Recycled plastic carpet runner.
- Thinking of sprucing up your nest this winter? You might want to consider adding some environmentally friendly furnishings to your home. There's a whole green world of interior design possibilities out there. Whether you're outfitting a new house from scratch, completely redoing a room, or just adding a few new pieces, you'll find a diversity of sustainable products that may surprise you.
Why Go Green Indoors?
Why should any of us bother to go green inside our homes? You've probably already heard that the world's forests are disappearing at an alarming rate, taking with them a lot of our best planetary carbon storage capacity. The more carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere, the more the earth heats up. It's said that more trees are cut to make furniture than for any other use except paper, and perhaps fuel. Buying furniture made from sustainably managed forests, where new trees are planted to replace the ones cut down, maintains those forests in a healthy condition. Look for wood from facilities certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (www.fscus.org).
You might be surprised to find out what goes into standard home furnishings. Did you know that particleboard and plywood contain formaldehyde? Or that the foam in sofa cushions is petroleum based? Paint is another hot topic; oil-based paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). All these materials give off gases into the air inside your home (a process called offgassing). Many people, especially children, are sensitive to these compounds and can develop health problems from exposure to them. The problems are worsened when homes are weatherstripped and insulated to conserve energy. Going green at home makes a lot of sense.
Working With A Designer
Colorful carpets from recycled plastic.
If your decorating project requires the help of a professional designer, one who's certified in the Green Leaders Program run by the Sustainable Furnishings Council (www.sustainablefurnishings.org) can help you sort through the many options available to create your perfect look with environmentally friendly materials.
The Green Leaders certification is the interior design equivalent of the LEED certification for environmental architects and builders. The goal is to use sustainably produced, healthy, energy-efficient materials in interior design.
One local Green Leader is Shannon Willey
of Sea Green Designs in Southampton (www.seagreendesignsllc.com). Creating sustainable interiors is a natural fit for Willey. After receiving a degree in fashion design from F.I.T., she felt drawn to environmental studies and went on to get a B.S. in environmental science. A job in a home furnishings store along the way hooked her on interior design. "I fell in love with it," she says. She launched a career as a decorative painter, establishing the company Broken Colour Works. She discovered the Green Leaders program at a trade show and found the perfect way to combine her dual passions for design and the environment. "For me it was going full circle," she says.
Outdoor chairs of recycled steel with polyester powder-coat finish.
Sustainable design these days is a far cry from the macramé plant hangers and burlap curtains of the 1970s. There are sophisticated, environmentally friendly products in every conceivable style from traditional to contemporary. The pieces are beautiful and, says Willey, no more expensive than conventional pieces of good quality. "You don't have to be extreme to go green," she declares.
Carpeting made of 100 percent undyed wool.
The Sea Green Designs shop is full of beautiful, reasonably priced flooring, furnishings, and decorative pieces that are made with recycled and sustainably produced materials from companies also committed to recycling their own manufacturing waste as well. Willey sources as many items locally as she can. A local woodworker builds tables in a range of sizes from reclaimed wood. She pointed out a handsome dining table made of recycled wood with a top of old barn board. The surface is finished with nontoxic milk paint.
To cover the floor (which can be surfaced sustainably with reclaimed lumber or perhaps bamboo) there are several lines of carpeting, one of which is made from completely undyed wool and comes in a range of neutral colors. The color variations are in the natural wool on the sheep. For colorful accents there are carpet runners in a host of bright colors and patterns manufactured by a Swedish company from 50 percent post-consumer recycled plastic. The rugs look like cotton and can be used indoors or outdoors. Cleanup is a snap - just hose them down outside.
This chair has cushions filled with soy-based foam.
You can promote sweet dreams with wonderfully soft bed linens, including crib bedding, made of undyed linen that gets even softer the more you wash it. Or sit comfortably on upholstered chairs with cushions filled with eco-friendly soy-based foam.
If you're in the market for outdoor furniture, look into pieces made of recycled steel and aluminum and finished with an ecological 100 percent polyester powder coating that contains no solvents.
Next time you're out shopping for furnishings, advises Willey, "ask questions." If enough people start to ask what's actually in the pieces they're bringing into their homes, manufacturers will respond with healthier products. Indeed, they already are. Just one example: Benjamin Moore and other paint companies now offer lines of low-VOC paints.
Does going green sound intimidating? Don't let it. Take baby steps. Next time you're in the market for a table, ask where the wood came from, and maybe choose one made with recycled wood. Maybe even one built by a local craftsman. Then you can feel good about helping to support our local economy and help save a forest, too. Every little bit helps.
Crib with organic undyed linen sheets.
Anne is a writer, editor and professional gardener, and the author of 17 garden, home and nature books. She lives in Hampton Bays.