIORS + DESIGN Magazine, September/October issue.  

The magazine spread

We are so grateful to our clients, contractors and vendors for trusting us with the important work of making homes beautiful, functional and healthy.

Why I love design- and keep running my business even when it is work

I recently had to renew one of my advertising contracts (yes please click through and see me on Houzz, but come back and read my blog)  And you know what?  It was kind of scary, it was one of the biggest yearly investments for my small business, and it was a lot of money.  Think: more- than-one-piece-of-furniture money.  

But what helped me make that decision were the many thoughts I was having about why I love being an interior designer.

There are so many reasons that this job is perfect for me. I love people, and truly believe that they are happier when they are in a well designed space.  I love having the green knowledge that will make the spaces I design healthier for the occupants, and have a lighter footprint on the planet.  I have always been most comfortable doing both technical and design thinking, and I get to use both my left and right brain solving the technical aspects of design and construction.

But the biggest reasons are partially selfish.  Design helps me be a better person, more the person that I want to be. 

I am extremely, almost obsessively visual.  I love when the stream of images coming in my eyes stops  the multiple layers of chat going on inside my head (and on my iPhone.)  When something says to me “Look, this is beautiful, just look”   I think that this feeling, of being in the flow of beauty, is why many people visit museums, or hike the high Sierra, or visit gardens.  They want to experience being taken out of themselves by beauty.

I actually get to create this feeling in my work, for my self, and hopefully for my clients.  However, in order to do so, I have to pay close attention to so many things about the world around me.  I have to truly enter into seeing.  Is the mix of tiles I am using all matte, does a space need some gleaming surface to make it balanced?  The client says she likes exotic feeling fabrics and rugs, what does that mean to her, and what exact rug would set the right note?  When I find the right thing for a client, I often tell them that it just clicked.  But I don’t tell them that is feels like a physical thing, like a puzzle piece sliding into just the right space with a smooth snap.  The right thing just feels happier and more relaxed visually, than the wrong thing.   Doing design helps me be in the visual moment, to spend time just floating on the stream of beauty.    

I also really want to be a kind person, and working as a designer helps me strive towards that goal.  The spaces I work are not mine.  They belong to the client, and at the end of the day, I walk away, and the client closes the door behind me and sits down in their home.  Talking to clients helps me enter into their concerns, their preferences, their way of living and perhaps even their dreams.   I have the visual vocabulary, the contacts with craftspersons, the textile knowledge, and the training in design, but the vision is theirs.  Everyone has a different image in their head when they talk about their perfect home, and my hope is that by listening carefully and empathically enough, I can make that image real. 

And the flat out truth is that my business runs better when I am gracious.  Interior design is always a collaboration, I am not an expert in installing glass tile, in duel fuel ovens, in faux painting, in cabinet construction or in looped carpet manufacturing techniques.  But I know one!  And if I am gracious, and a good learner, then I get to collaborate with all of these experts, as well as with my client, to create something that is beautiful and functional.  

Aristotle said “we are what we repeatedly do” and I am certainly going to continue spending long hours running my business.  I am lucky that these hours involve some much time doing things that make me improve as a human being.

Great Organic sheets

I just happened to be over at Anthropologie, and notice that they are carrying the Plover Organic sheet sets. I enjoy Plover Organics for several reasons.  One is that they are block printed.  This is the technique often used in indian textiles where an interlocking block is loaded with ink, and then pressed down into the fabric.  Because each block is hand inked and hand set, the result (usually a geometric repeating design) is delightfully varied over the surface of the textile.  Often it will take several blocks to print all of the colors in the design. The Plover sheets are also organic, so you know you are doing the right thing.  Did you know that 10% of all the pesticides used in the United States are used on the cotton crop?  Also it takes 1/4 pound of synthetic fertilizer to grow one pound of cotton, which is about enough to make one tee shirt.  So buying organic does make a difference. They are great quality with 300 threads per inch.

Many of these sheets are on sale right now! So if you need sheets, it is bargain time.

If you are a fan of color, (DUH, who isn't) you also should know about Amy Butler. She makes a bunch of products, including sheets, and gorgeous organic towels. Her stuff is usually available at Bed Bath and Beyond, online.

