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Archive for the ‘Green Design’ Category

House in Hawaii, The Wiseman Group and architect Ricardo Legoretta
photo – Matthew Millman

I was just reading an article in Fast Company about why generalizing is often better than specializing in the job market, despite the push we’ve seen for decades to specialize, and it got me thinking of one of my pet peeves in the interior design world.

Today, most business consultants who work with interior designers are advising us to specialize for marketing reasons, often in a particular style or look, or targeting a particular demographic, which I think is a huge mistake.  Clients also often look for designers who do the particular style they want to the exclusion of everything else, thereby likely ruling out a tremendous number of other highly competent designers who might actually do an even better job for them.

Oftentimes designers who only work in one style are basically repeating what they themselves prefer, which is fine if that’s what you really want, but if you want a really creative, and truly customized design, you want someone who has the ability to bring as broad a set of resources and skills to the table as possible – and the interest in doing so.  It takes a little more work to keep up on a wider range of resources, to be sure, and not all designers really want to be bothered.

Apartment on Nob Hill, The Wiseman Group
photo – Tim Street-Porter

Speaking from experience as someone who has worked for and learned a great deal from a very gifted designer who nevertheless tends to stick to a similar aesthetic for all projects, it can also get really boring to a creative mind that gets fired up by a range of options and the process of really digging in and solving the specific problems each individual client has in a unique way, not applying the same solution to them all.  Working in aesthetics other than those towards which one is personally inclined is a key way to keep the creative fires stoked, in what is fundamentally a creative discipline, and to keep that saw sharp.

The thing is, the fundamentals of the interior design, and the design process itself, are largely the same regardless of style, and a good designer who wants to create truly personalized solutions will deliberately cultivate the ability to work comfortably in a wide range of aesthetics.

The Wiseman Group
photo – Matthew Millman

What really matters most is the ability to truly listen to the client, and then to translate the client’s desires into tangible reality, and that entails a skill set that is completely independent of the style or color scheme selected.  Scale is scale, balance is balance, etc., whether you are dealing with a modern building or a traditional one, and if someone is really good with color, they should be able to produce a wonderful color scheme in any hue in the rainbow.

Anyone can learn to repeat the same basic thing over and over again, but a big part of the point of hiring an interior designer is to have a customized solution that is unique to you and your own particular needs and style, and of course the architectural realities of your own home or office.

The reality is that not every designer can actually do it – or wants to be bothered.

Seeing projects that all look similar in someone’s portfolio raises the question about how versatile that designer really is.  When you see a range of project styles that are all well done, you know you’re dealing with someone who has the ability to really customize as needed, and likely has a wider range of resources to bring to bear on the project as well.  It takes more work to keep up on that range, but that also means the designer is clearly exposing herself to a wide range of options on a regular and ongoing basis – which can only mean good things for clients.

One of the world’s greatest designers, the Paul Vincent Wiseman of The Wiseman Group, who has long been one of my most revered design heroes, regularly demonstrates his ability to work brilliantly in virtually any style, as the contrasting photos above of his work attest.  The first two projects shown, both frequently published and among my favorites of his work, could not be more different – the first, an apartment in an historic landmark building on top of San Francisco’s Nob Hill; the second, a vacation home in Hawaii built by one of the foremost modernist architects of our time.  The third, equally distinct from the first two, is an estate in the Napa Valley with a 20th century design aesthetic with midcentury touches in a house built in a somewhat Spanish colonial style.

This is really what it means to be a great designer, in my opinion.  You know just by looking at the range of his projects that Wiseman has both listened to and actually heard what his clients have said they wanted – and then delivered.  Many of his clients have done multiple projects with him that span a wide range of styles, and he has to be able to handle that range, or frankly, he’d lose those clients to someone else when they want a different aesthetic in a new home.  You know without asking that he could do anything asked of him, even if he hasn’t shown an example of that style or project type in his portfolio.  Whether you like these particular examples or not, and regardless of your preference for these color schemes or others, these projects share the qualities of being perfectly scaled and designed for their respective spaces and environments, and every detail contributes harmoniously to the whole.

When you get into things like green design, aging-in-place/accessible/universal design, commercial design, or design for special functions like doctors’ offices or jails, then you do indeed get into a greater need for specialization and often additional training beyond that which is usually taught in design school.   When dealing with nonresidential environments, building codes tend to play a larger role than they do in private homes, and the more specialized the function of the space, the more specialized the code and other technical issues.

