Tuesday, May 29, 2007

First, the Inspiration

As I near the end of this wonderful project, I realize just what a journey this has been. Since I was trained in publishing and marketing, I can’t help but do a mental de-brief. So the next few postings will be in sharing those methodologies and systems that provided the necessary organization helped to ensure the success of this project. I apologize if some of my recommendations and observations are obvious and elementary, but I’ve come to appreciate that it is rare that a project of this magnitude gets delivered on schedule. Ok, we are 2 weeks late, but that’s because we made quite a few alterations along the way that expanded and enhanced the final outcome.

I have to first commend my partner in all this, Cemil Hope. He’s the dream contractor who also fills in as architect, design partner, project foreman and teacher. This was really a journey for the two of us.

Because I had done many renovations before, I decided to forego the help of a professional team (architect, designers, specialists). As a result Cemil and I had to communicate often and well. We created many systems of tracking and communing that kept us together and informed.

First, we had to establish the look and feel of the end product. I collected, edited through, and generated lots of tear sheets to demonstrate my desires for each room. These were culled to the winners and became the basis for what were trying to achieve. They got posted on black art boards and became basis for my inspirations boards. I added samples of the materials I chose as I went along.

Also called mood boards, concept boards, storyboards, the concept is the same: they are the visuals that helps keep the materials integrated with the original concept.

Now that it is 6 months later, these boards are a little worse for wear, but they helped to keep everyone on track and allowed me to show vendors what materials would work with the overall room design. Often times, these boards are provided for you by your design team, but I think doing them yourself at the outset of a project is very empowering and ensures that your aesthetic is being met.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Trashy Story

I was catching up on some reading the other day and came across a very interesting visual from www.plentymag.com. They used a picture of a trash can to highlight the statistics on the amount of trash we produce every year. That stats:

• 236 million tons of trash a year. 1,640 pounds of waste per person, per year

• 35% of trash is paper

• 12% plastics

• 3.6% furniture and furnishings

• 3.1% clothing and footwear

• 1.2% consumer electronics

**Sources: Jan.2007 issue of Plenty Magazine and EPA http://www.epa.gov/msw/facts.htm

It got me thinking about a documentary short called Recycled Life (www.recycledlifedoc.com) I had recently seen at the Sonoma film festival about the thousands of families living in Central America’s largest garbage dump in Guatemala City. The movie is heart wrenching because of the generations who have made their home and living sorting through the trash that people throw away.

As Americans, we seem to think that we have the land mass and thus the right to dump whatever we want into it. Well, there are plenty of examples as to why that thinking is shortsighted and downright idiotic. Were we a smaller country we might have the same issues that were highlighted in Recycled Life. Frankly, if we continue to produce the amount of waste that the EPA reports, we too will have a similar crisis as many other countries are dealing with today.

Conservation, recycling and economical use of materials is the answer. It’s not hard to figure out. Every single person plays a role. A friend of mine who is a senior executive at Georgia Pacific told me of a group of some of the larger retailers who have formed a group to institute changes in the amount of packaging that is produced. I applaud their efforts and look forward to what they come up with.

I was aghast at some packaging offenders by green companies. I’ve already talked about DriTac (see A Cautionary Tale on April 10) in an earlier post; the adhesive came packages as if it were Faberge eggs. I’m disappointed by various CFL bulbs that are secured in plastic so that it takes a good 3-4 minutes to get them open. There’s got to be a better way!

On the plus side, I just received a “green” PC from the folks at Zonbu (www.zonbu.com) and the first thing I noted was the sensible packaging. It arrived in perfect condition and the packaging was cardboard as you can see from the photo. More later on this interesting approach to reducing the amount of waste and energy use from consumer electronics.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Green Furniture that's Long on Style

It’s not a home until you fill the rooms. What fun to be able to choose from some of these wonderful designs that are green and sustainable. In the past, green furniture meant pieces made from burl wood and bamboo. But as some of these designs show, you can satisfy any style, any aesthetic.