More and more choices in Countertops

One of the most positive things I have see in my years of researching green materials for interiors, is that increasingly mainstream manufacturers feel that they must have a green story to compete.  It used to be that green counter top materials were made by small producers such as Vetrazzo or Paperstone, who just wanted to do the right thing.  Now the big manufacturers are putting out green countertops products. One of the great things about this is that it offers the consumers some options that are easy to order, and have a reasonable price. I like quartz based countertops anyway.  Many consumers know them by their trade names: Zodiaq, or CeasarStone.  They are green because they are low maintenance,  low emitting, durable, replace a product that would have to be mined, and are made of one of the most plentiful minerals on earth.  Now many of the manufacturers of Quartz countertops are creating products with recycled content.

Constantino has made a separate line of green countertops, called ECO.  The eco line is made of 75% recycled content including glass, mirrors, porcelain and stone scrap.  My favorite is White Diamond, and I must admit I am not a huge fan of the ones with the mirror fragments.  They are just too sparkly.

In Ceasar Stone I love the Smokey Ash, it is a warm black that I would love to use in a kitchen.  That particular product is 15% recycled, but the their recycled colors range up to 40%.

Zodiaq also makes a line of recycled content solid surface countertops.  Their color range is just lovely, and functional.  I love Flax,but it is well worth checking out their whole color range.

Slabs for countertops are heavy things, so one of the things you should think about is where a product is manufactured, and how it is shipped.  Ocean Freight has one of the lower carbon emissions per ton, and so slabs that are shipped directly to a port, then stocked there, have a pretty low carbon footprint.  Ceasar Stone is made in Israel, Constantino is made in Spain, and both are shipped to the port close to where it will be used.  Zodiac is made in Canada, more local, but shipped via truck which is higher carbon per ton per mile.  So if you live near Canada, Zodiac would have the lower carbon footprint, and if you live near a sea port, or in the EU, you might choose one of the other two.

I do feel that it is worth mentioning one other choice.  Cabria quartz surfaces do not have a recycled content.  However they are made in North America, of N. American quartz, and thus neither the materials or the finished product have to travel far if you are in USA or Canada.

The #1 reason why having a budget will be good for your project- It will be greener.

People are surprised when I say I love working within a tight budget in a project.  I truly believe it improves the resulting design.  And one of the ways that it does so is by making the project greener.

Interestingly enough, the reasons that support this statement are almost duplicates of the reasons below. If you think carefully about your project, and spend your limited budget on those features that truly matter to you, (as in reason #3 below) you are likely to create a space that will make you happy for a long time. One of the most important characteristics of a green project is whether it has longevity. It you like, and can live with a design for a long time, you are unlikely to remodel again in the short term. This minimizes how often you will need to consume more products, and throw away old ones, because you are tired of a room design.

I also think that when you have been creative with reuse in finishing your design space, (as in reason #2 below) the resulting project is more that just visual. It also has a great story which resonates beyond the way it looks. “Remember how we found that chair by the side of the road, and had it refinished?” “Did you know that marble used to be on countertop in a bank?” These stories add richness and meaning to a space, in addition to being both creative and green.

100 % recycled Mosaic

Also many of the most creative new materials in architecture and design are green. Most of the market is stagnant, and is not innovating.  But green design is lively and stimulating, even in this down economy. New green products are being introduced contstantly and they are interesting, stunningly beautiful and exciting. It is easy to select them just because or their visual qualities, but they also add a green story to the mix, “That tile used to be a car windshield!” Carefully selecting the new green materials and furnishings allow me to do design that feels fresh and interesting.

And, finally, as I have said before; size does matter in green design.  If you have a budget, you are likely to select the smallest possible scope of work.  This means you will focus on making those changes that will truly make you space more functional and enjoyable.  This targeted approach will benefit you the most, with the smallest investment.  It will also use less natural resources, and create less waste.

So the greenest project is the one that has a small (but realistic) budget.  Read on to the older blogs to see the other reasons that a limited budget is a GOOD thing for your interior design project!