Aging-in-place, etc. is becoming the big buzz word these days, and there is clearly growing demand, but I’ve encountered very few designers who have actually got the necessary training, or who otherwise show they’ve learned what they actually need to know to work with this specialized and growing market effectively, dealing with both the architectural requirements down to the selection of fabrics, colors, and furniture styles that are best for this market or subsets of it.  With a few exceptions, most I’ve seen only understand part of the requirements.  Strangely, most people who are Certified Aging in Place Specialists (a designation I hold, as one of only about four such certified interior designers in Northern CA) aren’t even designers, and while they could certain tell you where to put grab bars and how to build a ramp, and maybe do the work to install them, many couldn’t design their way out of a paper bag and integrate accessibility features into an overall beautiful aesthetic that doesn’t scream “institution” or “add-on” at you because they are simply not trained as designers.

For the vast majority of interior designers, however, and certainly within residential design or commercial design as broad overall categories, the ability to generalize and work in a wider range of styles is truly an asset, and the mark of a really proficient creative person – and one who is truly more interested in giving clients what they want than imposing a particular style upon them. Whether your project is a large estate or a single small room, wouldn’t you really rather know that this is your designer’s honest focus?

It is, of course, essential that your designer fully understand the code issues that are involved in whatever type of project you have, but at the end of the day, the way most people interface with their space demands the ability to produce the creative vision, and to make the technical matters disappear and to function seamlessly behind the scenes, supporting the overall desired function and aesthetic of the space.

If the designer is properly conversant with residential codes, she will be able to deal with them whether it’s a modern building or an older one, and the same for the commercial designer int he world of office buildings.  Some designers know both, but not all.  Don’t assume; ask what types of projects they have done and/or are trained to do.  Just because there isn’t an example in her portfolio of exactly the type of space your project entails doesn’t mean she isn’t trained to handle it and can’t still do an excellent job.  (Beware if the designer doesn’t know that there are huge code differences, however!  And that they may need to use different contractors for different job types.)

It takes staying on top of continuing education whether it is required for local certification or not to maintain one’s knowledge of the technical side of things (and doing that is vastly more important in the end than any alphabet soup of professional designations a designer may or may not choose to obtain – and almost all of them are entirely optional and not required in any way by the vast majority of states and countries), but it is critically important not to forget the creative side of things, either, and to select a designer who shows she has the ability to do what a range of work, and to think outside the box.

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HIGH POINT — The American Home Furnishings Alliance is launching a program called Eco3Home that will allow consumers to research information on AHFA members and their products regarding safety, health and environmental stewardship.

It will be anchored by a consumer website, www.eco3home.com, where shoppers will be able to find out about AHFA manufacturer or importer members participating in the program, and also can research a particular piece of furniture in detail.

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So far, very few manufacturers have signed on to this program, but perhaps more will with time, as it becomes known.  The idea is certainly an excellent one, and I hope this program really takes off.

I sure hope that the high end companies like Dessin Fournir, Holly Hunt, and others that I am accustomed to using most frequently will get onto this sort of bandwagon.  There is progress happening in the industry, with more and more attractive furniture being made in green ways, so that environmental responsibility need not mean sacrificing style, but it still hasn’t hit the really top quality goods.

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WOOL FOR ALL SEASONS

by Wools of New Zealand (photo credits as indicated)

Summertime - and Wool! Photo credit: Wools of New Zealand

What’s the very first thing that comes to mind when you think about wool? I bet it’s not the summer! Wool is known for protecting people from freezing temperatures, yet for over 12,000 years wool has also played an important role in protecting people from heat.

The natural qualities of wool make it more suitable for carpet in climatic extremes than synthetic fibers. In Florida and other regions with both high humidity and temperatures, the

Photo credit: Toxy's Jamstation

advantages of wool’s complex physical structure work as an atmospheric buffer. At times of high humidity, wool fiber can absorb up to 30 percent of its weight in moisture—without feeling damp—then release this moisture when the atmosphere becomes dry again. And when wool fibers are easily spread, as in carpets, they can respond in minutes to changes in ambient humidity. In this way, wool acts as a buffer to reduce peak humidity levels and make those hot summer months more comfortable.

Summer is meant to be enjoyed. It’s the time of year we throw open our windows, fill our vases with fresh flowers, and walk around barefoot. And why shouldn’t we?  There’s nothing like the beauty of the great outdoors. And one of the best ways to capture that “outdoor” feeling is with furnishings and floorcoverings made from natural materials, like wool.