El-Furniture is created by Jill Salisbury in Illinois. Barbara Barry (www.barbarabarryco.com) has nothing on the pieces that Jill produces as evidenced by this photo here. www.el-furniture.com

Arper is an Italian company and their innovation and design captures the Italian essence that we have come to appreciate in clothes and leather goods. www.arper.com

Acronym Designs is headquartered in Kansas City and there’s no lack of sophistication in the sustainable furniture that comes from this company. See for yourself at www.acronymdesigns.com.

Anthony Brozna is a Virginia-based eco designer with a great eye. His pieces are very appropriate for all styles and aesthetics. See the sample piece here. www.bronzawoodworking.com

Mebel is based in San Francisco but most of the production for these beautiful pieces is done in Connecticut. A fabulous modern aesthetic with great originality. I love their Mondrian inspired screen.www.mebelfurniture.com

Gore Design is a green design studio in Tempe Arizona and they do beautiful work. You get a sense of their style and voice from their website. You get a sense of their sophistication and the work they turn out is lovely, as you can see from this example. www.goredesignco.com

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

If Only......

The wonderful thing about the developing category of green design is that everyday a new and exciting product is introduced to the marketplace. So it is inevitable that before my house is done, I would have come across some things that make me wish I could turn back the clock. Oh well, there is always the next project to try these out in.

Some of my new favorites:

Barkskin is a lovely wall covering that can also be used for lampshades. It’s literally “bark” that does look like skin. It comes in may colors and configurations…. As many as there are trees. www.barkskin.com. See room photo at right.

Caesarstone is another wonderful quartz surface material that has as many uses as granite . It’s amazingly hard and looks a lot like my favorite countertop material that I did use www.eurostonecountertops.com. See it here at www.caesarstone.com. It also reminds me of another favorite, www.coveringsetc.com.

Bohemian Stone Works takes concrete countertops to a unique and natural level. The end result is a really wonderful, natural look: www.bohemianstoneworks.com.

Slatescape is another “fiber cement” product that is quite sophisticated in its final state. Its uses are varied and very much like real stone www.americanfibercement.com.

takes concrete to artistic levels as the fireplace photo to the right demonstrates. www.syndecrete.com

Icestone is an interesting product that is very similar to Vetrazzo (www.counterproduction.com). The color variations are many and it’s got a very nice feel. Makes a wonderful countertop in kitchen or bath. www.icestone.biz

Side note….. see the coordinating knobs at www.janicepeacock.com.

They make sinks, countertops, lighting, these guys do it all. I particularly love some of their sconces fabricated from recycled metal. See photo of light and sink www.eleekinc.com.

Sonoma Cast Stone is right in my back yard and I think they do a fabulous job with concrete. They manage to produce fabulous sinks, pavers, furniture, tiles, surrounds. Just looking at their portfolio gives me so many ideas. www.sonomastone.com

Livinglass. A friend of mine, Richard Silver, just discovered this product at HD EXPO in Las Vegas last week. He knows how much I love the 3-Form glass product and liked how I used it in this renovation. These guys take it to a new sphere. I am impressed! www.livinglass.com

Floor Gres is an Italian company and they know how to work with stone in all its permutations. Again, this stone product is very much like the Eurostone that I used and has as many applications as stone. Check it out at www.floorgres.it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Wood That Could

Among the termite damage that we discovered was a portion of the fence that surrounds my property. This portion of the fence is the oldest and we share it with an older neighbor who hasn’t spent any money to maintain her home so while other portions of the fence had been updated, this section has probably been up for over 20 years. So it isn’t surprising that many of the supporting posts were riddled with termites.

Cemil had his team pull out the posts and take off the boards. What we did discover is that some of the old redwood boards are in good shape and quite lovely. Once planed, they can be reused. And so they will. We are going to create a pool equipment enclosure and having these nice old redwood boards will give the new construction and old feel so that the “new” pool house will blend in nicely with my older, weathered outdoor teak furniture.

