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.

When should I be afraid of Fabric?

One of Harmony's prints I spent my early career as a textile designer, and love textiles.  But like any modern manufactured product, fabrics are a complex substance with many inputs.  The reality is that there are a lot of chemical inputs that might be unhealthy, but it is challenging assessing the level of exposure/risk that is appropriate for you.  I often use conventional materials in my interior design process, but it is important to know what the major areas of concern are, and how to evaluate them. I also am a fairly relaxed person (despite all my specialized scary knowledge) and think that the goal should be minimizing exposure. It is impossible to eliminate all chemicals in our lives, but it is sensible to know when you are being exposed to those substances that raise the most concern among scientists.

I recently had a chance to do some research about the various chemical components of fabric manufacturing.  Green Home Guide has me write answers their Ask A Pro section of their excellen web  site, and someone wrote in with a question about quilting fabrics.  I have copied my answer below, but the bottom line for me continues to be the same: be informed about the component parts of the products you are bringing into your home, and use your best judgement to select the least toxic, the most natural, product that meets your functional design needs.

The QUESTION

July 4, 2010 Is there a way to wash/clean regular fabrics that would remove all the toxic residues and therefore be as healthy as organic fabrics? I am trying to make a baby quilt but at a cost I could afford and yet be healthy Asked by Karen Shaw Plano, TX I really wish I could answer yes to this question, because sourcing truly healthy fabrics is one of the more frustrating things I have to do in my practice.  However, the answer is more complex. The very short answer is that washing does eliminate some of the toxins, but absolutely cannot eliminate all.  It is very possible to get chemical free fabrics, the most dependable standard for healthy fabric is to look for fabrics, and not just yarns,  that are organically grown and GOTS certified.  GOTS stands for Global Organic Textile Standard, and examines at the chemical inputs into the fabric creation process, rather than whether that cotton was grown organically.  Organically grown cotton is not sprayed during the growing process.  There are many charming quilt fabrics that are both organic and GOTS certified.  I love the fabrics by Harmony Art and that Modern Organic Fabrics stock.  Harmony Art also has a list of retailers that carry her fabrics, and each of these stores carries other lines that are GOTS certified.  It is important to ask for each fabric, because retailers also carry Oeko-Tex 100 certified fabrics, which are not as carefully monitored as far as the inputs.  They are cleaner to use, but the production chemicals end up in the environment. In order to understand the chemical inputs Patty Grossman, of O EcoTextiles, helped me look at the steps of cotton fabric production. - As the cotton is grown it is sprayed with chemical pesticides, defoliants, and weed killers.  The average acre of American cotton receives 4.3 pounds of pesticides.  Cotton that is not labeled organic also could be grown from GMO seeds, seeds that have their genetic make up changed to make it resistant to herbicides. Studies have shown that pesticides are present inside the cotton fibers after harvest, and that they cannot be washed out using a home washing machine - As the cotton fibers are processed into yarns, and woven into fabric, they are washed, treated for texture, and bleached or brightened.  These chemicals, often including dioxins, can be present in the finished textile. - The woven textile is dyed or printed to give it the color, and often treated for softness, wrinkle resistance, or other qualities.  Printed textiles often have both heavy metals (such as cadmium) and plasticizers (like phthalates) in their printing inks.  Wrinkle or stain resistant fabrics can contain chemicals such as formaldehyde.  And these treatments and colorants are well designed by the chemists.  They are designed to NOT wash out.  The dyes, for instance, are called “fiber reactive” dyes because they chemically bind with the fiber molecules in order to remain colorfast.   The chemical components of your fabric dye are there as long as the color is there. -In the home furnishings industry fabrics are often coated for stain resistance, back coated to give a fabric the dimensional stability to be used as upholstery, and must be fire resistant.  Many of these chemicals are types that have been proven to be harmful, and to be bio-accumulative.  This means that increased exposure leads to increased levels of these chemicals in your body.

Fabric, like any modern industrial product, is a complex, multi-component item.  At each step in a fabric's production it can have chemical inputs added to its makeup.  Over 2,000 chemical s are regularly used in textile production, some of them so toxic that they are outlawed in other industries.  The final fabric is, by weight, over 10% synthetic chemicals of various types

Decision making about acceptable risk is challenging, especially when the safer product (that they had to spend less on chemicals to make! I'm just saying...) is more expensive.  It is hard for a consumer to know exactly how concerned to be.  I use the precautionary principal as my standard of safety for products that I specify,

If a product has a suspected risk of harm to the public or the environment, it is sensible to eliminate exposure to that product until further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result.  Simply stated, if it might have a health effect, don't expose yourself, until it has been PROVEN that there is no effect.

