Going green: Sustainable decor has come a long way

Special to The TribuneSeptember 12, 2012 

  • SUSTAINABILITY TIPS FROM HEATHER TISSUE

    WHAT IS VOC? Pressed wood products, adhesives, and many finishes (such as paints and varnishes) contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which may give off gas in varying amounts over time. Some sources release pollutants more or less continuously, including building materials, furnishings and commonly overlooked household products like air fresheners.

    LOG ON One of Tissue’s favorite design websites is www.houzz.com. It allows you to browse by style or type of space, or search by color, material, or product name. It will put together a gallery of room images along with product information. It’s a great way to find inspiration at the start of a project, or to finetune your material choices.

    GET YOUR FIBER Natural fibers are a hot trend and a simple way to add warmth, texture and interest to a space. Give any room an updated look with window or wall coverings made from sustainable grasses or bamboo.

This monthly feature focuses on local interior designers and their ideas for choosing color schemes, furniture, art and an overall design style or scheme. Today we focus on Heather Tissue who has a fine arts degree, a master’s degree in arts administration and studies in environmental management. After a varied career and a stint in Cuesta College’s Interior Design program, she launched her own business in 2005 specializing in color consulting and sustainable design. Since 2010, she’s been part of the Green Goods team in sales and design.

Heather Tissue, designer for Green Goods in San Luis Obispo, believes that living in a more eco-friendly home has perks beyond helping the Earth.

“The most common motivator is healthy indoor air quality,” she noted, adding that parents have grown especially conscious of children’s exposure to gases released by household products and materials.

Going green can also be economical — not just when recycling and repurposing, but even when buying new.

“When you use environmentally preferable products, you’re also using very durable, high-quality materials that last a lifetime and are, in the long run, more cost-effective,” she explained.

Many green materials are tailor-made for do-it-yourself installation — a big cost-saver if you’re willing to do the extra work. Many hardwood, bamboo, cork and linoleum floors now have simple click-together mechanisms. Decorative clay wall plasters are easy to apply once you get the technique down. Recycled glass tiles can be installed by most, with a little preparation. And, of course, paints with no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) allow even the most fume-sensitive to slick on a new wall color by themselves.

As with any product, manufacturers of green materials produce a spectrum of goods ranging from high-end to low-end, giving the consumer options in pricing. And for every big ticket option, there’s usually a more affordable alternative. For instance, Green Goods carries Vetrazzo concrete countertops made with recycled bottle glass that can come with a hefty price tag. It also offers countertops made from sustainably harvested bamboo that are significantly more affordable.

Sustainable products also come in an ever-expanding array of looks. Anyone with visions of a green interior as either stark and modern or exceptionally rustic hasn’t examined the range of styles now available.

“Any look, any design style can be achieved using sustainable materials,” Tissue said. “The green is in the details, in the sourcing of raw materials, the manufacturing process, the packaging and transportation of the products.”

For instance, if you are building a Mediterranean-style kitchen, you could opt for Saltillo floor tiles that are made in California from locally sourced concrete and left to dry in the sun rather than fired in a kiln.

You could buy cabinets that are built locally to minimize transportation. You can go the extra step to ensure that the wood is Forestry Stewardship Council-certified and assembled with no added urea formaldehyde (NAUF) glues and adhesives.

“Formaldehyde is a sensitizing agent that can cause an immune system response upon initial expo sure. It is also a cancer hazard,” said Tissue, who noted that exposure can trigger immediate responses such as irritation of the eyes and nose. Long-term exposure to low levels can result in respiratory problems and skin irritation.

To suit a range of tastes, many green products have become stealthy imposters. Cork flooring used to look, well, like cork. It was available in sheets that were glued to the floor. Now, cork comes in a variety of styles and colors that mimic hardwood and stone. There is even cork mosaic tile for bathrooms, floors, walls and countertops.

Purchasing reclaimed items is easier than ever these days with a diverse array of vintage and salvaged goods on the market. Recycled content is found in everything from carpets derived from PET plastic bottles, to tile made from recycled clay left over from the manufacturing process.

Vintage and consignment shops are plentiful, offering furniture, accents and old architectural elements in a range of styles. Salvaged wood is now commonly used for furniture, flooring and trim. Green Goods has even built kitchen cabinets for clients out of reclaimed maraschino cherry vats that are tinged red from the brine.

“Repurposed materials are appealing not just because they are visually recognizable as green, but because they have a history, a heritage,” Tissue said. “I love to tell about the provenance of my Claro walnut dining room table that came from boards milled from a 100-year-old tree that was felled when Highway 101 bypassed Cloverdale, California.”

With the “green” label now used on everything from mattresses to laundry detergents, it’s tough to know what is truly healthy and sustainable. The truth is, there is a spectrum of green products and it’s up to the consumer to decide what elements are most important to them. Because green labeling is largely self-monitored by manufacturers, Tissue recommends researching products or finding a reputable vendor who has already done the work for you. You can also look for third party independent certification labeling such as SCS, FSC, Greenguard, Energy Star, and Green Label Plus.

Some might argue that any kind of building or remodeling is inherently not eco-friendly. But Tissue believes that even the most ambitious product can have a minimal impact on the Earth.

“When you remodel with Green Goods, everything we take out of your house that can be recycled or repurposed will be. Old cabinets and appliances get put on Craigslist. Old flooring gets pulled out and installed somewhere else or used for trim,” she said. “There won’t be a Dumpster in front of your house at all.”

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