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.

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.

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!

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!

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.

Green building- what do you do when you go inside?

I am teaching a class in early March that answers that question, on the SF peninsula, through Palo Alto Adult School.  I really enjoy making folks laugh and and at the same time become more conscious about their interior design choices.   Of course, it might be partly because I like people paying attention to me as if I have something important to say, but the fact is I am passionate about how many gorgeous and green home choices there are out there.  Why bother choosing a product that has toxic components, or requires yucky chemicals to maintain, or created a dangerous situation while being manufactured for you?  I have a favorite quote from Anna Lappe "every time you spend money you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want."  And this vote is one that is very carefully listened to by very powerful people.  I do see my class as an opportunity to give remodelers, designers, or homeowners the knowledge they need to choose wonderful healthy products.   I cover a lot of interesting topics, and usually get students excited about the subject. You can register on line or over the  phone,  http://www.paadultschool.org/html/home_and_garden.html  or call  650-329-3752.

The Walls, part 2, or What are those holes doing in my house?

A couple of Blogs ago, I started to talk about everything that Walls do for us.  In most of the country it has been cold, cold, cold and I am sure you have been thinking about whether or not your walls are doing the important job of keeping you warm!  Well the walls might not be your problem, so long at they have some insulation in them.  Windows are wonderful at transferring heat out of a house.   Wait, let me back up a step.  According to the laws of thermodynamics heat wants to move towards cool.  It moves faster if the material that it is moving through is conductive of heat, and if there is a big temperature difference.  So let's use that information to look at a wall on this frosty morning.  Hmm very cold outside, kind of warm inside, separated by a wall made of plaster, air space, wood and stucco.  Cold also separated from warm by a single pane of glass in the window.  Heat is lazy, (like me) what path is it going to take to the outside?  Even an uninsulated wall is less conductive than a window.  This is why people often get the advice to replace windows with double paned windows, if they are having problems keeping their house warm.  So what is wrong with that?

Well, the advice is good, but windows are really expensive.  Insulation is cheaper, and if you own your house should be the first step.  But what if you are a renter, or have little budget in these tough economic times?

 

I have long been a fan of honeycomb blinds.  They are not sexy, they are sort of the white cotton panty of the window covering world.  But perhaps a more accurate analogy would be the performance base layer of window coverings.  I am a very visual person and there is nothing much exciting about honeycomb blinds, except the fact that they get out of the way when you are not using them.  But an inside mount blind, fitted fairly close to the frame of your window, cuts down on drafts and improves the thermal performance of your window.  Most studies I have read put the improvement at at around 2 points improvement in the R value, depending on the existing R value of the window.  For a couple of hundred dollars per window, this is a nice patch if you are doing triage on a cold leaky house.

 Your other inexpensive tools in a drafty house are: strippable caulk around leaky windows (this is designed to be removed when you want to open the window again.) and weatherstripping around doors.

I love it when the right people win!

 

I posted not too long ago about new products coming out of West Coast Green.  Since then, I got my library set of samples from O Eco Textiles, and they are gorgeous!  I mean luscious and splendid.  I was a fabric designer in a past life, and love working with fabrics in my new incarnation as an interior designer. I am dying to get a project that I can use them on, I have been walking around my house saying "Maybe I should re-upholster that chair, or that one...."   But no, I will have to wait for the right job to come along.  

But meanwhile, Greenbuild just took place in Boston, and this exciting new textile line was recognized as one of the top 10 green products of 2008 by Environmental Building News and Green Spec. They deserve it for their stringent research and attention to visual quality. More colors please! I cannot get enough of these fabrics.

As an aside, if you are interested in reading the best researched articles about green building, you cannot do better than the Environmental Building News.

Upholstery choices getting easier!

Just had a long phone and email exchange with the smartest Crate and Barrel employee. (Her name is Meredith Anway, hope she does not mind being outed) I had called to follow up on a question about fireproofing agents used in upholstered furniture sold at Crate and Barrel Furniture.  (Now you know what I do for fun in my free time!)  The bottom line is that Crate and Barrel is doing a great job at moving beyond Brominated Fire retardants.   A little back ground, Brominated fire retardants are use in many consumer products including plastics and the foam used in upholstered furniture.  They are bio-accumulative  which means the more you are exposed to, the higher the level is in your body.  They are found in human breast milk in concentrations 10 times higher in North America than in Europe where they have been banned.  They are found in the fatty tissue of animals through out the food chain, and even in animals in the arctic circle, even though most polar bears don't use sofas.  At this point you are probably saying "Creeeeepy", in a freaked out voice.  The good news is that I am not the only one who hates this chemical compound, now I have made you hate it too.  And in addition to the two of us, Crate and Barrel has put some of their sourcing and buying power into creating products that are PDBE free.  Here is a quote from Meredith's email "Upholstery are completely PBDE free.  Our cushioning does not contain formaldehyde."