Th

is is the approach to chemical regulation used by the EU.  Unfortunately, the US system allows chemicals to be used until research proves there is some reason to regulate use of that chemical.Ok, enough bad news.  The good news, and the reason I love the opportunity to answer these questions, is that knowledge is power.  It is easy and important that you ask a fabric supplier whether their fabric is GOTS certified, and there are many sources of fabrics that are.  Green fabric lines should know whether they are certified, and this independently verified standard is your strongest tool in evaluating whether a fabric is truly safe and chemical free.  Each person can assess the risk, relative to their level of concern and take the steps to minimize their exposure that they feel are necessary.We have discussed mostly cotton, but there are beautiful fabrics in every market sector.  I love the O Ecotextiles upholstery and drapery fabrics, the lush wovens of Twill Textiles Climatex collection, and the groovy prints of Mod Green Pod. Every time you vote with your dollars by purchasing clean fabrics, you are creating change in the marketplace.  Companies produce things that sell well, and now we have the knowledge that allows us to buy only safe fabric.

Introducing a new Blog: Seeking (stylish) Suburban Sustainability.

This blog grew out of my desire to walk my talk.  I am an ordinary Mom, with a greater than ordinary desire to minimize the effect that my family has on the environment.  As I try and do the right thing, save energy, and minimize my family’s exposure to chemicals, I have developed different practical solutions.  I get so excited when I discover new ways to do things, but feel that these stories aren't really right for my bog on Sustainable Home.  That is a place where I talk about my green design practice, interior design, green architecture, and furnishings.  But I also wanted to write about trying to be sustainable in day-to-day life. So I have decided to start a sister blog.

Many people quote Gandhi's  "Be the change you wish to see in the world."  Often I think that people interpret this quote to mean that they must be strong enough to make change happen in this world through their own effort and force of will.  This is not the case; the story that this quote came from is about a mother, like me.

She brought her son to Gandhi, who was so revered that people often came to him for advice on many things.  She was worried for her son's health because he was overweight and would not stop eating sweets.  She asked Gandhi to tell her son to stop eating sweets.  Gandhi said to come back in two weeks.  She was surprised but complied.  In two weeks she came back and Gandhi spoke directly to her son, clearly and compellingly asking him to respect himself and his life enough to eat healthy foods and give up sweets and sugar.

"Why did I need to come back?" She asked.

"Well Madam," he answered, "I love sugar, pastries and candy.  Before I could ask your son to give these things up, I had to know that I could do so myself."

I have worked in my professional life to educate people on green building, and it's tremendous potential to save energy while making homes healthier, and saving building owners money.  But I am also a suburban housewife, mother of three, PTA volunteer who loves sewing, painting, hiking and gardening.   I want to be able to do all of the things in my life, but am conscious that every activity has some kind of effect on the environment.  So I am always seeking creative solutions to do things in an eco way.

If I can do it, with all the ordinary problems of getting my kids to school, shopping for groceries, doing lots of laundry, and entertaining: then I know that it is possible.  Before I ask anyone else to change their life, before I tell people that they should be greener, I green my own life. I have found that few of these changes require any sacrifice, and in fact many of them have paid off in increased fun, better health, and a more beautiful life.

Which brings me to another detail.  I love good design!  I am obsessed with glamour, charm and elegance.  I love my job because I can work with beach cottages, formal homes, warm modern kitchens, and funky vintage living rooms.  My clients are a constant source of inspiration.

I am not willing to sacrifice my style to be green.  So this blog is called “Seeking (Stylish) Suburban Sustainability.”

Seeking- because it is a process, there is always more to do, but even the first step makes a difference.

(Stylish) – Because what is the point of life without glamour, style and beauty? I rest my case!

Suburban – because that is where I live, and the suburbs have the reputation for being very un-sustainable.

Sustainability – because we need to figure this one out, or we will all be in deep doo-doo.

Hope the new bog is useful and interesting to you, dear reader. I am pleased as punch to start writing it. Future blog entries at this site will continue to be about green design, furniture and architecture. You will soon be able to click through to S(S)SS at the button above on this site, or go directly there now at: www.mamaisonverte.com/wp ('my green house', in French.)

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.

Teaching- part of the job- Class coming up in April

One of the most difficult things to manage in the design business is delivering unpleasant news to a client.  I think everyone who does this work wants to solve problems and create great results, but sometimes bad news..... happens.  Recently one of my sources of organic towels discontinued a color, while I had an order in for that color, and without emailing me.  Yikes! The only way to handle it is to tell the client the truth, and to provide a solution as part of the message.  I spent a rather intense afternoon on the internet finding organic cotton towels in that exact color, before calling my client!

