IS YOUR HOME TOXIC?

A few months ago, an acquaintance of mine mentioned that her two-year old grandson had been quite sick over the past few months.

The poor little guy had been in and out of our local Children’s Hospital, subjected to one test after another.

After all that, there was still no clear diagnosis.                             

However, doctors were beginning to question whether the real culprit might be the new carpet recently installed in the family’s home.

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?

I was shocked when I heard this, but I wasn’t surprised.

The truth is, fumes from fresh paint, new furniture, new carpet and fabrics, and that new car smell – those fumes are what’s referred to as “off-gassing” and it’s all highly toxic.

The toxicity comes from the VOC’s, or Volatile Organic Compounds, that are present in any of these products.

You might be wondering, is it even possible to avoid them?

Well, you’ll be happy to know there is a way, and you can do that by considering healthier alternatives such as zero VOC Paints, organic fabrics and water based finishes.

You can read all about this and more in my new guide “LIVING GREEN”  – available either as a downloadable file, or a printed booklet that will be shipped to your front door.

(more…)

GREENING THE HOLIDAYS, 2011

This past week, my goal was to create my very first Video blog.

Unfortunately, this didn’t go exactly as planned.

In its place, I offer you these timely tips for celebrating the holidays with an eco-friendly twist, based on personal experience and advice I’ve collected over the years.

And if you’re really lucky, the video will still appear sometime this week.

 

TREES & DECORATION

The prevailing wisdom still dictates that a live tree is preferable to an artificial one, since the latter is made almost entirely from plastics, non-renewable petroleum by-products that can’t be recycled.

The bottom line is that while it can seem wasteful to have a living tree from one year to the next, it is actually more beneficial to the environment, especially if you support what is grown or manufactured locally

Another alternative is to plant a living tree, one that grows in a pot and can be re-planted later – a great idea, but one that requires a lot of acreage (or ingenuity) for the re-planting phase.

Especially if you still have many more Christmases to look forward to.

I literally cringed when I read that I should avoid using tinsel, because it can’t be recycled. In my family, tinsel on the Christmas tree is a tradition that goes as far back as I can remember. When it came to decorating the tree it was always my father’s crowning achievement. He would add the tinsel at the very end, ever so carefully and always very meticulously.

Other ways to invite the outdoors into your home, is by collecting pine cones and branches of holly berries, or whatever else you might find that suits your holiday decor.

If you have children, old standbys like strings of cranberries and popcorn continue to entertain; when the holidays are over these can easily go in your yard waste.

 

LIGHTS

Did you know that LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are at least 90% more energy efficient than regular incandescent bulbs? Cool to the touch, they also pose less of a fire hazard, and will last for thousands of hours longer than incandescent bulbs.

LEDs are widely available in many different colors, and shapes, and can be found at your local retailer. By switching to LED’s you will save electricity and enjoy a lower electrical bill!

Be sure you don’t throw away your old lights; check your local listings to find out how they can be recycled.

 

(more…)

HEALTHY HOME, HEALTHY BODY, HEALTHY MIND

A few weeks ago, I donned a pair of pink ballet slippers and headed off to my very first ballet class – ever.

In doing so, I crossed the line from an observer of Ballet to a participant.

It was an exciting first step!

Later, it occurred to me that I’d been playing the same side-stepping game around my passion for food – always the observer, never the participant.

Well, all that’s about to change.

I, for one, find it impossible to envision a vibrant, nurturing home without also focusing on food, and the kitchen, thus bringing our range of sensory experiences full circle.

This is, in part, why I’ve introduced a new tagline to my Harmony Design Studio website – “Healthy Home, Healthy Body, Healthy Mind”.

I believe in approaching client projects from every angle, and have long embraced a more holistic approach to interior design.

I also believe in nourishing ourselves in every sense of the word by celebrating beauty and enjoying the bounty on our tables.

And when it comes to nourishing ourselves, I am also an advocate for that segment of our community dealing with food allergies and Celiac Disease.

For this reason, I’m excited to announce my new Blog and website, titled “The Gluten-Free Designer”.

While the new Blog is an off-shoot of my primary business – Harmony Design Studio – it has been established with your health in mind.

For anyone wondering what a Healthy Body and a Healthy Mind have to do with interior design and your home, the answer is simple.

(more…)

HOW TO HAVE A GREEN HOLIDAY

I’ve just learned that a local radio station will be hosting a special holiday talk show titled “12 Days of Green”. I particularly like the ‘green’ twist on the traditional 12 Days of Christmas –it struck me as both clever and timely. After all, Christmas is fast approaching, and every year it seems there are more suggestions on how to make your holidays Green.

Here is a brief summary of the various tips and recommendations I have come across during this holiday season:

TREES & DECORATION                   HolidayLightsiStock_000002392693XSmall

The prevailing wisdom still dictates that a live tree is preferable to an artificial one, since the latter is made almost entirely from plastics, that can’t be recycled. The bottom line is that while it can seem wasteful to have a living tree from one year to the next, it is actually more beneficial to the environment, especially if you support what is grown or manufactured locally.

