Green Redesign

Adirondack chairs made from recycled plastic sit side by side on the front lawn… Photo: Loll Designs

Great home style isn't about having the newest, most expensive furnishings and accessories. Interior re-designers, or decorators who show homeowners how to reuse what they already own, combine fresh color and a little creativity to get a chic look that is also good for the environment.

“Redesign has always been green,” says Maru C. Willson, a certified interior re-design specialist and the owner of Room Outfitters in Oceanside, CA. “A lot of the favorite tips we do in one-day makeovers really speak to the green philosophy.”

Green building uses eco-friendly materials to build new spaces. Green design can be quite expensive, whereas green re-design is more affordable and good for the environment because repurposing materials keeps them out of the landfill. This approach to decorating creates a style that looks like it was put together over time, with furnishings and accessories that have greater personal significance because they've been part of your home for some time.

Green redesign means reclaiming pieces, including furnishings, art and accessories, from those hidden spaces in your home and bringing them to the forefront of a space's design.

How to Do a Green Redesign
There are a few key tips that re-designers use to do a home makeover. You can accomplish the biggest change simply by rearranging your furniture around an architectural feature or focal point, like a fireplace or picture window.

IRIS, an association of Interior Redesign Industry Specialists, recommends “shopping” in your own house and envisioning objects in different rooms. Take pictures off the walls and carry lighting and accessories from room to room. Look for unique pieces of furniture that aren't getting a lot of use and move them into the family room or bedroom where they can be appreciated. For example, a stack of antique boxes can be reused as accent tables.

Tables can be created out of almost anything. Fashion one from found objects around the house, such as on oversized planter, and add a glass top to use as a coffee table or an accent table. A beautiful log from the backyard can also make a practical table base. “You don't have to have a lodge style to have a table like that,” Willson says. “Sometimes it's the surprise element that brings green to your current style.”

Create artwork from unexpected elements. Someone who is passionate about bicycling, for example, could hang a bike from a hook on a wall above the sofa, an instant conversation piece. Someone who enjoys baking as a hobby might take a cast-iron antique mandoline tray, frame it in wood, and hang it in the kitchen as a decorative accent. “A lot of styles can integrate these elements as a surprise element or focal point,” Willson says.

Reusing fabrics is a clever way to make soft decorative accents. A family quilt can be repurposed as a window treatment by finishing it with grommets and slipping it onto a curtain rod. Clothing set aside for donations might be used for pillows. Solid sweaters can be sewn into knit pillows that resemble those seen at West Elm and Pottery Barn. Eveningwear made of velvet, lace, or silk makes dressy pillows for the master bedroom. “My sister had 20 to 30 designer suits that no longer fit and, in hindsight, those fabrics could be turned into beautiful pillows,” Willson says.

Design a stylish slipcover for an ottoman by draping a tablecloth over the piece, tucking and folding in the loose edges, and using a staple gun to attach the cloth to the base, says Christy Furukawa, an interior designer and owner of Christy 4 Home Styling in Agoura Hills, CA. Give new life to table runners by using them on a fireplace mantle as a backdrop for accessories. You can also drape them over sofas and chairs to add color and pattern.

Another key to environmentally friendly design is paring down. The concept “less is more” is a hard one for many homeowners, according to Anna Jacoby, owner of Anna Jacoby Interiors in Fremont, CA. “Most people don't have the wrong things, they have plenty of things,” she says. “People should do a careful editing of their belongings to showcase them in a more aesthetically pleasing way.” A rule of thumb is to accessorize with one statement piece instead of 20 smaller knickknacks.

Improve Indoor Air Quality
Paint is an easy way to update the look of your home without a big investment in money or time. Interior re-designers say it takes just a minimal cost for supplies and a little effort to easily paint a room or put a fresh coat of paint on cabinets in a day.

As you look at paint chips, however, it's important to also consider how the paint you use affects the air quality of your home. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the air inside a home is, on average, two to five times more polluted than the air outside. Paint is a large contributing factor to poor indoor air quality and can emit harmful chemicals, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), for years after application and pollute the air breathed indoors.

The VOCs found in some paints can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and eye and throat irritation. You can avoid these symptoms by spending a bit more on low-odor, zero- or low-VOC paints, which are healthier for your family and pets.

There are many no- and low-VOC paints on the market today that roll or brush on like regular latex paint. Some widely available brands include Freshaire, Mythic, and Sherwin-Williams Harmony paint.

Tips for New Purchases
Sometimes it is necessary to update your interior decor and accessories with new purchases. Furnishings and surfaces may get shabby or beyond repair, and outdated accessories may call for a fresh replacement.

If you do have to buy a new accessory or piece of furniture, make it something durable that you will want to hang on to for a long time. Handcrafted items, particularly made by local artists, make interesting focal points for any space. Choose elements crafted from renewable natural materials, such as organic cotton or bamboo, which renews itself in just three years. If possible, opt for items that can be sourced and made locally, reducing your carbon footprint on the environment.

Cover floors in eco-friendly materials like sustainable wood and ceramic tile. If you are a lover of traditional hardwood or bamboo floors, choose lumber that comes from sustainably managed forests. Dozens of types of wood are produced in FSC-certified forests in which the trees are regenerated, biodiversity is conserved and air and water quality are preserved. Visit the Forest Certification Resource Center web site to find woods that are sourced by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Several manufacturers now make ceramic tiles using recycled post-production waste, making them logical eco-conscious choices for your home. Shaw, Mohawk, Crossville, and Daltile all make ceramic tile that include recycled materials.

If you need to buy new furniture, be sure that what you purchase is durable and multitasking. You can purchase a sofa for a few hundred dollars, but odds are it will end up in a landfill after a few years. Your best bet is to purchase a well-crafted wood piece covered in high-quality fabrics that will last through years of living and cleanings.

Redesigning your spaces can be an efficient and effective way to update your home's decor. By cleverly reusing your favorite furnishings and accessories; or purchasing durable, eco-friendly replacements; you can reduce landfill waste and stretch your decorating budget.