What My Grandparents Taught Me About Sustainable Design…

My Grandparents on their wedding day

I’m writing this in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all others who stand up for what they believe.

My father’s parents weren’t particularly “green”.  Although they were fairly frugal, as so many of their generation were, they loved to keep their thermostat set at about 72° F (22.2° C) all year long.  The A/C was on constantly in the summer, and the heater blasted away day and night in the winter.  They wore polyester clothes, drank a Coke every day at lunch, drove huge gas guzzling cars (again with the A/C blasting), and generally didn’t think much more about the environment than that there should be one.  So how did they teach me anything about sustainable design?

The short answer is, nothing – and everything.  The long answer is this… Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on Red Dresses, Blue Nails, and Beige Sofas

If you haven’t heard about the explosion of interest in big, flouncy red dresses in the last few days, read this and then come back here….

Did you read the whole thing?  Good, because I think The Bloggess has touched on something really important.

Namely, we have to indulge ourselves from time to time with something that is true to our nature, no matter how ridiculous or silly others may find it to be.  For me it was painting my nails a bright, sparkly blue – just in time to have my photo session for new publicity shots.  Three hours of me, posing like a (not terribly good) model, all with a celestial blue manicure.  I almost talked myself out of it beforehand, reasoning that it might look a bit to silly for someone of my age (which my son always tells me is 29 – bless his wonderful soul!), and instead I should stick to a more conservative “arty” color like beige or gray.  But then I realized that silly is really who I am, so why hide it?

Really, why should any of us hide it?  Why should any of us live with beige nails if we feel like having blue ones instead.  Or buy a beige sofa because a red one just seems like such a commitment, even though it’s always been your dream?

And that’s the trick to all of this when it comes to our homes.  It has to be your dream – an expression of who you are deep down.  Although the purchase can be impulsive, the desire has to live inside you for a long time.  That is how you know you won’t regret it, because it is who you really are.

So what is your “red sofa”?  What is the thing you really wish you had the guts to do, but haven’t taken that leap of faith yet?

Steve Jobs and the Role of Visionary Design

So much has been said already, so I will be brief.

The world is full of amazing innovators.  People who look at a problem and create a brand new solution.  People who find a way to make something we want cheaper so more of us can have one.  People who take us where we want to go.

Steve Jobs wasn’t one of them.

Steve Jobs was a much rarer person.  He was a visionary.  A person who took us places we didn’t even know we wanted to go until we got there. The kid in the crow’s nest, seeing farther into the horizon than anyone manning the decks below could.  He saw what was possible, and helped us to set our sails to get there.

The future of design, and indeed the future of mankind itself, will rest on encouraging those rare visionaries to take us to new places.  Let’s be sure to encourage those people who think a little outside the box, or maybe even a lot outside the box.  Sure they may get it wrong from time to time – everyone does – but when they get it right, when they see what’s ahead for us before we do, they can bring us to a new world full of possibilities.

RIP Steve Jobs.  You are missed.



Thoughts on the Banca Familiar

Oh dear!

I’ve seen this interesting looking willow wood bench, the Banca Familiar by designer Valentín Garal, on a few design blogs now, including at least one focused on sustainability. As attractive as the design is, and is well-intentioned as I believe the designer to be, there are some real design flaws with this concept.

Before I sound out my concerns, you should know just a little background on me. My very first paying job out of high school was working at a pet shop. A pet shop with lots of birds that I personally took care of.  I’m telling you this so you will believe me when I say you should NEVER house parakeets in a wooden cage. Those little suckers will chew on wood like a dog gnawing on a bone!

In addition, although people have been given plenty of space on this bench, the birdcage is a bit cramped from side to side. That means any small bird kept in the cage will likely be miserable when people sit next to it to give the birds “tender care”. In other words, this bench was definitely designed with people in mind and not the birds.

So what do you think? Am I being a bit too picky in picking apart this otherwise lovely looking design, or is the fact that the birdcage component is impractical render the entire idea unsustainable and unusable?

FSC = Forest Stewardship Council (= Sustainable Forestry)

“Who cares about the forest?” I do! I do!