Few floorcoverings are associated as closely with the land as wool. The wool from New Zealand is an environmentally friendly, sustainable fiber that is grown naturally.

Photo credit: joe-ks.com

Because wool is produced from a totally renewable resource—grass—the earth’s natural resources, which are becoming more precious every day, are preserved; unlike synthetics which require energy, and in many cases petroleum, for production.

Photo credit: Canada-photos.com

Another environmental benefit of wool is that it is biodegradable. In soil, wool readily biodegrades to produce nitrogen, sulfur, carbon dioxide and

Photo credit: Brookside Woolen Mill

water, which support the growth of plants and flowers.

Thoughts of blooming flowers also bring to mind the topic of allergies. Wool can help allergy sufferers by absorbing common contaminants and eliminating them from the air. Wool also reacts with harmful gases such as formaldehyde (a common pollutant emitted by building materials), nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide by neutralizing and binding the gases irreversibly in its structure, so everyone…even people with asthma…can breathe a little easier.

Photo credit: Carpet and Rug Institute

In addition to livin’ well, wool makes livin’ easy.  Wool is naturally superior because it has built-in stain resistant features. The scaly structure of the wool fibers holds dirt high on the pile where it can be easily vacuumed. Wet spills can be blotted up quickly as well, leaving more time to enjoy summer activities.

Wool is a fiber for all reasons and all seasons. The many benefits of this amazing fiber help make your world healthier, comfortable, beautiful and more relaxing…all months of the year.

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Photo source: South Okanagan Modular Homes

For those of you who may live in modular or manufactured (mobile) homes, or are in the market for one, you can now get them all with universal/visitable design features such as level entries, wider hallways, lever handles, larger doorways, varying height kitchen counters, curbless showers, knee spaces at vanities, anti-scald controls, handheld showers, grab bars and blocking for them,  extra space to maneuver in kitchens and baths, task lighting for various task including cooking, and easy to reach thermostats.

Who knew?

South Okangan Modular Homes

It doesn’t look as if they offer knee space for  a wheelchair in the kitchen, 48″ electric outlets and light switches, adjustable height cooktops and sinks, pull-down upper shelves, etc., all of which are important for accessible design for someone in a wheelchair, or particularly short, but perhaps they can be added, or are on the drawing board for the future.  This is certainly an excellent start, though, and some of these elements could probably be retrofitted after purchase, if need be.

And yes, the cute little cottage above is actually a mobile home, believe it or not – a double-wide.  The kitchen below is also in one, although it clearly doesn’t show all of the universal design features.  Click on the images to go to their photo gallery if you want to see more examples, or images of their modular homes.

Some  manufacturers also offer high end finishes such as granite and marble, so you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice luxury just because you buy a home at this price point.  I was  in some mobile homes in my paramedic days that were nicer than many regular homes I’ve seen.  Some also offer triple-wide homes, although I have no idea what universal design elements might be available.

Photo source: South Okanagan Modular Homes

Note:  This is not an endorsement for this manufacturer, as I know nothing else about them.  I’m just very interested that universal design features are now available for this kind of housing, and it’s likely that other manufacturers will follow suit, if they haven’t already.

I also don’t know if they offer formaldehyde-free homes, or if any manufacturer does.  Formaldehyde at least used to be a major component in manufactured homes, so this very ungreen element could be an issue for a lot of people, both for those who are chemically sensitive, as well as those for whom green construction is a priority.  Whether or not it would offset the advantages of the more universal design, if this chemical is still prevalent, would have to be an individual decision, although I certainly hope that these manufacturers are moving in this direction, as it’s the environmentally responsible thing to do.

Photo source: South Okanagan Modular Homes

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Image from Sparkly Like a Holiday

OK, I admit it.  I’m stealing this topic from Paul Anater, over at Kitchen and Residential Design.  But I’m not going to say the same things.

Yes, I quite agree that chalkboard paint is overdone – and way overdone in several of the images he shows.  It’s old.  It’s boring.  It’s dated.  There are clearly limits to its usefulness, safety, and definitely to its appearance.  Not only can it be toxic when it gets into your food as Paul mentions, but chalk dust can also be a major problem for people who have allergies, asthma, or chemical sensitivities, so it would not foster an accessible design for people who suffer from such afflictions.  It would also violate universal and visitability design principles, as it could create a similar hazard for other users of the space, particularly visitors whose sensitivities might be unknown.  Chalk dust doesn’t do anything for overall air quality, either, so that lowers the green design reusability quotient of the paint, never mind what the VOC content of it might be.

