Organic Spring

 

Many of us grew up playing on lawns years ago that were soft underfoot, cushioned our falls, and smelled delightfully grassy after mowing. They were different in several important ways from today’s lush green carpets, however. According to Chris Baliko, co-owner of Growing Solutions in Ridgefield, CT, they likely were a happy mixture of grass, crabgrass, dandelions, and clover. Perfect for their time, but less appreciated today.

 

 

People often prefer their lawns to be “golf course perfect,” a standard unheard of until marketing efforts from the chemical lawn care companies began to be widespread. “Before the 1940s to 1950s, the more clover you had in your lawn, the more prestigious looking your lawn was,” explains Chris. “Marketing helped to shift our perspective of what a beautiful lawn is.”

 

 

A lawn that is always richly green, without a weed in sight, is often the result of the frequent application of chemicals that present some environmental problems. Rain can cause nitrogen runoff into Long Island Sound and other waterways, encouraging algae bloom and seaweed growth. Algae and seaweed use up oxygen, killing fish.

Long Island Sound is an estuary, a mix of fresh and salt water, that is home to dozens of species of birds, 170 species of fish, and more than 1,200 species of invertebrates. Historically, it has supported fishing for lobster, oysters, blue crabs, scallops, striped bass, flounder, and blue fish. You can read more about the problem here.

 

 

I believe that a healthy home should be surrounded by a healthy garden. Chris Baliko has helped keep my property a pristine, but beautiful, oasis. His organic program supports a healthy ecosystem with less reliance on potentially harmful chemicals, as seen in the photo of my house, above. Here are his tips for a healthy, organic lawn:

 

1.Get a soil test.

You need to know what’s going on in the soil from a chemistry standpoint, says Chris. A soil test will measure your soil pH, as well as the calcium/magnesium ratio, and the nutrient composition, taking the guesswork out of fixing any problems. One thing that Chris warns about is liming your soil every spring and fall, without being aware of the alkalinity/acidity levels. “One client was liming every year, and had a lawn so alkaline we had to add sulphur to rebalance it,” explains Chris.

 

2. It’s not just about fertilizers. 

 

It’s not as simple as changing from synthetic fertilizers to organic ones. The soil also needs to be aerated, as compacted soil is not good for the grass root systems. Growing Solutions also recommends adding compost to build up the soil. “If you have good soil, you’ll have a healthy lawn,” says Chris.

 

3. Apply the right fertilizers.

 

Organic lawns companies are not supposed to put more than four pounds of nitrogen down for each 1,000 feet of lawn, although many commercial lawn care products have double or even triple that amount. That causes a lot of green growth on top, but a lot of that nitrogen goes to runoff, plus you have to mow more often.  An organic fertilizer has 10% or less nitrogen content. The other nutrients provide the strong root system your lawn needs to look its best.

 

4. Set your mower blades a little higher. 

 

Chris recommends grass to be cut at a height of 3-4 inches.  That height doesn’t stress the lawn as much, and it keeps the soil a little more shaded from the sun. Crabgrass and weeds like hot, dry soil. Cool, shaded soil offers less opportunity for weeds to grow.

 

5. Rethink weed control. 

 

Growing Solutions suggests using corn gluten products to control grab grass as a pre-emergent, as crab grass is the one of the only weeds Chris doesn’t find beneficial to the lawn. “My personal opinion about weeds is that they serve a purpose,” explains Chris. “Dandelions, for instance, have a deep tab root which helps to aerate the lawn, provides space for earthworms to travel, and acts as a conduit for other nutrients, bringing them up to a level where the grass roots can access them.”

In addition, dandelions are known to be the first food for bees in the spring, making them an important part of a thriving ecosystem.

 

Clover is also good, Chris says. “Clover takes nitrogen out of the air and delivers it to the soil in a usable form. Organic lawns are going to have weeds, perhaps 10-15% of the total lawn.” He emphasizes that we need to return to an earlier viewpoint of what a lawn should look like.

In addition, Growing Solutions brews their own “compost tea” and applies it to lawns to add essential micro-organisms. Although not a fungicide, it helps suppress fungal issues in the lawn.

6. Leave moss alone.

 

People often call to ask what can be done to remove moss, but Chris says the best thing to do is to keep it. It’s green all year round and doesn’t need fertilizing or mowing–the perfect compliment to grass!

 

7. Reduce the size of your lawn.

 

There’s nothing more high-maintenance than a lawn. Chris recommends creating more garden and planting beds, which helps to reduce runoff, offers food and shelter for birds and bees, and adds beauty to your property.

People love the look of a green expanse of grass, and it’s a delight for children to play on. There are ways to have a lawn and contribute to a healthy eco-system, too. It takes a little planning, and the right help.

You can reach Chris Baliko at Growing Solutions here, or search for an organic lawn care company in your area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Ode to New England

After touring Florida and the Carolinas a lot in the last few years, and trying to decide where to live ~ and our tax advisor letting the tax tail wag the dog, so to speak (as many of you know I was born in South Carolina and have family there) ~ we finally realized how much we love New England! It’s home.

Snow and ice welcome us home!

We love the change of seasons, and snow is a celebration of nature for us. So no one is complaining here! We’ve made our choice. We love all the changes and the beauty. One day when it was sunny with brilliantly clear, blue skies, and 63 degrees, I picked a snowdrop flower and brought it inside for my 93 year old dad. What a smile!

First snowdrops of the season!

For us, there is nothing like curling up next to the fireplace with a great book and watching the snow outside with our three little pooches. All cozy and protected.

Here I am with Frank, G.G., Tuffy, and Ellie

Our “green” home in East Norwalk was renovated by us with all non-toxic building materials and finishes ~ it took two years. The property hasn’t had a chemical or pesticide on it for over 22 years. That’s hard to replicate.

My Connecticut Home in Winter

Talk about stimulation! We’re only a one hour drive to Manhattan with all the culture, plays, some of the finest medical care in the country (we also like Cleveland Clinic), and incredible museums, not to mention the cuisine. Frank loves Arthur Avenue!

A New York City bakery!

This all feeds my soul, but we can retreat to Connecticut for peace and quiet and cleaner air.

My Connecticut Home in Summer

A winter vacation to a warm climate is always a treat, but we usually end up staying close to home with so much design work to do before getting our clients ready for their summer homes on Nantucket.

A window seat I created for a client to frame her view

Spring will be our next magical treat. The daffodils and croci are already pushing their way through the earth. God’s work. Renewal. I know it’s not for everyone, but New England is home for us. We’re grateful for all the beauty and excitement of nature–all 12 months of it.

A single crocus

Soon we’ll be back on Nantucket for the summer. Cooler temperatures and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We are only a block away from Madaket Harbor where Frank keeps his boat for fishing, clamming, and just plain being lazy.

Island evening

Plus, we have the Nantucket Whaling Museum (rated one of the top ten museums in the country), and all of the history of the island. I work on a committee for the Nantucket Historical Association and help with their fundraisers and often do design displays for them.

 

It’s a full life for a transplant from South Carolina. Did I ever tell you how one Fourth of July, I had to be medi-vacced off the island in a helicopter to Mass General for a gastric hemorrhage? Now that was a trip! All was fine in the end but I was there for two weeks. That’s part of the reason I don’t want to live on Nantucket full time, although we have so many wonderful friends there. Plus, I would miss Connecticut and New York City. Right now it seems as though we have the best of both worlds ~ for us, anyway.

Nantucket Harbor

Stay cool or warm, whichever you need right now. God bless you all!

My porch in Madaket on Nantucket

Fall in Love with Your Bedroom

Trudy Dujardin

“When I woke up this morning, my girlfriend asked me, ‘Did you sleep good?’ I said, ‘No, I made a few mistakes.'”–Stephen Wright, American Comic

It’s hard to seriously imagine making mistakes while you’re sleeping, but if you’re designing a bedroom, there are good and better choices for your lifelong health. During sleep, your body works to remove any toxins that you were exposed to during the day.  A beautiful, serene environment that soothes you at the end of your day is best when it also supports your health.

Sleep is the time for cellular repair, for rejuvenation, for restoration of energy and health for both body and mind.That’s why, more than any other room in the house, you want your bedroom to be a pristine environment. You may be surprised to learn that your bedroom can be a repository of potentially harmful chemicals. Conventional mattresses, for example, are made with petroleum-based polyester and polyurethane foam, then treated with flame retardants. Those chemicals can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that become part of the air you breathe.

Pillows are also often made of synthetic materials that are treated with chemical finishing agents. Other sources of possible chemical contamination: Carpets, wall paint, wood furniture, even your cotton pajamas. With everything else you have on your mind, you don’t need worries about the health of your bedroom to keep you up at night.

Fortunately, there are products available to ensure your rest is undisturbed by allergens, toxins, or chemical vapors. For my interior design clients, I recommend using natural furnishings and finishes free of formaldehyde, VOCs, and petroleum-based products. Here are a few simple steps you can take to ensure a healthful night’s sleep:

Choose low or no-VOC paints for your walls and wood trim. Paints can emit VOCs over a long period of time, so just airing out the room may not be sufficient.

Choose hardwood floors (easiest to clean), finish them with water-based sealants (one of my favorites is Basic Coatings), and finally, cover them with organic wool or cotton area rugs.

Select an organic mattress, made with natural latex, wool or organic cotton. Be sure your pillows are natural as well. You can find pillows filled with organic wool or natural latex foam, and covered with organic cotton. Non-organic cotton is a heavily-toxin laden fabric. Cotton is grown in fields soaked in insecticides; dyes and color fixers use heavy metals such as chromium, copper, and zinc.

When choosing wood furniture, consider eco-friendly wood products that are FSC-certified, a designation from the Forest Stewardship Council ensuring that the wood was grown and harvested in a way that protects forests for the long term. Antique furniture is beautiful, and has the added benefit of no longer emitting harmful gases from wood or finishes.

Clear the air by adding a room air-purifier, or go one step further and install a central filtration system. Models are available that filter particulates (pollen, dander, and mold) and vapors (formaldehyde).

Remember that a good night’s sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. If you follow even one of these suggestions, you’ll be taking a step forward in improving the health of yourself, your family, and the earth. After many years of devoting my work to sustainable design, my clients tell me they sleep easy. I want that for you as well.

My Christmas at Caprilands

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Photo courtesy of Caprilands Institute

Once upon a time, in the little town of Coventry, Connecticut, Christmas had a fairy godmother. Her name was Adelma Grenier Simmons. She’s gone now, but there were years when one of my most eagerly anticipated days during Advent was taking a drive with my dear friend Catherine Reischer to Adelma’s eighteenth century farmhouse, surrounded by fifty acres of fields and woods.

 

Herd of Sheeps and Goats on a mountain Road at Sunset

 

Adelma was the owner of the herb farm she named for the purebred milk goats once raised there–capra is Latin for goat. As time went by, she converted the rocky land to an herb farm, and her home became a cafe and visitor’s center. She was a bit of a character, almost like a diminutive white witch, a little rotund while standing only five feet tall, and always wearing a cap and a cape. Today, the farm she loved is in the process of being converted to a non-profit organization called Caprilands Institute, and is only open by appointment.

 

A Christmas Wreath on an old Farm Wagon

 

But years ago, December was the month to go visit if you loved Christmas. Adelma celebrated every part of what she called “the glorious Christmas season,” and studied to increase her knowledge of the legends, rituals, and plant lore that informed her elaborate decorations. She loved ceremony, and made a ritual out of “touching a flame to kindling and candles, and by fire and candlelight enjoying the pungent fragrance of fresh evergreens and rosemary.” She knew the stories behind the traditions she loved. She shared many of them in the dozens of books she wrote.

 

Dirt road and trees covered with snow after winter storm

 

Catherine and I made the long drive to Coventry into a celebration of our own. We sang Christmas carols as we drove through the countryside, sometimes even in snowstorms! Caprilands was a magical place to us. It was where I I learned to cook with herbs, inspired by Adelma’s delicious recipes served at the farmhouse luncheons and lectures. In December, I learned from Adelma that having a home beautifully decorated is a way of living life to the fullest. Like Adelma, I love to pull out all the stops, whether celebrating Christmas, Hannukah, New Year’s, or the Winter Solstice.

 

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There’s so much to do to prepare for our largest festival of the year, but I achieve my dreams by not trying to get it all done in one day. I plan for weeks in advance, and then do a little at a time to pull together the theme I’ve decided on. I know that elegance is in the details, and there was no detail too small to be overlooked at Caprilands.

 

different kinds of spices and dried oranges with christmas tree

 

One of my favorite things about the farmhouse was seeing each of the trees that Adelma decorated. Although the decorations varied from year to year, there were always six fragrant cedars, each trimmed differently for her celebration that lasted from Thanksgiving to the end of January. Her Harvest Tree was trimmed with fruit and included straw figures and a Swedish straw star to emphasize the harvest theme.

 

 

Zweige vom weihnachtsbaum geschmückt mit Christbaumkugeln, goldenen Schleifen und Lichterkette

Her Spice Tree was trimmed with pomanders and tiny bells.

 

Golden bell on the tree

She believed that evil spirits were frightened away by the sound of bells ringing, so bells were tied to the ends of the branches to disperse the evil spirits and invite the angels in.

 

Festive Christmas close up of tree decorated with gold glitter robin, tinsel and holly berries. Bokeh copy space.

 

A Bird Tree was decorated with dried sea-lavender and little birds. She thought of the Bird Tree as her “Peace” tree, so the decorations were more minimal. It was topped with a green and silver sequin star. Her Jesse Tree was decorated with cards and quotations that foretold the coming of the Christ child. along with red and gold paper roses, little harps and crowns, and a lamb and a dove.

 

Christmas decoration background with felt ornaments

 

Her Gilded Birch tree was for children, and was covered with felt and wood snowmen, doves, hearts and horses. She hung spice cookies and handmade candies for the children to take from the branches. And last, she created an Artemisia Tree, made by wrapping a wire frame with the stalks of Artemisia albula, requiring the sacrifice of at least twelve established plants.

 

Gypsophila (Baby's-breath flowers), light, airy masses of small white flowers. Shallow focus.

 

I was always inspired by Adelma’s dedication to creating magic for everyone who visited. One of my own favorite decorating ideas I borrowed from her is tucking small bouquets of fresh baby’s breath into the Christmas tree branches and along the mantel, to simulate a fresh snowfall. It’s the tiniest touches that bring this beautiful time of year to life, and I never overlook a single one.

 

corn soup with sliced bread on wooden board

 

Another takeaway from my time at Caprilands is the delicious Curried Corn Soup she served at her luncheons. It’s not for the diet-conscious, but it’s perfect for indulging yourself on a wintry December afternoon!

 

Curried Corn Soup

1 /4 lb. butter

1 tbsp curry powder

1 tsp powdered freeze-dried shallots

2 1-lb cans cream-style corn

1 1-lb can whole corn

2 cups cream, warmed

1/8 tsp ground rosemary

2 tbsp chopped chives

Melt butter in pan, add curry, stir until smooth. Add shallots, then corn, stirring slowly; then cream and rosemary. Garnish with chilves. (Evaporated milk or half and half may be substituted for cream). Serves 8

I hope I’ve inspired you with some of what’s inspired me. However you celebrate, Frank and I, along with G.G., Tuffy and Ellie, wish you a very Happy Holiday Season!

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Living Zestfully!

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It’s been a beautiful and busy summer for Dujardin Design Associates: new projects, co-chairing the Nantucket Historical Association’s Nantucket by Design Week and creating a Pop-Up Lounge Design, sponsoring the Walk for Autism on Nantucket, and feature articles in Review and ONLY Nantucket, Nantucket Today, and Aspire Design and Home! We just had enough time to catch our breath and we’re off to a fabulous fall! Here’s a peek at all we did this summer:

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August 2-7 was the Nantucket Historical Association’s Nantucket by Design Week. Dujardin Design Associates was one of four designers asked to create a Pop-Up Lounge Design. Here’s ours–we mixed contemporary and vintage with a classic navy and white color scheme. Perfectly Nantucket!

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On August 20th, we once again sponsored an event near and dear to my heart: The Walk for Autism Speaks. The Walk was especially poignant this year as it recalled the life and contributions of Autism Speaks co-founder Suzanne Wright, a longtime client and friend, and beloved Nantucket resident. Suzanne used her time on earth to break the silence around a disorder that affects 70 million children, teens, and adults every day. In doing so, she not only gave a voice to Autism Speaks, but she encouraged everyone in her path to take compassionate action as well. That’s a legacy I admire.

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Also this summer we saw a compilation of beautiful outdoor spaces created by Dujardin Design Associates in Nantucket Today’s July issue, in their feature article Pretty Porches: A Private Pleasure.   I’ve always said that the joy of a summer cottage is partly to be found in fresh sea breezes and sunshine in a clear blue sky, which is why I love creating what I consider outdoor living rooms. There is nothing more relaxing than a sheltered spot that has all the best of the indoors and outdoors combined, including furniture designed for comfort and the weather, tables to hold an al fresco lunch, and beautiful blooming plants to make you feel like you’re on vacation, even with work in your lap.

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Review and ONLY Nantucket was home to three Dujardin Design articles. In July, readers enjoyed my favorite Dujardin-designed island homes that celebrate the natural world and engage all of our senses in It’s Only Natural. I often remind my clients that because we are part of nature, not separate from it, our homes enhance our health and wellness when we rely on nature’s beauty in our interiors.

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In August, an article in Review titled Bringing the Garden In shared my tips for adding beauty in color, texture, and form through fresh flowers. Flowers connect us to nature, and add a touch of grace to our rooms. I like to keep a small vase of flowers on my desk to brighten my day as I work. My favorite bouquets have always been white, in any combination of flowers, but truly any blooms work: snowdrops in teacups, peonies in pitchers, and anything at all in blue and white Chinese export porcelain.

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Before the summer season on the island was over, For Love of Whales appeared, a celebration of all things whale on Nantucket. Whether used as a subtle backdrop or a dramatic focal point in homes ranging from traditional to contemporary and everything in between, artwork celebrating the whale is one of my favorite elements of design, and many of my clients agree! Included in the article are facts about how to help whales, still under siege today from commercial whaling, drifting nets cut loose from large fishing vessels, toxic chemicals entering the ocean through run-off, and loud noises created by sonar testing.

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Trudy Dujardin

And with the beginning of fall, Aspire Design and Home published a Dujardin-designed Manhattan Park Avenue apartment, aptly named Orange Zest, for its sophisticated neutral color palette of grays and whites enlivened with accents of Hermes orange. Built in 1912, the 3,500 square foot apartment feels more like a house, with two living rooms–one for the parents and the other for their teenage children–that open together in a remarkable light-filled space in a 52 foot enfilade. Aspire Magazine is on stands now–don’t miss this one!

Sand house made with his own hands Children

Summer 2016 was fabulous, as are my wonderful memories of so many Nantucket summers. We were blessed with interesting projects, great clients, fun collaborations, and opportunities to give back to the island community we love. Now it’s back to life in Connecticut, ready for a new season. Thanks for coming along on our trip through June, July, and August. Happy Fall!

 

 

 

Let the Sun Shine In!

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After a long, cool spring in the Northeast, the calendar–and the weather–have agreed that summer has finally arrived. Let’s throw open the windows and doors, and rethink the way we live at home. it’s easy to feel as F. Scott Fitzgerald did when he said, “I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

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Start with spring cleaning: To fully embrace the beauty of balmy breezes and abundant sunshine, we need to remove winter’s dry stuffy air from the house, and scrub the hidden spaces where dust collects. We don’t need to bring toxic cleaning products into our homes. It’s better to clean with baking soda, lemon juice, and vinegar, or else choose environmentally friendly products, rather than dousing our living space with chemicals.  I’ve written about how to Clean Green before: read more here. 

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Think about re-establishing order. Stacks of books and blankets left by the fireplace should be put back where they belong, and then you can recreate the room for a completely different experience. Once the room has become a blank slate again, bring out the things of summer! Bright colors and garden stools definitely belong inside.

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Add beauty and fragrance with fresh flowers. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, then you have a florist shop at your fingertips! Cut flowers early in the morning while the sun is still low in the sky and the dew has not yet dried. They’ll be fresher, and last longer. Immediately plunge the stems into a bucket of water, then put flowers or a flowering plant in every space you can, including the bathroom. Summer is a celebration of things that grow!

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The days of blocking our windows with heavy draperies are behind us. Make sure your windows are sparkling clean, then let the natural light pour in with minimal window treatments, or if you need the privacy, wooden blinds are a good choice. Simplicity is beautiful.

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Change your bedding from heavy down comforters and dark colors to light and white. Your spirits will be lifted each time you enter the room. Color affects our emotions in powerful ways.

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I love this room in my Nantucket fisherman’s cottage, decorated with vintage sand pails. Go ahead and celebrate what you loved about summer from your childhood, when the hours between sunrise and starlight seemed to last forever.

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Red, white, and blue always works in the summertime. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, let your patriotic flag fly.

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Don’t be afraid to have a little fun.

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Go nautical, and let your rooms remind you of  beaches, boats, and ocean breezes.

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The time it takes to change your home’s look to sunshine and summer shouldn’t be seen as work. Homes need to be loved, just as people do. By making your home a welcoming, bright and sunny space, you will effortlessly bring more laughter and joy into your life.

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So go ahead: let the sun shine in!

 

Creating an Oasis of Calm

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Good design is defined by the basics of scale, proportion, color, and contrast, among other considerations. To take the concept of a well-designed home one step further, though, is what I call my “tabula rasa,” the oasis of calm that envelopes us when we step inside our doors at the end of the day. Here are my thoughts on how to create that oasis, with simple ways to make your home welcoming, warm, and comfortable to live in.

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Repetition of design elements, such as the columns in this beautiful beachside home, mirror each other from room to room, and define a space. Repeated in subtle ways throughout a house, they are the details that subconsciously soothe with symmetry.

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In this New York City bedroom, the Greek Key is repeated in furniture, floor and bed linens, relaxing in its soft echoes.

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Simple ways to reduce clutter, such as window seats with drawers for storage underneath, keep a room open and serene. I often say that “the eye needs a place to rest.” So does the mind, and the body.

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Tradition is restful for many of us. Finding fine antique pieces to blend in with more contemporary furnishings is calming.

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Surrounding yourself with the things you love is an important way to make your home unique, and fill you with joy every time you enter a room. Billy Baldwin said, “Nothing is interesting unless it is personal.” I would suggest that your most personal treasures that truly express your essence will do so much to lift your spirits.

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Adding one stunning piece that is both eye-and heart-catching can be a singular focal point, another way to gracefully express your interests.

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The color palette that I turn to over and over again is white plus one color. There are so many whites to choose from: crisp white, cool greyed tones, soft blue hues, or rosy tints when the sunlight streams through the windows. It’s pleasing to the eye and the spirit.

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An invisible way to restore energy and help to clear your body of toxins you’ve come across during your busy day is by installing a good heat recovery ventilation system and a whole house air filtration system, for exchanging, filtering and conditioning indoor and outdoor air to lower VOCs.  Honeywell has some that I like that will work with your heating and cooling systems, and recover up to 80% of the heating and cooling energy. Choosing No-VOC paints and finishes keep our homes a haven where our families can enjoy good food, good company, and good health.

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At the very least, invest in a good bedroom air filter, as your liver detoxes during your sleep. Clean air is the best gift you can give yourself to feel your very best.

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Luxury and comfort are not mere indulgences in my mind. Bespoke bed linens, downy comforters, and lofty pillows all summon us to sleep in a place of refuge. An organic mattress filled with cotton and wool and made without chemicals, including fire retardants, is a good choice.

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Don’t forget the bathroom as a space for luxury and well-deserved pampering. Soft towels, natural shampoos and soaps free of irritating chemicals, and organic cotton pajamas waiting by the bath allow us to sink into a restful soak when the sun goes down. Take time for your own end-of-day rituals.

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Oscar Wilde wisely said: “I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex.”

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Make your home one of simple pleasures, and a place to savor the all-too-fleeting delights of summer. It’s the easiest path to finding peace of mind.

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Less is More

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My work as an interior designer has taught me how to edit. There is a world of beautiful colors, furniture, accessories, artwork and things that a designer can choose from. The process of saying yes to this and no to that is not very much different from how each of us must live our lives, choosing what to let in, and what, sometimes regretfully, to decline.

 

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When I’m at my Nantucket home in Madaket, I’m aware of editing my surroundings for function, comfort, and beauty. This is both a preference as well as a necessity, as my husband, Frank, and I have consciously chosen a beach cottage lifestyle there. We truly embrace the “less is more” experience after years of living in larger, grander homes.

 

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Our fisherman’s cottage by the sea is just the right size for the two of us, plus my dad, Bob, and our three darling Bichon Frises, G.G., Tuffy, and Ellie, who go everywhere with us. (With Bichons, more is definitely better.)

 

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Editing is a crucial responsibility of an interior designer no matter what the size of the home. A common mistake made by homeowners is to look at furniture, lamps, and artwork, and to see them individually, without considering the space around them. A credentialed interior designer, however, sees things differently. When I enter a room, I see a frame –the boundaries of a room, the positive space –space that is occupied, and negative space –where the eye can easily rest. Every room needs space for the eye to rest, but the question is where, and how best to use it.

 

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Rather than thinking of negative space as open space to be filled, negative space is integral to making a room interesting and alive. You can work with negative space when you group furniture together, or place a collection of objects on a shelf. My eye can see a rhythm between one item and the next, something not everyone can do. I often think that my training as a fine artist was critical to developing my interior design aesthetic.

 

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Juxtaposing one shape next to another creates one kind of negative space, as does placing items in symmetry versus asymmetry.

 

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Color is powerful, evoking emotions we are not always aware of when we enter a room. I love to use white plus one color, often hues from the sea. Blue, seafoam green, and pale shades from nature are soothing when used with white.

 

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What to place on a tabletop is another way to experience the power of less. Too many items can quickly become a cluttered mess that creates disharmony. Groups of items must be carefully considered for their impact on each other, especially when they are of disparate size or color.

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One of my professors impressed upon me the importance of saving something for the next room. You don’t need to show everything you know in one room. Excellent advice that I have used time and time again!

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Letting a room have space to breathe doesn’t always come easily, another reason an educated designer can be your home’s best friend. There are rooms that make us feel stressed and constrained, and rooms that make us feel expansive and relaxed. It can be difficult to see why each has the feeling it does, until you begin taking objects away.

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Suddenly, there is peace. And we can never have too much of that.

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Downton Design

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One of the real pleasures of watching movies and television, especially for an interior designer, is the careful attention that is paid to the sets, allowing us to be transported to another world. As Masterpiece Theatre’s Downton Abbey series draws to a close this month, we’ll say goodbye not only to the characters and their fictional lives in Edwardian England, but also to Highclere Castle, the real life Georgian Mansion that dates back, in its current form, to a renovation in 1838.

 

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Part of my fascination with the series and its setting is based on my respect for historical properties. I’ve restored antique homes and designed interiors for historic houses on Nantucket, and have taken meticulous care to be sure that irreplaceable historic treasures have been preserved. The first renovation I undertook was the Captain Parker House on Nantucket. It’s not Highclere Castle, but its original owner held a place among ship captain “royalty” in his own time.

 

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I’ve designed interiors for another renovated home on Nantucket, this one from the Edwardian era. One of my favorite things in this house is the servants’ call box on the wall in the kitchen, allowing the mysterious Mr. and Mrs. Dustin, long lost to time, to summon their servants when they wanted them.

 

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Not quite as large as Downton Abbey’s, but still a vestige of another era.

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A new book, Downton Abbey: A Celebration, The Official Companion to All Six Seasons, has just been published by St. Martin’s Press, and takes us on a journey through the house and estate. We have the pleasure of traveling from the Great Hall to the servant’s hall, bedrooms to boot room, getting a glimpse of some of the gorgeous architectural details and lovely furnishings that were used for the show–and are still in use by the current (8th) Earl and Countess of Carnavon, the castle’s owners, seen below.

 

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Come take a walk with me through some of my favorite rooms. The photographs were provided courtesy of St. Martin’s Press, and the fascinating details are from the book by Jessica Fellowes, the niece of show creator Julian Fellowes.

As a Downton Abbey set, the Library functions as Robert’s study during the day. As Country Life Magazine described it in 1959, “it is full of rich plumpness and masculine opulence.” This room was decorated by Thomas Allom, an English architect and illustrator, who created a perfect setting for the master of the house. The shelves are home to more than 5,600 books, some dating back to the 1500s. Robert has a ledger in which everyone must write down the book they are borrowing–this way, he makes sure they are returned. Servants in the house were invited to borrow books, too.

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This is also the room where the family gathers for tea, in the late afternoon. A footman is on hand to pour the tea and pass out slices of cake, especially to the children, who are brought by the nanny to see their parents here once a day.

 

Typical English Afternoon Tea.

 

The dining room is the heart of the formal lifestyle for both the Downton Abbey cast, and the residents of Highclere Castle over the generations. The room is dominated by an equestrian portrait of Charles I, by Sir Anthony van Dyck, a Flemish Baroque painter who was the leading artist of court portraits in the 17th century. According the book, Downton Abbey’s food stylist prepares at least seventy servings of the family dinner while the cast is filming over ten to twelve hours, to keep the food fresh. After each take, levels of wine in each glass, amount of food on the plates and the heights of the burning candles are checked for continuity. The table belongs to Highclere Castle, and can seat 18.