Oh, and so does FSC, as you can see in this wonderful video for FSC Canada done by Franke James.


Who cares about the Forest? from Franke James on Vimeo.

Family Tradition is Green Design – Lonny Magazine

First off – the new December issue of Lonny Magazine is out today!  Gorgeous!!!

All images via Lonny Magazine

I have to say, the photography and interiors only get better as time goes by.  Love the pink and turquoise hues shown throughout the issue.  Wait, did I just say I love pink???  Ah well.

image by Patrick Cline

Although all the features are wonderful to look at, there was one article in particular I’d love everyone to read.  Read the rest of this entry »

What the Past Teaches Us About the Future

While out and about this weekend, I came across this…

It had that wonderful, musty smell of an old book, so I knew it would probably find it’s way into my library.  Indeed, when I cracked it open, I found it was published in 1948, AND it had some color plates too.  SOLD!

However, once I got home and had a chance to look through my new found treasure, I quickly realized that there was a reason why no one ever talks about wanting to do their home in a 1940′s style – there really isn’t one!  In fact, although the book has copious images where the “colonial” or “modern” features of a room are pointed out, most people today would be hard pressed to recognize any of the rooms as being specifically from the 40′s.

So how does that relate to sustainable interior design? Read the rest of this entry »

Alifair – UDesign Project Winner

I thought this new chair design was fun.

Image via Interior Design Magazine

All the more so because it was the winning entry, by Savannah College of Art & Design student Ryland Quillen, for the Project UDesign “eco-friendly” furniture contest, sponsored in part by Century Furniture, a company that has taken many measures to make their products more sustainable, including FSC certified frames and low-VOC finishes.  I think it’s wonderful that, not only did this student receive a $1,000 prize, but more importantly, he will have his chair added to Century Furniture’s line, and receive a substantial commission off every unit sold.  That is a terrific accomplishment, and a great way to kick start a new career.

All that being said, I wish the other cosponsors of the contest weren’t Cargill’s brand of “soy foam” (a product that is really no more sustainable than regular foam), and Toray’s Ultrasuede.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to see a chair like this made in a truly sustainable fashion?  With bio-degradable, “stuffing”, free of chemical fire retardents?  And what about natural fiber fabrics?   Maybe next year…

For a really in depth analysis of why soy foam and Ultrasuede are poor choices for sustainable design, please read this excellent article by O Ecotextiles.  They say it better than I ever could – and with a lot more scientific data!

If I Had a Billion Dollars…

… I would not build this.

image via Archinect

But India’s richest man, multi-billionaire Mukesh Ambani, did.   He shares this 37,000 square foot “home” with his wife, three children and his mother.  Oh, and a staff of 600!

Now, the obvious gripes would be about the buildings “aesthetic”, or the incredibly wasteful use of space, or just the lavishness of so much money used for one family when so many go hungry within sight of this building.  But rich people will always spend ridiculous sums of money on themselves, and lavish homes eventually become public property, because there are only so many people on earth that have the income to maintain them.

My gripe has to do with why someone, in a country with such a rich heritage of art, culture and craft, wouldn’t employ thousands of local craftsman to create a work of lasting architectural beauty, instead of this generically ugly high rise. Think of the boon to the local economy, the patronage of the arts, the gift to the country’s future that this home could have been.

What do you think?  If you spent a billion dollars on a “house”, where would you put the money?

What Michael Kors Taught Me About Green Design

So I was in New York for the last three days, and silly me, I thought I would be able to blog while I was there.  As you can tell from the crickets that have been chirping on my site all week, I was wrong.  Lesson learned.

Another lesson learned?  We in the sustainable design community need to stop promoting what we do like it was orthopedic shoes.  You know what I mean.  “This product is so much better for you”.  “If you don’t want to be hobbling around in 20 years, you need to do what we say.”  “Yes, it may be a bit more expensive, and not very stylish, but it’s the right thing to do”.   I say phooey…

and it’s thanks to Michael Kors, and this pair of kick-ass, black gladiator sandals. Read the rest of this entry »