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.

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: ('my green house', in French.)

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.

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!

Great quote, is it an extreme stretch to relate it to design?

Ok, I really love smart people, and especially smart people who can encapsulate a complex thought into clear quotation.  I just came across the following quote: "Environmental degradation is an Iantrogenic (physician induced) disease induced by economic physicians who treat the basic malady of unlimited wants by prescribing unlimited growth... Yet one certainly does not cure a treatment-induced disease by increasing the treatment dosage."  Herman Daly

Doesn't that totally capture the concept?

This resonates with me particularly because I have always felt the tension between what I do for a living: help people purchase things to make their home more beautiful and functional, and what I feel is one of the root causes of environmental problems: consumption.

I have had to do some deep reflection on whether I can feel good about my interior design work, given my core beliefs, and have come to a good place with it.  It is clear to me that desire for beautiful things is an essential part of human nature and is not going to go away.  It is also clear that a badly arranged home, filled with objects that do not function, or give pleasure, makes people want to do some thing or buy some thing to make a change.  My role is to help that change, (whether it is rearranging the existing furniture, or undertaking a major remodel), actually meet the needs of the owner when it is complete.  If I succeed in doing so, the person will be happier in their home, and not have as much desire for continued change or purchases.  

Now I very well might be taking interior design a little too seriously with the above analysis, it is basically about making your house pretty, but it is a decent goal to make a person feel happy when they open their door and see their living space.

Interior design philosophy in one word?

For some reason I was musing how to define the kind of work I like doing for clients.  I think this is part of owning a small business, it is important to know what you are trying to achieve, so that you put your efforts in the correct direction.  I wondered, is there one word that I could hope a client would choose to describe one of my projects after it is done.  After a bit of mental machination I decided there was: (drum roll please) It is the word "comfortable."  


I know there are a lot of other descriptive words I could aspire to: beautiful, environmentally friendly, stylish, efficient, dramatic, creative, or innovative.  And I do want my projects to embody these qualities.  However, my guiding priciple, as a designer is to design the house that is right for the client.  Some clients might only feel comfortable in a house that is dramatic and striking, but others would feel uneasy in that setting.  My job is to match the design of the project to the client's taste and lifestyle, I often say that my title should be "Decision Making Facilitator" rather than "Interior Designer."  My job is to use my specialized skills and knowledge to help a client pull together the home that is right, "comfortable" for them.  At the end of the day, I go home to my own funky house, and the client is the one that has to sleep, eat and entertain in the space that I have helped them design.  I want them to be very comfortable.

(The environmentally friendly is not really negotiable, because how can you be comfortable if you are surrounded by products and materials that are bad for the environment?)

Water, Just try to live without it.

California has a small problem; we have a great climate, natural beauty, used to have a decent economy, and an ever increasing population.  Most of the state is what you would describe as semi-arid, which in practice means not enough water to grow rice, or have big green lawns, or an ever increasing population.   But we do have all those things.

Since we do, conservation has to be part of the plan, since we do not have enough water to use it wastefully.  There are so many things that are crazy in the way we use water.  Why do we have to use tap water for landscaping, it actually is worse for the plants.  Why use drinking water to flush toilets?  I really never, and I mean NEVER intend to drink that water!!! 

Well I was excited to see this new local award program that rewards people who have done outstanding work at changing (reducing, of course) their water use.  They are called the Silicon Valley Water Conservation Awards- I will be very interested to see who submits for this award, and especially who wins.

If you happen to have a great water conservation project in the Bay Area, please apply!


I will admit it. I am a bit more of a gourmand than a gourmet when it comes to beauty. You could think about it as being democratic in my appreciation of the world. There is beauty all around us, if we just look for it. There has been a lot of uncertainty in the air this last week, bad financial news especially. It also has been a really busy week for me at work. Well in the midst of running around last Friday, I looked down at the sidewalk and saw that someone had dropped crayons, probably on a hot day. Well, those half melted crayons looked beautiful to me, it just stopped me in my tracks, and I had to take a picture and share it with you.  Stay with me here, I think this does relate to design.  I think we often have the view that if we look harder, if we keep shopping, there will be a better countertop or end table, or fabric for our home.  The reality is that there are many beautiful options out there, and some of them might be something you already own.  There might be potential in a hand me down chair, but if you don't look down with an eye that is open to beauty you will miss it.  Of course there might be a bright side there, I will probably come along and buy it from Goodwill for a client.   I am glad that I looked down the other day and saw the sidewalk abstract.  I wouldn't use it for a countertop, but it did remind me of beauty in the middle of a busy day.  (click on the photo to see a high res image of the sidewalk.)

Is this my 15 minutes of fame?

My local Weekly newspaper, the Palo Alto Weekly, profiled me last Friday in an article about the Green Interior design class I am teaching this October.  If you live on the San Francisco Peninsula pick up a copy, if you live elsewhere- you can read it online here, Or view the PDF of that section Here.  It feels surprisingly affirming to have my business in the paper in my home town.  If you are interested in learning more about green interiors, sign up for the class!

West Coast Green

This show rocks.  The keynote speakers are compelling, and inspiring.  It is interesting, because many of them speak of things that have nothing to do with Green Building.  A consistent theme has been the concept of doing purpose driven work, starting with examining your own life.  This morning, we saw 4 speakers in the keynote session including Sarah Susanka, who wrote the Not So Big House series and Chris Jordan who creates photographic art that captures some of the myriad issues around consumption and waste.  Because the speakers are so interesting, more in line with speakers at TED, the attendees are energized and motivated to go out and do great green work.  Everyone is doing such interesting things that I have to be careful not to just network my way through the show, and never attend any of the educational sessions.

Are you curious about green upholstery?

Or natural floor coverings, or cabinets?  I hope so, because then you might click through and read my recent posts on Green Home Guide.  I was asked to answer a couple of questions in their Ask A Pro series, and I really enjoyed writing the answers. I like teaching about Green Interior Design, whether in my writing or my classes, because I know that not everyone has the means or the inclination to hire a green design professional.  However everyone deserves to know how to avoid common chemicals, or purchase products that make wise use of natural resources when they are making their home furnishings purchases.  I hope that by teaching I can give people the knowledge they need to make any home design project green.  And maybe even take a sad vintage chair and make it new again.  I will share a picture of this chair after it's makeover in a later post!

News that make me happy

I sometimes avoid reading the news because I get frustrated and angry. I think I have have an over active outrage gland. The other day though I came across news of a lovely thing going on in San Francisco. Live music, storytelling for kids, community building, recycled materials, interesting aesthetics, there is nothing not to like about this project. Please click through on the links, and learn more.....

"The Panhandle Bandshell is a full-scale, traditional bandshell constructed out of reclaimed, recycled and repurposed materials, located in San Francisco's Panhandle park, just west of the Clayton Street crossing, where it will be open for non-amplified, acoustic neighborhood performances from June 23 to September 3, 2007."