Now that we’ve looked at the potential health hazards, let’s focus more on the visual elements.

Looking at the images Paul posted, the ones that really offend me the most are the refrigerator fully covered in the dreadful green version of the paint, that huge, frightening expanse of black wall and door, and yes, that hideous kitchen. (more…)

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Canned Foods (Consumer Reports)

Image courtesy of Consumer Reports

Almost everyone knows by now that many of the refillable water bottles we love are lined with an epoxy-based material that contains carcinogenic chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA). Public outcry has resulted in several manufacturers now offering bottles with alternative, non-epoxy-based linings.

What is not quite so well known, however, is that the linings of most food and beverage cans are also this same type of epoxy resin that also contain BPA. This is the chemical that is responsible for the vastly longer shelf lives of canned foods in this day and age, which is why it’s become so ubiquitous.

Consumer Reports recently tested a variety of canned foods for its presence, and found that even organic foods, and those made by manufacturers who make a concerted effort to avoid the epoxy resins still have significant levels of BPA in the food samples tested. Only one manufacturer, Eden, has so far managed to find a source of cans that was even willing to address the problem and attempt to make cans without BPA.

Despite being packed in cans made by the Ball Corp. with the oleo-based material previously known as “corn enamel”, which was common in food can linings prior to the 60s, testing still found measurable levels of BPA in Eden’s foods (although vastly below those found in other brands), suggesting that there may be multiple sources of exposure to the chemical in the food chain, not just in the cans.

You can read the rest of the whole article about this, and learn about the FDA’s new assessments of what a safe level of BPA exposure may be on the Consumer Reports blog.

So should you clean out your kitchen cabinets, throw away all of your canned foods, and never buy any more? In the ideal world, perhaps yes, but we all know that we don’t live in one. BPA is one of the highest volume chemicals in the world, though, even found in dust and water samples from all over the world, so at this point, it’s completely unavoidable in the environment, and it would be a reasonable assumption that this is one of the additional sources Consumer Reports speculates about. Eliminating BPA from food can linings may help, but until that happens, you can at least dramatically decrease your exposure to it by avoiding canned food wherever possible.

So what does this have to do with interior design?

Kitchen Storage

Kristi Stratton, CountryLiving.com

Well, clearly kitchens are where food is stored and prepared, and most are now designed with as much storage space as possible for both housewares and packaged foods. You may find, however, that as you reduce your reliance on canned goods and other processed foods, that you may need different types of storage, and it may need to be configured somewhat differently. Many things can be packaged in glass or ceramic containers instead of plastic or cans, but both glass and ceramics tend to be a lot heavier and bulkier than cans and plastic containers, and of course will break if dropped, so you’ll need to pay careful attention to how your storage is laid out so that they are easily – and safely – accessible. Increased refrigeration space may be required as well, in order to accomm0date a wider range of fresh produce and other foods.

It may be that you won’t actually even need as much space, though, because the shorter shelf lives of fresh foods and those that come in jars instead of cans means you’ll probably be shopping more often, but for smaller quantities. Or perhaps you’ll start buying in bulk and doing your own canning and preserving.

Well Stocked Pantry with Preserved Foods

Library of Congress via TheSustainableKitchen.com

You’ll be chopping up more things, so ensuring adequate preparation space that suits your needs and ideally allows you to work while seated as well as standing will be useful.

You may need or want additional cooktop burners or additional and innovative cooking sources like the marvelous new steam or combination steam/convection ovens. Steaming is one of the best possible ways to prepare food, locking in both nutrients and moisture, and these ovens make it so incredibly convenient that you wouldn’t believe it.

Miele Steam Oven

Miele Steam Oven

And because it’s healthier for both you and the environment, avoiding canned foods and learning to make your own fresh, more healthful meals from scratch, you’ll also be being much more green. True sustainable design doesn’t end with the cabinets and other finishes used; it translates through to how the space is used, how waste is removed, and much, much more.

So, if you’re designing a new kitchen, you’ll need to take these changing food preparation habits into account, and communicate your desires to your designer, so that the space can be optimized for food preparation patterns that are less common today than they used to be, and with which you yourself may not yet be as familiar with the requirements of and ways to optimize.

