Eco-Friendly Decorating Ideas
Smart, simple ways to make your decorating healthier for you and the environment.
Being environmentally-friendly in my home is too expensive. Going green is just a fad. Eco-friendly style is just plain ugly.
Chances are you've thought about decorating green, but one of these stereotypes stopped you. It turns out that believing these myths can be harmful to your health. "There's so much in our homes that's not good for us," says green architect/designer Michelle Kaufmann, founder and chairman of Michelle Kaufmann Designs. New home smells are actually toxic; mold inside walls can cause migraines and other health issues; and carpet can off-gas formaldehyde which is known to cause respiratory irritation and even cancer.
"But the good news is that we're becoming aware of these things," says Kaufmann, "As we become aware — and as there are options out there — it's just a matter of making choices." Choose to decorate with real sustainability in mind — using less energy, less water and less non-renewable resources while still beautifying your home. Here's why green design is affordable, beautiful and here to stay.
Not all green design is pricey.
"I'm so tired of the green stuff that is so expensive," says Kaufmann. "It sends the message, 'green is for the wealthy'. That's so not right. Green is for everyone!" Consider places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. For a modern take on old accessories, Kaufmann picks up shapely items at these stores and spray paints them white.
- Choose home decor that's recycled, reused, will last a long time and require very little maintenance. Zem Joaquin, green blogger at Ecofabulous.com, designed her 1950s home in an eco-friendly fashion with the cradle-to-cradle concept: what comes out of the earth, has to go back to the earth.
- Urbanites will have more success locating eco-friendly or green stores such as VivaTerra or Branch Home, but because most eco-friendly stores are still local, call your local U.S. Green Building Council office or local building department to find them.
You can decorate green and still match your style.
No matter your style, there are ways to get greener interiors without turning your home into a forest. "A really good eco-design is a design that you never have to explain," Joaquin says. If you like Shabby Chic and you need a new dining room table, "don't just think that the only choices are going to the store and buying one," Kaufmann says. Buy a table base kit and visit local wood salvage yards for reclaimed lumber to use as a top.
For any style, Kaufmann has a simple way to make your home more energy efficient. Create a water wall with colorful Mason jars on a window that gets a lot of sunlight (preferably west-facing). The water absorbs the heat during the day, keeping the house cooler, and releases it at night. Clear glass jars filled with food-coloring dyed water is another way to make the water wall playfully decorative.
By going green, you'll know what your home is made of.
Nutrition labels let us know exactly what's in our food. Wouldn't you like to know exactly what's in the materials we use in our homes? "We don't even think about it," Kaufmann says, "when in fact it impacts us to a great extent as much as food does, because we're breathing in whatever these materials are off-gassing," like formaldehyde from carpet.
For those with wall-to-wall carpeting, if it's wool and you like it, keep it. Otherwise, Greg Snowden, owner of the Green Fusion Design Center, advises it's best to use modular carpet tiles. Several eco-friendly companies, like FLOR and Shaw Carpet, offer stylish carpet squares that use non-toxic dyes and are made from recycled materials. "Carpet squares are a huge eco-improvement, because they're modular," Snowden says. "When you're done with it, you can ship it back to the manufacturer to recycle." Plus, these squares involve little labor; they are easy to lay down by yourself and don't need support from toxic padding.
Eco-friendly decorating has incentives — like tax breaks.
If you make eco-friendly improvements to your home, reporting these on your yearly taxes can earn you a tax break. But after remodeling, what should you do with all those materials you ripped out? Rather than taking them to the landfill, contact The ReUse People (www.thereusepeople.org). They check over your refuse for reusable parts, which will be shipped to their warehouse for distribution to organizations like Habitat for Humanity — while you get another tax write-off.
(Contributions to this article from Jenny Jedeikin)