Does this mean that Crate and Barrel is my favorite furniture vendor?  Well I still have a couple of issues: The fabrics might still contain formaldehyde or heavy metals.  The frames are SFI certified, with some that are FSC certified.  I think SFI is a weak wood certification scheme, although better than nothing.  And finally, I am a bit paranoid about what they are now using as a fire retardant.  But I am obsessively concerned with the environment, someone has to push the envelope!

However, I do think that they have hit a sweet spot that combines: quality for price, aesthetics, healthy component materials (if you are careful with fabric choices.) and more sustainable wood use practices.  And they are willing to share the deets about what goes into their pieces.  Cool.

New Products out of WCG

I love discovering new products, and especially ones that can help me in my interior design business.  One of my ongoing struggles in doing folk's interiors centered around reupholstering older frames for sofa's and chairs.  The frames are great, with strong interesting shapes.  I had worked out an upholstery system with steel springs, natural latex foam, and natural wool batting.  But I keep having to use conventional fabrics, as the green fabrics are limited in visual choice.  Fabric is one of those products where the client has to LOVE how it looks, and how it feels.  I feel that we are finally turning the corner and having a lot of chic, interesting, lovely and useful fabrics available.  This is the first trade show where there were a fair number of new textile companies.  Two that I am especially excited about are O EcoTextiles and Live Textiles.  I also saw some of the old favorites, that are worth mentioning again.  I am impressed that Sloan Miyasato is representing some of the best of the green textile lines. They will represent O Eco Textiles and they represent Twill Textiles, which has a great sustainable line. Some of their fabrics are pictured here.

Live and learn, Sustainable Home is teaching this fall

I am teaching again in October through the Palo Alto Adult School.  The class is two evenings, two hours an evening.  Here is a class description, GREEN INTERIOR DESIGN-THE NUTS AND BOLTS

You love to create a beautiful home, but you worry whether the paints, furniture, and flooring you choose are healthy for you and the environment.  It's time to look into green interior design, a new approach to home decorating that reflects your great taste and your care for the planet. This two-night course covers the environmental issues  that are associated with  common interior materials and furnishings.   In this class you will see and touch building materials and fabrics that are as gorgeous as they are green, and you'll leave the class with a solid understanding of how to select materials for home interiors and the theory behind green building.  Your instructor, Kirsten Flynn, owns the design firm Sustainable Home and specializes in environmentally responsible interiors. She teaches on the Peninsula and recently designed the interiors for a house featured in the Solar Decathlon, an international solar home contest.

You can make a difference by shopping

Sometimes it is easy to feel powerless, there is so much bad news that you might start to feel that the world is going to H-E-double-toothpicks in a handbasket and there is nothing we can do about it. Well I am here to tell you that we have a secret weapon concealed in our pocket or handbag! Whenever you choose to buy an organic product you are voting with your dollars, and it makes a difference. I recently read, in Ode magazine, about a village in India where farmers are using organic methods to break the cycle of loans for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They were sinking deeper into poverty because each year they had to buy more, and could not pay down their loans. The organic farmers say they they are healthier, and are not dependent on the banks. Why can they make the change? Because YOU picked organic sheets or tee shirts, leading to: " the rocketing 35 percent rise in global sales of organic cotton products, from $245 million in 2001 to $583 million in 2005 to a projected $2.6 billion in 2008, according to the California-based non-profit, Organic Exchange. " You are making a difference for farmers like Sahare who says “When the price for organic cotton rises, the village money-lenders look more and more unhappy,”read the whole article here

Entertaining

If you entertain at all over the holidays I have one word for you: Vintage, vintage, vintage! (Ok, that is one word repeated three times for emphasis.) Truly, this is another green lifestyle choice that improves the quality of your life. These beautiful hand embroidered German napkins are selling for under $3 each on Ebay right now, and aren't they prettier than paper? Better yet, save the shipping by going to your local thrift shop benefiting the hospital auxiliary or the Cancer Society. You know your money will go to a good cause, and the linens, (or glasses or serving platter) add charm to your event. Don't even get me started on my love of vintage china..... If I sound gushing, it is because I really love giving older items a new life. New products take a tremendous amount of raw material to be produced and get shipped to you. Vintage item are often better made, cheaper for similar quality, and have a smaller effect on the world. Plus, they are much more unique than new retail. Be chic, buy vintage.