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Of course, before the Crawleys can appear in the dining room, everyone must dress for dinner. Cora’s bedroom is a copy of the blue Mercia bedroom at Highclere, with eighteenth century four poster bed and silk hangings. The colors in this room are light and on the pale side, reflecting Cora’s sweetly feminine nature. Her dressing table is set between two large windows, with an oval mirror and two small lamps, her ladies’ maid, Baxter attends to her needs every morning and evening. Ladies’ maids were expected to plan their mistress’s wardrobe, remove jewelry from the safe when it was to be worn, and in many cases, have complete control over the bedroom: their special domain.

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Mary’s bedroom is an exact reproduction of another room in Highclere, with a four-poster bed and dramatic red print wallpaper. The paint is Green Smoke, by Farrow & Ball, and is more austere than her mother’s. That’s not to say that it skimps on luxury, though. The bed is made up with ivory linen sheets, commissioned by the Downton Abbey art department to have the monograms of the Crawley family crest on them. The set directors are strict about how the beds are made: bottom sheet, top sheet, ribbon-edged blanket of cashmere wool, and then an eiderdown. During the day, there’s also a bedspread. In the evening, there’s a special way of turning the sheets back.

 

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Mary’s dressing table sits between windows, too, and has a three-leafed mirror, flowers, and a photograph of Matthew and Mary on their wedding day, along with a handheld mirror, porcelain boxes and trays for trinkets. In keeping with the tradition of the age, however, the room is decorated for the house, not for Mary. She has few personal items there. Women today may be surprised to find out how small a typical wardrobe was in the 1920s: the costume department keeps Mary’s wardrobe as it would have been historically–ten shirts, five suits, some evening dresses, and pointy shoes with chunky heels.

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The Earl and Countess of Carnavon have a wonderful website created especially for Highclere Castle, with an entire segment devoted to Downton Abbey, including a video about what it’s like to film there. The six seasons of Downton Abbey will remain a classic for those of us who have loved being invited in, but as Lady Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess says: “No guest should be admitted without the date of their departure being known.”

 

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So let’s just say our goodbyes here, shall we?

 

Chronicles of Downton Abbey

Photo of Violet courtesy of St. Martin’s Press

Photos of Highclere Castle and images from the Highclere Castle website are from www.highclerecastle.co.uk.Visit their website for information on tours, open days, and special events.  

Small Shifts Cause Large Waves: Paris 2015

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The 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21 (Conference of the Parties 21) is the twenty first meeting of what is now a near-universal membership of 195 countries. Begun in response to climate change at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the “Rio Convention” included the adoption of the UN Framework on Climate Change. That was the first framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. 

The COP meetings exist to review the Convention’s implementation. The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995. COP3 was where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, COP11 produced the Montreal Action Plan, COP17 was in Durban where the Green Climate Fund was created.

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Ed Mazria is the founder of Architecture 2030, an organization committed to protecting our global environment by using innovation to develop bold solutions to global warming. He has called COP21 in Paris “an end to the fossil fuel era.” The historic agreement signed there is a long term goal committing almost 200 countries, including the U.S., China, India and the EU nations, to keep the global average temperature increase to “well below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade.”

According to Ed, “the Paris Agreement introduces a new world, one that envisions an end to fossil fuel emissions and secures a strong mechanism to address climate change.”

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photo courtesy of Architecture2030.org

COP21 attracted nearly 50,000 participants, including 25,000 official delegates. Multiple forums were held on a variety of related topics. In addition, thousands of demonstrators were permitted to gather on December 12, in spite of France’s tightened security after the recent terrorist attacks. 

The following is a guest post by architect Veronica Schreibeis Smith, of Vera Iconica Architecture in Jackson, Wyoming. Veronica attended the Sustainable Energy for All Conference at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, held from November 30 to December 12, 2015. I asked her to share her thoughts here.         –Trudy

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photo courtesy of Architecture2030.org

We’ll begin with a few questions:

Q: Veronica, what part of the Paris Climate Conference did you attend?

A: I attended Sustainable Energy for All.

(Referred to as SE4all, “Sustainable Energy for All is a call for both revolution and reform; a radical vision where everyone can access and afford the reliable energy they need to live a productive, healthy, secure life, while respecting the planetary constraints that we all face as a result of climate change.” –Rachel Kyte, SE4All CEO/Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General)

Q: Why did you attend the Conference?

A: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Many times, our good intentions have unintended consequences. As the SE4All initiative focuses on powering the world, we need to simultaneously be working on initiatives that empower (people) to make the right decisions on how to use the energy once they receive it.

Buildings consume almost half the world’s power production. If we deliver power to exponentially more people, while only focusing on doubling the efficiency of the infrastructure and doubling the amount of of sustainable energy, we likely have not made a positive impact, but rather have continued on a track of more consumption.

My focus is how can we implement grass roots movements in Third World countries that educate people on how to have healthy and sustainable homes, and make healthy decisions for their families regarding consumption and preservation of culture, once they receive the energy.

To date, my role has been as a participant in think tank type of discussions to brainstorm what initiatives and actionable steps could be viable for making this come true.

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photo courtesy of SE4All.org

Q: What was your takeaway on the most actionable steps?

A: To get involved. Not just wait and see what others are going to do, but to donate your time or money; if you have an idea, to reach out to the United Nations Foundations and share (what) you want to put into practice and just need financing for; to promote and encourage yourself and others to get involved as a public + private relationship to make meaningful change.

What do you think were the key accomplishments?

A: For the Paris talks in general, the level of unprecedented participation from around the globe. There was a social media survey from the UN that was mostly electronic, but in some areas they had paper ballots hand-delivered to UN outposts, and tallied by staff there. For every one thousand humans on this planet, one person responded to the survey. That is 7 million people from around the world uniting to create change and a better life for a healthier planet. That alone is huge. Good will follow–in exponential increments!

From that survey, the UN defined the 17 top priorities for the 21st century. The top five are:

  1. Poverty
  2. No Hunger
  3. Good Health
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality

The movement asks all of us to become a global citizen. This video explains more:

Veronica continues:

  • Nature is integral to human wellbeing, and a shift in the realization of our interconnectedness to the environment is continually growing. We can see this vast change in only six short years since the unsuccessful climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. Last month, an unmistakeable belief in a successful outcome for the Paris Climate Talks was clear after the first week.

 

  • There is no doubt that alterations in timing and logistics played a part. Most notable was the change from the world leaders’ involvement as the negotiators in 2009 to their limited role as speakers and advocates early in the first week, followed by relinquishing final negotiations to environmental and policy professionals. The greatest contributing factor came from outside the closed doors, and even outside Paris.

 

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photo courtesy of United Nations Conference on Climate Change

  • The Earth to Paris movement reached an unprecedented number of people across the planet. The Internet allowed access for all, which diminished the chasm that has distanced us in the past, such as residing in a developed versus developing countries, age gaps, social and economic backgrounds, and more.

 

  • Thousands of videos hosted by celebrities grabbed our attention on social media, surveys invited us to express our opinions, and finally, the call for Love Letters to Paris invited our thoughts to be hand delivered to leaders behind those closed doors. And it worked.

 

 

  • What keeps me going back to the United Nations Foundation discussions is the focus on how public and private sectors can unite to transform ideas into reality, to move from talk to walk. We heard success stories from Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, examples of how companies like Phillips Petroleum are leaping toward carbon-free operations and incorporating holistic, circular economy strategies, and how start-ups are innovating solutions, such as Mobilsol, which delivers off-the-grid solar energy via drones in Africa.

 

  • A subtle shift in perspective and an increase in awareness, followed by one actionable step after another is the catalyst needed to inspire individuals, companies, and economies of scale to make meaningful change, toward better husbandry of the earth.

 

  • Small shifts in perspective can cause massive ripples. After all, thoughts are things, and the unification of humanity’s thoughts will certainly cause waves. A connected world is powerful. A united world is power. Join in the efforts. Do your part. You make a difference as a collective part of the whole.

 

Veronica

Veronica Schreibeis Smith is the CEO and Founding Principal of Vera Iconica Architecture. Veronica’s entrepreneurial half is driven by the vision of creating company structures that support and empower individuals to reach their highest potential, while the architect in her is driven to raise awareness of the profound effects our surroundings have on our wellbeing. She has practiced architecture on four continents, and continues working internationally. She chairs the Wellness Architecture Initiative for the Global Wellness Institute, and recently founded Designed Developments, a B Corporation that invests in a new model of building to inspire and perpetuate the celebration of the richness of culture, pay homage to the natural landscape,and create environments that nourish our wellbeing and feed our souls. 

 

The Story of Grace

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There are several definitions of “grace;” they range from a sense of propriety to charming behavior, from a divine virtue to a prayer before a meal. Grace can mean a musical trill, or an act of kindness. To me, Grace will always be my mother’s name, and the legacy she left me of living a life filled with light, and love.

 

A maxi coat wearing mother, taking her little girl to school, finds room under the yards of material to shelter both of them from the icy snow flurries in London, England on November 29, 1969. (Photo by Express/Getty Images)

 

I wrote about her final gift to me one Christmas long ago in a blog post called  Christmas with Grace.  I have the love-worn and gently aging quilt that she made with her own steadily weakening hands in her last months with us. It is one of my most treasured possessions. Because we said goodbye to her in December, this month always brings the most poignant memories flooding back to me, and sometimes, more magical opportunities to remember her.

 

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On a cold Christmas Eve several years ago, I needed some last minute items from the grocery store before they closed, and had quickly done my shopping. As I was hurrying to my car, I noticed an elderly woman standing alone, holding a bag. She looked like she was waiting for someone, and I hesitated before stopping at her side. I didn’t want to bother her, but I had a feeling that something was wrong.

 

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“Hello,” I said to her. “I noticed that you’re waiting here alone. Is everything all right? Can I be of any help?”

She looked at me, and now I could see the worry on her face. “Oh, everything’s fine,” she told me. “It’s just that I don’t drive anymore, and I had called for a cab, and it doesn’t seem to be coming. Maybe if I just wait a little longer…”

Snow was falling, beginning to accumulate on the sidewalk and parking lot. The roads were not in good shape, and surely would be getting worse.

“I’m heading home and would be happy to drive you,” I told her. “Do you live nearby?”

She nodded, and said, “Only a few blocks, but I can’t impose on you. I’m sure the cab will be here soon.”

I started to walk away, but I wasn’t at all sure the cab would arrive soon, or at all. I turned back toward her. “Please, it’s not an imposition–at all. Let me help you. I’d like to.”

She peered at the quiet street, watching the swirling snow, then finally said, “All right, then. If you’re sure…”

I helped her into the car and soon we were turning from one dark and slippery street onto another, until at last we reached a small home in an older neighborhood. There was a light left on over the front door, but the rest of the windows were dark. I hated to leave her there alone.

 

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“Can I help you in with your bag?” I asked her. “I can help you get the lights on before I go.”

Suddenly I could see alarm in her eyes. She was an elderly woman, living alone, and she didn’t know me. She stammered nervously, reaching for the door handle. “Oh, no no no, I can do it myself. Really. I appreciate your help so much, but I’ll be fine–”

I knew she was anxious, so I didn’t press her. She gathered her things and had one foot out the door when I said, “Wait–I don’t know your name!”

She looked at me, and smiled. “Grace. It’s Grace.”

The walkway was white with snow, and she took her time on her way to the door. I remained in the driveway with my headlights on until I saw her safely inside.

 

Surprise!!

 

Grace. Her name was Grace. I turned on the radio, just as “O, Holy Night,” began to play. It was a peaceful night, and I felt warmth spreading from my heart all throughout my body, as if I were being held by someone, as if I were being embraced.

There are mysteries in life, things I can’t always understand, and things I can’t explain. But there are other things that I feel with a sureness that defies any logic that might explain away what I know to be true in the world:

We all have angels of our better nature, and angels by our side on earth who are our friends and family, just like the family I had waiting at home for me that night. And sometimes, there are angels around us who we feel rather than see. For me, there will always be one angel in particular who I am reminded of each Christmas.

Her name is Grace.

 

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Saving Our Antiquities

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Our world is blessed with the awe-inspiring remains of ancient civilizations, cultures,  and ways of worship from centuries in the past. Although natural disasters, acid rain, and the ravages of time threaten some of them, others have been destroyed or are in peril due to human violence and wars.

Ruin in ancient greek town Hierapolis, Turkey

Ruin in ancient greek town Hierapolis, Turkey

If you’ve ever watched the movie The Monuments Men, you know the true story of a platoon in World War II, racing to save priceless artwork stolen by the Nazi’s. The idea of saving our cultural history and artifacts in times of war is not a new one, but the danger to some of the world’s most stunning Heritage Sites is reaching emergency levels of concern today.

Ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof train station in Berlin, Germany in 2013.

Ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof train station in Berlin, Germany in 2013.

In what the United Nations is calling “war crimes,” ISIS fighters are attacking archaeological sites throughout Iraq and Syria with sledgehammers, power tools, and bombs. They are deliberately seeking out areas of cultural history, and systematically destroying them. Among others, they have targeted the Mosul Museum, Iraq’s second largest museum of antiquities, that was in the process of being rebuilt after being damaged in the 2003 Iraq War. Fortunately, many of that museum’s artifacts had been safely moved to the The Baghdad Museum for safekeeping, although there were roughly 300 rare pieces remaining. Thousands of books and rare manuscripts were burned from the Mosul Library.

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karl stephenson

ISIS has also bulldozed the ancient ruins in the nearby city of Nimrud. Nimrud was a city in the Assyrian kingdom, which flourished between 900 and 612 B.C. E. An unnamed fighter was quoted by CNN as saying, “These antiquities and idols…were from people in past centuries and were worshiped instead of God. When God Almighty orders us to destroy these statues, idols and antiquities, we must do it, even if they’re worth billions of dollars.”

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In March of 2015, the United Nations issued a statement saying that neighboring Syria’s “rich tapestry of cultural heritage is being ripped to shreds.”

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Sadly, ISIS has demolished the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria. In May, 2015, the world watched while the extremist group threatened to destroy it. Built 2,000 years ago, its columns and pilasters were reduced to rubble. Satellite images have confirmed its destruction, along with the Roman-era Temple of Bel and three ancient funeral towers nearby.

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The Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra, Syria, no longer exists.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization, charged with “building peace,” has denounced the demolition of irreplaceable antiquities as “a form of cultural cleansing.” Their Unite4Heritage campaign was launched to protect the world’s treasures from extremists.

Temple of Bel

The Temple of Bel (also known as the Temple of Baal) has been destroyed. 

In addition, UNESCO has teamed with The Institute for Digital Archaeology (a joint venture between Harvard and Oxford Universities) to launch the Million Image Database Program. The organization hopes to distribute 5,000 3-D cameras in conflict zones around the world, allowing people to document important structures. If the sites are destroyed, they can perhaps one day be replicated.

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UNESCO has  a new website where you can learn about the global movement to safeguard cultural heritage and diversity worldwide. Unite4Heritage is encouraging everyone get involved in the following seven ways:

Post support to social media: Use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to tell the world what cultural heritage means to you. Take photos of your favorite heritage sites and cultures and explain why they matter.

Explore heritage in your local communityFind World Heritage sites nearby, or visit your area’s cultural institutions and explore the role of cultural heritage. (There are 23 sites in the United States, including many in national parks.)

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Organize a #Unite4Heritage eventStand in solidarity with heritage under attack around the world. Invite heritage sites, museums and cultural institutions in your area to participate, and work with local media to cover the event.

Let your government know why heritage mattersAct as a #Unite4Heritage ambassador in your community by contacting your legislative representatives. Let them know why our heritage must be safeguarded for future generations.

Volunteer to safeguard heritage: Get in touch with heritage sites in your area to see how you can assist in safeguarding them.

Yosemite National Park, Wyoming, USA

Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Donate to the Heritage Emergency Fund: The fund contributes to the protection of natural and cultural heritage from disasters and conflicts by preparing for and responding to emergencies.

Stay up to date on campaign newsFollow Unite4Heritage on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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I believe in The Power of One. We can each make a difference! Let’s not give up our cultural memories without a fight.

Tell the Good Stories

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There’s a wonderful quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

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I felt doubly blessed after reading those words, because I’m convinced that what makes me come alive is also just what the world needs. I recently had the privilege of attending two multi-day conferences–The Nantucket Project, on Nantucket Island in September, and The Design Futures Council’s  (DFC) Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design in Dallas, Texas in October.

The speakers were among the most renowned politicians, business leaders, philanthropists and artists in the world. The topics they spoke on were self-selected, and reflected their deepest beliefs and best work.  It’s easy to become discouraged when we focus on the world’s problems, but it’s also possible to focus on solutions. Pete Seeger once said: “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”

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At both conferences, I was completely captivated by the number of intelligent, thoughtful, creative and dynamic thought-leaders and life-changers on this planet, and the optimistic stories they told. I was uplifted, inspired, and re-invigorated in my desire to keep spreading the word about sustainable design. I want to do everything I can to help make the earth a cleaner, healthier place to raise our children and grandchildren, and take good care of our elders, too!

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The Nantucket Project bills itself as a convener of thinkers and ideas, a think tank and an academy of learners. If you believe in being a lifelong learner, as I do, then I hope you’ll attend one of their annual island gatherings. Steve Wozniak was there, from Apple Computer, Inc., and Ben Carson, a Republican presidential candidate. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s always good to be exposed to the thoughts and ideas of people on the public stage.

nantucket projectBen Carson

Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for ten years, spoke on the Africa Governance Initiative, designed to challenge the African continent with needed reform and reduce poverty. Neil Young introduced the concept of PonoMusic, bringing high resolution music to music lovers around the world.

After that experience, I couldn’t imagine anything that could compare to what I had just seen and heard, or that any other event could match that one for integrity. But then I headed southwest, to Dallas, and to the Design Futures Council’s Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design.

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The first Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design was held on Nantucket, 14 years ago. I had long had the desire to to have an “awareness-raising” conference for architects, landscapers, designers and contractors, to provide a platform for knowledge and understanding for an environmentally-conscious built environment. My friend and colleague Jim Cramer was the first to make that conference a reality by supporting it with his following in the Design Futures Council.

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I am deeply gratified to have been a part of this movement from the very beginning. At our first gathering we established The Nantucket Principles, offering a path for a strategic approach to sustainable design. Every year for the past fourteen, design leaders from around the world have convened to share their thoughts and ideas, to challenge outdated beliefs, and to make a positive contribution to the world.

DFC Sr Fellow right way up

At the Sustainable Design Summit, I was honored as a new Senior Fellow for the DFC, an unsought recognition that I treasure as a firm believer in the DFC’s mission.

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Here I am being honored as a Senior Fellow, with Scott Simpson, Managing Director, Greenway Group, and James P. Cramer, Chairman and Principal, Greenway Group, and President, Design Futures Council!

I was enthralled by the speakers there: Jason McClennan spoke on Living Buildings for a Living Future (watch his TED Talk here); Dame Ellen McArthur educated us on “The Surprising Thing I Learned Sailing Solo Around the World” (watch her TED Talk here), and we talked about the Building Blocks of a  Circular Economy.

dfc circular economy

Those two conferences changed my life, not by altering any of my values, beliefs or passions, but rather, by reaffirming what I already knew: that there is a world filled with possibility, that the right time to give up hope is never, and that together, we can create something beautiful. Both conferences told me a story that I could believe in: that we can change the world.

As Tom Scott, co-founder of The Nantucket Project says, “If you want to be good at making outcomes, you’d better get really good at telling a story. And you better make sure that story has integrity.”

We can all do this in our own lives. Let’s find the good stories, stories with integrity, and tell them to each other, every day.

This is Impossible Concept with Graffiti on Gray Cement Street Wall.

The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving. –Oliver Wendell Holmes

Make a Fresh Start!

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From time to time, people ask me what it’s like to work with an interior designer. I can’t answer that for anyone but myself, although certainly there are industry standards that a properly credentialed interior designer adheres to. In January of this year I wrote about the inspiration for a house, and some of the design process in Every Room Has a Beginning.

work 1That post was about a very specific house, and the kinds of decisions we made with the homeowners to redesign a beloved home after it was moved cross-island to save it from eroding bluffs. Here are a few more things you should know about the design process:

Clients often say that working with Dujardin makes the design process fun again. What can become quickly overwhelming–the details, schedules, plans, and coordination, with architects, contractors, craftsmen and landscapers–are handled seamlessly, resulting in elegant and sophisticated interiors that immediately feel like home. We can incorporate varying degrees of sustainability or design a completely holistic “deep green” residence, always honoring classic tradition while achieving 21st century style.

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Whether you’re building a new home, renovating an existing building, or just designing interiors, it takes a village to create a house.  You may need contractors, architects, carpenters, painters, artists, landscapers, energy system installers, plumbers, tilers, electricians and more.

 

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Having the requisite training in a home’s structure, design and function is what makes me a full and welcome partner in team meetings that include any or all of those participants.

 

Architects and Designers Working in the Office

Architects and Designers Working in the Office

I’ve devoted my life to the study and practice of interior design. I’m a professional member of ASID, and a member of their very select College of Fellows. (That’s what FASID means when you see it after my name.) I’ve just been elected a Senior Fellow for the Design Futures Council, which recognizes my contributions to the sustainable design movement.

ASID Fellows Award

I am a LEED Accredited Professional, with a specialty in Interior Design and Construction. (That’s the LEED AP + ID + C after my name). I belong to a number of professional organizations, have spoken widely about interior design, am an adjunct professor at Fairfield University, and am a professionally trained artist myself. I have a published full-color book of my design work that outlines many of the design principles I believe in.

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Once we’ve decided to work together, the planning begins. We start with measurements, and a study of your home’s traffic flow, light sources, assessment of what the room will be used for, and by whom. We talk to you about what you love, and how you envision your home. The goal is to make your home an elegant reflection of your very unique lifestyle and family.  To help you “see” the finished product, we create a beautiful binder showing you what we suggest. Here’s an example of a page showing window treatment and lamp options.

window treatments

Let’s look at one specific room together. First, we show you a layout with all the furniture we suggest, and where it will be placed.

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Next, our in-house artist creates a watercolor rendering to give you a feeling for the colors and furniture we think will be perfect.

dining room sketch

We present several different styles of breakfronts. You choose which you like best.

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And then we look at different chair styles.

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Other pieces to be included in the room are next.

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Finally, it’s time to look at fabrics.

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There are thousands of choices to be made in designing a home, and mistakes can be expensive. By breaking every decision down to carefully selected options, our clients quickly feel in control of the process. They have a partner who cares as much about their home as they do, and we have a great time shopping together, talking together, and making decisions together. After several discussions about what our client likes and prefers, orders are placed. Here’s a look at the finished dining room following this process.

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My education, training and credentials, as well as my professional team members, are all important in creating the home of your dreams. But I also believe that creating a beautiful, healthy, comfortable home should be FUN! My clients often refer to me as the “funmaker,” because I love designing homes, and we want the entire project, start to finish, to be something you enjoy. We take care of the hard work for you.

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Believe it or not, we’re still having fun! We love our work.

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Time Travel: Antiques in Design

Using antiques to create distinctive interiors for my clients is a longtime signature of Dujardin Design Associates, Inc. Striking, original looks can be achieved by blending old and new, traveling across time to access the most beautiful furniture, accessories, objets d’art, paintings and rugs.I believe that every room has space for something old, a one-of-a-kind treasure that speaks of our shared past. Above, we used a wall hanging composed of 18th century Tibetan Buddhist prayers written on bamboo to bring Far Eastern calm to a contemporary space.


My favorite thing about using antiquesin my interiors? They’re the ultimate in green! Repeatedly recycled over decades, these pieces have been made from old-growth wood, protecting today’s forests, have long ago completed any off-gassing from the finishing process, and slow the resource intensive cycle of new production. Above, contemporary lamps, sconces and tables blend elegantly with an antique German Beidermeier armoire and mirror over the mantle.


There is beauty in contrasts. Rather than trying to achieve a single, monotone look, give your living spaces the dash and dazzle of opposites. In this Nantucket home, we paired a 19th century gilt mirror with 21st century whale art in hand-blown glass by Raven Skyriver.


Just as you might add a fabulous piece of vintage jewelry to complete an outfit, your room can use some jewelry too. The room above is bejeweled with the Tang Dynasty horse on the shelf near the window and the 18th century Chinese cocktail table, along with other priceless Asian artifacts.


I love the look of this marine-encrusted, glazed stoneware storage jar, dating from the 15th-17th centuries and found in the South China Sea.

One way to showcase old pieces is to use them in unusual ways . Here we took an antique rug and hung it on the wall as a stylish piece of art.

Juxtaposing a sleek white bedside table with an elaborately carved antique bed from the West Indies is a beautifully soothing contrast.

Don’t be afraid to use color to enliven an old piece. Unless it’s a priceless treasure, go ahead and paint it, refinish it, change the drawer pulls, and make it your own. Or let it keep its timeworn patina. Either way, it’s a fascinating addition to your living space.

Let your antique collections add fun and a little surprise. These small articulated artists’ models are the whimsical touch that brings this space to unexpected life. Another wonderful thing about antiques is that they add a completely unique look to your home. You won’t find these models available in catalogs or at mass market retail stores.

Ready to go shopping? Don’t miss the The Nantucket Historical Association’s annual Antiques and Design Show, this year from July 29th to August 3rd. Maybe I’ll see you there!

A Woman on Fire: Debbie Phillips

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For the past several years, I have had the pleasure of being a member of an inspirational, uplifting and supportive group of women called Women on Fire. My good friend, Debbie Phillips, a life and executive coach for many years, began noticing that many of her hardworking, successful coaching clients shared something in common: isolation. That was the genesis of her life-changing decision to devote herself to a new passion: providing support, strategies and inspiration for women who are “on fire” in their lives, or who want to be.

Twelve years later, Women on Fire is a group of thousands of women all over the U.S. and the world, who meet for small group teas in their cities, get inspiration through a monthly mailing from Debbie featuring empowered and accomplished guests (supported by an online phone chat each month), go on retreats together, and share a members Facebook page to get a little more personal with new friends from far away. I’m so pleased to share my conversation with the woman who inspires me to live a life on fire every day: Debbie Phillips.

Trudy: It’s the Women on Fire tradition to ask in interviews what your day has been like so far–what a typical day is like for you? So what’s your day like, Debbie?

Debbie: I happily wake up at 6:30 a.m. when my thoughtful husband, Rob, who’s been up since 5 a.m., brings me a cup of coffee!

I then spend at least 20 minutes reading inspirational material; I meditate for 3-5 minutes; and I write down five things I’m grateful for in my Grati-Pad (a specially designed notepad by R. Nichols).

Breakfast is most often a healthy shake. Some days I work out or take a walk before heading into my office. My workday usually starts when I check in on the private Facebook page for Women on Fire members to see how everyone is doing!

I travel a fair amount so my days are different. When I’m home in my office, I am usually writing, interviewing, planning, thinking or working with members of our extraordinary Women on Fire team.

With the exception of our assistant, Daren, our team is scattered across the U.S. In different time zones, which actually works out nicely for our work flow. Thank heaven for the Internet so we can all work virtually! It is a blessing to work with the best people possible and not be contained by location.

If Rob and I don’t have plans in the evening, we usually wind down our day by cooking dinner together and then watching a movie or TV series (our current favorite is “Lilyhammer“) or reading.

Trudy: You are an inspiration to so many women, and I’m sure an equal number of men! Who has inspired you? When you were first deciding who Debbie Phillips was going to be in this world (and then maybe redeciding), who did you look to for inspiration?

Debbie: In my late 20s, I worked for former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn, and I was extremely fortunate to meet a lot of fascinating people but none more so than Gloria Steinem. I later became the press secretary to Ohio Governor Richard F. Celeste, and I saw and spoke to Gloria on occasion because she was an Ohio native and, of course, very politically active. She grew up in Toledo, Ohio, 60 miles from where I grew up in Montpelier, so I felt a geographic kinship to her.

She had (and has to this day) the kindest, gentlest, sweetest way about her–and yet she is one of the strongest, most powerful and accomplished women in the world!

When you speak with her, she is focused totally on you and no matter what’s being discussed, she is positive and empowering.

Not too long ago, I had the great pleasure of attending a gathering in her beautiful apartment in NYC. Typical of the way she puts people at ease, she warmly greeted her guests in the bedroom before we moved to the living room.

It was said of Franklin D. Roosevelt: “good mind, first-class temperament.” I would say the exact same of Gloria.

I am–we all are–so fortunate she and her colleagues in the Women’s Movement blazed the trail to make so many powerful changes for women in the world.

What Gloria showed me is that I could go after my own dreams with strength, drive and determination–and still be feminine, kind, caring, generous and loving. She exemplifies everything in a human being I aspire to be.

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Gloria Steinem

Trudy: As an interior designer, I believe in the power of our surroundings to uplift us, relax us, and improve our health. Home is very important. How would you describe your homes, both on Martha’s Vineyard and in Naples? Have you approached the interiors differently because they are in different climates and cultures?

Debbie: I learned early on from a certain brilliant designer that “a Healthy Home is the Ultimate Luxury (TM)” (Thank you, Trudy Dujardin!)

So we’ve approached both of our homes with the idea of what creates the best and healthiest environment.

We consider our home on Martha’s Vineyard “our mothership.” We built it and moved into it in 2001. Before we even dug the foundation, we wrote a vision for each room in it.

We carefully thought through how we would use each room and the feelings evoked when people were in that particular room.