Being an interior designer with a green specialty means that you are always bringing up unpleasant realities.  The cabinet shop that is cheapest might use a formaldehyde containing wood product,  the mahogany flooring that the client likes might have been poached out of a rainforest, the wallpaper might contain vinyl and encourage mould growth in the walls.  It adds a level of complexity because I have to deliver lifecycle information about the products used in interior design, while still creating the visual, functional and emotional atmosphere a client wants in their home.  I love designing homes, and collaborating with clients, but sometimes I feel like the Grinch when I bring up some yucky environmental effect associated with a product.

I love teaching about green interior design because I get to share all of the information about green products, but without bumming a client out because I am telling them they shouldn't buy something.  Most people will never be in the situation where they are hiring a design professional, but I still want them to know about sustainable design.  I feel especially strongly about environmentally friendly interior design when there are health issues with conventional products.  No one should have formaldehyde in their interior wood products, it is a known airway irritant, mutagen and carcinogen, and is easy to avoid.  But if you don't know the right questions to ask, you might bring this pollutant into you house!

It is great because I can help people who are doing their own design make healthier choices.

Anyhow, this is all to introduce the fact that I am teaching again in April:

Here is the link to look at the class or sign up:
GREEN INTERIOR DESIGN— THE NUTS AND BOLTS
2 wks · Apr 21–28 Wednesday · 7 – 9 p.m. Palo Alto HS Rm 306 · $40
Kirsten Flynn,LEED-GA, CGBP, Allied ASID, kir@sustainablehome.com
Green interior design helps you create a home that reflects your great taste and your care for the planet. This two-night course covers environmental issues associated with most common interior materials and furnishings, and allows you to see and touch building materials that are as gorgeous as they are green. Kirsten Flynn owns the design firm Sustainable Home, teaches on the Peninsula, and recently designed the interiors for a totally solar house featured in the Solar Decathlon.

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.

Copenhagen, do we dare to hope?

Sometimes I do not know why I get so worked up about things, it would be a lot easier on my blood pressure to just live my life, do my design work, and not get involved. But my mind is a lot more like the bumper sticker that says "If you are not outraged, you havn't been paying attention." I cannot change the part of myself that seems compelled to get active.The reality is that we all are going to have to take action to try and mitigate the effects of climate change, the only difference is when. Will change be forced on us after the first wave of climate induced human migration? Or will we wake up and move in a positive direction to shape the best future possible? Some times I do not know the answer. But, as my french teacher said, as I tried to tell her I did not know how to say in French the thing she wanted me to say: "Mais il faut qu'on essayer." It is necessary that one tries. Check out the Hopenhagen web site, they are trying to get folks to register their support for a real climate change agreement at this month's meeting in Copenhagen.

If everyone is famous for 15 minutes, is this 1/3?

I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed for a blog radio program called 5 minute Eco, as part of How You Eco.  It was an interesting experience to try and focus my usually blathering thoughts down to a concise length.  I was asked to explain what a green interior designer was, and still leave room for my top three green tips!  I managed to get into the correct time frame.  I found the concept intriguing, get smart people to talk about their green field for 5 minutes, kind of a bite sized green interview show. I like the fact that the experts are selected for this program by a team that knows something about green.  It makes me nervous how much advertising is being directed towards this market, and so much of it is greenwashing, (claiming a product is green, to gain marketing advantage, without actually making it ecologically friendly.  One example would be the claim "all natural ingredients.")

To be honest, it is kind of the wild west out there as far as green claims go. Many companies have decided that in this down economy a green claim is their ticket to the green cash! More than ever, I would suggest that a consumer who is interested in environmentally friendly products find out if the product has a verifiable claim to that title. FSC certification for wood products is one example of a third party certification. This means that the manufacturer did not certify their own product. Other third party certified claims include: LEED certification for green building, Green Guard which certifies whether a product is contributes to good indoor air quality (IAQ), and Green Seal with certifies a variety of products including construction products. Another example of a claim that must be verifiable would be organic or recycled content. If a label says that your paper is 100% recycled, 30% post consumer- that must be true. Be careful that the claims for any product are not vague, and unverifiable, and you can be sure that your green purchase is really making a difference.

Also, please listen to my interview, and see how I am trying to make a difference!

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!

nature as inspiration - and good for the planet

I am extremely excited to be reading the various posts from NEO Con, the commercial interior design convention.  So many well designed, and exciting products!  Green products seem to have a strong presence, I am thrilled to see that sustainable design has penetrated deeply into mainstream product design priorities.  I have always loved the textile and carpet designs from Angela Adams, she does a naturally inspired modernism that I find very livable.  She has collaborated with Architex, who have some serious design chops of their own, to create a line of green textiles.  The fabrics are lovely, the products are sustainable, and will be realized in rugs and wallpaper by Shaw and MDG Wallcoverings, respectively.