Why having a budget is good for your design project, Reason #2- You will be more Creative

The current economic situation is challenging, and is causing folks to reassess their spending priorities. I actually think this might be a good thing for the design projects that still are going on. There are gorgeous products in the world, and it is easy to fall in love with high end materials. But in a sense, when you have the ability to purchase picture perfect items for every area of your home, you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to solve your design problems within a set of limitations. A budget creates a challenge, when redesigning your home, and one’s mind functions better when solving challenging problems. Which brings me to the number two reason why your design project will be better if you are working with in a tight budget:

#2- You will be more creative! When you buy expensive products for your home, everything is beautiful because a staff of designers has done a wonderful job creating that item. I love high end design, but think that it is fun to take some of the creativity back from those designers. After all why should they get all the fun? You budget forces you to purchase expensive products sparingly, which frees you up to do creative problem solving. I use wallpaper on plaster walls in older homes, because it is so difficult to keep cracks from showing up as the house shifts (especially in earthquake country) but it can be expensive, $80-120 a roll, is not unusual. How about this idea, using old newspaper or pages from a book? Selecting a used addition of a favorite novel would add a layer of personal meaning to your walls.

Even on high end projects I always use vintage pieces of furniture, they add additional charm. But expecially for wood items like end tables, or dressers, they represent significant savings over buying new, and are always higher quality than new items of the same price. I love selecting an item that reminds a client of a special time in their life, lunch in grandma’s kitchen might be evoked by a vintage painted table, or their groovy professor’s house by a mid century end table ($85 on craigslist). So, by paying attention to a budget, a bunch of creative options come into view for creating a more personal space.  Wood pieces are easy to refinish, and vintage shapes add a unique touch to a home. If you have a Craigslist organization locally, that is a great place to look, and the best bargains are always at tag sales.

Over all, having limits on your budget gives you the freedom to think creatively about your design direction. Solutions are not just handed to you (for a price,) it takes work. But once you start thinking creatively you will end up with a design solutions that are more personal, more fun, and save you money.

Why having a budget is good for your design project, Reason #3- You will appreciate what you get

In the current economic climate many people are facing a gap between what they want and what they can afford. It is easy to see this as a beastly problem, or even a reason to throw up your hands and avoid needed design changes, (Please, not this!) But the reality is that every project has a budget. Even clients who have the ability to select more luxurious materials and furnishings end up bumping into dreaded compromises. Most people cannot afford everything they desire, and perhaps that is a good thing. Interestingly enough, I have found that many of the projects with strict budgets end up being the best designs when finished. I actually like working within a budget, it gives a structure to the many decisions that need to be made when redoing a space. So, to give hope as we enter the economic recovery (we are recovering, right?), over the next few blogs I will give you the reasons your design project will be better if you are working within a budget.

#3- You will appreciate your finished project more. As you work though a project, especially a remodel, there are many little things that you must fit into your budget. Many of them do not offer that much of an opportunity either to splurge or to economize- a 2x4 stud costs what it costs- but for many items there are solutions in a range of costs. Working within a budget causes you to consider the lowest cost item for each choice, in addition to the first pretty thing you fall in love with. You might want a subway tile backsplash in your kitchen, and think that Lanka hand molded tiles are fabulous, rich with variation. This might be the detail that will make your heart sing each time you look at it- but your budget will make you aware that the machine made tile is 1/3 the price. If you backsplash is 60 sf, and the cost savings is about $6/sq.ft, you will probably have one of two reactions- either “That handmade tile is so delightful, it was so worth the extra $360 out of my budget.” Or,“I am so glad I could afford that gorgeous modern faucet, because of the money I saved on the tile.” Either way, you are happier with the final result, because of the research that your budgeting made you do. The reality is that there are lovely products in every budget category, and that expensive things are only worth it if they add value that you appreciate. A budget forces you to be conscious of what you truly love and value in design.

OMG I am such an eco geek!!!!!! AKA I like toilet talk

If you have ever asked yourself, as I have frequently, “how the heck can I pick the best performing and most water efficient toilet?”  help is at hand. What??!?!?

You have never asked yourself that?  You have never given it a bit of thought?

Well, then I am a bigger eco geek than you, because I got all excited and HAD to blog today when I found this guide. It is a independent test of all of the low flush WC’s, or at least a place where you can download all of the tests and reports.  It is test data divided into single flush gravity fed, single flush pressure assist, and dual flush, so you can download the testing for the kind of toilet you want to get.  The research is sponsored by Canadian government agencies, and water conservation agencies and water utilties from the states.  This means the testing and results are free of industry influence.  Apparently the results are accurate due to the fact that “A soybean paste having similar physical properties (density, moisture content) to human waste was used in combination with toilet paper as the test media.” (Some one did that research, and then wrote that wonderful line as part of their report, I love scientists!!)  It is so good to have real data to help you in making such an important decision!!