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(ARA) – When you think of the colors associated with fall, green doesn’t necessarily come to mind. Environmentally speaking, however, it should. There’s no better time than now to lessen your home’s impact on the environment and change the way you decorate and live. So, why not go green this fall? It’s not nearly as difficult to become earth-friendly as you might think.

“From products that contribute to good indoor air quality to ones that truly reflect the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra, the number of affordable green interior decorating products has literally exploded within the past five years,” says Donna Schroeder, Dutch Boy color marketing and design manager.9119_B53_rgb

These days, you can find stylish, eco-friendly design elements for every room in the house. And, contrary to popular belief, going green doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style for sustainability. The two can coexist quite effortlessly.

You can start simple by dressing your bed in luxurious sheets, throws and comforters made from fabrics such as rich, renewable bamboo or soft, organic cotton. Cover your floors with formaldehyde-free carpets constructed of recycled fibers or select a natural material, like stone, slate or even concrete. Then, hang energy-efficient window treatments with high insulation and shading properties.

Don’t stop there. Spice up your tired sofa with a design-forward slipcover and throw pillows crafted from 100 percent recycled materials. Add bright recycled glass plates and serving pieces to your china cabinet. Buy furniture made from sustainably harvested wood or, better yet, visit local secondhand shops and repurpose. Or, look around your own home and see what you already have that can be adapted for a new use. You’d be surprised what a little creativity and some good old-fashioned elbow grease can do.

If you’re looking to add bold, fun color, paint fits perfectly into this overall green scheme. It’s an inexpensive, effective and, most importantly, environmentally-minded way to change the look and feel of an entire room. Many paint manufacturers now offer coatings that contain few, if any, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or vapors that are released from paint as it dries.

Using paints formulated without VOCs, such as Dutch Boy’s new Refresh interior paint with exclusive odor-eliminating Arm & Hammer technology, takes your home one step closer to reducing your environmental impact while leaving your interior looking fresh, modern and filled with personality.

Many home improvement products, including Refresh, are also Indoor Air Quality certified by The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, a nonprofit, industry-independent organization that certifies indoor products that meet satisfactory indoor air emissions standards.

Keep in mind that greening your home, inside or out, doesn’t happen in a matter of minutes or even overnight. It’s an ongoing process. The limit to how green your home can be is up to how willing you are to adjust your lifestyle. The choice is yours. “It doesn’t take any grand gestures to start going green,” Schroeder says. “Tiny changes add up to make a big overall impact on the environment.”

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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Furniture Today reports about a London man who has suffered severe skin rashes and burns shown to result from the anti-mold chemical dimethyl fumarate, or DMF in his Chinese-made sofa, and was awarded a four-figure settlement for his claim.

According to further stories in the London Times, DMF is a common ingredient added to sofas and chairs by Chinese manufacturers Linkwise and Eurosofa, particularly leather ones, to help protect them from humid conditions.  Several other manufacturers are also being investigated.

DMF is packaged in little packets like the silica dessicants you are already familiar with that are often packaged with delicate goods, but these are inserted inside the seat cushions and between the leather and the cushion, so you won’t see any sign of them.

Unfortunately, DMF can evaporate when exposed to warm conditions, and soak through clothing to reach the skin resulting in some potentially very serious reactions.  Because gases are a very rare cause of skin rashes, it took a while to figure out what was going on, but a study in Sweden has  conclusively proven the connection.  Similar problems have also surfaced in France, Finland, Poland, and Sweden.  Apparently there have been thousands of similar injuries.

There have also been reports of similar reactions caused by some shoes as well.

As a result of these problems, the European Commission has now banned DMF and demanded a recall of all products containing DMF by May 1, 2009 and notification of affected consumers.  Unfortunately, not all retailers have complied, so there may still be thousands of these sofas and chairs out there, so please beware if you are purchasing inexpensive furniture, as much of it is made in China and may well contain this chemical.

If you have purchased new upholstered furniture in the past couple of years and have been experiencing any kind of problems with skin or respiratory irritation since then, this may well be the cause of it.

I haven’t been able to find any evidence that DMF been banned in the US, and it’s a good bet it’s present in furnishings sold here as well.  For starters, I’ve located suppliers of it in the US, and I’ve also found websites showing a furniture company by the same name in North Carolina and shipping information to a warehouse in Canada from Link Wise in China.  Because I also know that there’s a ton of Chinese-made furniture in our country, it would be a reasonable conclusion that this same contamination may well be found throughout the United States and Canada.