Nice topics, exciting locations, a little learning, and free food, what's not to like?

  The SC Solar Decathlon house in Wasington DC

How exciting, it never rains but it pours.  I was a little discouraged because my Green Interior design class was under enrolled.  I (of course) started thinking that no-one cared about greening their interiors, or selecting heathy materials.  Then a couple of more speaking engagements came up, and they should be exciting!

 

They both primarily focus on green interiors.

First, I am speaking on my part in the 2007 Santa Clara Solar Decathlon House, which took 3rd in this international solar home contest. I will describe this exciting contest, and the space planning and design of the interiors.  This little house was designed to make an energy independent house look comfortable and easy to live in.  The best compliment I overheard when the house was in Washington  was "I just want to pick up this house, put it by the beach, and move in!" :

Thursday, June 11th, 2009, 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

City of Redwood City Council Chambers 1017 Middlefield Road, Redwood City

http://www.recycleworks.org/sustainability/lectures.html

Second, I am speaking in the Portola Valley Local Heros on Local Issues speaker series, about the challenge of deciding what green materials are right for your interior projects, and the beautiful green materials that are available ( This series has a lot of good speakers!!! And it is held in an award winning green building complex, one of the AIA top 10 green projects of 2009)

June 23 - Green Interior Design • Green Building Comes Inside - Decision Making for Interiors with Kirsten Flynn

Portola Valley Green Speaker Series: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Town Center, Community Hall

765 Portola Road, Portola Valley, CA 94028

 http://www.portolavalley.net/index.aspx?page=251

Learning is fun, and Dolphins don't need to be fireproof!

Once again I am teaching through Palo Alto Adult School.  I really love spreading the word about the many healthy furnishings and finish options now exist, but worry I will not get enough folks enrolled to run the class.   I feel so passionatly that everyone who might even buy a storage cabinet at Ikea, or a sofa, deserves to know what effect that product might have on their health or the environment.  Often, just by asking the right question, you can get a healthier product, but you need to know what question to ask.   I think we all would like to think that nothing unhealthy, or unsafe could be in our furniture, and I hope that will be true some day.  

I was reminded this week that there is a long way to go, when I read this article about Brominated Fire Retardants building up in the bodies of dolphins in Florida.  These fireproofing agents are one of the chemicals that I have worked hard to eliminate in my practice, as they are currently found in the body fat of most animals, and in human breast milk around the world.  YUK!  It is associated with thyroid disease in cats, and is bioaccumulative- meaning it builds up in one's body over time.  I help clients limit their exposure by upholstering without foam, and searching out fabrics that are not treated with these chemicals.

If you are curious about these kinds of issues, please consider taking my class.  You’ll leave the class with a solid understanding of how to select materials for home interiors and the theory behind green building.  I have made it sound very serious, but we do have fun.  And we look at a lot of gorgeous and green tiles, fabrics, paints, coutertops and more!

SPRING QUARTER ONLY 2 wks: May 27–June 3 Wednesday: 7–9 p.m. Palo Alto HS Rm 306: $35 http://www.paadultschool.org/html/home_and_garden.html
Sadly, the class will be cancelled if I don't get 10 people to sign up, so let your friends know!

Does Size Matter?

  Window seats add storage and comfort

I am encouraged that we seem to be having a backlash against huge homes. I don't want to bash them, but they make me sad for so many reasons: * Most importantly I do not think giant homes function well as a places that make the folks living in them happy and comfortable. If, as Le Corgusier says "A house is a machine for living." I think these big homes are in-efficient machines. If I ask a client to describe a place that make them happy, they often describe a home that fostered both relaxation and human interaction. They decribe places that had nooks for reading in, a room where everyone gathered to cook or socialize, and the word "cozy" often comes up. I have NEVER has a person mention a large space, one that was echoing or impressive. And yet these large homes are built to impress. - They take more resources to build, heat, light and cool than smaller homes. - They force you to furnish them, PAY for them, and clean them- Lets face in, new homes sell by the square foot, and every square foot needs to be taken care of. Does your house own you, or do you own your house? Sometimes the extra room can feel like a burden rather than enriching your life. In any case, I enjoyed coming across the following survey for folks to take to see if their house is too big.  It is written by Sarah Susanka, who wrote the Not So Big House series, and this is my favorite question:

 

■  Is your house so large that you can coexist with other household members without running into them?

YIKES, is it?