And when you replace your old water waster, don’t forget to recycle it, it could be made intoa solid surface countertop, and they are actually pretty nice!

Sustainable Fabrics from Neo Con

Reports are starting to come back from Neo Con, a design industry trade show featuring new products primarily for commercial design.  I love commercial design products for a number of reasons: first, they are durable since they are made to hold up in banks, offices and hospitals.  Secondly, OSHA has standards for indoor air quality that apply in the workplace, so products made for offices must be low emitting.  These standards do not relate to the home, so I have to research the VOCs for every home product I specify.  And finally, partly because interior designers are working to achieve LEED points, there are a lot of recycled content fabrics, and fabrics with other eco qualities. I was impressed by this series from Brentano.  It is made of wool, but it is significant how completely they have scrutinized the wool manufacturing process.  They even made sure that the soap used to wash the wool prior to weaving was biodegradable!  Plus it is a pretty, useful stripe that comes in a variety of colorways. Stripes are so great for pulling a room together- they add a little bit of pattern without dominating.

I also enjoyed seeing this fun two tone floral from Carnegie.  It is made of 100% POST CONSUMER recycled polyester, and is part of a very attractive Bright Side collection of fabrics.  I could see the Whimsey floral, shown here, in a retro sun-room inspired setting, and the polyester would perfom well in there.  If the bright + white is a little bold for you, how about the nice multi color floral, called Imagine?  It is also recycled Poly, and comes in a variety of quieter colorways.  I like the slight orientalist feeling of the pattern, it could go modern, or traditional.

I love being able to offer clients a variety of sustainable choices in fabrics, and the product development is going very quickly these days. So nice to not be limited to organic unbleached cotton!

Who knows stuff? Evaluating green building professionals.

image is from cover of LEED for Homes Reference Guide I am very excited that I have just passed my LEED Green Associate exam.  But, I realize that this is only exciting news if you know what the heck it means.  As in any profession, there are any number of alphabet letters one can put after one's name.  Some mean more than others.   If a homeowner is planning to hire someone to work on their home, it is good to know what the letters mean.

I will explain some of the qualifications that a green building professional might have:

The exam I passed is the first qualifying level for green professionals administrated by the USGBC.  The USGBC is an agency that has the goal of promoting energy and resource efficient and healthy buildings.  To achieve that goal they have created a building program called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) A building, of almost any type, can be LEED certified, and a building professional can be LEED accredited.  Different LEED building evaluation tools are available for different types of buildings: LEED Commercial Interiors, LEED for Homes, LEED Green Building Design and Construction, and a product for the Green Operations and Maintenance of existing buildings.   Similarly architects, designers and builders can be credentialed in different areas.  My goal is to be a LEED Accredited Professional in the LEED for Homes product.  I first had to pass the LEED green associate exam.  So if you are hiring, the LEED AP is someone who has shown high level of knowledge of a specific LEED area, and a LEED GA is someone who has the basic knowledge. One cannot take the LEED AP exam in a specific area until you have worked on a LEED project, so I cannot take the Homes exam, yet!

LEED is a very tough rating plan, the training is very specific and challenging, and it does not apply to some building types.  There is a cost to track all of the green characteristics of the project, although there is also a marketing premium to having a LEED building.   There is another organization in California, that has as a goal developing a more accessible rating and training system: Build it Green. Both of these organizations have qualities in common: they both train architects, designers and builders on green building, they both educate the public on the benefits of green building, and they both have building rating systems. They work closely together to create training and rating systems for all parts of the building industry. The buildings rated by Build it Green are called Green Point Rated, and the buiding professionals that have been through the trainings are either Certified Green Building Professionals (CGBP) or Green Point Raters.  I am also a CGBP, and look forward to being an Advanced CGBP at some point.  Green point raters have the job of going out and evaluating a building to see if it qualifies under Build it Green's green building standards.

There also is a training track that has to do with home energy optimization.  As more and more companies got into the business of insulating, installing windows, etc.,  it became clear that a homeowner could waste a lot of money on the wrong enhancements, without realizing any energy or cost savings.  The Building Perfomance Institute offers training in testing home energy performance, and evaluating the appropriate building retrofits. If you are hiring a contractor to do an energy audit in your home, insulate, or weatherize your window, you should check that they have BPI qualifications. Here in California there is a local organization that does training and education within the state, the California Building Performance Contractors Association (CBPCA.)