Please note that this is a chemical added by the furniture manufacturers, and is not used in the leather tanning process itself, so it should not be an issue for the vast majority of leather products, particularly high quality goods.

So how do you protect yourself?

First of all, don’t panic, even if you’ve recently bought leather furniture.  Call the store and ask where it was manufactured, especially if you’re experiencing any new and/or persistent respiratory or skin symptoms you haven’t found any other cause for.

If you’re just now looking to buy, start by asking questions in the stores or of the designer who is showing you the products about where the furniture was manufactured, and about any chemicals used in the process.  You may not be able to get an answer, but it’s worth trying – and if you can’t get an answer, do consider passing on that item, because the odds are high that it will indeed be from China, especially if you’re buying from a lower end store.  Likewise, if you think the furniture seems particularly well-priced or inexpensive, keep a very high index of suspicion, unless the store or your designer can assure you that it was manufactured elsewhere.

If you’re working with a designer, he or she should be willing to ask the showroom for you and get back to you if she doesn’t already know the answer.

If any furniture salesperson asks you about allergies or chemical sensitivities, run like the wind, because there have been reports of unscrupulous salespeople and shops still trying to sell this stuff even where it’s been banned.

And always buy quality goods – the very best you can possibly afford, even if you have to purchase it one item at a time over a period of time in order to be able to afford better quality.  You really do get what you pay for with furniture, in so many ways.  In the end, high quality furnishings will last and look beautiful for decades, while cheaper stuff will fall apart and look shabby quickly and have to be replaced much more frequently, often at greater overall cost in the long run.  In later blog posts, I’ll cover how to tell good furniture from the rest, both upholstered and casegoods.

Also, given all of the reports of various other contaminated products coming out of China these days, including drywall used in many new homes, I hate to say it, but it might be a good idea to be extremely cautious indeed about learning the origins of anything you purchase, and to possibly just say no to Chinese products altogether.  Yes, you can get a lot for your money with cheap, mass-produced Chinese furniture, which accounts for a huge percentage of the mass market furniture sold in the US, but between these kinds of health risks and the negative impact on our own economy, and given that there’s a lot of top quality product out there coming from the US itself and other countries that do not have these problems (and is much, much greener/more sustainable in many ways), are the risks really worth it?

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Furniture tipping over can create a significant hazard in the home, particularly to young children, although the frail elderly and the disabled may also be disproportionately negatively impacted as well. Top quality furniture has always resisted tipping over as a result of use far more effectively than cheaper goods, because best manufacturing practices and materials create structure that builds this in to a large extent.

However, particularly since most people purchase mass market goods, much of which does not come anywhere near meeting these kinds of inherent quality standards, it’s important to read the press release below, and to be alert to the hazard, as well as to ways you can mitigate it.

In earthquake-prone areas such as California, it is particularly important to bolt taller pieces of furniture to the wall in order to prevent tip-over in an earthquake (although that still won’t help with the problem of poorly constructed drawers falling out). In an earthquake, all bets are off as to what will or will not tip over due to construction quality, and you’ve got to assume that everything will fall over. Securing tall pieces to the wall is just plain a good idea everywhere else, too, for the reasons outlined below, just on general principles, and is the reason this new voluntary standard has been developed.

In future posts, I’ll address the question of what to look for in furniture construction of various types of furniture in order to ensure you get the best possible quality, which contributes to safety, comfort, usability, durability, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness, as well as pure pleasure and enjoyment.

Please click on the posts feed button on the top right side of this blog’s home page if you’d like to subscribe to this blog to be automatically notified about any new posts, and on the comments button if you want to follow the comments.

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(05/18/2009) AHFA Will Use Consumer Website to Help Educate Parents About Furniture Tip-Over Hazards
By: Jackie Hirschhaut, 336/881-1016

HIGH POINT, N.C. – ASTM International has released a revised furniture tip-over standard requiring manufacturers to include a “tip restraint” with each chest, door chest and dresser taller than 30 inches.