The learning…..even old wood can be renewed and reused and make a beautiful and cost efficient addition.

When Any Old Door Won’t Do!

Ok, so I was not an integral part of the decision-making that went into getting new doors into place. I only knew that the old ones were warped and always had to be held open by doorstops. Cemil chose the doors and he made sure they were not your usual Douglas Fur. Rather, they are MDF and are of 97% recycled material. Formaldehyde free, of course. And they are now up and ready for painting. I can vouch for their being solid and attractive. And they are green too!

I have to put in a plug for Truitt & White for anyone in the bay area of San Francisco who is looking for a building supply partner. They are able to offer lots of advice and their green knowledge and product experience grows daily. (www.truittandwhite.com).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Green Shopping in London


Of all the stores that I happened on in my quest for sustainable and organic products, I have to say that I really enjoyed a small antiques store on New King's Road at Waterford (Fulham Broeadway tube stop) that reupholsters settees, chaises and fainting couches in the most delightful fabrics. The store had about 6 on display and the owner says that he scours tag sales and restores them on a regular basis.


Summerill & Bishop Kitchen Shop for their wonderful collection of interesting houseware products and many are vintage pieces. (www.summerillandbishop.com).

Books for Cooks (www.booksforcooks.com)
not only has just about any cookbook that you could want but they also have an area in the back of the store for the chef/owners and store enthusiasts to gather and sample what’s baking in the oven that day. I felt guilty about tearing a shop person away from her tea and pastry in order to ring me up.

Channels furniture design has innovative designs and many are from sustainable woods. (www.channelsdesign.com)

Borough Market is a Saturday morning must. Its collection of artisanal foods and organic products is impressive. I'm told that you can regularly spot most of England's new chef stars here. For me, it rivaled San Francisco's famous Ferry Plaza Market. Go hungry and buy picnic food. (take London Bridge tube stop)

Around London Town

Now that I have recovered from the airplane croup that is inevitable on very long flights these days, I can get back to recording my observations. Also to helping Cemil with the finishing touches on the house. We are 3 weeks away from completion and this is where the beauty of green finishes will become evident. But I tease you, as that will be the next blog.

A side note, I heartily recommend No Jet-Lag, a homeopathic remedy. This was the I first time I used it and I did much better than my boyfriend who depended upon his prescription on Ambien. (www.nojetlag.com)

I wanted to share several more interesting observations that came from my week in London doing green discovery.

Love it:

Noticed that they are using more and more “wooden” disposable cutlery than plastic. I think they are so much more compelling and given that they are generally made from “leftover” pieces of veneer, they are easier on the planet than all that plastic stuff.

Recycled glass dishes that were made in Spain at a store in Notting Hill called Ceramica Blue (www.ceramicablue.co.uk). I found similar ones from www.vivaterra.com. Sadly there was a fabulous copper colored one in London that I can’t find at Viva Terra.


I had read that some interesting design is beginning to happen in Brick Lane (the main artery of what has been called “Banglatown” in London’s east end). I did find some wonderful quirky boutiques, many of vintage clothing, original jewelry, and some groovy home furnishing stores. I also discovered a wonderful organic restaurant, Story Deli, where I had a delightful flatbread. I particularly like their innovative ways for storage in a very small space. They had these interesting stools made of heavy waxed paper that also doubled as storage bins under the “tops.” They told me that they were available at a shop in the area but it is only open on weekends. I’ve included a photo, as they would be easy to replicate.


A friend of mine from San Francisco introduced me to Nina Campbell, a world famous designer (www.ninacampbell.com). So since Nina is based in London, I rang her up to see if we could get together. Well, she generously invited me around to her new home off Fulham Road and hosted a luncheon with some of her friends. It turns out that she has a great deal of interest in green design and invited several of her designer friends to view a presentation I pulled together of some of my favorite products. The group included Susan Crewe, editor of English House and Garden and John Lees, a local architect who has been doing green work for sometime (www.leeassociates.com). I enjoyed meeting these “tastemakers” and hope that I was able to contribute in some small way to their considering more green products in their work.