We wanted to bring the beautiful nature outside on Martha’s Vineyard inside. So we focused on having big windows with lots of light. We chose colors that are soothing and found in nature.

We wanted to create “visual surprises” in the house. For instance, when you in the master bath shower, if you look closely, you’ll notice a sprinkling of hand-painted tiles of dandelions. Or, if you study the wallpaper that appears to be rather formal in one room, you’ll see squirrels in it!

In Florida, we have a two-bedroom condo that we recently redecorated. We removed the carpet and installed wood floors. The decor is more modern than our house on the Vineyard–and more colorful to reflect more of a Florida feel.

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photo credit: Rob Berkley

Trudy: You work with your husband, Rob, and I know partnership in a marriage is very important to you. My stepson, Nick, is getting married this September on Nantucket. What would you tell a young couple just beginning a life journey together?

Debbie: Congratulations, Nick! Rob and I started our life together by establishing a vision and a set of values for our life. Our vision is: we are together in this world to help people express their gifts, strengths and talents.

That was nearly 20 years ago–and having a purpose together like that has kept us strong and served us well–both personally and professionally.

You don’t have to work together, as Rob and I do, to have a couple’s vision. As coaches, Rob and I once worked with a couple in our Vision Day program who came up with one of my favorite visions: “We are a couple who  makes our family’s dreams come true.”

Soon after establishing their vision, this particular couple transformed dream into reality! They had wanted to expose their 10-year-old twin sons to a bigger world–and they moved to Australia for two years.

Best wishes to you and your bride, Nick! I hope the two of you will take time to create a vision for your relationship that will enhance your marriage over time.

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Trudy: In your interview with Kristine Carlson, you said that maybe someday we can live to be 150. If you could, what would you do with the years between 100 and 150, assuming that you met your personal goals in the first 100 years. What would be your final gift to the world?

Debbie: Great question! On of my all-time favorite books is called Final Gifts by Patricia Kelley and Maggie Callanan, two Hospice nurses.

Grief has been a topic of interest in my life since my first loss of my beloved grandmother when I was 10; and Hospice has been important to my life since my late mother-in-law was one of its founders in Ohio.

I think often about what my “final gift” to the world might be. And, as I approach the Third/Third of my life, as we now refer to that period from 60-90, I wonder how I might contribute my talents to support families who are going through grief and end-of-life issues. I’ll keep working on it–and if I live to 150, I’ve still got plenty of time to think about it!

What I do know for sure is that with more than 3.5 billion women in the world, my work to create a world where women are supported, uplifted and valued for their gifts will continue as my life’s work.

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Trudy: A famous saying of Oprah’s is “once you know better, you can do better.” What’s something you had to learn to do better?

Debbie: I had to learn the importance of engaging in conflict with my husband! Marriages can die of still waters from failing to address conflict.

Ours was a second marriage and we both had a strong desire to create a great one.Having strategies for resolving conflict was essential to growing our relationship strong. It took skill-building, marriage counseling and therapy, study and practice to be able to have “good” conflict, which we can easily do now!

Did you know having conflict and being able to resolve it makes you grow closer? Well, I had to learn that! And it’s made all the difference in our relationship.

Trudy: Women have so many responsibilities in life, and as a result, a lot of commitments. What are some of your “must keep” commitments, to others, and to yourself?

Debbie: We don’t have children of our own. And yet we have many young people we love very much in our lives.

Our 21-year-old goddaughter Julia lived with us in the summers when she was growing up and she now lives and works full-time on Martha’s Vineyard where she’s opened Rosewater Market. Spending time with her and her inspiring group of roommates and friends is a “must keep” commitment that gives me so much joy!

My commitment to myself includes self-care such as exercise, massages, facials, manicures, pedicures–and a promise to keep my annual physical and medical appointments.

Trudy: What do you enjoy most in life? When you have a day off, what do you choose to do with your free time?

Debbie: At the top of my list, of course, is my husband whom I love to pieces and enjoy immensely–along with our 17 pound cat Wilber.

I also really enjoy my closest friends. Jan Allen has been my best friend for more than 30 years; and Holly Getty has been my close and dear friend for nearly 20. Any time I can curl up and chat with a great girlfriend, I am a happy camper!

When I have a day off, this is my idea of heaven:

I put on a pot of “stinky” coffee as my husband calls my favorite hazelnut blend; take a walk in nature; drive around Martha’s Vineyard and take in the ocean; relax in my hammock with a book; take an outdoor shower; call my mom for a long chitchat; and eat something decadent from Martha’s Vineyard favorites–a Chocolate Mousse Bomb from the Black Dog Bakery; toffee from Chilmark Chocolates; or a cream cheese brownie from Julia’s Rosewater Market.

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photo credit: Rob Berkley

Trudy: What books are on your bedside table right now?

Debbie: Poems from the Pond, an astonishing book, edited by Laurie David, about Peggy Freydberg who wrote amazing, powerful poetry from age 90-106!

The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough; Becoming Steve Jobs, by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli; and a tower of magazines including Oprah, MORE, Town & Country, Rolling Stone, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Vanity Fair and Departures.

It’s not on my bedside table at the moment, but it is on my coffee tables on Martha’s Vineyard and in Naples, Florida:  Comfort Zone, by the fabulous Trudy Dujardin!

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Trudy: A recent blog post on Holistic House was about finding our “right place” for the next part of our lives–sustainable communities that support our best selves. You seem to have made a great choice for yourself with Martha’s Vineyard and Naples. Where else did you and Rob consider making a home? Is there another, different place you dream of in your future? 

Debbie: Such an intriguing question! I’ve seen your exciting prospectus for sustainable homes and communities and find it so inspiring–and it will be the future!

I strongly believe each of us has several, and at least one major “geographic home” that feels “right” to us.

The only other place we considered living was Woodstock, New York where Rob grew up, but in 2000 when we were looking for our home, it didn’t feel quite right to me. Since I was 23, I’d dreamed of living on Martha’s Vineyard, one of my geographic homes. Once Rob visited the island, the Vineyard felt right to him, too, and he said he wanted to make my dream come true!

The only other location at the moment we’d like to create a home in is New York City. We are just waiting for that particular dream to line up! I know it’s coming.

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photo credit: Rob Berkley

Trudy: And last, how has launching Women on Fire changed your life? What have you learned from the process, and from all the Women on Fire?

Debbie: Launching Women on Fire in 2003 changed everything! It combined all my past work and experience as a reporter, press secretary, business executive and coach into the one thing that brings me the most happiness and joy.

And it has fulfilled a very deep desire I’d had my entire life to do something to improve life for women.

My beautiful and talented mother had a dream to be a nurse. When her father refused to pay her $150 application fee for nursing school, she, like so many women in the 1950s, put her dream aside, got married and raised five children.

I grew up seeing how detrimental for her not being able to express in the world her greatest gifts and passion was–as well as not having enough support to live life.

She came through life just fine (and today is Women on Fire member #00001, I’m proud to say!) but it could have been so much better and easier if she could have pursued her dream, even while raising a family, and received support.

Women on Fire solves those problems by providing inspiration, strategies and support for a woman to pursue her dreams–and to live her best life while reaching higher!

The women in this community are warm, loving, caring, talented women who cheer each other on to success! Most join us by saying, “I’m not quite ‘on fire,’ but I want to be.”

I believe “a rising tide lifts all boats” and when we all support each other and help each other to be our best, the world changes in a positive way.

More than anything, I am deeply grateful that I followed my heart and my dream to create and launch Women on Fire.

It is now a large business with the issues that any entrepreneur deals with! There were many times I thought I might give up.

Then I’d receive a call or a card or an email from a woman saying “Women on Fire is my lifeline,” or “I couldn’t have done what I did without Women on Fire,” and I give myself a little pep talk to get over my momentary fear, frustration or block–and I get back to work!

Trudy: Thank you, Debbie, for taking the time to answer my questions. I’ve known you for a long time, but I learned some wonderful new things about you today. I love the generous, heartfelt work you do in the world. I’m so glad my world includes you, and all of our Women on Fire friends!

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Brittany Eaton, Jan Allen, Debbie Phillips, Kacy Cook, Tandi Phillips Musuraca, Andrea Junk Dowding

 

Becoming a Fellow

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In the course of a long career, there are many markers along the way, times when I’ve been able to step back and take stock of the path I’ve traveled. Certainly I’ve been proud of the many beautiful homes I’ve helped to create for clients, the talented professionals I’ve had the privilege to work with, and the awards my firm has won over the years.

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 With John and Chad Stark

Recently, though, I received word that I had been chosen by a committee of my peers at the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) to receive the designation of Fellow, the highest honor the group confers. To say that I am gratified to be selected is an understatement. I am more than proud to stand among the many, many fine leaders of the profession who came before me and inspired me. Among them are my dear friends Rosalyn Cama and Lisa Henry, as well as Honorary Fellows Wayne Ruga and Alan Siegel.

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 Dr. Wayne Ruga, founder and president of The Caritas Project

I am especially proud to be in the company of the other four 2015 designees: Edward Bottomley, ASID, Joan Kaufman, ASID, Jean Pinto, ASID, CID, and Patrick Schmidt, ASID, RID. We will be formally inducted on July 18, 2015, at an Awards Gala at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

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 photo courtesy of mfa.org

When I published my book, Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior, last fall, I did so with the hope that I could help people live healthier lives, in sustainable homes that are also beautiful, and built without too heavy an impact on the earth. In the same way, I hope that by adding the Fellow designation to my name, the respected initials FASID, that perhaps I will have just that much more influence, that my voice will be heard in perhaps a little bit wider circles, that more clients will choose a home that is elegant and sophisticated as well as eco-friendly.

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I have practiced the art and science of interior design with the goal of bringing peace and beauty, health and well-being, to my client’s lives. With that as my legacy, and the very much appreciated recognition of my peers, I can hope to have made a difference with my work. I think that’s what all of us intend, and what many people achieve without public recognition. But it feels good when it comes.

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For that, I extend my heartfelt thanks to the ASID Fellows Selection Committee.

 

 

Clean Slate

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My commitment to living sustainably is a 365 day a year endeavor, and I know that’s true for many of you, too. Earth Day, though, provides us an annual opportunity to reflect on our connection to to the earth, and to make a fresh start with a clean slate. Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor and environmentalist, says, “We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say we’ve lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.”

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One of the ways we lose that connection is through the use of pesticides and dangerous chemicals. Warning people about the dangers of these toxic materials has been a large part of my life’s work; you can read some of what I’ve written before here, and here. My book, Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior, offers several helpful resources, from a guide to green products, to a recommended reading list, to my own personal stories of being exposed to pesticides and other chemicals, beginning as a small child. We have options rather than resorting to dangerous and toxic products. Learning more is the first step.

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The half life of some pesticides is over 500 years, and the drift when sprayed can be over a mile. There are surprising ways to be exposed to pesticides, for instance, an alarming number of pesticide ingredients can be found in ordinary house dust.

Pesticides and fertilizers can also find their way into groundwater over time, in one of two ways. Chemicals can enter groundwater through a stream after a rainstorm as runoff. Or they can reach groundwater by leaching, which is the downward movement of a substance through soil. Not only does this result in algae bloom, which removes oxygen from the water and results in “dead zones,” but the 75 million pounds of pesticides Americans spray on their gardens each year can be ingested by fish, who become diseased. Once we eat those fish, the cycle of pollution has come full circle.

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According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), pesticide use has increased over 50% in the past three decades, and today totals 8 pounds for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. Approximately 875 pesticide ingredients are formulated into 21,000 different products. Our children are most at risk, according to the The National Academy of Sciences, due to their immature systems and a more rapid metabolic rate. In addition, children frequently consume fewer different types of food, possibly leading to higher exposure through their diets.

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Good news! A highly toxic pesticide and known carcinogen used primarily in strawberry fields, methyl iodide, has been withdrawn from the market by its manufacturer.

If that isn’t enough to concern us, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has identified at least ninety six different pesticide ingredients registered for use that are potential human carcinogens. The link above will take you to a page where you can order the booklet that lists them.

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We also know more today about products that include parabens, known to be endocrine disruptors, that are commonly used as preservatives in many popular cosmetics. They are also used as food additives. Dr. Frank Lipman, a leading holistic physician, offers an overview of dangers and tips on how to avoid them here. We all need to read labels. Whole Foods has wonderful, safe, clean products for your hair, skin and face. I also like Nurture My Body products, available online.

I have been stirred to action by leading environmentalists, scientists and authors who have spoken out about the dangers we face. One of the books I often recommend is Our Stolen Future, by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers. Rachel Carson, in Silent Spring, published in 1962, said, “Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called ‘insecticides,’ but biocides.”

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Rachel Carson

She went on to explain that the pesticide industry grew out of World War II with chemical testing. Once scientists realized they had the ability to kill insects, they envisioned a new and better world for people.

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A book titled Our Daily Poison: From Pesticides to Packaging, How Chemicals Have Contaminated Our Food Chain and Are Making Us Sick, by Marie-Monique Robin, is also a film by the same name, a documentary that reveals a broken safety system. You can watch a three minute video about the film here.

Being aware of the dangers of pesticide use is not enough to protect us. Unfortunately, we can be exposed to very toxic chemicals without our knowledge or permission. Several years ago, I lived in a beautiful apartment in Greenwich, Connecticut with stunning views of Manhattan and Long Island Sound. My apartment was pristine and clean and chemical free, so at first I was puzzled about my dizzy spells.

When I spoke to other tenants in the building, they affirmed that many residents were being made sick by something in the air. I hired an Industrial Hygienist to investigate, and found that the building management was using a rodenticide that had been banned from use for over fifteen years, since it had been linked to kidney cancer. The force of air from the elevators was pushing the vapors of this toxic chemical from the basement onto each floor.

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On April 9th of this year, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an account of a Wilmington, Delaware family that was poisoned after being exposed to a banned pesticide at a vacation condo in the U.S. Virgin Islands. A couple and their two teenage sons were hospitalized after occupying a condo one floor above a space that was sprayed with an odorless pesticide called methyl bromide, that can cause convulsions and coma. It was banned for us in residential settings in 1984, but it is still marketed for some agricultural uses.

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Two weeks later, the EPA reported that there is evidence that methyl bromide has been used improperly at locations in Puerto Rico. In addition, Virgin Islands newspapers have reported that companies on two other islands, St. Thomas and St. Croix, had stocks of the pesticides.

It’s easy to become frightened and even overwhelmed by what’s happening on our planet, but knowledge is power. I have always believed in the Power of One, the ability each of us has to make a difference. By being informed, and by informing others, we can protect ourselves and our planet. Let’s start today!

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The City of Valentines

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There’s a saying on the island, that “all roads lead to Nantucket.” For me and for my husband, Frank, that’s mostly true. But out of the blue, life presented us with a detour to Cleveland.

As they say, life can turn on a dime.

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It was only a little over two weeks ago that Frank pulled me aside and quietly dropped a bomb into our lives. “My EKG and stress test weren’t good,” he said. “Will you take me for an angiogram tomorrow morning?”

And so it began. No warnings, no symptoms, just a routine check up. How could we not have known that something significant was wrong? We eat carefully, all organic, few fats. We are not overweight. We exercise. We meditate. We are happy. And still, the verdict comes: “You need open-heart surgery, a multiple by-pass.”

Heart Doctor Therapy

We weren’t sure where to turn, but there were caring medical professionals talking to us about our options. We did some research. We asked questions. Loving, concerned friends told us about their experiences. It was all so bewildering. We were in the middle of a whirlwind.

A measure of calm returned when we spoke to our friend from Nantucket, Dr. Delos M. “Toby” Cosgrove. President and CEO of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic since 2004, he made everything simple. “Come to Cleveland,” he told us. “We do 4,500 bypasses a year. We’ll make all the arrangements for you. We have a hotel attached to the clinic by a skywalk.”

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And then, the magic words: “This is a low-risk surgery.”

What really convinced me, however, was when Toby said, “Trudy, I want you to know that once your husband has the surgery, he will have a normal life expectancy.” That was worth its weight in gold. We chose Cleveland Clinic, and before we knew it, we were on our way.

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The weather in the northeast took a turn for the worse just as we arrived at the airport in New York for our flight to Cleveland, but a series of serendipitous events began that day. All through the process, I felt the gentle nudge of good fortune, and perhaps, something more than that. Friends, family, co-workers, clients, peers and acquaintances were praying for Frank, cheering us, sending poems and notes and emails with encouragement and stories of other successful bypass operations.

It wasn’t a surprise, then, when we arrived at Cleveland airport and our driver, Mustapha, also seemed to have a deeper wisdom to share with us.  He showed us pictures of the many people who had had successful operations going home. How reassuring.

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The Cleveland Clinic campus is huge, stretching for 14 city blocks, with 44 buildings on 167 acres of land. The Miller Pavilion is an architectural masterpiece, designed by the Columbus architectural offices of NBBJ, and home to the Heart and Vascular Institute.

Cleveland Clinic Miller Pavilion

Outside the Miller Pavilion, also known as the J Building, is a wonderful fountain, designed by American landscape architect Peter Walker. Flat on top with a sheet of water three feet high, the moving water never stops, changing colors constantly. Electric heaters keep it from ever freezing, no matter what the weather.

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People travel here from every state in the nation and 133 countries to seek the very best medical care.

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The Cleveland Clinic has 4,500 beds throughout all their medical centers, with 1,400 in Cleveland. More than 3,200 physicians and scientists guide the groundbreaking work, with 35,000 people employed nationwide. Each of the Clinic’s employees we met had a warm touch and a seemingly uncanny knowledge of what to say and do to help us through our journey.

cleveland clinic 9The Clinic is also home to more than  3,500 modern and contemporary art pieces, creating an awe-inspiring experience; the feeling is more like being in a world-class art museum than a hospital. Every where we look, our eyes, and hearts, are lifted.

It’s the work of the Cleveland Clinic’s Arts and Medical Institute, with the mission of integrating the visual arts, music, performing arts and research to promote healing. The Institute is based on the belief that fine art comforts, elevates the spirit and affirms life and hope.

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The suspended artwork shown above, Blue Berg, is by Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, a 30-foot sculpture of an iceberg in the Labrador Sea, made out of aluminum tubing. Visitors commonly believe the sculpture to be whatever body part they are there to take care of: a kidney, a tooth, a heart, according to Joanne Cohen, executive director and curator of the Arts and Medicine Institute Arts Program.

The photo below is Cleveland Soul, a sculpture by Jaume Plensa.

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As Frank underwent tests for two full days to assess his fitness for surgery, I had time to walk the halls and gaze at the beautiful art all around me. One of the most moving experiences was walking through an underground tunnel to the pharmacy. Softly changing lights in pastel shades of blue, green and pink illuminate the walls, making the passage almost ethereal.

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Everywhere, the architects and designers have given thought to the experience. The walls undulate and curve.

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Below is a video projection by Jennifer Steinkamp, an image titled Mike Kelly. Designed to reflect the seasons and the changing color of leaves, Ms. Cohen describes the tree as a whirling dervish that brings movement and nature into the static lobby space. By bringing the landscape in, the piece connects patients and visitors to life outside the clinic.

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I was glad to see that the Clinic has a wellness store that stocks only eco-friendly products!

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When the two days of tests were complete (and Frank passed with flying colors), the surgery was scheduled for early the following morning.

We were due to check in at five a.m. By five thirty, they came to take Frank. Everyone involved in his care was also involved in mine, it seemed. I was given a binder with explanations of what to expect, spaces for notes and places to slide physicians’ business cards in for safekeeping. Someone placed a beeper on a cord around my neck, and instructed me that it would beep when the major surgery had begun.

So far that morning I’d managed to be brave, but all at once, I was alone.

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I wasn’t only alone. I was upset. I was angry. I cried for the first time since the bomb was dropped.

But this is the Cleveland Clinic. Not only do they have the world’s top surgeons, most highly skilled and trained physicians, the most effective nursing staff, and cutting-edge treatments, they have compassion. I found myself surrounded by three kind and caring women, Antoinette, Monica, and Manya, who run the family lounge of the hotel, where they comfort new families every week.

Deeply spiritual people, these three beautiful women embraced me and prayed with me. “Only think of good things,” Manya instructed me. Later, Jeanne Murphy, Toby’s invaluable executive liaison, found me in the family reception area for patients undergoing cardiac surgery. What a relief.

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I wasn’t the only one treated with warmth and concern. All around me were other families, receiving the same kind of loving outreach. Although it seemed at times that I was on a very advanced foreign planet, I made friends with others going through similar experiences. I learned so much.

It’s been two weeks since the surgery, and it’s been a tough road. Recovery has ups and downs, but I’ve stayed by Frank’s side and in spite of the fear, the pain, and the set-backs, he’s getting better every day. Although I wouldn’t want to go through this again, our time here in Cleveland has brought us closer together. That’s the silver lining.

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We’ve had so much help. Dr. Toby Cosgrove and Jeanne Murphy made this happen. Jeanne has been by our side from the very beginning. Frank’s surgical team was fifteen strong, led by Dr. Edward Soltesz, all taking care of my guy.

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Thank you to all of you who kept the office humming: Price, Nicole, Sondy, Randi, Cheryl, and Lisa. Thank you to the lifesavers who kept the home fires burning: my dad, Bob, and Anna, Henry, Gordon, Anna Mae, Danutia. A special thank you to Nick and Emily, who were here by our sides. It meant the world to have you here.

This journey isn’t over, by a long shot. There’s rehab and more recovery. There will be continued adjustments as Frank regains his strength. Our carefully monitored diets will become even more Mediterranean, more heart health-centric. It’s been a journey of the heart, from start to finish.

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The first stage will end on Valentine’s Day, when we say goodbye to the Cleveland Clinic and fly back home to Connecticut. The significance of that day is not lost on us. We cherish every moment we have together, and the people who have given us a part of themselves, to strengthen us along the way.

Now that the worse is behind us, I think of all the other lucky hearts helped here, and all the lives saved. I think of all the other people who will go on living, with their quality of life undiminished, thanks to the team of heroes at the Cleveland Clinic.

Because of its location on Lake Erie, Cleveland is often thought of as the city on the lake. It is also the city of healing, the city of love, the city of friendship. For me and for Frank,  Cleveland will forever be our city of Valentines.

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Cold Comfort

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When the frost on the pumpkin has long since turned to ice, it’s time to consider turning up the heat at home. It’s not always wise–economically or environmentally–to crank up the thermostat, so here are ten heart and hearth warming ways to make winter your favorite season:

Bring Some Springtime Inside

 Flowers will always give a room a graceful breath of fresh air, either when they’re cut and delivered from the greenhouse…

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…or when you choose floral print fabrics to brighten up a drab winter vista.

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Dress Your Table in Crystal, Silver and Candlelight 

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Low candles work best for sociable dinners, so a cluster of crystal votive candles are perfect for adding light but allowing eyes to meet across the table. The sparkle of crystal combined with firelight is irresistible at a winter dinner.

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Crystal votives etched with compass rose available at Dujardin Home. 

 

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Let the Winter Sunshine In

The light slanting in through the window on a quiet winter afternoon can be beautiful.

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And when you take a moment to look out your window, you never know who may be looking back at you.

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Pick a Favorite Place for a Cup of Tea

 Your bedroom is the perfect spot to greet a cold morning with a pot of tea or a cup of coffee. The day gets off to a brilliant start when you share it with someone you love.

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Embrace Winter White

 It’s always refreshing to start your day with a brisk walk outdoors, especially when you can head down to the snowy beach.

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Then head for home and continue the soothing color theme indoors. A white sofa, white flowers and a dash of blue in accents such as throw pillows will remind you of the gentle drifts of snow and the white capped waves.

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Be a Bookworm:

Most of us have a pile of books we’ve been meaning to get to, or magazines, or perhaps you’ve set aside needlework for a rainy day. When the thermometer registers “I don’t want to go outside in this weather!” it’s time to curl up with the things you’ve been promising yourself to do.

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Light a Fire

There’s nothing like a crackling fire to make you glad you live in a cold climate, or at least appreciate the smell of burning wood.

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Wrap Up

Warm throws were made for wintertime. Of course they add a soft visual touch to the foot of a bed or the side of the sofa, but it only takes a little draft to make you reach for the woolen comfort folded at arm’s length. My favorites are the baby alpaca throws we carry in my shop at Dujardin Home; I chose them because baby alpaca is the warmest fiber on earth.

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Try a Spoonful of Sugar

It’s just the medicine to help you endure the cold. Save the calories, though, and set time aside to browse through your treasured collections, ideally things that connect you to your heritage, the land around you, or some special part of your personality. 

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If you have a passion like I do, for antique sailor whirligigs or the history of whaling, the long hours spent indoors this winter gives you the opportunity to appreciate your keepsakes all over again.
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Then bundle up and head out for a day trip and go antiquing with your friends, stopping at a quaint cafe for a bowl of hot soup and homemade bread. (See Please Join Me for a look at New York’s Winter Antiques Show!)

End your day with a cup of hot cocoa

 There’s no better time to indulge.

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Christmas with Grace

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What does Christmas mean to you? For me, it is a season of secrets, of rustling bags filled with tissue snuck into the house when no one is looking, of cookies and candy canes, and everywhere the scent of pine. As a designer, I can’t help but decorate every room, adding fresh cedar boughs and glittering lights here and a crystal bowl filled with red roses there.

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As enchanting as this holiday is, it also brings with it memories, some delightful, some more painful to recall, and as the years go by, all stir my emotions, and fill my heart. My recent book signing at Holiday House in New York City brought me back to a Christmas long ago, the last one I spent with my mother, Grace.

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Holiday House, a designer show house, was founded by Iris Dankner, a breast cancer survivor, in 2008. Iris wanted to combine her two passions–interior design and fundraising for breast cancer research–when she saw a lack of high profile interior design events in the New York City area benefitting women’s issues. Thanks to her vision, talented designers from across the country arrive every fall to transform the historic Academy Mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side into beautiful rooms highlighting a holiday or special moment in life.

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Me with Iris Dankner, December 2, 2014

I lost my mother when she was only 51, to breast cancer. I immediately knew I wanted to help the Holiday House mission in any way I could, even as my thoughts turned to a Christmas season long ago.

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My mother was in the hospital, and realizing that her time was growing short, she was focused on me with a singular intensity. On one visit to her hospital room, she greeted me with excitement, and showed me a gift she had painstakingly created for me the night before. I walked to her bedside, and she handed me  a simple brown paper bag.

“Look!” she urged me. I saw the bag was empty, and for a moment I was confused. Then I saw her handwriting on the bag, up one side, and down the other. From memory, in the dark hours of the night, my mother had written down our family tree on the only paper she had. She wanted so much for me to remember who I was, and where I came from. I gazed down at the names written on the bag, marking marriages and children, year after year after year.

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I found it hard to focus. There were tears in my eyes. We were members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, but that’s not what the bag was about. I understood that this was family, blood thicker than water, the people from whom I came, and the cousins, aunts, uncles, and other connections that surrounded me still.

I was an only child, and my mother knew that when she left my side, my world would be a little bit lonelier place. But she wasn’t finished.

“Over in the corner, there’s a gift for you. Bring it here,” she told me. I did as she asked, carrying a bulky package to her bedside.

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“Open it!” she urged me.

I shook my head, imploring her. “No, not yet.  Let’s wait for Christmas. You’ll be home by Christmas, and I’ll open it then, under the tree.”

My father stood by my side, and added his voice to mine. “That’s a much better idea! You’ll be home, Grace, and Trudy will open it on Christmas morning.”

I felt my mother’s disappointment, but to my relief, she acquiesced with a smile.

Mom didn’t make it home for Christmas. She passed away on December 6th, with me and my father by her side. In my grief, I had forgotten the gift that waited for me under the tree. But on Christmas morning, it was there.

I slowly unwrapped it, wanting desperately to stop time, knowing I was opening the last gift I would ever receive from my mother. As I pulled away the last bit of paper, a soft, warm quilt tumbled into my lap. Made by my mother’s hands in my favorite colors, and in her final days assisted by my aunt, Elysa Knight, she had sewn a Double Wedding Band quilt to cover my bed. I smoothed my hands over the fabric, amazed at her handiwork, already feeling the comfort she had left behind, and the love that went into it.

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I always thought of my father’s family as my “artistic side.” My dad was an engineer and inventor, his brother a furniture designer, his sister an artist. I had somehow lost track of the artistry created by my mother and her side of the family: the crocheting, embroidery and hand sewn goods that filled our home all through my childhood. I knew then that I was doubly blessed with artists on both sides of my family. I was already working as a interior designer, and cherished the creative work that filled me with passion and my days with joy. Now I knew more clearly where my gifts came from.

I only have one regret–that I didn’t open my mother’s last gift to me in that hospital room, where she could have witnessed my delight. But perhaps it was better that way. Instead of letting her watch me unwrap the gift, I think I shared with her my hope that she would return home one more time, to spend one more Christmas with my dad and me.

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Although she didn’t leave her hospital bed again, she was at home with me on Christmas Day. She had been with me every day since I was born, and on Christmas I was wrapped again in her love as surely as I was wrapped in her quilt. It was my last Christmas with my mom, and she taught me her last lesson. By making her final gift to me something that was unique, made with her own hands, she showed me more than I realized. As the years go by, I know that the last gift wasn’t only a quilt. It was how to live life, and how to fill it with light.

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It was how to celebrate Christmas. But even more than that. It was how to celebrate Christmas with Grace.