“Tip restraints attach the piece of furniture to an interior wall, framing or other support to help prevent the piece from tipping over,” explains American Home Furnishings Alliance Vice President Bill Perdue, who served as co-chair of the furniture safety subcommittee that worked on the revised standard. “Furnishings that comply with the new standard also will carry a new warning label that cautions parents not to open more than one drawer at a time, not to place televisions or other heavy objects on the top of the product, and not to allow children to climb on drawers.” (more…)

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Cricket looking more disgruntled than she really was at the time

Cricket looking more disgruntled than she really was at the time

I’m sitting here with Cricket on my lap, my boyfriend’s cat who’s “on loan” for a few days, since I volunteered to cat sit while he’s out of town. It’s been a few years since I had a kitty of my own in the house, my beloved old Standard Poodle Fennel

Fennel

Fennel (RB) at "summer camp" - where I used to board him when I traveled.

died last fall, and I’m still hunting for my next puppy, so I’ve been completely petless for a little while now – for the first time in 18 years. It’s really weird. Although I live about half time with Cricket and her daddy, it’s really not the same as having one of my own, in my own home all the time. So, while I really miss my guy, I’m really enjoying having Cricket here, and as I deal with the fur and litter box, I’m reminded of all of the fun – and the hassles – of pet ownership – including the implications for interior design.

Anyone who has ever had a pet knows that they pose a challenge to having and maintaining a beautiful home, even when they’re very well trained. Accidents and messes are just a part of life with an animal in the house, which includes vomiting, tracking dirt in, and anything from occasional incontinence to outright bad behavior making them soil anywhere they want, as well as other issues such as cats scratching the furniture, climbing the drapes, etc. The soiling issues also get worse as the pet ages, or if it develops health problems.

People often ask me how they can still have a nice home when they share it with pets, so here are some thoughts.

PREVENTION FIRST

No matter what materials you choose for your home, your first line of defense is obviously to make sure that Fido or Garfield are well-trained so that they do their business where they are supposed to, and use scratching posts, climbing towers designed for the purpose, and their own chewtoys instead of the furniture and drapes to exercise their natural instincts to chew, climb, and scratch. Keeping the critters off of the furniture altogether will help preserve it, but for most people these days, that’s not an option, and you still have to deal with the floors anyways.

Regular bathing and grooming of your pet will also keep it clean and prevent shedding, which will help immensely with maintaining the cleanliness of your home.

WHAT’S UNDERFOOT?

(more…)

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As reported on March 5, 2009 in my post entitled ” Chinese Drywall Corrosion Problems Proliferate in US ” Chinese-made drywall is causing all kinds of problems in new homes in multiple states.

It turns out that the problem is even worse than I previously realized. Not only are metal building elements and electrical elements affected and the home permeated by the nauseating sulfur-like or acid-type smell, but appliances are failing at a particularly high rate, often in under a year – far faster than one would ever normally expect. Silver jewelry and tableware may tarnish quickly, and mirrors are turning black. Even computers and Xboxes are needing replacement or new motherboards quickly.

This stuff is also causing a wide assortment of health problems as well – headaches, nosebleeds, upper respiratory tract infections, etc., which are often only better when the residents are away from home.

The full story is on the Consumer Reports website.

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Please join us and forward this invitation:


Green Science Policy Institute Symposium: The Fire Retardant Dilemma
Fridays, May 8, and September 25, 2009, 8:30am – 4:00pm
150 University Hall, UC Berkeley, 2199 Addison Street, Berkeley

o Susan D. Shaw, director, Marine Environmental Research Institute (MERI), Blue Hill, Maine, Bioaccumulation and Health Risks of PBDEs and PFCs in Marine Mammals: Are We Running out of Time?
o Dr. Richard Murphy: Director of Science and Education, Holly S. Lohuis: Education/Research Associate, Ocean Futures Society Fireproof Killer Whales – J. M. Cousteau alerts the public to PBDE contamination
You can see their findings of PBDEs in Killer Whales on April 22 on PBS
Jean-Michel Cousteau Ocean Adventures
April 8 Sea Ghosts (Beluga Whales), April 22 Call of the Killer Whale
o Donna Mensching, DVM, University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine The ABCs and PBDEs of Feline Hyperthyroidism: Current Findings on a New Epidemic
o Kris Senecal, Research Biologist, US Army Natick Soldier Center, Protecting our Troops from Fire Injuries as well as Fire Retardants
o Carl Cranor, UC Irvine Toxic Torts: Science, Law and the Possibility of Justice

Panel Discussions:
o Can hyperthyroid disease in cats and health problems in marine mammals be related to exposure to fire retardants or other chemicals?
o How can we protect marine mammals, our troops, our pets and our families from halogenated flame retardants and other persistent organic pollutants?