I promise to share my some of my picks with you in later blogs.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

London State of Mind

I have been offline because I spent a week in London exploring the state of “greenness” in the design community here. And I’m pleased to report that, in typical British style, they are doing an amazing job of catching up and will, no doubt, surpass the U.S. in embracing sustainability. While it is true that America is at its best when we really invest and focus on innovation. But, sadly, we are not so adept at changing our lifestyles or thinking beyond our own borders.

Global warming is an undisputed reality, despite what holdouts like Rush Limbaugh and fringe, Exxon-Mobil supported “experts” from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (see article in May "green" issue of Vanity Fair).

Happily, a quick survey of the British papers (from the Guardian to the Daily Telegraph) all seem to be equally concerned about what British citizens and the government need to do to stem the inevitable consequences of the destructive tide that we are facing if we don’t act as a global community now.

The U.S. seems, as is often the case, to be debating the various merits of options. As a result, the debate is stifling real progress. This crisis calls for more of a concerted effort than Americans are generally comfortable with. That doesn’t seem to be the case for the Brits. In spite of this enthusiasm I have for the emerging UK focus, they still have to play catch-up but I am very confident that they will get on with what needs to be done.

An interesting time to be in the UK on a quest for eco-friendly activities:

•The London marathon was held and it was one of the hottest on records. The newspaper headlines reported how difficult it was for the runners and predicted that the continued “unseasonable” heat is going to be difficult for the country, citing the expected steamy underground environments and preparing for passengers who are likely to be overcome by very “sweltering” temps.

Expectation: 117 plus degrees and stockpiling of water for travelers

•Designer Anya Hindmarch and Saintsbury experienced unexpected enthusiasm for limited edition reusable grocery bags that sported a motto, “I’m not a plastic bag” and sold for 5 pounds. Consumers lined up at 3:00 a.m. to get one of the 20,000 limited edition bags and were reported to already be selling on e-bay for 175 pounds.

Result: Saintsbury announces a monthly “make a difference day” in which similar PR stunts will be revealed. Communities and stores around the country announce the banning of plastic bags and consumers will now have to pay for carrier bags.

•Ineffective recycling efforts are being reviewed. Currently the concern for terrorists has resulted in the removal of bins for trash and recycling in tube stations and in many public areas. As a result, recycling has taken a back seat. However, the press seemed to be reporting on ways to return a focus on making recycling easier and more available. I have no doubt that they will have solutions by summer’s end.

Observation: Unlike the US, where we have plenty of land to “dump our trash,” all of London’s, for example, is put on barges and send down the Thames to Essex where available land mass is limited. So it’s imperative that England get serious about the amount of trash they produce. It’s not an option for them as they don’t have the land that we do in the U.S.

•Attitudes seem to be more open to eco-solutions than I’ve noticed in the U.S. In my informal and very unscientific interviews of various shop owners and residents, I encountered less skepticism and more interest in my eco ideas than I’ve experienced in the U.S. outside of California. Maybe because this is a citizenry that has gotten used to taxes and mandates (such as the congestion tax for cars that enter London and is now being proposed for NYC) and rather than rail against them, they seem to almost accept it as a way of life. Libertarianism is not as deeply entrenched in the UK as in the U.S.

•Organic food is finally catching on in London. For the first time, I found evidence that England is making note of healthy eating. I was delighted by a visit to the Borough market on a Saturday that made me feel as if I was back at Ferry Plaza in San Francisco. Organic purveyors of meats, produce, breads, and juices were everywhere. As I wondered around Notting Hill, Chelsea, and even East Aldgate, I found wonderful little organic eating establishments. I happened on a Whole Foods and several British knock-offs, like Planet Organic and One Stop Fresh (www.onestopfresh.com)

Next Post: More on green design in the UK