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Dujardin Home

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After years of planning and months of searching for exquisite, unique and elegant home accessories that truly deserve a place in your home, we’ve launched Dujardin Home! My vision was to create an online shop that offers an edited, curated collection of very special items, the kind of things that elevate your home, and your life, from the ordinary to the amazing.

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Just in time for the holidays, you can find fabulous gift ideas and items to elevate your parties to a stunning new level. Come take a peek at:

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Totes

Handcrafted in the United States with pre-consumer recycled sailcloth and marine grade fabric, this is the kind of tote bag you’ll take everywhere. The designers in my office use it to organize fabric samples, friends love how roomy it is when they use it as an airplane carryon, and of course it works perfectly for the beach! You’ll need one for yourself, but they also make the perfect, usable gift.

 

 

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Pillows

Our nautical pillows are custom-made for Dujardin Home, so you won’t find them anywhere else. Inspired by maritime signal flags, add one for a punch of color, or three or more to make a statement. They’re perfect for the beach house, or anywhere you want to dream of the sea.

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Throws

There are throws, and then there are our throws, made from Baby Alpaca wool. This is the softest, most luxurious fiber in the world, better than cashmere for warmth and comfort. It’s hypoallergenic, so it always feels smooth against your skin, without that wooly itching, and perfect for anyone with allergies or asthma. And of course ours are made naturally, with no chemicals or bleaches used during processing. Baby Alpaca refers to the very finest, most rare Alpaca fibers, not fleece sheared from babies. But it’s soft enough to wrap your baby in, no matter how young or old!

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Glassware

We had to go all the way to Prague for this heirloom quality crystal, made to our specifications with an etched compass rose. Mouth blown by Czech artisans, an old firm of established glassmakers created these exquisite pieces especially for Dujardin Home. You can set a sparkling holiday table with clear crystal, luminescent blue or deep sea-colored ink, or mix and match.  It’s no secret that I love the ocean, and the compass rose is one of my most treasured symbols to use when designing homes. It’s been used on nautical charts for centuries. Whenever I see it, I’m a sailor in my heart.

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One of a Kind

Home decor stores have proliferated in recent years, with the result that many homes are beginning to have a sameness from room to room. Designing your home is a very personal journey, but I always recommend that when your budget dictates that you choose mass produced furniture, add some pieces that are unique to you. Antiques fit the bill, but I’ve also included special “one-of-a-kind” items in my collection to help make your home uniquely your own. You won’t see these framed nautical prints or vintage sterling tableware anywhere else!

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Comfort Zone

To help you pull it all together and create the healthy, eco-elegant home of your dreams, I’ve written a book. Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior draws on my decades of work as a LEED Accredited interior designer. I’ve had the pleasure of designing some of the world’s most beautiful homes, in some of the world’s most stunning locations. I share what I’ve learned in my book, because I believe that A Healthy Home is the Ultimate Luxury. (TM)

I want that luxury to be yours.

Come visit us at Dujardin Home. I can’t wait to show you around!

(And there’s more to come! We’ll be adding to our collection, so be sure to stop back frequently to check to see what’s new.)

Creating Comfort Zone

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Why write a book?

Writing Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior, the book that capsulizes my design work over the past decades and that shares my message on the importance of sustainable design and living, has been one of the most rewarding periods in my career. It has also been one of the most demanding, when combined with a busy professional and personal life!

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At an installation on Nantucket with Senior Designer Price Connors

Here’s why I did it: I have a story to tell. Part of my story is about the importance of creating a home that is a place where we can rest and restore ourselves, a place of comfort. Part of my story is about the importance of surrounding ourselves with beauty, because beauty elevates our hearts and minds. Beautiful, high-style design is intended to both soothe and inspire.

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Rooms in a home are not merely functional. When properly appointed, our home’s interiors provide a true background for all the important moments of our lives. How an interior designer assembles a room, piece by piece, is always unique to the individual, and combines the best training, background and experience, our own vision and feeling for a home, and the client’s dreams.

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Comfort Zone is a peek behind the curtain: a look at the process, and the results!

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And part of my story, a very large part, is about my belief that having the best means doing the best, for our homes, our health, and the environment.

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As a LEED Accredited Professional with a specialty in Interior Design and Construction, a public speaker at environmental forums, as well as an adjunct professor at Fairfield University, a large part of my career has been devoted to educating clients, students and friends about the importance of living “green.” I agree with the wisdom of author Rita Mae Brown, who said, “I believe you are your work. Don’t trade the stuff of your life, time, for nothing more than dollars. That’s a rotten bargain.”

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Comfort Zone shares my knowledge about how to create a healthy home, knowledge I’ve accumulated over a lifetime. There is a wealth of information, including step by step plans for renovating your own home sustainably. You can read it to find out more about why antique furniture is a surprisingly eco-friendly addition to your home, or why you should consider No-VOC paints, organic wool carpets and FSC-certified woods. You can learn how to make a home lightly green, moderately green, or deeply green. You can read it simply as a beautiful design book, but all the information is there to help you live more healthfully.

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Perhaps the most valuable page or two is a directory of green products and services, my carefully vetted list of sustainable resources.  An up-to-the-minute feature is an app called Layar, interactive print technology that adds a touch of magic. By downloading the Layar app to your smart phone or tablet, you can hover above any of six pages in the book and Layar will take you to additional on-line information. That information that will be updated regularly so that you will always have access to the latest ideas, products and thoughts on eco-elegant living.

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Of course Comfort Zone was created using acid -free, FSC-certified cotton cloth covers and interior vellums, and printed with vegetable-based ink from renewable sources. Next month’s posts will describe more about my trip to Venice to oversee the latest in eco-responsible printing processes there.

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Last, the book itself was designed to be a lovely piece of art. Book designer Stafford Cliff, part of the wonderful team at Pointed Leaf Press, publishers of Comfort Zone, brought my ideas to life with his intuitive understanding of my work, and my passion for the earth.

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He and the very talented Dominick Santise produced the stunning end papers, vellums, and details that make Comfort Zone the treasure that it is. I will always be grateful for the way their hearts and hands contributed to this work.

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A famous American architect, Daniel Burnham, said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood…Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.” I have aimed high in hope and work with Comfort Zone. I want you to aim high in hope and work in making your home a healthy sanctuary for yourselves, your families, your pets and your friends.

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Because A Healthy Home is the Ultimate Luxury. (TM)

Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior is available online at Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, or through Pointed Leaf Press. You can also find it at your own local book store, or ask to have it ordered there.

Happy reading!

 

Don’t Just Sit There

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Whenever we sit down, to work, to eat, to meet with others, or to relax, we don’t tend to think much about what we’re sitting on. A sofa or a chair or an ottoman all have been engineered for our comfort over the years, with fabric, foam filling, and a sturdy structure to support our bodies as we rest. And since 1975, according to the Green Science Policy Institute, upholstered furniture has been designed for our (supposed) safety as well, with the introduction of flame retardant chemicals.

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The chemicals intended to keep our homes from going up in flames have been linked to cancer, neurological defects, developmental problems, and impaired fertility. Manufacturers first began adding fire retardants to furniture due to a California law that required foam cushions to withstand a candlelike flame for 12 seconds. A now defunct group known as Citizens for Fire Safety, led by chemical manufacturers, was instrumental in getting the law passed, according to a Chicago Tribune article. (Read it here.)

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In 2004, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) warned of high levels of toxic fire retardants found in house dust, in every single home sampled. The average level of brominated fire retardants measured in dust was more than 4,600 parts per billion (ppb). Like PCBS, the fire retardants known as PBDEs (polybrominated biphenyl ethers) are persistent in the environment and build up in people’s bodies over a lifetime. In minute doses they impair attention, learning, memory and behavior in animals.

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Recently the EWG released a new study done with Duke University, where they found evidence of exposure to a cancer-causing fire retardant, TDCIPP, in the bodies of all 22 mothers and 26 children tested. The children had an average of nearly five times as much as the mothers of a chemical formed when TDCIPP breaks down in the body.

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I’ve shared my concerns about chemically laden upholstered furniture before. In addition to PBDEs, your furniture likely contains formaldehyde, polyurethane and dioxins. All of these toxins infiltrate your home and the air you breathe through “offgassing,” the release of chemicals into the air through evaporation.

Today, we can choose soy-based versus foam cushions, recycled filling for pillows, water based stains and organic upholstery fabric.

In addition, the EWG shares these tips:

  • Do your homework before buying baby products. Many kinds of baby products still use harmful chemicals. Find out before you buy.
  • When buying a new sofa, choose one made without fire retardants. New regulations make it much easier for furniture manufacturers to sell products that have not been saturated with chemicals. Contact the manufacturer to ask if fire retardants are in its furniture.
  • Want to reupholster your sofa? Replace the foam, too. The old foam likely contains fire retardants. Ask your upholstery shop to find retardant free foam, or choose an organic filling.
  • Inspect foam cushioning for damage. Exposed foam can cause fire retardant chemicals to leach out more quickly. Items such as car seats and mattress pads should always be completely encased in protective fabric.
  • Use a vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter. These vacuums will remove more contaminants and allergens from your home.
  • Be careful when removing old carpeting. The padding is typically made of scrap foam that contains fire retardants. Old carpet padding can become somewhat pulverized by the time it is exposed for replacement. Isolate the work area from the rest of your home.

There’s a petition to the Consumer Product Safety Commission asking for national furniture flammability standards that do not encourage or require fire retardants. Find it here, and get toxic chemicals out of our couches!

Walking the Labyrinth

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Labyrinths have been used for hundreds of years as a means of meditation, introspection and spiritual guidance. First appearing in mythology, in the story of Daedalus and the Minotaur, today you will find labyrinths in church and school yards, gardens, and in both public and private buildings. They are a means of finding balance in life, providing stress relief as well as a link to the past. In gardens, they are a beautiful, geometric arrangement that is soothing to both the mind and the senses.

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Part of living a healthy, holistic life is self-care on an emotional and spiritual level. If you live in a healthy home built on the latest sustainable principles, choose organic foods and exercise, yet don’t have a way to de-stress on a regular basis, you may find yourself still struggling to find balance. I have a busy, active life that demands I take good care of myself to maintain the energy to meet the demands of my daily schedule. When I had my garden designed, I added a labyrinth in the back yard. Whether walking its circuitous path or simply catching a glimpse of it from my kitchen window, I am soothed by its graceful spirals etched in the lawn, similar to the labyrinth shown below.

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Research by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind/Body Institute at Harvard University has found that walking meditations are highly effective at reducing anxiety, blood pressure, and insomnia, invoking what he called the “relaxation response.” Labyrinth walking is a highly focused form of walking meditation. and is thought to enhance creativity by enhancing right brain activity.

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photograph from Pinterest

A labyrinth is simply a formalized spiral, evoked as a sacred form throughout the ages, and found in nature repeatedly through the Fibonacci sequence. I’ve written about the Golden Mean and the prevalence of spirals in nature and art before; you can read more about it here. One of the many natural spirals in my personal collection is the ammonite fossil, itself a labyrinth.

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Interior design incorporates the idea of the labyrinth in patterns, particularly one known as the Greek Key. The Greek Key is an endlessly running “meander,” a decorative border formed by one continuous line.

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You can lay a path for walking a labyrinth in your own garden, if you have the space and if the idea appeals to you. There are companies that provide templates or even weed and grass smothering cloth to help you in the task. One is The Labyrinth Company, which provides pre-shaped landscape fabric that you cover with stone, river rock, gravel or pavers.

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Once you begin exploring the mystery of spirals in nature, you’ll find that you see labyrinths everywhere you turn. The curves in the petals of a rose, the roll of the surf and the spiny center of a coneflower are all labyrinths leading you deep into the heart of life. A walk through a man-made labyrinth is simply another way to experience it.

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To read further, a book you may enjoy is Labyrinths: The Art of the Maze.

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How to Clean Green

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Winter has at long last drawn to a close, and Spring is on our doorstep! It’s time to clean house, literally, ridding our homes of odors, fumes and dust that have built up since we shut the doors and windows last fall. Spring cleaning has been a tradition for hundreds of years. It dates back to the time before central heating, when people threw open their windows to rid their homes of smoke, ash and coal dust, generated by their efforts to keep warm. March was the preferred month for spring cleaning, as it was warm enough to open the windows, but still too cool for insects.

It’s not as crucial for us to thoroughly clean only once a year, but spring is a wonderful time to make a fresh start, and rid our homes of harsh chemicals and toxic ingredients, some of which may be damaging to our health.  Here are some tips on how to “clean green” this year, and enjoy a safe, healthy home that’s good for both you and the earth.

Step Number One: Look in the Pantry

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Your new best friends can all be found in your kitchen. Baking soda does a fabulous job on countertops and getting rid of odors. Add some club soda (great for your glass surfaces), olive oil, vinegar, kosher salt, and lemons. Now you’ve got almost everything you need to clean mindfully, reducing your negative impact on the earth.

Step Number Two: Get Rid of Your Commercial Cleaners

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Here’s what you’ll be saying goodbye to: alkyl phenol ethoxylates, ammonia, chlorine, lye, formaldehyde, petroleum solvents, and synthetic fragrances. Those are the ingredients in most conventional cleaning products. They actually pollute your home with a toxic mixture of petrochemicals.

Step Number Three: Be Kind to Yourself and the Environment

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It’s not always  “Better Living through Chemistry.” After filling our homes with synthetic chemicals, many of which are stored in the body, and polluting our streams and rivers with the residue rinsed down sinks and toilet bowls, it’s time to take back our homes and our health. You don’t have to make your own cleaners from scratch, as homeowners routinely did until after World War II. There are now a number of safe, environmentally friendly products available on your grocery shelves. One of my favorites is Seventh Generation.

In case you do feel up to the task, however, here are a few tips for cleaning green:

Kitchen: Try baking soda sprinkled on counters, tabletops, sinks, refrigerators and cutting boards, use a damp sponge to scrub lightly and rinse. if you need more abrasive action, add a little kosher salt. For stains and greasy spills, you can add lemon juice or vinegar. Vinegar kills most mold, bacteria and germs, and lemon juice has antibacterial and antiseptic qualities, plus it is a natural bleach.

Bathroom: Baking soda and vinegar will clean your sinks, showers, tubs and tile. If you like, add a little lemon juice for a fresh scent.

To clean grout, mix half a cup of hydrogen peroxide with one cup of water. Spray it on the grout, let it sit for one hour, then rinse.

To clean the toliet, use one quarter cup of baking soda with one cup of vinegar. Pour it into the bowl, let it sit for a few minutes, then scrub and flush.

Wood Furniture Cleaner: Make a natural furniture polish from one quarter cup white vinegar with one tablespoon of olive oil. Or you can mix two parts olive oil with one part lemon juice.

Glass Cleaner: Mix one quarter cup white vinegar or one tablespoon lemon juice with two cups water. You can add three to four drops of liquid soap, but it’s not necessary. Spray on glass and mirrors, then wipe off using old newspapers for a fabulous shine.

Floor Cleaner: Mix one half cup Borax with one gallon hot water. For hardwood floors, try a gentler mix of one quarter cup white vinegar and 30 ounces of warm water. Put it in a recycled spray bottle, then spray on a cotton rag until lightly damp. Use the rag to wipe your floors clean.

Carpet Cleaner: Sprinkle your carpets with baking soda before vacuuming to deodorize; to clean stains, mix equal parts Borax or baking soda with salt and white vinegar. Apply the paste to the rug, let dry, then vacuum.

Sterling Silver:  The fumes from commercial silver cleaner can be very strong. Instead, try  making a paste of baking soda and water, and polishing with a soft cloth.

 

 

Shifting Sands

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The sea level is rising. That’s an indisputable fact, along with the increasingly dramatic storm forces that are part of climate change. The next century will certainly bring more significant erosion to coastal areas, particularly in New England.

Scientists have a wealth of information about the ocean and the tides, primarily because sailors and fishermen have kept weather logs and sailing records for more than two hundred years. We know for a fact that the average sea level has risen a little over 8 inches since 1880. That doesn’t sound like a lot, perhaps, but it contributes greatly to beach erosion during calm weather, and damaging higher tidal surges during storms.

It’s the emission of large amounts of greenhouse gases that’s driving the change. The difficulty for coastal towns on the East Coast is that even while sea levels are rising, the land mass is actually sinking. All the way from southern Maine to northern Florida, and fastest in the Chesapeake Bay region, coastal flooding is getting worse, in part because of the lower land levels.

The New York Times published an excellent article, The Flood Next Time, identifying average sea level increases along the East Coast. In Norfolk, Virginia, as an example, neighborhoods are flooding even without storm surges. You can read the Times article here.

When I attended Greenbuild in Philadelphia in November 2013, architect and environmental expert Ed Mazria said that 2013 was the hottest year on record. His organization, 2030 Architecture, was established in 2002 in response to climate change, with a mission of changing the way the built environment and communities are planned, designed and constructed. Environmentalists first thought they could turn things around by 2030, but now they know that climate change is accelerating at a faster pace than thought. Read his thought-provoking Special Bulletin here. 

Top climate scientist James Hansen, retired from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City (1981-2013) and a spokesperson for the dangers of climate change, continues to warn us about the dangers of ignoring what’s taking place. You can watch his informative and persuasive TED talk here. He tells us we’ve passed the tipping pout of CO2 levels able 400ppm, but we must carry on and do the best we can.

The question is: what is our best? Attempts to mitigate the beach erosion and save homes on Nantucket aren’t always successful, or popular. In an article written for Treehugger.com, Sarah Oktay, the vice-chairman of the Nantucket Conservation Commission, explains the problem with “beach nourishment,” which is the dumping of tons of sand on eroded beaches to slow their disappearance, as well as putting up retaining walls.

The attempts to slow erosion, she says, cause harm to someone else. “If you take beach bluffs or dunes and you cover them in rocks so it can’t go anywhere, then it no longer provides that feeder material to downdrift beaches, so you’ll lose the beach in front of those rocks, and you’ll lose the beach downdrifts. It’s basically telling your neighbors, ‘Well, I want my home more than you want your beach.’ That doesn’t mean it’s not sad.”

This photograph of the beach in Madaket on Nantucket Island shows the way the rising tides come in, and when they recede, drag sand back out to sea. There used to be a home on the site shown below.

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A clear view of beach erosion. Baxter Road on Sconset Bluff has been hardest hit.

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There are a number of homes that have been moved to higher ground, or farther inland, including some that have been island landmarks for generations.

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The home below is jacked up on steel beams.

Nantucket erosion house jacked up on steel

Here’s another home getting ready to be moved farther inland.

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We’re facing the limits of human intervention in combating a situation we created. We’ve lost time arguing over whether or not global warming and climate change are real concerns. Rather than feeling helpless, however, we need to take what action we can to support a healthy earth, and protect our coasts. There are so many good people doing good work for the environment. I urge you to support the environmental groups of your choice. I believe in The Power of One. You and I together can make a difference for the generations yet to be born.

 

Naturally Romantic Bedrooms

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If you’re half of a couple, your bedroom is more than just your sanctuary. It’s an intimate, shared space where romance takes center stage. Your bedroom should be not only your passionate playground, but also the healthiest room in your house.

Why is that important? As you sleep, your liver works to detox the body from all the pollutants and toxins you were exposed to during the day. A clean night’s rest helps to promote health, energy and happiness, and that may be the most loving thing you can do for your life partner.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Choose No VOC paints for Walls and Wood Trim

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Paints can emit VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) over a long period of time, so just airing out the room may not be sufficient. That “just-painted” smell is actually the off-gassing of chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and zylene.  The VOCs last far longer than the odor, however, as can vapors from floor stains, finishes, sealants and caulks.

Low or No-VOC products use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents, reducing the levels of heavy metals and formaldehyde. Look for paints with the Green Seal Standard, which certifies that they meet certain industry standards for VOCs.

Even low VOC paints can contain fungicides and biocides, used to prevent mildew growth and extend shelf life. A product I use and recommend is EnviroSafe Paints, which uses no fungicides or biocides at all.

  • Choose the natural beauty of hardwood, tile or stone floors. 

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Finish your floors with a water-based sealant, then add softness underfoot with organic cotton or wool rugs.  As luxurious as it seems, carpet can harbor mold, dander and allergens.  Chemicals used in the manufacturing process, as well as stain retardants and fireproofing, can be hazardous to both humans and pets.

  • Sleep on an organic mattress.

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Your healthiest option is an organic mattress, made with natural latex, wool or organic cotton. Be sure your pillows are all natural as well. Non-organic cotton is grown in fields soaked in insecticides; dyes and color fixers use heavy metals such as chromium, copper and zinc. You can request “no fire-retardant chemicals” be used on your mattress; this requires a prescription from a doctor.

  • Mix old materials with new: antiques are the ultimate in renewal and reverence for history.

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Antique wooden furniture was created from old-growth forests long ago. No new resources are used in its construction, making its restoration and re-use a loving part of caring for the earth. Manufacturing plants, even the very greenest, distribute impurities into our air, waste systems and water. New furniture requires the production of finishes, dyes and sealants; they arrive in retail stores via large fossil-fuel burning vehicles. Carefully chosen antiques say “I love you” to the earth.

Even in a contemporary home, the gentle lines of antique furniture can add eye-catching details to your bedroom. Rather than a mass-produced item, your antique dresser, bed or oriental rug was likely made in a small workshop by a crafstman who made good use of few resources, making your home and bedroom truly unique to you.

  • Make Your Bed with Natural, Organic Textiles

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One of my favorite resources for organic bedding is Coyuchi. You can find organic cotton sheets, blankets, pillows, duvet covers, shams and more, all made with natural fibers and produced using a nontoxic process.

  • Less is More

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There’s nothing restful or romantic about clutter. If your bedroom is to be a true sanctuary, it needs to be a sacred space for you, where you find tranquility, not a stack of things you need to deal with. It should also be the cleanest room in your house, since you spend 1/3 of your life breathing its air.

Many conventional cleaning products, rather than cleaning your bedroom, will actually pollute it with a toxic mixture of petrochemicals. Synthetic fragrances are added to mask the odor of chemical vapors, implicated in headaches, dizziness, skin rashes and respiratory problems. Good commercial products are made by Seventh Generation. Or you can make your own cleaning products from items you have in your pantry, such as baking soda, kosher salt, lemon and olive oil. You’ll find instructions here.

  • Make Your Bedroom Your Retreat

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This is your private place where you go to get away from the world for awhile. It needs to have privacy and sensuality to serve as a haven for time spent either alone or with your beloved. Add the things that will help to recharge your soul by satisfying your senses.  A comfortable chair where you can sit and read a well-loved book, lit by sunlight streaming in through a window, is a wonderful comfort-touch. Add a cashmere throw and a soft pillow, and let yourself be lulled to sleep on a quiet afternoon.

A vase of fresh flowers adds both beauty and fragrance, soothing colors allow your mind and body to truly relax, paintings you love, photographs you cherish, a quilt made by your grandmother–all add to the feeling of pleasure. You can be sentimental here. It’s your safe place.

  • Reconsider the Television

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Part of the mystery of keeping love alive is providing a space where you can truly spend time together. It’s tempting to watch tv as you fall asleep, or to catch up on the news and weather when you wake up in the morning, but technology has a way of intruding and changing the mood of a moment. Your private life together requires a commitment. Think about whether a television will add or detract from the  way you want your bedroom to feel.

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.  If you start now, you can create the bedroom of your dreams, or at least the first stage of the bedroom of your dreams, in time to celebrate–together.

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“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”–A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

 

A Tree for Autism Speaks

 

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If you’ve read what I’ve written before about the wonderful work done by Autism Speaks, you know it’s an organization that’s close to my heart. Autism is a general term for a group of complex disorders of brain development.  One in 88 children per year are diagnosed with disorders on the Autism spectrum today, a forty fold increase in the last ten years. I’ve supported this organization through Light It Up Blue, have walked on Nantucket to raise money and awareness, and this year, have created a holiday tree to honor the families who struggle with this disorder, and to help bring attention to their search for a cure.

The tree is my contribution this year at The Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum Festival of Trees; I’ve participated in this event for years, and each holiday look forward to creating a new and original testament to the holiday.

The Autism Speaks tree is made from two interlocking puzzle pieces, the highly recognizable Autism Speaks logo, painted their signature blue. The tree inside the puzzle boasts 500 silver balls, a sparkling reminder of the children and families who deserve our support.

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autism speaks elvesMy “elves” this year were my husband, Frank Fasanella, my dad, Bob, and my good friend Russ Valentine, visiting from Florence, Italy. We spent hours putting the tree together and getting every detail just right. I am so grateful for their help!

I hope if you’re on the island you stop by the museum and see all the beautiful trees. It’s such a special time of year on Nantucket!

 

A Special Thought for Christmas

Taking care of others at the holidays is something we all try to do. I’ve recently been inspired by a person I admire greatly. He and his wife recently re-evaluated their donations to charitable organizations, and decided to add to those contributions something more direct and personal. I was able to witness their new plan in action when we went out to dinner in Atlanta this fall. After leaving a generous tip on the bill, he called over the waitress, a single mom of two children, and gave her another twenty, just for her.

Their new way of giving includes overtipping cab drivers, porters, the room service people, on TOP of the service charge on the tab. Everyone who performs a personal service for them, everyone who crosses their path in a day.

I followed in this dear man’s footsteps this year, and have continued throughout the holiday season. If you have the means, and sometimes even when it’s a challenge, bumping up the amount you tip can make someone’s day. The smiles and appreciation are truly contagious.

Try it! The ten or twenty dollars doesn’t seem like much. But it makes a difference.

With Gratitude for Our Animal Companions

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“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” –Anatole France

My love and passion for the earth extends to all her creatures, especially our beloved animal companions! I am a decidedly better person for having dogs in my life. Loving and living with dogs (first Labrador Retrievers, now Bichon Frises G.G., Tuffy and Ellie) has taught me so many things. One thing I’m sure of is that they deserve the best care we can provide, throughout their too-short lives. The photo above is me with my beloved Bichon B.B., who passed in November several years ago, and who is always in my heart. In this month of gratitude, I am so grateful for the unconditional love and companionship our pets give to us so freely.

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There are good people doing important work in caring better for our companion animals. One of my favorites is Ted Kerasote, author of the book Merle’s Door, Pukka, and Pukka’s Promise. In Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs, he tackles the way we feed, vaccinate, train and live with our dogs. How many vaccines are too many? Should we rethink spaying and neutering? Is raw food really healthier than kibble? He interviewed hundreds of breeders, veterinarians and animal welfare experts to help us rethink the everyday choices we make for our companion animals.

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Ted Kerasote with Puppy Pukka

Ted believes, as I do, that the best place to begin is with nutrition. One of the most commonly used pet food ingredients is corn. Not only is corn rich in carbohydrates, raising blood sugar levels in dogs quickly, it’s also one of the most heavily sprayed crops, receiving 30% of all agricultural herbicides used in the U.S. We’ve seen massive pet food recalls for products containing tainted rice and wheat proteins from China. Dogs and cats have suffered kidney and liver failure after eating food from China contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers.

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We must be informed about what we give to our pets. They depend on us to safeguard their health, and their small bodies are quickly impacted by poisons. Like children, they are more sensitive to environmental pollutants because of their small size. It’s important to avoid carpets finished with formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Use glass or stainless steel bowls for feeding, instead of plastic, which may contain endocrine disrupting phthalates. Pukka’s Promise is filled with the latest research and best choices. Learn more about Ted Kerasote here.

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I’ve written before about alternatives to toxic flea and tick remedies: read more here. Our dogs certainly shouldn’t be exposed to environmental pollutants, especially the herbicides and pesticides that many people unthinkingly apply to lawns. Too many people have lost pets at a young age to cancer. One of my favorite holistic pet stores is Earth Animal, in Westport, Connecticut. Founded by Dr. Bob Goldstein, and his wife, Susan, the stores carries products as green, natural and pure as possible.

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I encourage everyone who is concerned with the health of their animals to visit Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein’s Healing Center for Animals online. Founded in 1995, their focus integrates science, nutrition, emotional support and your own involvement in helping your companion animals recover from illness, or remain healthy as long as possible. They work with you and your own vet by phone, email or fax, conferring about the benefits of integrative medicine.

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November is the National Humane Society’s Adopt a Senior Pet Month. Older animals are often calmer, already trained, and happy to spend time on the couch with you. Puppies are adorable, but they’re also a ton of work. At shelters, older dogs are the last to be adopted and the first to be euthanized. And, as you can see in the photo below, they’re beautiful!

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Finally, when it is time to say goodbye to our beloved companions, it is natural to mourn them, and to seek comfort. Here are some books that I’ve found helpful for myself, and for friends when their dogs have passed away.

When Your Pet Dies, by Alan Wolfelt, PhD

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Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant

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Good Dog. Stay., by Anna Quindlen

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“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals.  For the animal shall not be measured by man. They are not brethren.  They are not underlings. They are other nations, caught with ourselves in a net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of earth.”–Henry Beston

A Window to Our Future

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Earlier this month, I participated in the Leadership Summit for Sustainable Design, hosted by the Design Futures Council, as a member of the Delegation of 100.  The Summit was an amazing gathering of leaders in the sustainable design movement, who share a belief in our ability to shift the relationship between humans and the environment, and to create systems that are truly sustainable.

My involvement with the Design Futures Council is one of several commitments I have in place to work toward a more sustainable earth. It encompasses both my “green” design work and my dedication to educating my clients and readers, as well as a personal passion for protecting the environment.

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Held this year in Minneapolis (guess whose statue this is!), the participants and speakers inspired me to believe in a future for our children and grandchildren that can support both the growing numbers of humans on the planet as well as the fragile environment we live in.