This symposium series brings together contributors from industry, government, academia, and citizens groups to share information on fire retardant materials and policies and how to protect human and environmental health by reducing toxics in consumer products. This session will be focused on health impacts in marine mammals and cats and will also have a speaker on legal aspects of the issue and another from the army, where the fire retardants are needed to protect our troops.


For questions or to register for the session : FRDilemma@gmail.com or 510 644 3164.
Previous speakers at: http://greensciencepolicy.org/?page_id= <http://greensciencepolicy.org/?page_id=10>

Kind regards,
Arlene

Arlene Blum PhD
Arlene@arleneblum.com
Visiting Scholar, Chemistry
University of California, Berkeley
Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute
Telephone: 510 644-3164 Mobile: 510 919-6363
Web: www <http://http://www.greensciencepolicy.org/> .greensciencepolicy.org <http://http://www.greensciencepolicy.org/> , http://www.arleneblum.com <http://http://www.arleneblum.com/>

The Green Science Policy Institute provides unbiased scientific information to government, industry, and non-governmental organizations to facilitate more informed decision-making about chemicals used in consumer products in order to protect health and environment world-wide.

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Many building materials and products used in interiors, including the foams used in furniture construction, are required by the building code to be treated with fire retardant chemicals – even those products used in the residential environment. In addition, many fabrics are required to be treated with these chemicals, including clothing and bed linens, and all textiles used in the commercial environment.

There is a tremendous and growing body of evidence that these chemicals accumulate in the body and cause a number of major medical problems including cancers and neurological, reproductive, thyroid, and developmental problems, as well as genetic mutations. Studies have shown that many marine mammals and household pets are dying as a result of the accumulation of these chemicals, and children in particular are becoming seriously ill as a result – many more than would likely die in the fires these products are intended to mitigate. It is inevitable that many of the increasing medical problems that we are all experiencing in this day and age are a result of these widespread practices as well.

Obviously, this is a major public health issue of incalculable proportions that affects not only people living today, but will affect future generations because of the genetic mutations and impossibility of getting rid of these chemicals. And yet, because these products are actually required by the building codes, we either cannot buy products for buildings or interiors without these chemicals already impregnated, or we as designers and architects must actually actively and deliberately specify them separately.

Yes, we are actually required by law to use products in your homes and businesses that are known to put the health and safety of every person who ever enters a building at clear and obvious risk every single day.

This is particularly ironic in light of the arguments that ASID and other pro-legislation groups are putting forth about how designers who go through their mandated educational, experience, and testing pathway are specially trained to protect the health and safety of the public, how this particular training pathway is necessary for us to know how to do that, and how no one who doesn’t have this particular cocktail of experiences could possibly know anything about protecting the public. This is one of their primary arguments for why interior designers should be licensed – but they are obviously basing the requirements on “knowledge” and codes that actually cause considerably more harm to people and the environment than it could ever prevent!

And what’s more, the harm resulting from these chemicals is happening even without them burning. Once they do ignite in a fire (and eventually, they will still burn), then even more toxic chemicals are released into the environment. All burning materials do this, but when you burn nasties like these compounds, you get even more and nastier gasses released into the air.

I wonder how many interior designers actually know anything at all about these issues, especially those who do have professional training? I know that I was certainly never taught about them in design school at either of the two prominent schools that I attended. Sure, they taught us about the codes requiring these chemicals and testing procedures, but definitely not about the hazards inherent in them (or how the tests for flammability don’t actually translate to real life conditions and are therefore themselves invalid as predictors of safety, but that’s a topic for a separate post).

And needless to say, this sure as heck isn’t a very green practice, either – and yet we are required to even apply these toxic chemicals to the most green of materials.

Please read the article below from the Green Science Policy Institute website for more details. (more…)

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Move over, Japan; these Dutch designers may give you a run for your money in the department of joinery without screws or glue.

The innovative new office of Amsterdam ad agency Nothing was designed by Alrik Koudenburg and Joost van Bleiswijk using nothing (hah!) but interlocking pieces of reinforced cardboard – 500 square meters of it, and 1,500 separate pieces. That’s it. No glue, no screws, no tape, staples, etc. Just interlocking parts, like a giant custom-made Tinkertoy set.

The detail is amazing. Look how much it looks like actual steel beam construction.

Talk about green – and an incredibly economical way to fit out a new space.

I wonder how well those desk and table surfaces will hold up, though, especially once someone inevitably spills coffee or food on them. Maybe they’ve been treated with some kind of sealant – hopefully a green one.

Photos by Joachim Baan – more available here.

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