I realize that this seems like an Alphabet soup of possible letters that a person could have on their business card. The bottom line is that if you are hiring someone, especially in the new field of green building, it is helpful to know that their level of commitment to green building matches your goals for your project. At minimum it is nice to know that they have the appropriate qualification listed above. It also is helpful to ask a professional how long they have been working in this field. Some have only started marketing themselves as 'green' recently once it became more popular. If you are strongly committed to lightening the environmental footprint of your project, it is good to pick a design professional that shares that level of interest, and had been exploring this field for a long time.

Why do I like old things so much?

I have a confession to make, I am not a natural modernist.  I love modern design, and the constant striving for something that is purely original, clean and new.  But I also realize that what I am more natrurally drawn to warm, referential modernism.  I love the textile designs of the fifties, the modern furniture of the 30's and 40's, and innovation of the swinging 60's.  But let's face it, that is now historic design. Historical items, or vintage items, have a resonance and meaning, beyond the purely visual, when added to an interior arrangement.  They add a layer of complexity to a design.  Perhaps the vintage bar cart reminds you of the chic cocktail hours at your grandmother's, perhaps the greek urn reminds you of a honeymoon trip.  In any case older items have an association that adds richness to a room.

I am lucky to live in an area with world class arts, and am looking forward to my visit to King Tut, at the De Young Museum.  They have many of the richest pieces from the Tombs of Tutankhamun, items 3000 years old,  and many that were not part of the original tour 30 years ago.  (Yes, I must admit I was old enough to go to that exhibit.)  It should be a visual treat.

Although most of us cannot collect artifacts from early history, most of us have some region of the earth, or some period in history (either recent or ancient) that resonates with us.  Why not let these interests show in our homes.  It is one of the things that can make a home unique to you!

Keep it Real, even when saving energy or "Windows XC" (extra cute)

Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana I love the integrity of architecture from different periods. Each style of home reflects the concerns, the dreams, the optimism and the fears of the period when it was built.  An important consideration, when remodeling, is to be true to the architecture, the feeling, the gesture of the existing building.  I don't think remodels should be a slavish imitation of the preexisting historic style, but all should be a cohesive and appropriate addition.  Sadly, this does not always happen.  I think this is a valid consideration even when undertaking upgrades to increase the energy efficiency of the structure.  A good remodel will ensure the building will have value for another 100 years.  How green is that?  A bad remodel can make a building seem worthless, a tear-down.

Therefore,  I was pleased to find a great guide to selecting appropriate the appropriate steps to weatherize older buildings.  The information is very interesting and complete: how to evaluate when to restore a window and when to replace, how to identify the style and detail in your existing windows, and what energy credits might be available.  Most people want to do the right thing to take care of their older home, but just are not aware of the details.

The reality is that most of the energy of heating a home is lost through the walls, roof, floors and drafts.  Insulating and stopping leaks is both cheaper and more effective at saving energy than replacing windows.  Replacement windows can take many years to pay back their cost, and might make your house look as funky as a glamourous starlet on Oscar day that decided to wear their down jacket with their ball gown.  Details matter!

Highly efficient - and beautiful, just like me! (JK)

LED lighting has been growing by leaps and bounds, just as I had hoped it would.  I feel so proud, like a mama who is able to report "I know they had a lot of potential, just look!!!" Well take a look at this gorgeous new fixture series from Boyd!  It is designed for LED lamps, and individual pendants can be combined on one ceiling plate into a larger clustered fixture.  As an added benefit, Boyd is a San Francisco company, so if I specify these fixtures I am supporting the local economy.

Additionally Cree lighting has come up with a nice lamp that has a color rendering index of 92 with a light color of 2700 Kelvin!

I know it is a little geeky for me to get excited about a CRI number, but for years the reason given by many for not using efficient lighting was that they didn't like the color quality.  (But I guess they were ok with wasting energy and contributing to global warming.)  Actually, to be absolutely honest, I had the same complaints and have spent far too many nights reading novels by the faintly greenish, or bright blue white light of various high efficacy lamps I had purchased to test in my own home.

The new Cree recessed cans deliver in the range of 50-60 lumens per watt, which qualify them to be considered Hi efficacy under CA energy code.  They also avoid the primary problem of fluorescent lamps (bulbs) because they do not contain mercury.  And they do this with great light color and superior color rendering, better actually than a typical incandescent bulb.  Now that is living up to your potential!