I’ve heard the term “a conga line of geniuses and scientists” applied to the Ted Conferences before; it certainly applied to the Summit as well.  It was hard to choose what is most important to share from such a list of exemplary individuals, all who exhibit such “intellectual rigor” (one of the bywords of the conference!).  I finally chose architect and author Ed Mazria, for his work with his organization Architecture 2030.  It’s so important for all of us to understand what’s at stake in the world, and what we can do to help!

I am greatly concerned, along with leading environmental scientists, about climate change and global warming.  The risk to us all, and to future generations, is in doing business as usual.  We need to make changes to bring the world’s temperatures back to where they were in the pre-industrial era; at the very least we must keep our global warming to under a 2 degree increase.

Ed Mazria

 Ed Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030: architect, author, educator

The architecture and design community must take the lead in transforming the way we live, work, and utilize the eco-system.  Our built environments must reflect a genuine concern for the next generations, and a willingness to engage with government, business leaders and public policy to find the right balance.

Mr. Mazria has reshaped the international dialogue on energy and climate change to incorporate building design through his organization Architecture 2030.

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Architecture 2030 recognizes that buildings are the major source of global demand for energy and materials that produce by-product greenhouse gases.  Mr. Mazria’s impassioned support for innovative sustainable design strategies is leading a new generation of concerned industry leaders to embrace his vision for the future.

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Specifically, Mr. Mazria has emphasized the need to keep the global temperature increase below the two degree centigrade threshold.  Entire species disappear when the temperature changes only a fraction of a degree.  The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPPCC) Fifth Assessment Report concludes that to keep the increase below two degrees, global greenhouse emissions must peak by 2020, and then begin a rapid decline.

Mr. Mazria has focused on China, currently urbanizing at a rate unmatched in human history, as an opportunity to create healthy, resilient and integrated regional infrastructures, cities, towns and buildings that are models of economic and urban sustainability.  Projections indicate that within 20 years, China’s urban population will grow by 350 million people, creating 221 cities with more than one million inhabitants.  In order to take advantage of the opportunity to plan and design sustainable, carbon neutral built environments that protect and enhance natural resources, Mr. Mazria and Architecture 2030 are working toward a carbon neutral China Accord.

Old Chinese Village

The China Accord urges that cities, towns, urban developments, new buildings and major renovations in China be designed to be carbon neutral, meaning they use no more energy over the course of a year than they produce or import from renewable energy sources.  If reaching carbon neutral is not practical, then they urge developments to be designed to be highly efficient with the capability to use renewable energy sources in the future.

Architecture 2030 is organizing signatures from all those who have offices in China, or current or future plans for projects in China, to add their signatures and pledges to the Accord, to influence urban development in China and throughout the world.  More information is available at architecture2030.org.

Architecture 2030 isn’t just concerned with China, however.  Mr. Mazria’s 2030 Challenge is about reducing the carbon footprint of architecture everywhere, first by eliminating the use of fossil fuels in new construction, and then by cutting the use of fossil fuels in existing buildings by 50% by 2030.  He plans to hit those targets through a new initiative called the 2030 PALETTE:  an online design tool to help produce low impact, people friendly projects.

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For instance, this “green” school utilizes daylighting from multiple sides to cut energy consumption.  It provides more even lighting, and reduces glare, often created when light comes primarily from one side. The online tool gives advice on how to properly daylight a building, from providing windows on opposite walls, to incorporating high ceilings and walls with light shelves to direct sunlight deeper into a space.

The online tool provides information ranging from the micro–daylighting in buildings–to the macro–defining growth boundaries to limit urban sprawl.  The work of Architecture 2030 is critical to our future, and will help to determine whether climate change is manageable or catastrophic.

Important work is being done by other concerned groups as well.  In late September, I attended the annual conference of The Nantucket Project, an organization that hosts a gathering of some of the world’s leading thinkers and visionaries to help shape the dialogue on the most important issues we face. I was gratified to attend this year along with Senator John McCain, Chris Matthews, Greg LeMond, Michael Pollan, Louis Schwartzberg, and many others for presentations, discussions and education from experts in a variety of fields.

Nantucket Project John McCain

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Here I am with John McCain at The Nantucket Project

I learned so much at both of The Nantucket Project and the Leadership Summit; there’s so much more I wish I could share with you.  Here are three more inspirations:

Check out Jim Harris, the author of A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste.  The book presents hundred of case studies showing how environmental leadership can drive profitability and improve the bottom line.

And available through Netflix, there is a must-see documentary film called Chasing Ice.  It’s environmental photographer James Balog’s record of the world’s changing glaciers, captured through time-lapse photography. He compresses years into seconds to show how these ice mountains are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Last, please watch the film Nature’s Beauty Inspires Gratitude, a short film by award-winning cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg shown at a TEDx talk.  His time lapse photography captures breathtaking images through, as he says, “beauty and seduction–nature’s tools for survival.”   I was so moved by his film treatise on water, “One Drop.”  I hope it becomes widely available for viewing soon.

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Our world is vast and fragile, and climate change is real and deadly.  I”ll continue to share my thoughts on how we can take action together.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

It’s Time for Plan Bee

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The humming that you hear when you step into the garden in summer is the song of hundreds of bees, honey and bumble, moving pollen from one flower to another as they feed.  Not only a charming aspect of the garden, bees are responsible for the successful pollination of fruits, nuts and many vegetables, including many of the plants you grow in your backyard.  Honeybees are critical to agriculture.  Best-selling food author Michael Pollan has estimated that they pollinate thirty to forty percent of the food we consume.

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With so much at stake, the health of our honeybees has to be a primary environmental concern.  For the past few years, though, bees have been dying off from what was, at first, an unknown cause.  Labeled “Colony Collapse Disorder,” the die off began to get the attention it deserved from scientists worldwide.  Several theories were proposed, including mites, viruses or other pathogens, or a decline in natural habitat.  Increasingly, however, scientists began to identify two main sources of concern:  farming monoculture, where bees suffer a dietary imbalance from feeding on only one kind of pollen, and a new class of neurotoxin pesticides, called neonicotinoids.

(I first wrote about the danger to bees in April 2013; you can read that post here. )

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Although nicotine has been used as an insecticide since colonial times, today’s nicotinoids are different.  Based on nicotine, they also include clothianidin, thiametoxam and imadacloprid, among other chemicals.  They’re used to coat plant seeds, and are released as a lymph inside the plant as a permanent insecticide.  Bees who have sucked dew from maize leaves that absorbed neonicotinoids becojme disoriented, get lost on their way back to the hive, and die.

Nantucket beekeeper David Berry, owner of the Nantucket HoneyBee Company, says, “(The nicotinoids) are literally part of the tissue of the plant itself. It seems to be collectively lethal to bees. The wax in a beehive is like a sponge. Over time these chemicals collect in the wax and seem to become much more damaging to the bees.”

There is some good news, though!  Greenpeace reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is introducing new labels for neonicotinoid pesticides that will prohibit the use of those pesticides when bees are present.  The labels will include information to reduce spray drift, and in red letters, they will read “this product can kill bees and other insect pollinators.”

Europe has already gone one step further, and has banned the use of neonicotinoids entirely, due to their fatal impact on European bee colonies.  A bill was just introduced in Congress to impose a ban on neonics until a scientific study can prove no harm will come to bee colonies from its use.  Greenpeace has a three step plan that includes:

  1. Banning the seven most dangerous pesticides
  2. Preserving wild habitat
  3. Restoring ecological agriculture

Ultimately, there must be a ban similar to Europe’s in order to protect our vital bee population.  Labeling is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Here’s How You Can Help

You can sign the petition asking Congress and the EPA for the ban on neonicotinoids, support local, organic farms in your region, and plant a bee-friendly garden of your own.

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Your choices do make a difference in keeping the earth around you a healthy home for bees and other wildlife.  Here’s a step by step plan to help you create a bee-haven, with some added tips from beekeeper David Berry:

Step One:  Do not use fungicides, herbicides or pesticides in your garden, relying instead on natural controls for insects and other gardening problems.  Read my tips on organic gardening here.

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Step Two:  Plan your garden to include pollen and nectar sources as close to all year round as possible.  On a warm winter day, honeybees may be out foraging for food for their young.

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Step Three:  Start with the earliest bloomers, including witchhazels, willows and Acer maples. David Berry adds that letting part of your property go back to its wild state helps to feed bees and other beneficial insects. He stresses that urban areas can be wonderful places for bees to collect nectar, too, where people plant gardens and water them. The next most important time is the middle of the summer, when the heat builds and not much is in bloom. That’s when plants such as Russian Sage and Lavender can be helpful. Clethera, sometimes called Sweet Pepper Bush, blooms on Nantucket in mid-summer, produces a beautiful fragrance and makes great honey. Luckily for Nantucket beekeepers, much of Nantucket’s open space has clethera growing on it, says Berry.

milky white witch hazel blooming after rain in the spring

Step Four:  Plant masses of flowers, as single plants may not attract bees. Another tip from David Berry: look for older cultivars. The older variety of plants are better for bees, including clover as part of the lawn. It wasn’t until the fertilizer companies convinced people that clover was a weed that it began to disappear. Clover makes some of the best bee nectar!

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Step Five:  Plant with the bees’ favorite colors:  purple and blue, followed by yellow and orange.

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I would add my own petition, that if we are to protect the earth and all the living things in it, that we must first remember to see beauty in the smallest forms of life, and then share that beauty with a child.  Here are wise words from one of my favorite naturalists and authors, Rachel Carson, from her book The Sense of Wonder:

“And then there is the world of little things, seen all too seldom.  Many children, perhaps because they themselves are small and closer to the ground than we, notice and delight in the small and inconspicuous.  With this beginning, it is easy to share with them the beauties we usually miss because we look too hastily, seeing the whole and not its parts.  Some of nature’s most exquisite handiwork is on a miniature scale, as anyone knows who has applied a magnifying glass to a snowflake.”

Beautiful child with sunflower

Learn more about Rachel Carson and her work here.

For a humorous look at the life of bees, watch Bee Movie, written by Jerry Seinfeld!  The cartoon does point out that without bees pollinating our flowers and crops, plant life and our food chain would be in serious danger.  Watch a short clip here.

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For more information on bees, visit HoneybeeLives.org. 

 

 

Fabulous Foyers

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Penthouse in New York showcases a view toward the Steinway satinwood piano in the living room. The piece on the right is a fine example of Faux Bois; the wallpaper is silk string. Photographer:  Durstan Saylor

What makes a foyer fabulous?  A foyer is the first glimpse of your home for your guests, and as such, it should provide a gracious welcome.  A beautifully designed entry way is a breath of rest and calm after travel and time spent on the road, for you and your family as well as your guests.  More a throughway than a living space, it should be clean and uncluttered.  Even a small entry should feel spacious.

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Nantucket House opens to a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean.  Next stop:  Portugal! On the left is a 18th Century French Provincial painted bureau and an 18th Century barometer; floors are reclaimed chestnut. Photographer:  Terry Pommett

In American Colonial style homes, the straightaway hall often separates the house into two distinct halves.  The entry hall opens to doors at each end, affording a view through the house, with the staircase to the side.  A table, lamps and framed pictures creates a room-like vignette, where family and visitors pause for a moment before proceeding into the home.

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The Beach Nest features two custom designed pieces in rattan, a red coral mirror in the style of an 18th century Chippendale mirror, a handpainted harlequin wood floor and an umbrella stand featuring a collection of canes. Photographer:  Terry Pommett

In modern American and English houses, and in many vacation homes, the entry hall and the living room are combined, and there is no separate room designated as a foyer.  There should still be an area clearly defined as an entrance, with at least a small table and a vase of fresh flowers to set a welcoming tone.  A mirror is often included, where guests and family members can make a quick check of their appearance.

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Nantucket Traditional  greets guests with an eighteenth century painted bench.  Photographer: Terry Pommett

Adding unique and personal artwork, such as this Christian Thee custom mural above, serves as an ice-breaker and conversation starter.  We had this mural designed to celebrate the best-loved places in this St. Louis-based couple’s lives, so although the largest portion of the map is dedicated to Nantucket, it includes the Texas flag, the Arch of St. Louis, and other items close to the their hearts.

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Greenwich Elegance features two antique Chinese windows framed as pieces of art and a custom-made bench with an antique Aubusson pillow on top.  Photographer:  Erik Rank

Foyers can be the most formal part of the house, with a reserved tone.  It is, after all, the public area of the home, where not only friends and family but strangers step inside.  A formal feeling can be achieved with symmetry and  balance, where paired wall art, lamps or potted plants delineate the boundaries.

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Captain’s Quarters celebrates its seaside setting with a custom star rug, and a Dujardin-custom staircase with recessed paneling created by Senior Designer Price Connor. Photographer:  Durstan Saylor

If there is space, it’s nice to add chairs or a bench to the entry.  It adds to the warmth of your welcome.

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Connecticut Green is sustainable design at its best, with an interior window for lighting. The newel post, bringing a bit of Nantucket to Connecticut, resembles a lighthouse with lights that change color. Photographer Durstan Saylor; 

Soothing neutral shades and consistency in design are important when the entry has a view into other rooms of the home.  My collection of walking sticks add punch to the foyer in my home in Connecticut, above.  Each is unique, and the stand gives guests a fun look at one of my unusual collections.

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Briar Patch dazzles with an unusual mirror created from a zinc architectural element from France above an 18th century French candle cupboard.  Photographer:  Terry Pommett

An antique spinning wheel and a set of nesting baskets are conversation starters in this entry way.  An ivy plant is lovely here, instead of flowers,  and serves to bring life to the space.

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Captain George Parker House

In an historic home, such as the sea captain’s house I renovated years ago on Nantucket, period furniture in the entry way is part of the careful attention to authentic details carried throughout the rest of the house.

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Harbor House promises delightful surprises ahead when guests arrive at a half-moon garden gate. Photographer Terry Pommett

Finally, remember that the entrance to your home begins outside.  A charming gate, beautiful plantings or comfortable seating on a covered porch offer a tantalizing hint of what’s behind the front door.

The Blue Sky of July: Choosing Safe Sunscreen

Madaket Beach

We wait all year for the blue skies of summer, but time at the beach and on the boat can take a harsh toll on our skin. The dangers of overexposure to the sun have been amply documented, along with the need to use sunscreen to protect skin from both burning and accelerated aging. That sounds like a simple instruction to follow, but it’s important to remember that sunscreen is a chemical preparation applied to the body’s largest organ.

Dozens of studies have documented the potential health hazards associated with the chemicals in sunscreen.  Beyond possible skin irritation, these chemicals can create skin damage and even hormone disruption.  Most sunscreens include a combination of three to six of the following ingredients:  oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.

Why is it important to know about the chemicals you put on your skin?  Mark Hyman, M.D., has said that personal care products are the next frontier in health risks and awareness. A nicotine patch applied to the skin calms the craving for a cigarette, demonstrating that our skin is a protective barrier, but also extremely porous.  Transdermal absorption means that what you put on your skin also gets into your bloodstream.

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Our sunscreen may cause us some concern, but we are also seeing skin cancer rates increase.  Melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer, has tripled over the past 35 years.  Although many sunscreens claim to provide broad spectrum, or both UVB and UVA protection, U.S. sunscreens often have inadequate protection against UVA rays. Without an effective labeling program, consumers are unable to determine whether their sunscreen provides low, medium or high levels of protection. (SPF factors only assess protection against UVB rays.)  Consequently, many people think they are better protected than they are, and stay out in the sun far too long.

A sun made with suncream at the shoulder (shallow dof)

What You Need to Know

  •  Mineral versus Chemical Filters:  There are two kinds of active ingredients in sunscreen, mineral and chemical filters.  Each protects skin differently, though both may pose health hazards.  
  • Chemical Filters Contain Avobenzone: Avobenzone is the best agent for filtering UVA rays, but it can break down when exposed to sunlight.  Chemicals such as octocrylene must be added to stabilize the product.
  • Octocryclene May Disrupt the Hormonal System: Some research suggests that oxybenzone and two other sunscreen chemicals–4-MBC and octinoxate–could be toxic to reproductive systems. Another chemical, oxybenzone, which is found in 80 percent of chemical sunscreens, can cause allergic skin reactions and also may disrupt hormones.  The Center for Disease Control has detected oxybenzone in more than 96 percent of the U.S. population.
  • Mineral Sunscreens Filter UV Rays with Nanoparticles: The active ingredients in mineral sunscreens are usually zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, in the form of “nanoparticles.”  The Environmental Working Group tends to favor mineral sunscreens, because they are stable in sunlight.  Some nanoparticles, however, may be small enough to penetrate the skin and accumulate in body tissue. 
  • UVRays Mainly Cause Burning:  SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is the degree of protection a sunscreen provides against UVB rays.
  • UVRays Mainly Cause Aging:  UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, and contribute to wrinkles, sagging and dark spots.
  • The FDA Uses Weak Criteria: Half the U.S. sunscreens would not make it to the shelves in Europe, which adheres to stricter standards.  Americans may be getting a false sense of security from high SPF numbers, and staying out in the sun too long.
  • Anti-aging Retinol May Be Risky: Although it’s a common sunscreen ingredient, studies show that vitamin A (Retinol, or Retinyl palmitate) could speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied in sunlight.  It’s present in nearly 25 percent of all sunscreens. Keep it in your night cream!

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Here’s What to Do

  • Don’t Get Burned: Plan around the sun.  Go outdoors in the early morning, or late afternoon, when the sun is lower.  Wear protective, loose-fitting clothing:  it’s the best protection from UV rays.  
  • Protect Your Eyes:    Sunglasses do more than make you look fabulous.  They protect your eyes from UV radiation that causes cataracts. Invest in a high-quality pair.
  • Choose Your Sunscreen Carefully:   You want to choose broad spectrum protection with ingredients that cause the fewest health concerns.  Avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen.  Remember that high SPF sunscreen can encourage you to overdo your time in the sun.  
  • Use at Least Two Ounces of Sunscreen: Most people don’t apply enough.  Two ounces is enough to fill a shot glass.  Make sure you reapply every two hours, or after swimming. 

The Environmental Working Group, an environmental health research and advocacy organization which provides information to consumers to make healthier choices, has posted a guide to the best 2013 sunscreen products.  Check out their list of 184 products here. 

One of my favorite, safe sunscreens is made by MDSolarSciences.  Their products are approved by the Environmental Working Group, and are created with the intent to cause the least amount of potential harm from an environmental standpoint.  I like their products because they’re non-greasy, and non-comedogenic (meaning they won’t clog pores and cause breakouts), and the lotion smooths on like silk.  It’s fragrance free–so important in a world where we are constantly bombarding our senses.  They make a sensitive skin formula for the face, which is also suited for Acne or Rosacea prone skin.  And, it’s very water resistant!

The summer sunshine is beautiful.  Protect your skin, and enjoy every moment of it!

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Your Sacred Space: Part One of an Interview with Trudy and Women on Fire Founder Debbie Phillips

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I recently had the honor of being interviewed by my good friend Debbie Phillips for Women on Fire, the group she founded to bring an amazing circle of fabulous women together for inspiration, strategies and support.  The following is a transcript of part one of our talk on Your Sacred Space:  How to Create an Inspired, Healthy Living Environment. 

Debbie:  Hello, Woman on Fire!  Women on Fire is one of the most dynamic communities of women you will find anywhere.  And my guest today highlights the bonanza of talent and expertise we have inside our organization.  Today’s interview is part of our series on exploring Your Life.  Each month for a year, we are presenting a life topic with strategies on living your best, healthiest and most inspired life.  Last month we looked at Your Health and Wellbeing, and today we are discussing Your Sacred Space.  Our guest expert, Trudy Dujardin, is a pioneer and a leader in green design and eco-conscious living.  She is a nationally recognized interior designer who will share her valuable tips with us today for creating your own healthy, sacred environments.  And she will tell us why it’s essential to your good health and your family’s health to live this way.  

A little about Trudy before I bring her on:  Trudy Dujardin is the president of Dujardin Design Associates based in Westport, Connecticut, and on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts.  For more than 25 years, she has designed some of the most elegant homes on Nantucket, in Connecticut, and throughout the country.  Her interior design firm is nationally recognized by industry experts, the media nad her clients for her distinctive eco-elegant desings.  She is a professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers, and she is a LEED Accredited Professional, recognized for her expertise in sustainable design and construction.  Trudy was one of the early pioneers to use non-toxic materials to create interiors rich in beauty and full of health.  Her personal journey includes a struggle with multiple chemical sensitivities, yet today she is fully recovered and passionately carries her message that a healthy home is the ultimate luxury to her friends and clients, and the audience of her widely read blog, HolisticHouse.com.  

Trudy is someone I know well, and I love and respect her personally and professionally.  She has influenced my taste and my style and my thinking for more than a dozen years.  Trudy is married to handsome Frank, and they have three amazing Bichon Frises, the cutest little white dogs you’ve ever seen.  Plus, I am so proud that Trudy is one of our Women on Fire members.  When I want to take a vacation, I go to Trudy’s website and blog; I’m not kidding, her work is so extraordinary that to luxuriate in her website for a while is just like going on vacation.  Welcome, Trudy Dujardin!

Trudy:  Hello! Thank you so much.  I’m thrilled to be here.

Debbie:  Aww, I’m happy to share you with Women on Fire.  I know a lot of women who have attended tea parties (Women on Fire signature gatherings) know you and you know them.  I just want to introduce you to everyone else who hasn’t had that pleasure yet.  And our first question always is–and you know this, Trudy, because you get the membership packet–our tradition:  What’s your day been like so far?

Trudy:  My day was pretty interesting so far.  I usually get up sometime between 3:30 and 5:00 every morning because I have, as we talked about, my three Bichons, and they’re the loves of my life.  They make me laugh out loud every day.  But two of them are almost 11, and they can’t make it through the night.  So when I wake up in the middle of the night, I worry about them.  I tiptoe downstairs, trying not to wake anybody else up, let them out, bring them in, and give them a little rice cracker.  Then I sneak back upstairs to try to catch another 40 winks.  If I have a heavy workload, I lie there and think about my day.  But I always start my day with prayers.  I have two that I say every morning, and it helps me focus on my day.  But I have another favorite, Debbie.  Do you remember Shakti Gawain?

Debbie:  Of course I do.

Trudy:  I love her, and I have an old tape of hers.  It’s not even a DVD/CD.  It’s an old audiotape, and it’s a visualization technique.  So I visualized this morning how our interview would go and our wonderful day.  Next–I don’t get a lot of points for this because I haven’t been doing this for long–but at 7:30 I got in the car and headed to the gym, where I worked out with a trainer from 8:00 to 9:00.  And so that everybody knows, I’m not a saint.  I don’t do that all the time.  I had fallen off the exercise wagon for a long time because of my business travels, and I decided on the first of the year that I needed to get going again.  So last week I began, and I’m thrilled to be back.  It just feels good.  It sets my day on the right path.  And then finally, I came back, ate breakfast, showered, and here I am with you!  And I love having you all to myself!

Debbie:  Excellent!  Well, good for you!

Trudy:  Later on, I’ll be working with a new project.  Debbie, I’ve been asked to sit on the board of a new organization called Her Haven. It’s the creation of Carey Dougherty (founder and executive director) and she is an amazing woman.  I just want to tell you about it, as I’m brand new to it.  But what Her Haven does–it’s right up your alley–is to create environments for women in need.  They get applications, and it’s kind of like makeovers, but they find out what they woman might need to do.  It could be somebody who really wants to be a writer, but she has so many kids and works, and so they create a little haven in her home.  And that’s why it’s called Her Haven.

Debbie:  I love that.

Trudy:  For the project we’re working on now, Carey has been interviewing the PTA at Sand Hook, Connecticut.  We all know what’s going on there and what a tragedy it was.  But we are trying to see if maybe they need something in the teachers’ lounge that will help comfort the teachers, a respite where they can go.  Or if there is a particular person in that town who may need Her Haven.  So that’s our mission and that’s to be continued.  I’ll fill you in on that more later.

Debbie:  Oh, I love it, and you’re such a perfect person to be on that board.

Trudy:  I’m bringing in the “green” element.

Debbie:  Well, I love it.  That’s fantastic.  So let’s talk a little bit, Trudy, about how old you were when you first knew you wanted to be a designer.

Trudy:  I’m not sure of the exact age, but what my parents told me is that I wasn’t even two and I was already sketching.  The interesting thing is I was always sketching rooms, environments.  They were almost like stage sets.

Debbie:  I just wondered, you said you were two years old and you were sketching?  Were you sketching with crayons?

Trudy:  Pencils.

Debbie:  Pencils.  Wow!

Trudy:  And then crayons.

Debbie:  Do you have any of those sketches?  Did your parents save them?

Trudy:  Oh, I’m sure there’s a box in the attic somewhere.

Debbie:  Well, tell us more about what inspired you to work in the field of design.  So you grew up loving to sketch, but then was there anything in particular?

Trudy: My uncle–my father’s brother–was a furniture designer.  So, of course, that was a direct lead in.  He had gone to the New York School of Interior Design, and back in the 1950s and 60s, when I was a tiny little kid, they used to take me to his studio in Greenwich Village.  I was so fascinated by it.  I would see these huge, thick slabs of marble and walnut.  He had a very elite clientele.  he was making racetrack-oval dining tables long before that was the fashion.  He was really ahead of his time.  We still have some of his furniture now.  It’s classic and timeless.  it should be in the Museum of Modern Art.  Just wonderful.  He was the inspiration for the art side of it.  My first present from him was his own wooden briefcase full of all his oil paints.  I carried that with me every day when I went to graduate school at New York University.  Now, for the flip side of the family, we go scientific, medical and then artistic.  My father worked for NASA.  He was in the space program, and he was a design engineer.  He designed thins such as the tile dial, as it was called for the space shuttle.  You know how the nose cone is all covered in tile for re-entry?

Debbie:  Oh, I’m quite familiar.  My brother Scott worked on the space shuttle from its inception to its last day.

Trudy:  My father designed the equipment for measuring how each tile should be slightly different.  It’s just amazing.  He also designed the Polaris Missile way back in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Debbie:  Oh, my goodness. 

Trudy:  My mother and I never knew what he was working on because he worked in a think tank with no windows.  he said if he had his life to do over again, he would get a job where he worked outside.

Debbie:  And now he can.

Trudy:  And now he can.  Right.

Debbie:  I know your father is still alive and well.

Trudy:  He is still alive and well.  He was my exercise buddy last week.  I thought, “I need someone to make me accountable.”  So, at 89 years old, he was getting up in the morning and going to the gym with me, just to keep me honest.

Debbie:  All right, Dad!  Well, Trudy, I love your motto: “A healthy home is the ultimate luxury.” Tell us a little more about that.  How did you come up with that?  What does that mean exactly? 

Trudy:  As you know, we have a lot of very high-end clients on Nantucket.  I was thinking that they have all these beautiful things, but to really make a house pay off and serve them well, it needs to support their health, which means that the indoor air quality has to be just sterling.  It has to be perfect for them, and they can afford it.  I’ve been at this since 1987.  I was very early in on it, and a lot of the builders on Nantucket thought it was a little loopy.  They’d ask, “What do you mean the paint is going to hurt you?” It’s hard for people to change.  So I had to educate my clients.  They would say, “I don’t have allergies, so that’s not important to me.” And I would say that it’s important for your long-term health.  Every item on the face of the earth emits vapors of fumes.  They’re called VOCs–Volatile Organic Compounds.  All of these things chip away at your armor.  So even if you are perfectly health, why start chipping away at it?  And then we have to think about our children and our pets and the elderly.  If we’re going to spend a lot of money, and have this luxurious home, let’s make it healthy too.  Why not?

Debbie:  Right.  And for our women, it doesn’t matter how luxurious it is.  We want to talk today about how anybody an make their home healthy.  I’d like to go back, Trudy.  How did your passion for “green” begin?  You were an interior designer, and you came upon these healthier materials and began to use them. 

Trudy:  It’s complex.  Just the other day I listened to your interview with Agapi Stassinopoulos and I was just so inspired by her and her feelings about her mother.  It jarred my memory.  But I used to think that the origin was that my former husband and I bought this beautiful piece of property on the harbor in Nantucket, and I was so in love with the island that I wanted to do this project right.  I thought it was a really healthy island, so let’s not have things silting off of the property and contaminating the water supply, hurting the scallop population  I thought that was the origin of my “greenness,” but then listening to Agapi’s wonderful message the other day, I realized that my mother was terminally ill with breast cancer.  She lived only to 51.  I helped her through those almost four years, and I realized that I just started questioning everything we were doing, having been raised on a farm in South Carolina with all the crop dusting and pesticides and insecticides.  i think I told you that I was the first-born, long-awaited grandchild, and they just cherished me.  So they would put me in a cot on a sleeping porch along a whole bank of windows to keep me cool at night.  It was nothing for it to be 105 degrees in South Carolina.  Then they sprayed my cot with DDT to keep the mosquitoes away.  That was probably the origin of the liver issues that caused my chemical sensitivity.  Am I answering your question?

Debbie:  Yes, you are.  And I want to just clarify because a lot of Women on Fire do know Agapi Stassinopoulos, and you are referring to the CD with her on it.  It’s quite inspiring.

