Green Design 101 With Verde Home

Determine the Project Scope
The scope of the project you are undertaking will affect the decisions you make about Green Design. We generally look at the scope of a project as being one of three types in ascending complexity.

  • Redecorate – Re-designing an existing room with no new construction will be the least intensive. The option of re-use is generally greater with existing spaces.
  • Re-model – Re-models often open up living areas and require more “net new” materials, however the potential for re-use is still an option.
  • New Home – Designing a new home will most likely require more “net new” materials than a remodel or redecoration. This “clean slate” offers opportunities to incorporate more sustainable design elements but the potential for higher environmental impact is also greater if not managed.

Determine Project Goals

Once you have determined the general scope of a project the next step would be to decide what the primary goal of your green project is. Goals will vary from project to project but can generally be broken into one of two categories:

  • Reduce the overall environmental impact that your home has. i.e. reduce the environmental footprint.
  • Create a healthy living environment, free of potential toxins.

It is important to note that these two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. However, when deciding between the pros and cons of multiple product choices it is helpful to keep in mind the ultimate goal.

An example of this trade off may occur when redecorating a living room. If your goal is to design for a healthy living environment it may be necessary to replace the old sofa, which is most likely made using toxic glues and cushions. However, replacing old item with new items is not always the “greenest” thing to do, as it creates more waste. A similar project with an environmental impact focus may opt to have the existing piece re-upholstered. Depending on the budget and needs of the project this process may encompass the use of organic fabrics as well as re-stuffing of the frame to capture some healthy living environment benefits or it may stay strictly focused on environmental impact and use a fabric made from recycled materials.

Tips for Environmental Impact Focused Design
A good starting point for any Environmental Impact Focused Design is to take stock of what you already have. The more that you can Re-use or Re-purpose the less new material you will have to buy, this will both save money and reduce the impact of making new goods. Some basic ideas to consider would include:

  • Have kitchen cabinets faux painted to give them a new look. Replace pulls with unique salvaged pieces or items made from recycled material.
  • Consider having countertops veneered instead of replaced.
  • Reupholster pieces that are not completely thread bare or talk to a good upholsterer about altering the lines of a piece.
  • Repurpose old rugs. Old kilim and other rug fragments can often be washed and cut down to make great pillow covers or even use as upholstery fabric.
  • Re-use old fabric. If you are having a sofa recovered, consider trying to use portions of the old fabric if possible on smaller projects.

After going through everything that you can re-use inevitably there will be some new pieces that you will need to buy in order to complete your decor. Below are some considerations when buying new items.

  • Look for local first. Items that are produced or obtained regionally generally will have a smaller environmental impact from a transportation standpoint. The added benefit is that they generally are delivered quicker and support the local economy.
  • Look for vintage pieces. No new energy will go into the production of something that has already been made (aside from transport).
  • Pay attention to what new items are made from. If it is an item made from wood, ask where the wood came from. Ideally the item will be made from FSC (Forest Stewardship Certified), reclaimed woods, or urban hardwoods (trees felled as a result of storm or other natural reasons). If these are not available look for abundant native wood species which tend to be grown in a sustainable manner.
  • Although carpet companies have made great strides in the last few years to become “green” they still don’t match the age old natural wool rug. Look for all wool rugs, preferably handmade. Unfortunately few handmade rugs are woven locally which means that they must travel distances to get here, but wool is rapidly renewable, anti microbial, naturally resistant to mold mildew and bacteria. If maintained properly a well made handwoven rug will also last a lifetime.

Tips for Healthy Living Environment Focused Design
When designing a space with a focus on healthy living a few more considerations may come into play. The designer must first take note if the client has any special allergies or chemical sensitivities that will affect the design. Below are some general tips to consider:

  • Use organic wherever possible. Where chemical sensitivity, allergies or other health issues are concerned it is always best to use natural product components. Today there are organic options available for most home furnishing products.
  • Again we would recommend wool area rugs, unless there is an allergy involved. As noted above wool rugs are anti microbial, and naturally resistant to mold mildew and bacteria. They also have the added benefit of being able to be removed and thoroughly cleaned to remove dust and dirt.
  • Using low VOC paints is recommended any time recovering a wall is required. Most major paint companies offer these now. When possible use premixed low VOC colors as VOC’s tend to be added as tints are injected to the base.
  • Look for furniture assembled with water based glues. Most manufactures are making the switch but the alternative is a formaldehyde base which becomes a gas at room temperature and can “off gas” in your home for years.
  • Where dyes are used in fabrics and rugs, look for low impact (or no) chrome dyes or natural dyes. Also referred as Swiss Dyes low impact dyes are made with high absorption rates to readily bond with the fiber requiring less dye and minimizing the use of heavy metals. Vegetable dyes on the other hand are 100% natural to the point where they are bonded with the rug. There is some debate over the “green-ness” of vegetable dyes but in all they are better than standard chrome dyes.

Getting rid of the old
If you are buying some new items you are most likely doing away with some old pieces as well. The question then becomes what to do with your old pieces. If they are still useful try one of the following:

  • Donating them to the salvation army (who will come and get them in many cases).
  • Post them on Freecycle.org if you wish to give them away
  • Sell them locally on Craiglist
  • Contact a vintage furniture store or consignment shop to see if they are interested in buying or taking the piece in on consignment.