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.


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.


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.

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!

Who knows stuff? Evaluating green building professionals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do I like old things so much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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?

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.

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.

Back to Building Basics- Give your walls some respect

One of the basics- the biggest difference your house makes on the environment is by the energy it uses. We just got our first big rainstorm of the year here in N. Ca, and that got me thinking about wall systems. (Have I ever disclosed to the group that I am totally a green building nerd? I mean I am addicted, I am not even close to being in recovery, and I am ok with it.) We count on our walls to hold our buildings up, and never think about how many functions they provide to a dwelling. They are structural, yes, but they are also your first defense against the big bad world.First, water is the enemy of the wall, especially the wooden wall. A good contractor will think through the path that a drop of water would take down each piece of flashing and vapor barrier. Overhang, of course, will help keep the water off of the wall in the first place but a good builder will be as careful with every detail as if the wall had no overhang protecting it at all. Secondly, keeping a house cool or hot takes energy, why not help save energy and money by insulating? Insulate a lot, in fact. Insulate like a crazy person, exceed whatever standard is required. It will save you money, decrease the carbon footprint of your home, and you will be more comfortable. Insulation is very reasonable, compared to other energy saving upgrades. Detail makes a big difference with insulation, as it does with wall systems. A gap in the insulation around a pipe, blocking in the wall, or a power switch or outlet can decrease the R value of that entire section of wall. Fill the gaps, and put an insulation gasket behind your switch plate. Many local contractors can take a thermal picture of your wall from the outside to show you just how much heat you are losing through your walls.  My friend Lorna is one that can help you out in the Bay Area. The picture shows a small house before and after insulation!  What a difference! Walls are boring. When you spend money on insulation, or when your contractor takes the extra time to detail the flashing around the window the house does not look different or more beautiful. But think of it this way, Your walls should do more than just hold up the roof, they should be a cozy blanket around your house that keep you warm and dry. Make sure the details are right and they will be able to keep you comfortable.  And did I mention you should insulate?

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.

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!

I hate waste, and I love this company!

Before I was an interior designer I worked as a textile designer in the garment industry. I remember being disgusted by the amount of sample fabric that got thrown away. Often whole 40 yard bolts would be clipped for color reference and then tossed away. Fast forward 15 years to the present, and I just found a little company that seems to feel just the same way about the waste in the furniture industry. The Modern Fabric Store sells scrap fabric that is thrown away after custom furniture is upholstered. They will even go into the dumpster to avert waste! The amazing thing is that the "waste fabric" from a large commercial upholstery job can be from one to as many as 10 yards. They even separate out the fabrics that have environmentally friendly qualities, so they are easy to find on the web site. So get your thinking caps on and think of some cool project that needs a few yards of inexpensive and high quality fabric.

Creative Construction

There are tons of great construction companies and general contractors doing green work. Some are better suited to larger projects, some do housing developments, and some do remodels. I like remodeling, so long as strict attention is paid to improving the energy envelope of the existing structure, because using current housing structures creates less of a demand for building materials than building from the ground up. This means less raw materials are used, less carbon is used to ship materials to a building site and less waste is created. The USGBC (United States Green Building Council) along with stakeholders including the ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) just released draft guidelines on how to accomplish a green remodel. If you happen to be in the area of Menlo Park, Ca, check out the work of Arends Construction. The photo shows a custom concrete countertop that Ken Arends made for a client using the broken window glass from the single pane windows that had to be removed in the remodel. That is taking green thinking one step further, don't ship your remodeling waste off site, use it in the project!

Should your house be 'perfect' now?

I recently came across the concept of Slow Design, and it immediately resonated with me.Slow design is a reference to the Slow food movement, which tries to get people to pay attention to their food; where it came from, how it is prepared, and eating it slowly with friends and family. It originated in Italy and is basically the opposite of fast food in all particulars. I love decorating peoples homes, I LOVE it, but I always felt that it should be a process. So many people want to get everything done in a month and sometimes the result is a room that looks like they bought it all at once at Ethan Allen or Pottery Barn. (Perhaps because they bought it all at once....) It takes time to get to know a client, their likes, dislikes, and style of living. I try to make every home reflect the owner very completely, so it is a place that echo's the very best of their taste and personality. Of course if you get a new home or apartment you need to have somewhere to sit, and somewhere to sleep, and somewhere to eat, and I am quite happy to very quickly get a room furnished to the point where it is beautiful and functional. I am not saying that a person should rattle around in an empty box while choosing just the right tree to build a table out of. But once the basic are there perhaps it is good to take a minute, take a breath, to see how the space works for you before you decide what to do next. Look for things you love in other spaces, pay attention to what colors and shapes you are drawn to. Think which of these things are worthy of being in your beautiful home. I love the idea of Slow Design, because like Slow Food, it brings up the idea that when you take a little more time to design a space the result is more "nourishing," more suitable and functional for the person living there.

ok, let's talk countertops, really....

The last entry got me thinking about just how many Eco counter tops there are! First of all, please visit your local salvage yard, I can guarantee that they will have slabs of granite, marble, and corian, ready for reuse! This is nearly always a workable choice for bathrooms, since even if the Kitchen slab was damaged in removal, the bathroom is so much smaller.

Next, in no particualar order are other "green countertops."

Richlite, not FSC but local to me.

Slate Scape, much like Richlite above, or Paperstone below

Paper stone: The only wood fiber/ paper based one that uses FSC product.

Squak mountain stone: Cement paper based, very good customer service.

The most local option to me is Vertazzo, . this has large random chunks of glass.

Bottle Glass, it is made by Fireclay tile, a local tile manufacturer that also makes the Debris series recycled Spanish tile. It is a very tightly grained, cement like option. Great company! new product, so no pictures on web site.

Enviro Glass, you can specify the size of the glass particles and they are cast into a polymer, rather than cement so they do not need to be sealed. They are in Texas. you can pick your mix of glass colors.

Vitra Stone, another closely grained cement based company out of Colorado, that also makes sinks. They use ceramic cement and recycled glass. Owner is Ryan, very nice, and very responsive.

Ice Stone is made in Brooklyn and stocked in San Raphael. Very production ready business, if you order standard color.

Then there is Bioglass as mentioned below,

and two recycled content plastic sheet materials: Yemm and Hart: I love their products, but their plastic countertop has a low melting temp. Better for a bath then a Kitchen

and 3form, only 30-40% recycled, but gorgeous. Again, wouldn't use it as a Kitchen counter top.

Yes there are a lot of choices! Why use anything that does not have a green quality?