Trudy:  But I want to backtrack a little bit.  I think “luxury” means when we luxuriate in something.  It doesn’t have to be a half-million-dollar home.  It doesn’t have to be anything.  The luxury of it is that you’re supporting your health.  To me, that’s the ultimate luxury.  I talk about how, every day, we’re in containers.  We get up in the morning, and we’re in our house.  We get in our car, and drive to work.  Then we’re in an office building.  We put the kids on a school bus and they go to a school.  We pick the kids up from school in a car and take them to the music teacher’s house or to the doctor’s office.  it’s endless.  We’re in a phone booth.  We’re in an airport.  What I’m striving for is indoor air quality–whatever we put in that space.  And the only space you can really control is your own environment, your home, so that everything in there supports your health and wellbeing.

To be continued:  in our next segment in July, I talk about my struggle with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and how I recovered, plus tips on how to make your home healthy and holistic!

 

Tales from the Crib: Tips for a Green Baby

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When talking about creating a healthy home, I’ve often said the first place to begin is in the bedroom.  For families with children, especially babies, the first place to start is in the nursery.  We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping, in close contact with bedding, mattresses and the often closed-air environment of a modern bedroom; for babies, their contact with nursery materials is multiplied as they can spend many more hours in sleep.

During sleep, your body works to remove any toxins you were exposed to during the day, and to restore energy and health. Babies, with their rapidly growing minds and bodies, need a pristine environment with clean air and minimal contaminants. According to the EPA, one of the top five hazards to human health is indoor air.  Here are some simple steps you can take to keep your baby happy and healthy:

  • When painting the nursery and refinishing floors, use no VOC paints and finishes.  VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds, chemicals (such as benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, and zylene) that “off-gas” for extended periods of time into the air we breathe. Non-toxic, no-VOC paints use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents, reducing the levels of heavy metals. Look for products with the Green Seal Standard, which certifies that they meet certain industry standards for VOCs.  (One of my favorite products is Envirosafe, a company which which uses no fungicides or biocides at all)

 

  • Choose hardwood, stone or tile floors that can be easily cleaned, and cover them with an organic wool or cotton rug.

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  • Select an organic mattress for the crib, made with natural latex, wool or organic cotton. Be sure all the baby bedding is organic as well.  Babies snuggle into their blankets and put their mouths on everything; non-organic cotton is grown in fields soaked in insecticides.  Dyes and color fixers use heavy metals such as chromium, copper and zinc.  A good source for organic baby bedding and bath items is Coyuchi.  Their products are made from 100% certified organic cotton and are produced using fair labor practices.

 

baby organic cribs

  • Choose eco-friendly wood furniture that is FSC certified, a designation from the Forest Stewardship Council ensuring that the wood was grown and harvested in a way that protects forests for the long term. Chemicals such as formaldehyde and polyisocyanurate can also be emitted from plywood and manufactured wood products.The Organic Mattress Store offers maple, oak, ash or cherry cribs made without plywood or particleboard; it comes unfinished or with a Green Seal Tung Oil organic finish.  It’s also the place to get organic baby mattresses, made with natural rubber and organic wool, a natural fire deterrent.

 

  • Invest in a good air-filtration system. Clear the nursery air by adding a room purifier, or go one step further and install a central filtration system. Models are available that clear particulates that can’t be seen by the naked eye, such as dust and pet dander, along with mold spores, pollen and chemical gases such as sulfuric acid, ammonia and formaldehyde.

 

  • Be clean and green with non-toxic cleaners.  Many conventional cleaning products actually can pollute baby’s room with a toxic mixture of petrochemicals.  Seventh Generation has created a line of safe, natural baby products, as part of their “Campaign for a Toxin-Free Generation.”  You can purchase everything from  safe nursery and household cleaning products to diapers, baby laundry detergent and gentle skin care.

 

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Other important Green Baby Tips:

  • Be sure to use glass baby bottles, never plastic.  When plastic is heated, it can leach a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) into baby formula at forty times the safe limit, potentially disrupting baby’s endocrine system.  

 

  • Dress baby in non-toxic sleepwear.  There are options which use acrylics and natural materials with tight weaves that can pass flame retardancy standards without the use of polybrominatd diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a chemical which is now found worldwide in dust, indoor and outdoor air, and waterways.

 

  • Make health and wellness as natural a choice in your daily life as the love and attention you so effortlessly give your precious children.  A healthy child is raised in a healthy home, and a healthy home is the ultimate luxury.

 

Fabulous Floors

Artistry.  It’s what turns the ordinary into the extraordinary.   Making imaginative choices that are both healthful and stunning in their impact.  The floor above is a compilation of glass tiles, designed in a holistic home (mine) to support air quality and still add beauty and grace to the landing.  When you want to add pattern and punch to your room, the floor beneath your feet may be the very first place to look.

A painted wood floor is the elegant end note in this dining room.  The geometric design softly introduces an architectural element into a surface that is too often overlooked.

Wood floors are durable, beautiful, and never need to be boring!  For a healthy, holistic home, be sure to use eco-friendly wood with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) designation, promoting responsible wood harvesting, or choose recycled wood that can be repurposed with non-VOC water-based finishes.

A compass rose graces the floor of this island home, an homage to its sea-faring history.  The compass rose is thought to have been coincidentally designed in a fashion that resembled the rose flower.  For old-time mariners, it helped to orient a map in the proper reading direction and gave relative directions for certain points on the chart.

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This cherry floor simply glows.  It’s been hand-rubbed with fourteen coats of tea stain and coated with a non-toxic water-based urethane.  It’s as healthful as it is beautiful.

A product that I believe in is SafeCoat paints, stains, wood finishes, sealers and other green building products.  They use only high quality, very refined resins and raw materials to avoid residual chemicals that offgas and cause problems for people with allergies or sensitivities. The Center for Green Building, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, has a wonderful website with a listing of SafeCoat products as well as other products that are safe for the people manufacturing them, safe for the people exposed to them, and safe for the environment.

Everyone deserves to live in a home without chemical offgassing, not just people who are allergic or sensitive.  People with chemical sensitivities are like the canaries in the mine shaft:  they react to smaller amounts of chemicals that are harmful to everyone.  It’s important to do the research.  The fact that a product has no Volatile Organic Compounds doesn’t necessarily mean it is free of toxic ingredients, such as formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde is present in many products because it is very inexpensive and it works well as a preservative. SafeCoat’s standards preclude the use of formaldehyde in any form, which makes it safer for everyone.

For a complete set of instructions on transitioning to water-base from oil-base paints and finishes, visit their website tips pages. 

Once you know your wood floors meet the highest environmental standards, you can add softness underfoot with area rugs and runners.  Stars proclaim a love of all things nautical, and add casual comfort and a burst of color to this entry hall and staircase.

Organic wool carpets in charming designs pull all the elements of seaside colors together in this living room.  Sand, sea and sky were the inspiration for this delightful space.

 

 

Connecting the Dots

There’s so much information about health risks bombarding us every day, warning us to avoid things or add things, do this and don’t do that.  It can make your head spin.  Scientists and environmental physicians agree that exposure to chemicals can be dangerous for your long term health.  The problem is that illnesses, including cancer and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, can take decades to develop.  We’re all exposed to thousands of toxins both inside and outside our homes:  how do we connect the dots and protect ourselves and our families from harmful chemicals?

You wouldn’t take a bath in paint thinner or breathe gas fumes for fun, as Mehmet Oz, M.D., and Michael Roizen, M.D. said in a recent article they wrote for Real Age.  But little risks, such as breathing paint fumes one day and cleaning with ammonia another, may add up.  Melanie Haiken wrote a wonderful informative piece on how to cancer proof your home, including how to replace seven carcinogens you may not have recognized for Yahoo Health.

To keep it simple, here are my top five things I believe everyone should do.  Remember that a healthy home is the ultimate luxury!

1. Make your bedroom the cleanest room in the house.

During sleep, your body works to remove any toxins you were exposed to during the day, and to restore energy and health for body and mind.  Replace your mattress and bedding with an organic mattress, made with natural latex, wool or organic cotton.  Be sure your pillows are all natural as well.  Non-organic cotton is grown in fields soaked in insecticides; dyes and color fixers use heavy metals such as chromium, copper and zink.  You can request “no fire retardant chemicals” be used on your mattress; this requires a prescription from your doctor.

2. Keep the air in your house pure.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America rates indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental health risks.  Clear and purify your air by adding a room air-purifier, or go further and install a central filtration system.  Models are available that can remove particulates such as dust and pet dander, along with molds, spores, pollen and chemical gases such as sulfuric acid, ammonia and formaldehyde.  Commercial cleansers are often overlooked culprits in polluting indoor air; some of their ingredients are carcinogenic and toxic to the lungs, liver and kidneys.

3.  Reduce or Eliminate VOCs with Water-Based Paints.

That just-painted smell is actually the off-gassing of chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and zylene.  The Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from paints last far longer than the odor does, as can vapors from floor stains, finishes, sealants and caulks. According to the EPA, some of these VOCs are known to cause cancer.  Low- or No-VOC products use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents, reducing the levels of heavy metals and formaldehyde. Even low VOC paints, though, can contain fungicides and biocides, used to prevent mildew growth and extend shelf life.  A product I use and recommend is EnviroSafe Paints, which uses no fungicides or biocides at all.

4. Be Clean and Green with Non-Toxic Cleansers
Many conventional cleaning products, rather than cleaning your home, actually pollute it with a toxic mixture of petrochemicals. Experts say chemicals inside our homes may have concentrations of up to 100 times higher than outdoor air. Synthetic fragrances are added to mask the odor of chemical vapors, implicated in headaches, dizziness, skin rashes and respiratory problems, as well as deadly diseases.  There are many good green cleaning products on the market made from natural ingredients, such as Seventh Generation:  look for products containing citrus oils and enzymes.  You can also make your own from items you have in your pantryI’ve given instructions on an earlier post.  Read it here.


5.  Protect your lawn and garden from contaminants.

Once you’ve made your home a safe-haven from fumes and toxic chemicals, you won’t want to live surrounded by pesticides and harsh fertilizers.  Lawn and garden chemicals are poisons to things that live, including you and your pets.  The residue from these products are too easily tracked into your house, polluting your pristine space.  A study from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested.  Many of these chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, and liver or kidney damage.  Learn to tolerate a few weeds, or get the family outside in the fresh air to dig them out by hand.  Healthy soil is “alive,” so boost your soil’s health by spreading organic compost or alfa meal.

To do even more for your health, be vigilant about BPA in plastic bottles and pitchers, and in canned goods.  Cook with glass, cast iron or porcelain or ceramic-coated pans rather than old nonstick cookware.  And choose skincare products made from natural and organic ingredients.  Doing just these few things will help to minimize the effects of unavoidable exposure to toxic chemicals and fumes.

Finally, believe, like I do, in the Power of One:  the power each of us has to make an impact, create change, and help heal the earth.

 

 

 

 

 

My Blue Heaven

 

There’s no color scheme more heavenly than blue and white. Blue and white reminds me of sea and sky: from the open ocean accented with crisp white sails to the summer sky dotted with white clouds.  As many as half the people surveyed around the world said blue was their favorite color, and it’s been documented as being the most soothing, restful color, making it perfect for bedrooms.

 

 

Blue pigment from the earliest days of human civilization was prized, almost as highly as gold. A bride must have something blue.  Blue flowers are coveted by gardeners, almost above all others.

 

Objets d’art and treasured collections can be used to add blue and white accents to almost any style room.  One of my favorites is Chinese export porcelain.  These classic pieces are the quintessential blue and white collectible, and have been for hundreds of years.

 

The technique for using blue decoration on white porcelain actually began in the Middle East in the 9th Century, but cobalt blue pigment was excavated from Iran and exported to China in the 9th Century as well. Our love for blue and white porcelain today is a testament to the timelessness of style eight or more centuries in the making.

 

 

The striking blue and white porcelain quickly became popular, and through the centuries, trading routes expanded to Europe, Asia, Northern Africa, the Middle East and the Americas.  Blue and white porcelain found its way to Nantucket Island, once the center of the whaling industry, as ballast on ships or in the trunks of sea captains and sailors.

 

 

Blue and white dinner services and teaware were popular imports in the 18th Century, often shipped by private traders who rented space on Dutch East India ships. The Dutch began producing blue and white porcelain themselves, called Delftware, made in Delft in the Netherlands.   Serving pieces such as dinnerware, soup tureens, bowls, platters and tea caddies could increasingly be found on the tables of well-to-do families in Europe and America. Intricately painted landscapes were popular decorations, as shown on the bowl, below.

 

 

Traditional motifs also included botanical themes with flowers, lotus ponds and ferns, or animal themes with birds, dragons and elephants.

 

 

Blue and white china comes in many varieties. Another kind of blue and white collectible is known as Flow Blue.  Chinese porcelain was a very expensive, luxury item in the 18th and 19th Centuries, so the English developed a type of salt-glaze earthenware that looked close to porcelain, but could be sold at a lower cost. Cobalt oxide, the pigment they used, would sink into the porous earthenware and blur during glazing.  While some experts believe the blurring was accidental, others believe it was intentional.

 

 

Blue and white porcelain is particularly striking when used as a container for flowers.  Any shape that holds water can become a beautiful vase.

 

 

Bowls can also be filled to stunning effect with blue hydrangeas, or with shells collected from the beach.

 

 

Pairing blue and white porcelain with sterling silver adds a sophisticated touch.

 

 

Blue and white porcelain is often used in pairs, adding the grace of symmetry to a room.

 

 

I’ve repurposed blue and white ginger jars into lamps, giving antique pieces new life, and adding historic interest to a room.

 

 

A display of Chinese export porcelain adds both beauty and authenticity to homes on Nantucket, making the porcelain more popular than ever on the island.

 

 

Blue and white together lightens the somber tone blue can take on by itself; a little blue can go a long way.  Even in nature, blue is often paired with other colors: blue jays are splashed with white, the peacock is mixed with green, and for the blue footed booby, Mother Nature decided blue feet were enough!

 

 

Whether the blue is sapphire or navy, the white ivory or alabaster, the beauty of blue and white transcends seasons and years.  Heaven to me will always be the peaceful charm I find in my seaside homes.  There I turn to face the azure sea, watching white-capped waves roll to shore, and I am inspired by blue and white, once again.

 

 

 “If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if the simplest things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.” –Eleanora Duse

 

 

 

 

Living Brightly on the Earth

Few things affect our moods and the beauty of our surroundings more than light.  Especially in the winter months, the lights we choose to vanquish the shadows of the early evening darkness are critical to living well, and for many of us, feeling happy. Luckily, LED lights, the most efficient lighting available, are getting better and better.

We’re used to the warm golden glow of incandescent bulbs, but they’ve been described as little heaters that happen to put out light. Incandescent bulbs burn out quickly and are inefficient energy users when compared to newer sources of lighting.  LED lights (Light Emitting Diodes) were first introduced six years ago, providing a greener option than compact flourescent lights (CFLs), which contain mercury.

The first generation of LEDS, though, cast a cool, bluish light, which was a problem for some consumers.  Thanks to recent developments in LED technology, the new bulbs produce a much warmer light, closer to the warmth of traditional incandescent bulbs. Lest you believe that LED lights can’t be beautiful, take a look at the glorious holiday light display at the famous Longwood Gardens in Delaware.  The Gardens converted to 100% LED lighting this year, and their Christmas event is more spectacular than ever.

Although LED lights are more expensive initially to purchase, they last significantly longer, in some cases, for as long as 20 years.  This makes them invaluable when placing them in hard to reach ceiling and recessed fixtures, and for commercial buildings and skyscrapers.  LED lights reach 80 % efficiency, which means 80% of the electrical energy is converted to light energy, with only 20% lost as heat energy.  Compare that with the incandescent bulb, which converts only 20% of the electrical energy to light energy, and loses 80% as heat energy.

Incandescent lights, contrary to rumors, will still be available, but the old 100 watt bulb is being replaced by 72 watt bulbs with the same light output and a longer life.  Whatever kind of lighting you prefer, energy efficiency has become a driving force in the industry. That’s good news for your home, your office, and the earth.

 

image source incandescent light bulb:  www.electrical-online.com/incandescent-lighting-101/

image source LED light bulb:  http://www.engadget.com/2009/03/29/geobulb-led-light-bulb-uses-just-eight-watts-rings-up-at-120/

 

 

 

 

Color Predictions 2013: Opposites Attract

Colors in paint and home decor are subject to the whims of fashion, just as clothing is. Paint companies have their own in-house color forecasters who define the shades and hues that will coat the walls of homes across the world each year.  Sherwin-Williams  has color forecast 2013 as mysterious, murky, and masculine.  At least, that’s their dark side.  With colors like loyal blue and rare gray, their aesthetic story is the marriage of Victorian romanticism to the future.

If those are too tame for your taste, try a bit of electric lime or exuberant pink. For clearer tones, you might go for aloe, or awesome violet. Their last color pair is nature-inspired, and uses the chalky, earthy colors of sea-buffed stones and weathered shutters.  See if you like spiced cider, or smokey topaz. Choosing colors is about self-expression, so you have permission to be non-conformist, no matter what the forecast says.

 

Driving Down Electric Avenue

Imagine a perfect world, or a world close to perfect:  one without noxious CO2 emissions and a rapidly declining ozone layer caused by millions of gas-guzzling vehicles crowding the streets of the world.   The possibility is closer than ever, when automakers plan to have as  many as 30 different electric cars driving down U.S. avenues by 2015!  (Although visionaries have always planned for electric cars, as seen in the 1905 version, above!)

Unlike hybrid cars, which are still powered by a battery and a gasoline engine, electric cars today are powered exclusively by electricity.  What’s changed?  Battery technology has improved, meaning that batteries stay charged for longer distances, and auto makers are better able to respond to consumer demand.

Electric cars reduce our dependency on foreign oil.  Drivers of EV’s (Electric Vehicles) charge their cars at home, never go to gas stations, and never have to schedule oil changes or emission tests.  Some, like the Chevrolet Volt, retain their hybrid status, giving drivers the option of using gas for longer journeys.  With an MSRP of $31,645., the Volt is typical of the new brand of affordable EVs, very different from the six figure Tesla.   (Even they have a new Model S rolling out this fall, with prices beginning at $49,999.)

Today, you can buy a Chevrolet Volt, a Nissan Leaf, or a Mitsubishi i-MIEV, all for under $50,000.  There’s also a $7,500. federal tax credit available Take a look:

Chevrolet Volt owners only go to the gas station once a month, according to the manufacturer.  Launched in 2011, new models have an extended range and the option of electricity or gas.  MSRP:  $31,645.

There are already 36,000 Nissan Leafs on the road,  With no tailpipe and no emissions and no gas station fill ups, the starting MSRP of $35,200. has become affordable to more environmentally-minded consumers.

The Mitsubishi i-MIEV claims to be the most affordable electric car available.  The starting MSRP of $29,975. gets you a car with a markedly different appearance:  the company says it’s their “eco-status symbol,” designed to get people thinking about creating a different world.

Charging your car on the electric grid means that the environmental cost is transferred to the utility company rather than OPEC oil dealers.  Although that’s still not a perfect solution, it maintains a stronger local economy in our own country, rather than paying for high priced oil.  At a cost to operate of 2 cents per mile, versus a gasoline powered cost of 9 cents a mile, and no emissions, it clearly seems as if we should support the new technology.  The more electric cars we purchase, the faster the solutions will be developed.

The future belongs to us and to the decisions we make about how to live.  I believe in the Power of One to make a difference in the world.  My next car?  I’m not sure which I’ll buy, but it’s going to be electric.

 

 

The Vindication of Vincent Van Gogh

Self Portrait

Just mention the words “Sunflowers” or “Starry Night,” and the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh effortlessly float into mind.  They are the result of the mastery of one of the most prolific and accomplished painters of all time.   Although his distinctive painting style has made him one of the most celebrated—and most easily recognizable—artists in the world, he sold only one painting during his life, and it wasn’t until after his death that he became famous.

Starry Night

Sadly, his name also conjures the image of the “tortured artist,” a man who suffered from hallucinations and grappled with demons.  His short life was marred by hospital stays for mental illness and physical decline.  After just ten years of painting and producing 900 paintings, Van Gogh took his own life in 1890, at the age of 37.

Self Portrait

 In the 122 years since his death, attempts have been made to understand the underlying causes of his feverish work style, his exhaustion and his suffering.  Diagnoses range from bipolar disorder to epilepsy to sunstroke from spending long hours out of doors while painting.

Sunflowers

One of America’s top Environmental Medicine physicians and a fan of Van Gogh since her teens,  Adrienne Sprouse M.D. has spent years studying the life of Vincent, and believes the answer lies in a different direction:  repeated daily exposure to dangerous chemicals.

Sunflowers

The son of a pastor, Vincent didn’t decide to pursue art until 1880, when he was 27.  He studied in Belgium, then lived briefly in Paris with his brother, Theo. He met Pissarro, Monet and Gaugin.  After moving to the South of France in 1888, Vincent re-charged his original somber-toned palette with bright yellows, greens, and blues, deliberately creating contrasts and using light in new ways. Eventually he moved into his Yellow House, using the ground floor as his studio and his second floor bedroom as a private “gallery,” hanging freshly-painted tableaux around his bed to dry.

Yellow House

Even as Vincent was creating his masterpieces, his health was declining.  He was known among his friends for having a nervous temperament, and he could be a difficult companion.  But near the end of 1888 came his famous breakdown.  In December of that year, in an incident involving Gaugin, Vincent cut off part of his ear.  His closest friends feared the worse, as his mental state deteriorated into madness.

Hospital Ward

What happened next is the subject of the Docu-Drama feature film Passion and Poison-The Vindication of Vincent Van Gogh, based on Dr. Sprouse’s extensive research into Vincent’s work and the cause of his mental and physical decline.

Dr. Sprouse has researched Vincent’s medical condition for more than 30 years, traveling to France, Belgium, England and The Netherlands dozens of times, searching through hundreds of documents and medical records.  She has gained unprecedented access to the asylum where Vincent stayed, has taken thousands of photographs, interviewed countless people, including leading experts, meticulously read all of Vincent’s (more than 800!) letters to his brother Theo and others, combed through ancient texts in French (she is fluent) and even followed the trail to a 19th century physician’s belongings stored in a warehouse in a secluded area of southern France.

After years of exhaustive research, Dr. Sprouse is able to make the provocative statement “I know why Vincent Van Gogh died. He wasn’t crazy.” And she can prove it.  The heroic efforts of this dedicated 21st century physician finally sets the record straight on the illness of one of the most celebrated 19th century artists.

“Passion and Poison: The Vindication of Vincent Van Gogh” not only describes Van Gogh’s illness, but also demonstrates how, today, people are becoming sick from products they never suspected would make them ill.  The public health message…exposure to small levels of common chemicals can cause big health problems.

Join director Frank Zagottis, producer Mario Sprouse, and researcher Adrienne Sprouse for a special fundraising event.  For the first time, a 20 minute preview of the documentary film will be shown on the big screen of The Newtown Road Backyard Cinema. 

Wine, soft drinks and food will be served.  A $25 minimum donation toward the production of the film is suggested.  A fireside discussion with the film makers will follow.

See you there!

Sunday, September 23, 2012 6:30 p.m. at the Newtown Road Backyard Film Festival Cinema.   45-19 Newtown Road, Astoria, Queens NY.

For more information: 718-204-2498 or 917-941-3130

Or please visit the website www.passionandpoison.com for more information and to contribute to this ground-breaking movie.

You can read an earlier post by Dr. Sprouse about ADD here.

 Bedroom

 

 

The End of Summer: Returning to Life in the City


As the last weekend of summer approaches, it’s time to pack up the beach chairs, the straw hats and the lobster pots, and return to our busier, bustling lives in the city.  In honor of returning to our primary hearths and homes, we’re taking a look this week at an agelessly elegant pre-WWII apartment in Manhattan. Richer colors, the warmth of heavier upholstery and textiles, and the sheen of polished dark wood are all gently tugging at us now, calling us back to a new season.

This is an example of a pre-World War II apartment, on Manhattan’s East Side.

When the history, glamour and style of a prewar hotel turned condominum was chosen as a New York City home by a client moving from warm and sunny California, we envisioned a careful renovation to both honor its past and bring new and polished life to its rooms. The three bedroom, three and a half bath apartment is located on the Upper East Side in the former Westbury Hotel.  My team’s task was to create a perfect city retreat in the recently converted space, while retaining the elegant feeling of the 1930s and 1940s.  The usual prewar amenities, such as gracious architecture, high ceilings and fireplaces were not all present in this space, due to its previous life as a hotel.  So it was up to us to add the missing period architecture, as well as the dash and style that represented the owner’s contemporary lifestyle.

ENTRY

A mark of many prewar apartments is a spacious entry.  Its ample size needed to be balanced with appropriate details, so we added prewar flair to this space, including gracious French doors, flanked by sidelights, opening into the dining room.  The walls are covered in smart silk-stripe wallpaper, establishing an aura every bit as sophisticated as Myrna Loy and William Powell sipping cocktails in a 1930’s movie.  The piece on the right is a wonderful example of faux bois done by the Isabel O’Neal Studios, well known in the design world for her wonderful painted finishes. At the far end, this grand entrance gracefully opens into the living room.

LIVING ROOM

We added a fireplace to bring a focal point to this room, and brought the draperies up to the ceiling to make the ceiling feel higher.  The room is anchored by a Steinway’s Great Estates piano, a special Limited Edition made of satinwood. A longtime signature of Dujardin style is adding antique pieces for warmth and beauty, along with reflecting the client’s love of special places.  This room houses several antiques, including an elegant German Biedermeier armoire.  The painting and the nest of Nantucket Lightship baskets is an homage to the client’s love for Nantucket Island.  California comfort is found in the overstuffed sofa, and in its generous proportion and size. Contemporary lamps and sconces make the room truly timeless.  The room’s warm golden tones remind the client of her years spent in sun-splashed California.

DINING ROOM

The formerly closed off dining room was opened up to the living room by taking down a wall, then adding French doors flanked by sidelights.  There is another pair of french doors leading to the entry way, allowing the room to be enclosed for private dinner parties. Upholstered silk walls create a quiet atmosphere for intimate gatherings with friends.  The chandelier of wrought iron and rock crystal is a nod to the more casual California dining the owner also enjoys.  Chairs here are amply sized to provide comfortable seating, as the scintillating dinner conversation often goes straight through to brandy and dessert.

BREAKFAST AREA

This charming tableau is a rarity in New York City:  a true eat-in kitchen.  The country Chippendale desk, while functional, adds a subtle touch of Nantucket style to the room.  The painting above, showing a woman baking, quickly became one of the client’s favorites, as it reminds her of the many hours she spent in her grandmother’s kitchen.  It’s that kind of close attention to details from our clients’ lives that gives our interiors the true warmth and feel of home. I believe in a clean and serene aesthetic, and in honoring the architecture of the past when a home is redesigned for life in the present.  This vintage space, brought to fresh contemporary life, shows just how it can be done.

 

 

 

One in 88

I recently had the privilege of hearing Suzanne Wright, grandmother of a grandchild with autism and co-founder of Autism Speaks, as she talked about this serious developmental disorder.  What she said both shocked and saddened me, and made me determined to help spread the word about the critical need for more research into the causes and prevention of autism.  Kathy Roberts, executive director of a renowned school for children with autism called Giant Steps and mother of a daughter with autism, was also invaluable in helping to provide a greater understanding of the problems we must face together.

 

 Here are some things I learned:

 

  • Statistics tell us that one in 88 children born today will have Autism.  If we look only at boys, the numbers are more alarming, at one in 54. (Autism is four to five times more common in boys than girls.)
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
  • Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.
  • Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify a 78% increase in six years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness.
  • By way of comparison, more children are diagnosed with autism each year than with juvenile diabetes, AIDS or cancer, combined.

 

 

What does it mean to live with autism?

 

Each individual with autism is unique. Kathy Roberts says “when you meet one child with autism, know that you’ve met one child with autism.”  That being said, there are some skills and behaviors that are often exhibited in people with autism.

Many of those on the autism spectrum have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music and academic skills. About 40 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities. Others with autism have significant disability and are unable to live independently. About 25 percent of individuals with ASD are nonverbal but can learn to communicate using other means.

Many persons on the spectrum take deserved pride in their distinctive abilities and “atypical” ways of viewing the world, and have made significant contributions to their fields, perhaps because of their ability to see “differently.”  Great artwork and advances in science have been brought to life through the centuries by people who look, think, and act differently.

One of those “different” people today is Temple Grandin, an American doctor of Animal Science and a professor at Colorado State University.  As a person with autism, she has done much to help the public understand the disorder and is known both for autism and animal welfare advocacy.

She has a wry sense of humor about her disability, and says, “What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool?  You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.”

There is sweetness and joy and laughter in the lives of families who struggle with autism, but the issues are real.  Among the worries many parents face is who will care for their adult with autism when they are no longer here to do so?  The responsibility will often fall to a sibling, who may or may not be prepared to undertake it.  As Ms. Roberts tells me, “there are no tests to predict what a three year old will look or act like at twenty or thirty years of age.”  But we must continue to work toward better diagnosis and early intervention for best outcomes.

Science currently indicates that the cause of autism is both environmental and genetic, which makes the complex work of teasing out a way to prevent it all the more challenging.  That’s why we need to work together and keep the focus on this very important topic. “Bob and I founded Autism Speaks to provide hope for individuals and families affected by autism,” said Suzanne Wright.  “Together, we can find the answers and make a difference–Autism Speaks and the Nantucket community is listening.”

