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Green Interior Design - It's Nothing New
April 7, 2010  | 
Because I specialize in sustainable design, I regularly receive calls and emails from vendors claiming that their furniture and building products are “green.” Unfortunately, these claims are often only partially true, especially when it comes to home furnishings. For instance, a chest of drawers that is made of bamboo can contain added urea formaldehyde and glues and finishes that are relatively high in VOCs. While I am able to evaluate these claims, most people buying furniture (and, for that matter, most interior decorators) are not.

One of the best ways to “go green” with interior design is often overlooked. Design that stands the test of time eliminates the need to replace things, and even if the original owner’s circumstances or desires change, classic furniture can always find another good home.

Antiques are particularly “green.” since by definition they are being reused and very unlikely to off-gas harmful chemicals. Glues, finishes, etc. only give off VOCs for a certain period of time, and even when antiques are refinished, the materials used are normally less toxic than the finishes in much new furniture.

Antique and semi-antique carpets are made of natural fiber using vegetable dyes, so they are a healthier alternative to newer floor coverings. But people with severe allergies are often better off avoiding all textile floor coverings.

Because antiques retain their value, there’s little chance of them ever winding up in landfill. They also lend themselves to different uses. For instance, in these rooms sugar bowls and creamers are used as vases, vases and candlesticks have been turned into lamps, and an antique print has been incorporated into a coffee table.

Although “organic” and “green” are not necessarily synonymous, natural materials such as cotton, linen, silk and wool normally have fewer harmful additives than synthetics. And when natural materials such as those used in these rooms are finally disposed of, they decompose rather than remaining in landfill for many years.

Building elements that are classic in design are inherently green, because they never go out of style. For instance, in the living room photograph it’s difficult to tell that I designed the mantle and bookcases, since their classic Georgian style has been popular for hundreds of years. I believe that architectural details such as these are less likely to be removed when a home is sold than modern, trendy additions would be.

Furnishing our homes as prior generations did, with lovely things that can last more than one lifetime, is actually more sustainable behavior than buying anything that claims to be “the latest and greatest in green design.”

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