Photograph: Neil Landino, Jr.
Above: A sisal area rug is the natural choice.
Susan Macleod’s on a mission to help her clients create beautiful yet sustainable interiors that are hypoallergenic. After the Rowayton-based interior designer suffered an allergic reaction to a rug she installed in her own home, she did some research and was shocked to discover that everyday items like furniture, paints, carpeting and fabrics may contain volatile organic compounds. These VOCs can emit harmful vapors into the air and over time may cause long-term health problems including asthma and other serious illnesses. “There needs to be transparency in the furniture supply chain, which will help reduce harmful chemicals used in manufacturing and provide consumers with more environmentally safe furnishings,” says MacLeod, who recently received her certification as a Green Accredited Professional from the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC sustainablefurnishings.org). The designer explains that eco-friendly interiors are becoming more accessible as manufacturers move toward more environmentally friendly production and clients become committed to a healthier home. “The future is about consumers knowing how products are made, where they come from, and investing in furniture that will last a lifetime.” Whether you’re renovating your home or building from the ground up, here are six easy ways to make your haven safe and environmentally sound.
The future is about consumers knowing how products are made, where they come from, and investing in furniture that will last a lifetime.
1. SHEETS AND BEDDING
Being eco-conscious doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Start small by choosing natural, hypoallergenic organic sheets and bedding. When buying a mattress, choose one made of an eco-friendly foam or wool (a natural fire retardant), and check that it has an organic cotton covering. “Mattresses are often filled with toxic chemicals including flame retardants, formaldehyde and cotton pesticides, all which contribute to harmful VOC emissions,” says MacLeod.
When refinishing floors, avoid toxic oil-based stains. MacLeod likes using Monocoat, a plant-based, VOC-free wood-floor stain with great durability and over forty color choices. “Many stains contain the toxic chemical polyurethane,” she says. If you’re replacing your floors, make sure they’re nontoxic, eco-friendly, and sustainably harvested, reclaimed or recycled. This will ensure you’re not contributing to deforestation, a global crisis. “Your choices really can make a difference,” she says.
Because harmful chemicals are used to grow both natural fibers and create synthetic ones, textile production accounts for more toxic waste pollution of water than any other industry. “Linen is my first choice of fabric, given its beautiful look, easy cultivation and low environmental impact because it uses very little water in production,” she says. Wool, organic cotton or recycled polyester are other good choices for fabric by the yard, and companies like Kravet, a member of the SFC, have a gorgeous selection.
When purchasing new furnishings ask, “What’s it made of?” Look for wood that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), or opt for reclaimed material, recycled fiber and water-based wood finishes. Manufacturers like Lee Industries and Mitchell Gold are members of the SFC and make safe furnishings. Their sofa frames are earth-friendly; they use water-based biodegradable glue; and their furniture is free of fire-retardant chemicals. As far as cushion fillings, look for ones filled with wool or a nontoxic flame retardant. MacLeod also recommends repurposing furnishings, either by reupholstering or repainting. “Vintage finds and antiques are back in vogue, and recycling furniture is a great way to be eco-conscious,” she says.
5. PAINTS AND WALL COVERINGS
Go for low-VOC paints (usually listed on the label) and wall coverings that are free from harmful solvents. “I recommend Farrow & Ball and Benjamin Moore’s Aura or Natura lines of paint for their depth of color and their commitment to being environmentally conscious,” says MacLeod. For wall coverings, she likes Phillip Jeffries grass cloths, which are made of bamboo, arrowroot, sisal and jute. These plants are easily replenished within the environment.