Please take a moment to learn more at www.autismspeaks.org. or www.giantstepsct.org.

You can also find a world of information at www.templegrandin.com, as well as a fascinating blog published by Psychology Today Online called Asperger’s Diary  written by a woman with Asperger’s syndrome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Color Inspiration: Shades of the Sea

“The rushing of the sea–tides of the soul; And inspirations, that we deem our own.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

If you have ever faced the ocean and known bliss in that moment when the horizon blends into the water, and all you see about you are shades of blue and cream, luminous gold and palest rose, then the sea may just be your color inspiration, as it is mine.  I have always been inspired by nature:  my muse is found in the dappled quiet of forest paths, the brilliant sunrise shedding gold on fields of flowers, and the buttermilk sky when clouds are gathering.  But always and forever, I have turned to the sea.

photo: Rob Berkley

I want to share with you some of my favorite scenes and colors, found in the wildly tossing ocean waves, as well as the gently muted tones of the sea glass I find later on the sand.  This is my world of color inspiration.  Come take a look with me!

photo:  Terry Pommett

There are hundreds of shades of blue.  They can change whether a room is lit by sunlight or candlelight.

photo:  Terry Pommett

photo:  Terry Pommett

Green is the essence of serenity, especially when combined with milky white.  It makes a bedroom such a restful space.

 

photo:  Erik Rank

Glass tiles can gracefully recall seaside blues and greys, and the fluidity of water.

photo:  Terry Pommett

The white of sand, the blue of sky, and ocean views from uncovered windows combine to make this room an inviting respite from the world.

photo:  Michael Partenio

Sometimes color is the merest whisper, yet is always powerful.  Whites can be soft oatmeal or shimmery mother of pearl, pinks are romantic or playful, greens are apple or sage, blues are nostalgic and faded or bold and lustrous.

 

There are so many breathless moments I’ve spent at the shore, with the wind in my face.  The cold splash of waves awakens me to the vibrancy of life, and suddenly I know a bold cobalt is the perfect counterpoint to purest white.  A room comes together in my mind.

photo:  Terry Pommett

Books are another beloved source of inspiration for me.  One of my favorites is simply called Waves by Steve Hawk.  His photographs bring me back to the beaches I love, even when I’m far away.  You can almost hear sea gulls with every turn of the page.

Guest Blogger Michael May: Preserving the Rich History of Nantucket

Today, most islanders and visitors think of Nantucket and historic preservation simultaneously; they go together—hand in hand—but the reality is that historic fabric continues to be lost on island to insensitive renovation. Nantucket’s very success as a significant historic place threatens the resources we thrive to protect and that helps set us apart from mainland communities.

The Nantucket Preservation Trust’s role as stewards and advocates of the island’s rich architectural heritage is to further preservation education and to encourage the protection of our historic resources. It is our hope that all of us will think of historic properties as art objects—one-of-a-kind treasures that through a mix of luck and love have survived. In order to truly save our island’s historic resources, we all need to value and appreciate not only the exteriors of historic buildings, but the quirks and flaws in the interiors that make them different and give them character.  And we all need to encourage patching, repairing and recycling instead of, gutting, replacing and wasting building materials.

Maria Mitchell’s birthplace; photo by Michael May

You don’t need to be a preservationist to know our historic buildings are important. All you have to do is look around and it becomes quite clear that historic preservation is a vital part of the island community and economy. Nantucket’s concentration of historic architecture has for the past 150 years set the island apart from communities on the mainland—drawing visitors from far and wide. Visionaries like Walter Beinecke Jr. knew that the tourism industry would boom as long as we protected these resources.  Using historic preservation as a tool—tourism became the life blood of the local economy, and although some forget–it remains so even today.

Nantucket Atheneum Public Library; photo by Michael May

Some of us may not realize that the historic charm of the island is also a key reason for having some of the highest real estate values in the nation.  And a key reason for Nantucket retaining its charm is that we have regulations that protect our built environment. These regulations have played a critical role in protecting resources and also ensuring quality work for our island designers, architects, and others with a connection to the building trades.

It is shortsighted to think of our preservation regulations as obstacles.  Anyone who loves Nantucket should recognize that our historic resources are of equal importance to those of our environmental and should be equally protected, just as we protect our harbor, wetlands, and beaches.

North Church window; photo by Kristin Weber

Over the past decade it has become clear that regulation alone is not the only answer.  Too many of the interior elements of our historic houses are being thoughtlessly destroyed. Those elements give character and integrity to historic architecture and should be maintained. Moreover they remain a critical part of our economic success as a whole as well as retaining the value of an individual house over time.  Removing significant interior features destroys a direct connection to our past and the link to the future.  Unfortunately, Nantucket is slowly losing that tie—house by house. We need to work together—builders, homeowners, local government, downtown businesses, realtors, and preservationists—to make ethical decisions that protect these resources.

NPT is currently advocating for the protection of historic Martins Lane; photo courtesy of NHA, Martins Lane, c. 1950

Preserving a building’s important features inside and out (not just its shell) as well as its landscape and street context, ensure its economic value.  An analogy to how we should treat a historic building is found in how we now look at a fine antique. Not too long ago fine antiques were often stripped of their original patina—purportedly to make them fresh and clean—for short-term profit.  Today, the long-term value of such a piece is drastically diminished from one with its original surface and signs of wear. Original surface on an antique is now prized and can mean extreme variables in price.

This is also the case with an antique house.  Houses that retain their originality inside and out will always be prized and valued. It is important, therefore, to handle an intact, historic house with care and to make decisions based on its long-term value and architectural integrity. This is not to say changes cannot be made. All houses evolve, but there is a right and a wrong way to handle an old house.

NPT House Marker program provides passersby with an opportunity to learn more about a historic building; photo by Michael May

Gutting a historic house on Nantucket is never the answer, and is a poor investment decision, besides being unethical because gutting steals history from future generations. Let the historic qualities of a house shine, use a “light touch,” and highlight the elements that make your house special. Ask questions and find contractors who understand the need to treat your old house in a proper manner.  If you do, it will increase in value and you will help ensure the future of the architectural heritage of this special place for generations to come.

Here are some tips to consider before starting a restoration project.

Restoring a historic building can be a challenge. It is often difficult to know where to begin and who to turn to for assistance and advice.  The Nantucket Preservation Trust is available to meet with you and to help guide you in the process.

NPT provides house histories and house research that includes historic images from the NHA collection; photo courtesy of NHA

Consider the big picture. Why undertake a restoration project at this time? For many people, the answer is that new mechanicals or kitchen/baths are desired or the house is a new purchase and updating is necessary. As a steward of an island resource you will need to accomplish your goals while protecting and enhancing your home’s historic elements.

Learn about your home’s history and architecture. Before you begin the work, learn more about your house. Every house has a story to tell—not just who built it and who owned it or lived in it over the years, but how the house evolved gradually over time to meet the needs of succeeding owners. Understanding the architectural evolution of the house and its history is key to proper restoration.  The NPT can help you learn more with a simple walk-through to point out original historic elements and changes, and/or with a detailed house history.

Hire an architect, contractor and other experts who understand your needs and the importance of retaining historic fabric. Communicating your desire to retain the historic feel of your property is essential. A talented and sensitive architect/contractor also can help steer you through a more challenging—and interesting—effort to preserve your home’s character while at the same time make needed repairs and improvements.

Original features, such as the transom and staircase with mortgage button should be maintained; photo by Michael May

Limit the scope of repairs. Keep original details. Don’t over-restore. Your philosophy toward restoring your home should be, like that of a physician, “first, do no harm.”  Although some historic elements may need attention, avoid unnecessary repairs and over-finishing. Replace only the portion of elements that are damaged. Replications of molding profiles and other elements will help retain your building’s historic character. Keep old wood as much as possible. New wood will not wear like the original, which is denser and will continue to perform well as long as any rotten sections are repaired.

Retain the historic plan and features. The historic layout should be retained whenever possible. New kitchen and baths should be added in areas that cause the least amount of damage to original fabric. Defining elements should be retained and can include transoms (that small band of windowpanes above doorways); paneled doors with old hardware; mantels; ceiling medallions; and moldings around doorways and windows, where walls meet ceilings, picture moldings, and chair rails. Other important Nantucket features such as old mirror boards (moldings or woodwork between windows) also should be retained. Keep the winder staircases, which have served houses on Nantucket for centuries and are beautifully constructed. If new stairs are required, consider adding straight-run stairs in new additions or areas outside the historic core.  Be cautious in the removable of wings and other elements; rear ells may be original and are often important to the historic character of the house and surrounding neighborhood.

Keep the plaster walls. In the past, plaster was routinely torn out—even by well-meaning preservationists—to make it easier to install new mechanical systems and wiring.  But grouping those components and snaking them through the walls can be accomplished.  Plaster is far superior to modern drywall since it isn’t ruined if it gets wet. It also provides excellent soundproofing, and can be patch-repaired.

 

Resetting historic plaster in a restoration project; photo by Brian Pfeiffer

Take special care with your wood floors. Many people want to retain the old floors in a historic house, but there is a right way—and a wrong way—to restore them.  Old flooring is often over-sanded, reducing the floor’s life span and at the same time destroying its antique character.  Old floors were hand-planed, and gentle hand-sanding or chemical removable of paint and finishes is the best way to protect them.  Simple cleaning and waxing will retain the old patina, too.

Maintain the quirks. Straighten that crooked window or doorway?  Not necessarily. Treasure the things that show evidence of how your house evolved over the generations. Your house will be more charming and authentic as a result—and yes valuable. It is possible to make structural repairs and still keep those elements that give the house a real Nantucket sense of place.

Restore—don’t replace—historic windows. Windows are key elements of old houses. Old windows were made to be repaired, not replaced. Almost all pre-1940 window frames were built of high-quality, dense wood in easy-to-assemble parts. Maintenance of old windows generally involves keeping them painted and in good working order. Old windows can easily be made energy efficient by adding sensitive storm windows and weather stripping.

 

Photo by Michael May

Take special care in repairing masonry. Portland cement is usually not compatible with historic brick, and its use can lead to structural damage and moisture problems that can spread to other areas.  Of particular concern on Nantucket are chimneys that have been lined or repointed with cement.  The weight of cement can bring down an old chimney and lead to very costly repairs. Repointing mortar with the correct lime mortar–cement ratio is essential and should not increase the expense.  Hire a mason who understands the importance of matching the mortar to the old brick.

Build new wings “with Nantucket in Mind.” Design any new addition so it is fully compatible with the main core and does not overwhelm it. Oversized additions can negatively affect the streetscape. Read Building With Nantucket in Mind, the architectural design guidelines produced by the Nantucket Historic District Commission.

Complete maintenance on a regular basis. Routine maintenance, such as proper paint preparation, will help minimize rot and the need for costly repairs.  Maintenance on Nantucket is especially important because of the sea air and damp winters.  Address suspected water problems or other issues early to minimize damage

 

Guest Blogger Michael May is the executive director of the Nantucket Preservation Trust.

An Unexpected Treasure

The July 2012 issue of Nantucket Today Magazine offers a look into a Dujardin-designed home that is aptly described as An Unexpected Treasure, at least for the midwestern couple who lovingly renovated it and calls it home.  For me and my design staff, working here was a delight and a pleasure.  Come take a tour with me and see this “upside down” house as they are known on Nantucket, then be sure to pick up the July issue of Nantucket Today for more.

An “upside down” house, in traditional island style, is one in which the living areas and master bedroom are on the second floor, in order to take advantage of stunning water views best seen from a higher vantage point.  This secluded home has a beachy charm overlaid with elegance, where precious antiques and original artwork are blended with personal mementos.  The dining table above is an antique lacemaker’s table, surrounded by a set of painted 19th century chairs.

This Swedish Apothecary chest is one of the unexpected treasures found throughout the home.  Although its owners are challenged to fill every one of the twenty drawers, we knew it would be perfect here.  We re-envisioned the space for this striking piece!

Unusual artwork that doubles as a conversation starter works beautifully in an entry way, when guests are being welcomed.  Their first view of the home should be an enticing one, promising equally interesting and elegant rooms to come.  Created for Dujardin Design by artist Christian Thee to suggest a pirate’s treasure map, the couple’s favorite spots on the island are pinpointed:  the basket museum, the Great Harbor Yacht Club, and the airport where they joyfully make their island arrival.

Shelves in the master bedroom showcase a fabulous Nantucket lighthouse basket collection, one of the many ways the design of the home mirrors the couple and their interests. I feel that it’s important to express your unique personality and passions in your most private space.  A separate sitting area in the bedroom offers a place of rest and repose.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this window into a home filled with meaningful beauty, with beloved art and objects that are bring pleasure because they are personal.  That simple approach helps to make this house a happy home, a place where friends are welcomed and memories are made, where every sunset and ocean breeze is cherished, and life itself is an unexpected treasure.

All photography:  Terry Pommett

 

 

 

 

Find us in New England Home’s Summer Cape and Islands Issue!

Creating beautiful, gently green interiors is both my work and my passion, but there’s a special pleasure involved when I work in a home of architectural significance.  New England Home Magazine’s Summer Cape and Islands Issue features Dujardin Design interiors in just such a place:  a home designed by architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen in Sconset, on Nantucket Island.

 

Photography:  Michael Partenio

Designed by Mr. Jacobsen in 1990 and untouched since it was built, it is a prime example of the Jacobsen style:  a large center pavilion flanked by “outbuildings” recalling the barns, detached kitchens and smokehouses of rural America.  The house fits perfectly into the Nantucket landscape, with gray exterior and minimal trim.

 

Photography:  Michael Partenio

The interiors we created preserved all the original details of the house, and celebrated Mr. Jacobsen’s vision, while fitting the home to the new owners’ lifestyle, and resulting in more healthful surroundings.

 

Photography:  Michael Partenio

It was our pleasure to carefully select striking furniture and fixtures to mirror the clean lines of the house, while infusing the home with quiet luxury.

 

Photography:  Michael Partenio

Be sure to pick up a copy of the Cape and Islands Issue, and enjoy a visit to a bright, sun-filled, truly American home!

 

 

Sitting Pretty

Whoever said “ignorance is bliss” surely wasn’t talking about environmentally friendly home design and furnishings.  When you curl up on your sofa with your family around you, or snuggle into a comfortable chair with a good book, chances are you didn’t intend to invite a long list of toxic chemicals to join you.  But invited or not, unless you’re decorating with sustainable upholstered furniture, they’re there.

Along with your friends, you may be sitting down with substances like formaldehyde, polyurethane, brominated flame retardants (PBDE’s), and dioxin.  Other unwanted guests may join you via wood finishes and paints.  All of these toxins infiltrate your home and the air you breathe through “offgassing,” the release of chemicals into the air through evaporation.  Not only a concern with new furniture, offgassing can continue for years, impacting your health with symptoms like eye, nose and throat irritation, fatigue, asthma, and eventually, may even weaken your immune system.

In my work as an interior designer, I am pleased to find that every year, the list of eco-friendly furniture manufacturers grows larger.  As we learn more about the importance of a pristine indoor environment, we don’t need to sacrifice an ounce of beauty or elegance.  My joy and my passion lies in creating interiors that combine sophisticated, stylish living with the very latest in sustainable design. And each year, to my delight, more and more people are opting for healthy, eco-sensitive products in their homes.

The products used to make your upholstered and wood furniture are important.  Today, we have the option of choosing soy-based versus foam cushions, recycled filling for pillows, water based stains and organic upholstery fabric.  In addition, we can choose wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), ensuring that the products are derived from forests that are managed to specific environmental standards.

Some of the organic materials that are available are among the world’s most luxurious, including organic cotton, hemp, linen, and wool.  For our best health, the textiles should be colored with low-impact dyes.  Non-organic cotton, by the way, is a heavily toxin-laden fabric.  As a non-food plant, cotton is grown in fields soaked in insecticides, and the manufacturing process creates both air and water pollution from the process of turning picked cotton into yarn and thread.

As important as the right materials, however, is the quality of your new pieces.  They must be comfortable, beautiful, and long-lasting.  Poorly designed furniture, no matter what is used in its construction, is destined to end up in a landfill before long.  The longer your furniture lasts, the smaller the environmental footprint it leaves behind.  Your furniture then should be chosen for its strong frame and springs, carefully manufactured fillings, and premium fabrics.  The good news is, with a little research and guidance, your home can be healthier than ever before, and as exquisitely decorated as you dreamed it would be.

 

A Deeper Shade of Green at the Philadelphia Antique Show

This year, I was honored to be asked to speak at the prestigious Philadelphia Antique Show, taking place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center from April 28th to May 1.  Although previous commitments meant I had to decline a speaking role, I did submit an article to the Show catalog, describing the link between antiques and ‘green.’  The following is what appears in the catalog. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll go!

(Photo:  This antique German Biedermeier Chest in walnut burl is circa 1820. On top is a hotel silver tea service. Hotel silver was made for the grand hotels in Europe and the United States, and today conveys a reminder of the sumptuous lifestyles of the past.)

Antiques have long been collected for their beauty and their value as historical treasures, but perhaps it is time we look at antiques in an entirely new way. Not only do they add grace and style to my home and the homes of my clients, they are also the ultimate in green design, a personal passion of mine!

I have always been an ardent collector of antiques, and the addition of carefully selected pieces to sophisticated interiors is a recognizable signature of my design style. Sharing my love for classic pieces comes naturally to me.  I find that my clients quickly embrace the elegance of antique furniture, and often become collectors themselves.  Homes are brought to life when old paintings, pieces of porcelain, or folk art add their charming artistry.

No matter how your personal style is expressed, every home has space for antique pieces. Even the sleek lines of a contemporary home can be complemented by eye-catching antique furniture; a room can artfully blend both old and new. A writing desk in the corner, reclaimed barn wood on the floor, or a wing chair handed down through generations can add flair as well as refinement to a home’s interior.

In addition to their beauty, antiques provide a bonus you may not have considered.  As we learn more about how to assess the health of our living quarters, and steps we can take to keep our homes clean and pristine, we should think about the ways antique furniture can be an integral part of a green lifestyle.

(Photo: This is a fabulous collection of treenware dating from the 19th to the 20th Century.  Note the darning egg, and the antique stereoscope–the earliest form of television!  The book displayed is by British treenware master Burt Marsh.)

No Chemical Vapors Are Brought into your Home 

Your home’s interior should be a place of fresh air and health.  Yet any new piece of furniture, cabinetry, flooring, or finished wood has some chemical overtones.  Many fine finishes release vapors in a process called off-gassing. In a closed environment, such as an energy efficient, airtight home, off-gassing can increase indoor air pollution to levels several times higher than those detected outside.   Antiques are a healthier choice than modern furnishings because they were created with less toxic products years ago,  and any off-gassing has long been complete.

 

(Photo: This living room is a showcase for beautiful antique accessories, including a 19th Century ship’s model behind the sofa, and a pair of lamps made from 18th Century Chinese Export porcelain.  A pair of 19th Century British handcarved candlesticks and a 19th Century ship’s captain’s lap desk are on the cocktail table.)

No New Resources are Used 

Every beautiful piece of wooden furniture originated from a tree. Whenever we purchase new wood furniture, unless we choose products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), we are contributing to the deforestation of our planet.  In contrast, wooden antiques are products of trees culled long ago from old-growth forests.  No new resources were used in their construction, making their restoration and re-use a green endeavor.  It just makes sense to find a place in our homes for older pieces.

(Photo: This study reflects the long seafaring history of the coast, with a 19th Century ship’s telescope, and a 19th Century ship’s barometer hanging to the right of the window.  Framed antique prints are on the wall, and on the mantle is part of a collection of sea captain doorstops.)

No Negative Environmental Impact is Created 

Beyond the health issues in our homes, we should consider the costs to our planet.  Even the very greenest furniture manufacturers distribute impurities into our air, waste systems, and water.  New furniture requires the production of finishes, dyes, and sealants. Shipping them demands the creation of packing materials, and they arrive in retail stores via large vehicles powered by fossil fuel.  The EPA estimates that three million tons of furniture are taken to landfills every year, only to be replaced with brand new pieces that can carry a large environmental cost.

(Photo: An extremely rare 19th century English scrimshaw tortoiseshell is displayed above the fireplace; on the mantle are several antique lighting devices:  a corkscrew pigtail candlestick complete with hook for hanging over a chair, a rush light holder, and antique binoculars.)

 Antiques Are Recycling at Its Best 

Beloved family pieces, eighteenth-century Philadelphia furniture, and the softly faded colors of aged Oriental rugs do not belong in a landfill.  Treasures from another time can be loved and used again.  A federal mirror that has been passed from home to home and hand to hand brings history to life, and honors the work of artisans who lived long ago.

(Photo: This is a mint condition 18th century British Woolie, The Ship of Bengal, unusual for the ship’s identification as part of the design, and for its display of the British flag.)

Antiques Bring Unique Craftsmanship to a Room 

Rather than purchasing a mass-produced item, treat yourself to something created in a small workshop by a craftsman who made good use of few resources. In previous centuries, home furnishings were made by hand before machine assembled items flooded the marketplace.  Artisans from years gone by had knowledge that largely disappeared during the Industrial Revolution.  Old joining techniques were abandoned in favor of more rapid assembly using staples and nails.  Fiber board was created and the beauty of the wood itself was lost.  Take the time to consider the difference between a finely hand-wrought piece and one processed in a factory.

 

(Photo: This English antique dining table and chairs date from the 16th and 17th Centuries, and are displayed with an 18th Century tapestry and Chinese blue and white porcelain.)

Antiques Have Stood the Test of Time 

Classic pieces are sturdy and well-made, which is why they have lasted. The quality of their wood is usually stronger, created from timber with tighter growth rings, making repair a simple task when necessary. Furniture that is unworthy of a craftsman’s repair time adds to our cycle of wasteful consumption. Your rooms can be filled with the kind of solid, enduring pieces that elevate both your life and your home’s design.

(Photo: This closeup of a Chinese puppy displayed on a modern Lucite block is from the Han Dynasty, circa 206-220 BC.)

Antique Collections Are a Very Personal Expression 

I often find that a simple gesture, such as placing an antique tea caddy on a mantel, can inspire my clients to begin collections of their own.  There is tremendous beauty in items preserved throughout the years, particularly if they illuminate another time and way of life.  Learning about the subtle differences among artisans, the period when an item was created, or the materials that were used to make it, gives us a greater appreciation for life.  Whatever you collect, it is unique to you and your home, and cannot be duplicated.

(Photo: A nautical/maritime collection of whaling logs dating from 1840 offers a fascinating glimpse of the past as you trace the daily activities of a whaling ship.  The whale stamps mark successful captures.)

My personal collections include treenware (hand-carved wooden items used in the home long ago), old hotel silver, blue and white porcelain, and things that speak to me of lives lived on the ocean, including whaling artifacts, scrimshaw carvings, and sailor whirligigs.

(Photo: This 19th Century Chinese-influenced etargere is showing a collection of blue and white porcelain, both Chinese Exportware and Staffordshire English pottery.  Hotel silver has been added for sparkle.)

Remember, It Is Not All Furniture 

You can find antique cabinetry, flooring, doors, beams, posts, mantels, and other architectural pieces. Consider a gorgeous eighteenth-century door to add punch and personality to your entry, or if that is not in your budget, how about antique doorknobs and a doorknocker?  An old mantel delivers instant charm; remilled old timbers bring panache to the pantry. Add the incredible details that your home may be missing.

(Photo: The antique ship’s wheel is from an old Australian ship; the 19th Century ship’s porthole made into a table holds a sextant. A wonderful South Pacific map on the wall was drawn by James Cook, the famous explorer who later became Captain Cook.)

Antiques Add Beauty and Joy to Life 

There is a thrill when you spot the perfect nineteenth-century French farm table, Georgian stand, or double pedestal dining table.  You feel an immediate connection to the Italian walnut commode or a beautiful pair of small paintings.  Antique collectors know that old things have a soul, based on their authenticity.  Whether you fall in love with hand-embroidered vintage textiles, white ironstone pitchers, or a four-door linen press, you can feel good about reducing your footprint on the surface of the earth.

 (Photo: Elegance is added to entertaining with this 19th Century French balloon-handled fish service.  The introduction of a seashell is a casual complement to the 19th Century blue and white Staffordshire plate and 18th Century drinking goblet.)

 

Creating Beach House Style

There’s a period of time that comes at the tail end of winter, when it isn’t quite spring, but it seems the daffodils are urging themselves forward with unseemly haste, the snowdrops are dipping their heads before the last of the north winds, and the scudding clouds in an impossibly blue sky can only signal one thing:  the return of warm weather, and time to open the beach house.

I watch the horizon for the later setting sun, and find my thoughts drawn to the elegant Grey Lady far off in the Atlantic Ocean, my home away from home:  Nantucket.  For anyone fortunate enough to own a beach house, the sand you build your castles on is real for you all year long.  It’s not just the warm weather months that restore us; it’s the anticipation of the season we long for.  In my basement there are canvas bags, ready to be filled with things for the summer house.  As the cold weeks drift into warmer, sunnier days, slowly the bags are being filled.  And my eagerness grows.

Inevitably, my mind turns to the harbor, the water, the sea.  The array of constantly changing shades of blues, greys and greens.  The piercingly clear cobalt blue sky, the sparkle of the sun and light on leaves and water, the shimmer on the white trim of weathered shingle houses, the glistening sand where the waves have receded:  all create the vision for me of a perfect “Nantucket Day.”  Home is where the heart is, and everyone who knows me says, “Trudy goes home to Connecticut, but she leaves her soul on Nantucket.”

Because my beach house is on Nantucket, it’s that island’s unique slant of light (rivaling Giverny) that I draw upon for inspiration in my design work. In decorating no two projects are alike.  They’re client-driven, personal and unique.  But there’s a reason for my love of blue and white (Chinese Export Porcelain) with touches of pink (New Dawn roses) and yellow (daffodils dancing down Milestone Road on the island.)  There’s a reason for my love of sand and sea colors:  to forget the shades of water and sky is impossible when your home is nestled somewhere near a beach.

My color palette comes from the infinite blueness of sea and sky, the velvety grays of the fog, the bleached white of seashells, the sandy beige of the beach, the soft greens of the pines and bayberry. Beach house style blends all these hues. The essence of summer near the ocean, I believe, is serenity, and a beach house should embody this.

Clean interiors, free of clutter except perhaps a stack of first edition books on life at sea, art that reflects a sense of place, and special niches for prized collections, whether Lightship baskets or whalebone scrimshaw, are key to achieving the simple life summer demands.  Window treatments should be designed to let as much light and air into the rooms as possible.  Accessories are best when they are memories of special days and nautical nights:  shells from beach walks, models of sailboats, antique sea chests, and paintings of schooners.

Whether you’re ready to open your beach house for the first time, or the fiftieth, here are some tips to help you create the perfect summer home:

  1. Blues are serene because they evoke the sea and the sky, but I wouldn’t use an intense marine blue on a wall.  I’d reserve it for accents such as pillows, china or curtains.
  1. Carry your main colors throughout the house.  Even in a rose room, I would include touches of blue to pull things together and help lead you from room to room.
  1. I love juxtaposing rich color with white:  in a white room, I might use ivory woodwork.
  1. Go with soft, muted shades in bedrooms; saturated colors in living areas.
  1. Add color with flowers.  Sunflowers or pink roses are wonderful in a blue and white room.
  1. Don’t attempt too much in one room; your eye needs a place to rest.
  1. Remember that a healthy home is the ultimate luxury.  See my post on spring cleaning for ideas on cleaning without harmful chemicals.

May summer be a delightful sojourn of rest and repose for you, wherever you find your heart and home!

When It’s a Dog’s Life at Home

Dog's Life at Home

A recent email from the Coton Club about pet friendly houses got me thinking about good design, and how it should include planning for our pets.  Creating a home should be about making it function well for all members of the family, dogs (and cats) included!  Many of my clients have pets, and my husband and I share our lives with three beautiful bichons, so I’ve given a lot of thought to this topic.