Other ways to bring the outdoors in are by collecting pine cones and branches of holly berries, or whatever else you might find that suits your holiday decor. If you have children, old standbys like strings of cranberries and popcorn are fun decorations; when the holidays are over you can put them in your yard waste, or give them to the birds.

I literally cringed when I read that we should avoid using tinsel, because it can’t be recycled. In my family, tinsel on the Christmas tree is a tradition that goes as far back as I can remember. When it came to decorating the tree it was always my father’s crowning achievement. He would add the tinsel at the very end, ever so carefully and always very meticulously. Give up tinsel? Me? Maybe next year.

LIGHTS

Did you know that LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are at least 90% more energy efficient than regular incandescent bulbs? Cool to the touch, they also pose less of a fire hazard, and will last for thousands of hours longer than incandescent bulbs.

LEDs are widely available in many different colors, and shapes, and can be found at your local retailer. By switching to LED’s you will save electricity and enjoy a lower electrical bill!

Be sure you don’t throw away your old lights; check your local listings to find out how they can be recycled.

GIFTS & GIFT WRAP

The general idea with the giving of gifts, is to tread light and give less by focusing on gifts that are less wasteful, and kinder to the environment. For example, you can give the gardener in your life a sturdy, easy to care for plant which is definitely green any way you look at it. Plus there is zero waste.

Whether purchased or homemade, food gifts can be a great idea. As with any gift just make certain it is something the recipient would like. Studies show that as much as 20% of food gifts get thrown out!

Avoid using foil or plastic-coated gift wraps as they are not recyclable. Instead, look for gift wrap that is either made from recycled paper, or lends itself to being recycled.

If you want to be really creative, try wrapping your gift with something that can be re-purposed, such as a colorful kitchen towel, or cloth shopping bag.

RECYCLE

So many things can be recycled – trees (which can be composted), holiday lights, batteries, electronics, wrapping paper and of course, food. For the latter, take advantage of your local yard waste program, and for everything else check out your local listings for various recycle programs.

EAT LOCAL

The newest thing I’m hearing this year, is the emphasis on eating locally grown, seasonal food. In doing so, you will be supporting both the environment and local businesses. Choose organic produce whenever possible, and you will be doing even more for your health and well-being, especially during a season fraught with temptation and unhealthy food choices.

IN SUMMARY As you can see, there’s no need to give up your traditions, it’s simply a matter of tweaking them!

Plus, whether greening your holidays, or greening your home, I always take the approach that it is not necessary to do everything all at once. While every little bit helps, it is more important, in my view, to do what feels most comfortable to you, in the moment. It’s a little bit like being on a diet, because if you start to feel deprived, or that you are sacrificing too much, your efforts simply won’t last.

What To Look For In The Eco-Savvy Kitchen

“There is no love sincerer than food.” George Bernard Shaw

Harwell Kitchen

What could be more appropriate a week before the Thanksgiving holiday, than a discussion of kitchens and food? So, bear with me a moment as we take another look at beautiful Biltmore House, in North Carolina, focusing this time on the Biltmore kitchens. Yes, that’s ‘kitchens’ as in plural; it’s not a typo.

As was typical of the day, the kitchens at Biltmore were located in the mansion’s cavernous basement, and were reached by a separate service entrance reserved for use by household staff. There were a variety of rooms that comprised the kitchen, beginning with a vegetable pantry and large, walk-in refrigerators. Remember, this was in 1895; the mechanical refrigeration system was, of course very different from what we see today, yet highly sophisticated for the time. Continuing on, there was a separate Pastry kitchen, reserved for the pastry chef to produce a bounty of cakes, breads and pastries, and a Rotisserie kitchen – in an effort to keep the roasting smells separate from the main cooking area, this was used strictly for the roasting of meats.

The main kitchen facility was a large, cheerful room ruled by Biltmore’s head chef. There was an enormous iron stove in one corner and a huge work table front and center, for prep work. A variety of pots and pans hung overhead, including some of the original copper pots! There was plenty of room for storage and all the latest in kitchen equipment and utensils, and of course, a separate kitchen pantry for washing up afterwards. The pantry included a dumbwaiter, which would have been a necessity for transporting the carefully prepared meals to the floors above.

Fast forward to the present, and compare this to the typical kitchen of today. While the Biltmore kitchen seemed to have it all, our modern kitchens are equally efficient, yet  modest in scale. No longer relegated to the basement, or a separate room at the back of the house, the modern kitchen is considered the hearth of the home, and is an ideal place to entertain family and friends.

It is not surprising, then, that a kitchen remodel is usually high on the list for home improvement. Yet where does one begin? What should one look for when creating an eco-friendly, ‘green’ kitchen?

The following guidelines are a good place to start:

Think Smaller Scale. Think Local.
Do you really need a grandiose kitchen like Biltmore, or can you get by with less? The illusion is that a larger kitchen will fulfill all your workspace and storage needs. While this may be true on some level, the reality is that you can have a highly efficient, well-designed kitchen in a relatively compact space. Keep in mind that by reducing the scale of your dream kitchen, you can reduce the overall cost, and instead think bigger in terms of the overall design. In other words, you can re-purpose those funds into higher end cabinetry, quality appliances, and clever storage options and still come out ahead without breaking your budget. Should you start to feel overwhelmed at any point in the process, consider hiring a professional designer to help you sort through all your options. Remember to support local businesses and locally manufactured products. In doing so, you will reduce transportation costs and your carbon footprint.

Splurge on Quality Appliances
The biggest, energy efficient change you can make in your kitchen is to install Energy Star appliances. The Energy Star stamp of approval is highly reliable, and can be found on appliances in any price range.

Super-Efficient Storage
Before you can decide on storage options, you will need to inventory what you already have and weed out kitchen equipment that you no longer use. Do you really need three vegetable peelers and a dozen spatulas? What about the fondue pot that hasn’t graced the table in over five years? Be ruthless, and remember:  once you’ve cleared out your cabinets and have clarified your priorities the last thing you need is another shopping trip to your favorite kitchen store. Learn to rein yourself in and get by with less.

Rethink Your Cabinets
In today’s market, there are a large variety of sustainable options for cabinets; whatever brand, or type of material you choose, make sure the manufacturer uses water-based glues and adhesives, and particleboard that does not contain formaldehyde. Alternatively, if your cabinets are in relatively good condition, consider having them refinished, or refaced, or perhaps relocating them to the laundry room or garage. In doing so, you will reduce waste, and protect the landfills.

Counter Intelligence
There are an endless number of choices for countertops and decorative backsplashes, including re-cycled glass, concrete, or composite products made from paper and resin. The sky is really the limit here. This is where you can let your creative juices flow and have fun!

As you prepare for your family’s Thanksgiving feast during the coming week, pay close attention to how well your present kitchen is working for you, and what changes you would make if you were to embark on a remodel. Do your homework. Know what you can’t live without. Compile your Wish List. Be sure to DREAM BIG!

Going Green for the Holidays

The New Year is upon us, and most of us are moving on from the recent holiday revelry.

Even so, I’d like to leave you with some thoughts on how to make your holiday greener in 2008. On the positive side, you still have eleven months to work this out, and determine what changes would feel most comfortable for you and your family.

There’s no need to give up our traditions, it’s more a matter of tweaking them!

For example, the prevailing wisdom dictates that a live tree is preferable to an artificial one. An artificial tree is made almost entirely from plastics – nonrenewable petroleum by-products that can’t be recycled. Many are imported from China, which affects transportation and consumption of fossil fuels. Ideally, the preference is for using what’s grown or manufactured locally.

Other alternatives are to plant a living tree, one that grows in a pot and can be re-planted later – a great idea, but one that requires a lot of acreage (or ingenuity) for the re-planting phase, especially if you still have many more Christmases to look forward to. Organically grown trees are another environmentally friendly choice, as they are grown without synthetic pesticides and are therefore much kinder to the environment.

The bottom line is that while it can seem wasteful to have a living tree from one year to the next, it is actually more beneficial to the environment.

Another subject of discussion for a greener holiday, is our energy-consuming holiday lights. I highly recommend switching to LEDs (light-emitting diodes) which are at least 90% more energy efficient than regular incandescent bulbs. Cool to the touch, they also pose less of a fire hazard, and will last for thousands of hours longer than incandescent bulbs. LEDs are now widely available in many different colors, shapes and sizes, and can be found at your local retailer.

The benefit to you is that you will save electricity and enjoy a lower electrical bill, while enhancing the environment.

In my family, we actually changed over to LEDs this past Christmas, and were quite satisfied with the results. The outward appearance, as compared to regular lights, was negligible. We purchased white lights, which, when lit, had a lovely bluish tinge – to me the color of new-fallen snow.

If you prefer to keep your current string of lights, try limiting the time you burn them by not leaving them on overnight. Aternatively, try putting your lights on a timer, which also means one less thing for you to remember during the stressful holiday season!

Other ‘green’ suggestions that I have heard of – and will share with you here – mostly cover gift wrap and cards. Some work for me, others do not. Again, it’s a matter of knowing, and understanding, what your family would be most comfortable with.

Let’s begin with the gift wrap, which actually applies to many more occasions than just the holiday season. Suggestions range from recycling brown paper grocery bags to not using bags at all. As an interior designer, aesthetics always take center stage for me, so I’m not so sure I could live with brown paper wrappings under the tree. However, I have been known to recycle gift boxes, which often works in lieu of gift wrap if the outer package is attractive and sturdy enough.

Some members of my family have long been in the habit of re-using gift bags from one season or occasion to the next. This is an equally fine solution. Sometimes it just comes down to being creative, and seeing what you can come up with! As for recycling holiday cards, by cutting off the front and saving it for future use, I think this is another one that requires creativity to pull off properly. Alternatively, many people rely on e-mail greetings.

A rather appealing idea that I’ve come across is from a company called Bloomin’ Flower Cards – a biodegradable card with embedded seeds that you actually plant! Talk about creative!

Cheers!