Here are some tips you might find helpful:

 

  1. Quilted pads for upholstered furniture:  Dogs leave pawprints on our hearts, but that doesn’t mean we want those prints on our furniture.  I use custom-made quilted pads to protect my upholstered furniture while snuggling with G.G., Tuffy and Ellie.  They’re made in the same fabric as my upholstery, and they tuck in behind the seat cushions.  They stay in place, and since they’re channel quilted for a smooth, professional look, you can’t tell there’s a pad in place at all.
  2. Outdoor shower facilities:  If you take your pal to the beach, or on hikes in the woods, you’re going to bring home a wet and messy dog.  In inclement weather, even a trip to the backyard can result in dirty paws.  It’s easy to plan for at least a spigot close to your backdoor; if you have the space and the desire, an outdoor doggy shower will work wonders to keep your home clean.  You can include a grooming table (in the laundry room, for example) if this is a job you like to do yourself.
  3. Choose non-toxic cleaning products:  It’s important to clean your home with products that aren’t loaded with dangerous chemicals for your own health, but consider the risks to your pets as well.  They don’t need to actually ingest a poison in order to be made ill; the same fumes and odors that cause asthma in humans can also cause pets to suffer.
  4. Doggy doors give easy access to fenced yards:  If your yard is safely enclosed, then you might consider a doggy door so that your dog can go out and sun himself when he’s in the mood for some fresh air.  If you have very small dogs, however, remember that they can be at risk from hawks and owls, so simply having a fenced yard isn’t a safe option. I have an eight foot fence around my property to keep out the predators, such as coyotes, and tick-carrying deer.  Read more about a safe and healthy garden for pets here.Dog Doors in a Green Home
  5. Dogs need beds, too:  Your friend will thank you for giving her a cushioned resting place for naps and nighttime, especially if she’s older.  Hips and elbows can become stiff from exposure to cold, hard floors, so make sure she has a soft place to lay her head.
  6. Use Natural Flea and Tick Controls:  See my May 2011 post on fighting pests without harming our pets or the environment here.
  7. Provide a view:  As much as you enjoy looking out at the world, so do your pets.  In my home, G.G., Tuffy and Ellie have the luxury of big French doors and lots of glass to let the sunshine in, and they can gaze out to their heart’s content.  If you have dogs or cats, plan on lots of windows, and a way for them to access them.
  8. Give your dog a room of his own:  Not everyone will have space in their home to do this, but if you do, setting aside a room where your dog can have his crate, his food and water bowls, and his toys will give him a secure place when you’re not home.  Crate-trained dogs often find great security in their little homes, so if you don’t have an entire room to devote to it, consider a closet, or even a beautifully designed frame that makes it look more like a piece of furniture than a cage.  Simply covering the crate with a blanket makes it a secure, cave-like space for an anxious pooch.Room for Dogs at Home
  9. Set aside a cabinet or shelf for doggy items:  Don’t forget to plan for your pet when designing storage systems.  You’ll want to organize her leashes, collars, and collapsible water bowls for walks; you’ll need a place to store his food and medicines, as well as favorite toys.
  10. Keeping it clean:  When your best friend sheds, it’s worth it to invest in high quality vacuum cleaners with dander filters, indoor air filtration systems, and handheld carpet cleaners for dealing with emergencies.  Loving our pets is easier when taking care of them is a cinch.

For more fun and information, check out this article on pet-friendly architecture, and a fun blog post from New England Home magazine on Fine Furnishings for your pet.

Painting the Town Green!

EnviroSafe paints used on these interior walls set off the vintage tin sand toys, a whimsical touch.

Your health isn’t bordered by your body.” —Michael Pollan

  According to the EPA, one of the top five hazards to human health is indoor air. Research teams there have found that pollutants can be two to five times higher inside your home than outside, regardless of whether you live in a rural or highly industrial area.  After an activity like paint stripping, toxic chemicals can test 1,000 times higher indoors than outdoors.

If that surprises you, consider the hundreds of gallons of paints and finishes used over the lifetime of your home, from floor to ceiling, and from wall to wall. As those paints and finishes  “off-gas, ” they may be releasing a variety of chemicals and toxic by-products, and the air in your home suffers.  Your health may suffer as well.

Paints with high concentrations of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) have been used for years.  That just-painted smell in a new or renovated house is actually the off-gassing of chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and zylene.  The fumes from these paints last far longer than the odor, however, as can fumes from floor stains and finishes, sealants and caulks.  Harmful fumes can even leak from closed containers, which is why it is recommended that you only buy the amount of product you’re going to use, and never store leftover products inside your home.

As a designer, I’ve spent my life creating homes for my clients that are as healthy as they are beautiful. I believe that a healthy home is the ultimate luxury.  I’m also concerned for the health of the workers who are exposed on a daily basis to chemicals that leave them with headaches, fatigue and asthma.  My commitment to environmental awareness, both personally and professionally, has led me to find highly effective products that protect the health of humans and homes alike.

In renovating my new home on Nantucket Island, I used No VOC paints from EnviroSafe on all interior surfaces, as they are specially formulated for clean air and healthy interior environments.  That’s more important than ever in today’s airtight, energy-efficient homes.

I’m delighted that consumer demand has led to the development of many new, healthier products, including Low Odor or Low VOC paint, Zero VOC paint, and non-toxic or natural paints.  Low VOC products use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents, reducing the levels of heavy metals and formaldehyde.  Look for paints with the Green Seal Standard, which certifies that they meet certain industry standards for VOCs.

Green Seal is an independent, non-profit group that sets standards for environmentally responsible, or “green” products.  Do be aware, however, that even low VOC paints can contain toxins like fungicides and biocides, chemicals that are used to prevent mildew growth and extend the shelf life of the product.  What sets EnviroSafe apart is that they have no fungicides or biocides at all. They were one of the very first companies to create a line of No VOC paints for their chemically sensitive customers.  Since municipal tap water has been found to contain VOCs in just about every major metropolitan area throughout America, the water EnviroSafe uses in their paints is pure, filtered water pumped from a private well located in a rural area.

Their paints are available in a wide spectrum of colors, but since it’s made in small batches, you may need to plan ahead when ordering.  You can reach EnviroSafe at 830-232-6467.

EnviroSafe interior paints are available in flat, satin and semi-gloss, just like the nationally known brands you may know better. Chemically sensitive clients rely on products like these.

We can’t make toxins vanish into thin air, but we can do a lot to improve the air we breathe when we’re home with family and friends.  Visit my website at www.dujardindesign.com to see luxurious examples of eco-elegance.  A healthy, beautiful home is possible for all of us.

In the Spirit of the Season: Gift Giving

There is such joy in giving generously to family and friends!  My Seven Simple Steps for a Sustainable Holiday, below, can help to make your holiday both happy and environmentally friendly.  I also share a link to the National Resource Defense Council for their 50 Great Gift Ideas, all focused on saving the environment.  Perhaps one or more of these ideas will be just right for you and your family.

  1. Put your money to work helping others and the planet with a “life-changing gift”, such as Heifer International, or ChildFund International.
  2. Be socially conscious with gifts that promote fair trade.
  3. Use energy efficient LED holiday lights to add sparkle. (Install a timer!)
  4. Give locally made products, help reduce the impact of transportation.
  5.  Purchase greeting cards printed on recycled materials with vegetable
    based non-toxic inks, or send email greetings.
  6. Give gifts such as gift certificates or theater tickets – they don’t require a
    lot of gift wrapping.  Avoid wrapping with glossy or metallic paper.  Colorful fabric or reusable gift bags are an environmentally friendly alternative.
  7. Choose toys that do not require batteries. Instead choose gifts that stimulate a child’s imagination without impacting the environment. For more on sustainable ideas for your home, visit our newly redesigned website at www.dujardindesign.com.

More than 50 extraordinary holiday gift ideas from the National Resource Defense Council!
More than 50 great gift ideas from NRDC all aimed at saving the environment. From defending polar bears to protecting clean water … from reviving rainforests to promoting renewable energy … you will find the perfect gift for a friend or loved one who cares deeply about our planet’s future.  Follow this link to learn more!

A Twinning of Two Cities


(Hotel de Ville)

The Town of Nantucket and the city of Beaune were officially twinned (Jumelage in French) five years ago. The first ceremony took place on Nantucket in 2005; later 50 Nantucketers traveled to France to commemorate the event. This year was the fifth anniversary of Jumelage, and Frank and I were delighted to travel to Beaune with another group of Nantucketers.


(Dinner our first night in Beaune)

As founder Denis Toner wrote, “Beaune and Nantucket share a common interest in history, culture and gastronomy,” and our sun-drenched days there did pay homage to the glories of good food lovingly prepared, the perfect wine paired with each meal, and the beauty of the surrounding countryside.


(Trudy and Frank with Denis Toner at Montrachet)

Beaune is considered the capital of Burgundy wines, and is located between the Cotes de Nuits to the North and the Cotes de Beaune to the South. Sipping the delicious, jewel toned wines at a table filled with old friends and new added richness to our travels. In addition to Beaune, we travelled to Puligny-Montrachet, Cote de Beaune, Vougeot, Abbaye de la Bussiere and Cote de Nuit.


(Les deux chevaliers: Trudy and Frank are knighted!)

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing and tasting the delicious truffles, found by Le Montrachet chef Theirry Berger and his dog, Etouffe.


(Truffles in the marketplace)

It was an enchanting journey through a beautiful country. As always, the people we traveled with and met while there were the most charming part of our adventure. We can’t wait for another Jumelage celebration.


(Trudy entering la comedie for paulee de jumelage)

A beintot!

We Are the Stewards of Our Planet’s Future

10th Annual Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design Hosted by the Design Futures Council

I’ve recently had the privilege of attending several important and inspirational conferences dealing with sustainable design and how designers, architects and engineers can work together to protect the fragile health of our planet.  The Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design, held in Boston earlier this month, was one of the most stirring and motivating of all.

The Design Futures Council, an interdisciplinary network that explores global trends, challenges and opportunities to advance and shape the future of the industry and the environment, sponsors the Annual Summit.  Limited to a delegation of 100 leaders in the field of architecture, design and construction, the event was convened to identify change drivers, analyze emerging data and explore innovation in sustainable design.

The First Leadership Summit and the Nantucket Principles

There are certain achievements in my life in which I take the most pride:  one of these is my participation in the very first Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design, held on Nantucket Island nine years ago.  At that three day session, the Nantucket Principles were developed, providing a philosophical, strategic and tactical path toward sustainable design.  Since that first session in Nantucket, the Summit has been held throughout North America, in St. Louis, Boston, Santa Fe, Austin, Vancouver, Chicago and Atlanta.

We knew then, and believe today, that the planet can become healthier, greener and more abundant.  We have pledged ourselves to that goal, to engage, to listen, to learn, to educate, and to act toward a strong sustainable model.

 

I invite you to join us in our work by engaging in holistic living, embracing sustainable principles, and challenging limiting beliefs wherever you find them.

All the Summit speakers gave incredible and moving presentations, some of my favorites among them were:

  • Michael Graves, a DFC Senior Fellow, who recognized students and emerging leaders
  • Natalia Allen, a design futurist, who spoke on Weaving Sustainability and Technology
  • Ed Mazria, a DFC Senior Fellow, who talked about Leadership Toward 2030, What We Are Learning About Our Biggest Challenges
  • Bob Berkebile, a DFC Senior Fellow, who talked about Redefining Design and Practice:  Journey to Regenerative Design
  • William Kamkwamba, a self-educated Malawian inventor, who gained fame in his country when in 2002, he built a windmill to power electrical appliances in his house in Masitala using blue gum trees, bicycle parts and materials collected in a local scrapyard.  His story is told in his inspirational book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind:  Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, written with journalist Bryan Mealer. http://www.amazon.com/Boy-Who-Harnessed-Wind-Electricity/dp/0061730327

 

Important Points to Ponder

  • Could climate change be happening much faster than some scientists claim?  What would be the result?  James Hanson, director of the Goddard Institute at NASA, talks about it in this video.  Watch it! http://bigthink.com/jameshansen

Thank you for taking the time to read and share these important topics.  As the Design Futures Council declares, we are not waiting for an economic upturn or new regulations.  We are not waiting for someone else to lead.  We will act.  I hope you will too.

Healthier Classrooms for Healthier Kids

Were you aware that there is a Green School Initiative?  Founded in 2004 by parents who were shocked to find out how un-environmental their children’s classrooms were, the Green School Initiative (www.greenschools.net) seeks to improve the ecological sustainability of schools in the U.S.

We’re a long way from the days of one room schoolhouses where children inhaled coal smoke or vapors from oil lanterns, but today’s schoolhouses have big concerns of their own.  Other groups have also formed to advocate for green schools, including the Green Schools Caucus (www.centerforgreenschools.org), today one of the largest bipartisan efforts in the House of Representatives, and the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), a non-profit organization dedicated to making schools better places to learn.  CHPS (www.CHPS.net) has created a deep library of resources to help schools better understand the connection between sustainable design and healthy educational environments and improved teacher and student performance.

The Sierra Club has published its fifth annual ranking of the greenest schools in America:  read more at http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/201109/coolschools/top10/default.aspx

 

What Should You Be Concerned About?

It’s easy to be an informed parent, teacher or student by asking questions and targeting areas for improvement.  I tell my interior design clients that a healthy home is the ultimate luxury; our kids deserve a healthy learning environment as well!

To begin, parents, teachers, school administrators and concerned citizens can examine their schools for the following:

  • Toxic cleaning products that compromise indoor air quality
  • Off-gassing materials (building materials that release chemicals into the air through evaporation)
  • Pesticide use inside and outside
  • PCBs that may exacerbate chronic conditions such as asthma.  PCBs may be found in materials such as old caulking and fluorescent light fixtures. (Read more at http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/07/qa-just-how-dangerous-are-pcbs/)
  • Wooden Playground Equipment treated with arsenic

Other areas to examine:

  • Does the school have a recycling program?
  • Are there carpool incentives?
  • Is there an environmental curriculum in place for students?
  • Does the school use recycled paper, organic cotton for sports uniforms or low-energy computers?
  • Are there healthy school lunches, serving organic and/or locally grown food?

The US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards can be used as criteria by which to examine our schools:

  • Sustainable Siting: site selection, alternative transportation, storm water management, urban redevelopment
  • Water Efficiency:  water efficient landscaping, water use reduction, innovative waste water use
  • Energy & Atmosphere:  CFC reductions (linked to ozone depletion), renewable energy, reduced energy consumption, green power, reducing ozone
  • Materials and Resources:  building and resource reuse, local materials, recycled content, certified wood
  • Indoor Environmental Quality:  indoor air quality, CO2, ventilation, low-Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) materials, thermal comfort, daylighting
  • Innovation in Design

Treat Yourself and Your Kids to Healthier Lunches!

You can ensure that you and your children are eating as healthfully as you can be when you take care not only preparing their food, but selecting what to pack it in.  Due to traces of BPA and other chemicals, plastic containers are not recommended for holding food, as chemicals can leach out of the plastic.

Visit www.needs.com for better options, such as stainless steel lunch containers, bamboo water bottles, and bamboo lunch bags!

The Ultimate in Green Design: Antiques

There is a peaceful presence in a room with classically designed furniture, especially those with the patina of age.  No matter how you express your personal style, every home has space for antique pieces:  a writing desk in the corner, reclaimed barnwood on the floor, or a wing chair handed down through generations.  There is an added beauty to the natural grace of aged furniture:  they are the ultimate in “green.”

All Wood Comes From Trees: And trees come from forests.  Yet lovingly cared for antique wooden furniture was cut from old-growth forests long ago.  No new resources are used in its construction, making its restoration and re-use a loving part of caring for the earth.

No Chemical Fumes Arrive with the Furniture: Your home’s interior should be a place of fresh air and health.  Yet any new piece of furniture, cabinetry, flooring or finished wood may have strong chemical odors.  Off-gassing is the process of releasing the vapors that are the residue of many fine finishes.  Antiques were created long ago, with less toxic products, and any off-gassing has long been complete.

No Negative Environmental Impact is Created: Beyond the health issues in your own home are the costs to the planet.  Manufacturing plants, even the very greenest, distribute impurities into our air, waste systems and water.  New furniture requires the production of finishes, dyes and sealants; shipping them demands the creation of packing materials; they arrive in retail stores via large fossil-fuel burning vehicles.

Antique Pieces Bring Unique Craftsmanship to a Room: Even in a contemporary home or modern space, the gentle lines of antique furniture can add a special eye-catching detail to the design.  Rather than a mass-produced item, what you buy and bring home was likely made in a small workshop by a craftsman who made good use of few resources.

Antiques are Recycling at its Best: The sofa your grandmother loved, the barrister bookcase you find at the auction, the softly faded colors of the old Turkish rug don’t belong in a landfill.  The treasures from another time can be loved and used again.  And again.  And again.

Antiques Have Stood the Test of Time: These classic pieces are sturdy and well-made; they wouldn’t still be here if they weren’t.  The quality of their wood is usually stronger, created from timber with tighter growth rings, making repair a simple task when necessary. Furniture that is unworthy of a craftsman’s repair time often ends up in the landfill, adding to our cycle of wasteful consumption.

Antiques Add Beauty and Joy to Life: There is a thrill when you spot the perfect ship’s model, campaign chest or weathervane.  You feel an immediate connection to the beautiful collectible candlestick or Chinese export porcelain.  When you place it in your home, among other well-loved and cherished pieces, you can feel good about your purchase, your home, and reducing your footprint on the surface of the earth.

Remember, It’s Not All Furniture: You can find antique cabinetry, flooring, doors, beams, posts, mantels and other architectural details.  Have fun, and happy hunting!

Meet Me at the Dreamland!

Nantucket is so rich in history, but it’s not all about ship captains and whaling boats and lighthouses.  The Dreamland Theatre, located in the heart of downtown Nantucket, has a history all its own.  Although it began as a meeting house for Quakers in 1832, it has also been a straw hat factory and a roller-skating rink.  It was dismantled and moved to Brant Point in 1883, to be part of the Nantucket Hotel.

In 1906, it was floated back across the harbor to its present location, and became a lodge room, dance hall and moving picture theatre.  In the early 1900’s, residents flocked to the Dreamland to watch vaudeville on Wednesday evenings for twenty cents.  By the 1930’s, the latest in moving pictures was being shown there.

Today, the building is undergoing restoration, and the Nantucket Dreamland Foundation is working to enrich the cultural and intellectual life of Nantucket by providing year-round films and educational programs in one of America’s oldest theatres.  Part of the island’s unique character,  the building’s historic architecture will be retained, but the foundation is also striving to meet “green” building goals.

Soon, islanders will be able to say to each other once again, “Meet me at the Dreamland!”

For more information, visit www.nantucketdreamland.org.

June: A Month of Joy and Weddings

When you design home interiors for a living, as I do, it’s quite natural to find yourself designing events as well. I occasionally decorate clients’ homes for Christmas and other special occasions, so when it came to my own wedding several years ago, I was delighted to have the fun of creating my own celebration.

Although my wedding date was May 1st, auspicious as May Day and known as a spring festival, June is universally known as the month for weddings.

In Roman mythology, the month of June was thought to be lucky for marriage because its namesake, the goddess Juno, promised happiness and prosperity for all who married then. (June was also a month known to be warm enough to take off your clothing and indulge in an annual bath.)

A healthy life is a happy life. So in the spirit of living with joy and celebrating love, here are my ten sweet ideas for a beautiful wedding, taken from my own celebration.

 

Sweet Ideas for a Beautiful Wedding

1. What do you love? (Other than each other, of course!)

Frank and I split our time between a house on Connecticut’s shoreline, and a home on Nantucket Island. We married at the Roger Sherman Inn in Connecticut, but wanted to honor the special place Nantucket holds in our hearts, as well. Our wedding included elements of Nantucket sprinkled throughout, like the top of our wedding cake: it’s a Nantucket Lightship basket, created in sugar.

2. Carry the theme throughout your celebration.

We continued the theme with wedding favors of Jordan Almonds and chocolate scallop shells covered with silver, from Sweet Inspirations (www.nantucketchocolatier.com) on Nantucket.

3. Include something special for just the two of you.

There were two blue butterflies on our cake: one represented me, the other represented Frank. It wasn’t a secret, but not everyone knew why they were there, other than as decoration. But we knew.

4. Share your favorite things!

I collect vintage hotel silver, so the cake rested on one of my treasures: a Victorian hotel silver cake plateau.

5. Enchant with details.

Weddings are made for details: from the ribbons and bows to the flowers and food. I had such fun planning darling confections and pretty place settings. Nothing was too small to be special, such as these sugar cubes for coffee and tea, fashioned into exquisite little blossoms.

6. A perfectly planned event is like telling a story, and the venue is your setting. It should be uncommon, captivating, completely extraordinary!

When we chose the room where we would marry and entertain our guests, the shape of the space lent itself perfectly to the idea of a carousel. Festooning the ceiling with great swoops of asparagus fern entwined with sparkling white lights made the room feel smaller and more intimate, and created an other-worldly atmosphere that carried all of us away!

7. Fill your day with flowers!

Flowers and weddings go together, both for decoration and by tradition. Bouquets of your favorite blooms infuse the celebration with your unique spirit, so don’t hold back! Roses, hydrangeas, tulips and lilies of the valley were abundant at my wedding, some in sugared icing draped around the cake, others in small groups of posies gathered in silver chalices, and many more cascading from gorgeous arrangements throughout the room.

8. Lots of pretty little things are charming, and add a dash of fun.

We had lots of delicious cakes and candies to tempt our guests. Each was a delectable work of art all its own, which made the feeling that much more festive! These cakes were mini tabletops, one with a topiary of sugar, and they came in pink and green and blue and white.  Darling!

9. Your family and friends are part of what you’re celebrating: share the love!

Each of our guests took home a miniature wedding cake decorated with blue hydrangeas. Guests who couldn’t attend had little cakes delivered to them. it was our way of telling the people we loved that we couldn’t have done it without them!

10.) Once the stage is set with all the things you love, relax and enjoy your wonderful day. If something goes wrong, laugh it off, kiss your spouse, and celebrate with joy!

Non-Toxic Flea and Tick Control

“As little as ten years ago, despite an average of a billion dollars a year spent on flea remedies in this country, misery reigned—animals were suffering, fleas were thriving, homes reeked of toxic pesticides, and the liver, kidneys, lungs and nervous systems of every exposed animal (not to mention his or her human family members) struggled to survive under the weight of those toxins. Nobody benefited but the chemical companies and, frankly, the fleas, which were only too happy to engage in a war they were preprogrammed to win.”
(From The Goldstein’s Wellness & Longevity Program: Natural Care for Dogs and Cats)

Happily, things have changed and the description above of the war on fleas no longer has to be played out in your home. There are multiple options that are healthier for you, your pet and your family. Here are a few of my favorites:

Start with your lawn and garden.

Chris Baliko, owner of Growing Solutions in Ridgefield, Connecticut (www.growso.com), offers his clients a five step program for tick control in their yards, all designed to minimize exposure to pesticides and harmful chemicals.

Step One: Reduce the tick habitat naturally. Ticks like moist and shady areas, so letting in the sun is key to success. If there are many trees, it’s possible to thin their crowns to let more sunlight reach the ground. Clearing away leaf debris (a favorite tick home) is important, as is cleaning up along stone walls and keeping them free of branches, weeds and other plant debris.

Step Two: Establish a Tick Border. A Tick Border is a three to four foot wide woodchip border that is established between the woody edges of your property and your lawn. Ticks are loath to cross the sunny, plant free zone.

Step Three: Put up deer fencing to keep “tick buses” (aka deer) from entering your property. A single deer can be host to more than 200 ticks, so by removing their hosts, you reduce the number of ticks.

Step Four: Move children’s play equipment out of the shade and into the sun. Don’t forget the kids’ sunscreen!

Step Five: Use an organic tick spray only in the areas where ticks are likely to live. Growing Solutions uses two different kinds of tick products, both plant based and created from essential oils. One is based on oil from the chrysanthemum plant, and the other is a blend of essential oils from peppermint, wintergreen and rosemary plants: it works against ticks, and smells wonderful! All of their products are approved by the Organic Material Review Institute (OMRI) for health and safety. A three time yearly program, applied in spring, summer and fall, has proven very effective in maintaining tick-free surroundings.

Chris said, “As landscapers, we’re responsible for what we do. We’re supposed to be taking care of the earth, and not using so many chemicals to do it. We’ve gotten complacent with chemicals because they’re so easy to use.”

He continued, “It’s important to remember that an organic pesticide is still a pesticide. It kills things. There is some toxicity to it.” That’s why Growing Solutions only uses organic sprays, only when necessary, and only in limited areas. Chris and his partner Paul began their organic approach years ago after recognizing the dangers of synthetic products, and taking courses from the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA). Once they had a safer method to use, they began converting their landscape customers, sharing the health wherever they could.

Use a Natural Flea and Tick Control Method on Your Companion Animals

Earth Animal offers a three step process for natural flea and tick control. One of my favorite retail stores, there’s more information about them here.

Step One: Earth Animal products are designed to boost your animal’s own flea-fighting immune strength with a dietary program of basic nutrients, supplements, and “superfoods” to fight pests from the inside out. When the immune system of the target victim is strong, pests find him to be less appetizing, and they move on to tastier prey. Earth Animal’s program starts with feeding a natural, nutrient dense food, then supplementing each meal with a powder made of brewer’s yeast and herbs, which changes the odor and chemistry of the animal’s blood.

Step Two: During peak flea and tick season, add No More Tick or No More Flea drops everyday to your dog or cat’s water, mouth or food.

Step Three: Spray Earth Animal’s Organic Bug Spray on your dog’s belly and paws, and mist the exterior skin and coat daily during spring, summer or fall, or when you travel into tick infested areas. It’s safe and effective for humans, too!

Investigate Other Natural Options

• Another safe, environmentally friendly product I use is Damminix Tick Tubes.  Since Lyme Disease begins with mice, not deer, Tick Tubes rely on the natural nesting instincts of mice to fight the battle. Placed on your property in areas where mice frolic, the biodegradable, cardboard tubes are filled with permethrin treated cotton balls. Mice collect the cotton to build nests in their burrows. Young ticks feeding on the mice are killed by the mild insecticide before they can spread Lyme Disease to you and your family. It is important to use this only on the perimeter of your property, in safe places that are not accessible to pets or children. Even mild insecticides are poisons, and must be used carefully and responsibly.

Buck Mountain Parasite Dust, available only through veterinarians and pet stores, can be used to rid animals, gardens and buildings of flies, fleas, ticks, mites, ants and more. Its active insecticide is a chemical derived from the Neem tree, which is both a repellant and provides disinfectant and healing properties. You can sprinkle the dust on your pet’s back from head to tail, and brush against the hair to bring the dust into contact with the skin. A teaspoon of the dust can also be placed on a window sill to eliminate fleas, flies and other bugs in your home. It is safe for use in your garden as well.

Whatever methods you choose, remember that the toxic chemical industry is alive and well due to consumers not knowing there are other, healthier choices. As more people choose nonchemical alternatives, the health of our animal companions, our homes, our gardens and our families will continue to flourish for years to come.

Help spread the word!

Gardening without Chemicals

Part of having a home is enjoying the lawn and garden that surrounds it. It’s possible to have a beautiful green lawn surrounded by a garden that’s teeming with life: bees lazily buzzing from flower to flower, birds flitting through trees brimming with nests and berries, and children and pets playing in the soft grass. You can’t create a sanctuary like that, though, and then poison it. I often say that a healthy home is the ultimate luxury. Nothing is more important than protecting our health, and the health of our loved ones, from chemicals and toxic by-products in our homes. Your lawn and garden is in integral part of your home, too, and deserves the same loving care to keep it free of chemical contamination.

Lawn Chemicals are Poisonous

Lawn and garden chemicals are poisons to things that live, including humans and pets. They pollute our water, harm wildlife, and interrupt the delicate balance of our eco-system. If you’re not part of the suburban quest for the perfect lawn, then chances are your neighbors are. Killing weeds and encouraging rapid growth of thick green grass may seem the natural thing to do, but nothing could be further from nature. 100 million pounds of lawn care chemicals are used by homeowners in their lawns and gardens every year. These include chemicals that kill weeds, insects and a variety of plant diseases. A study from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested. The average person carried 12 of 23 pesticides tested. Many of these chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, and liver or kidney damage. There is a way to have a green and healthy lawn and garden without resorting to chemicals, though. Here’s how:

 

Five Tips for a Healthy Lawn

  • Healthy soil promotes healthy plants. Good soil is “alive,” teeming with bacteria and organic content that is naturally resistant to pests and disease. You can boost your soil’s health by spreading organic compost or alfa meal.
  • Corn gluten is increasingly used as a high-nitrogen, organic fertilizer. Organic fertilizers feed your lawn slowly; quick release chemical fertilizers encourage rapid growth that weakens the grass, promotes disease and leaches into nearby surface waters.
  • Tolerate a few weeds. You can dig them out by hand if they bother you, or you can adopt the philosophy of “live and let live.” A few weeds in the garden can also provide a home for beneficial insects, which keep the overall landscape in good health.
  • De-thatch and aerate your soil by raking and aerating compacted lawns. Compaction invites weeds. By removing plugs of soil, air, water and nutrients can reach the roots of your grass. When your lawn is healthy again, birds and worms will continue to aerate it for you!
  • For the first and last mowing, mow down to 2 inches, which prevents fungus growth. For the rest of the year, keep your grass higher, at 3 inches, to shade out weeds and foster deep roots. Short grass promotes weeds, shallow roots and thatch.

Tips for a Healthy Garden

  • Investigate companion plants to discourage pests: lavender and garlic make good bedfellows for roses; nasturtiums and marigolds are detested by green and black flies.
  • Just like in your lawn, add organic material to your garden soil to make it healthier, and less likely to be a host to disease. Spread as much as three inches of new organic matter to the top of your soil, then work it in to a depth of twelve inches. You’ll be amazed how much healthier your plants will be.
  • Spread mulch (chopped leaves, shredded bark, compost) to smother weeds and keep soil moist.
  • Put up birdhouses and birdfeeders to encourage nature’s pest patrol to help with insect problems.
  • Carefully choose plants that are suited to your year round temperatures, rainfall and amount of sun required. No matter where you live, you will have hundreds to choose from. Look for disease resistant varieties of ornamental trees and roses, and attract beneficial insects by planting a mix of trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs. A diverse biosphere in the garden best mimics nature, and makes a stable ecosystem. Remember that even chemicals and pesticides labeled organic can cause damage to your delicate ecosystem if overused, so apply with care and please be sparing in their use!

A wonderful guide to organic gardening is Taylor’s Weekend Gardening Guide to Safe and Easy Lawn Care and Taylor’s Weekend Gardening Guide to Organic Pest and Disease Control, available through Amazon. Keep both your outdoors and your indoors healthy!

Breathing Easier with Austin Air Filters

Living close to fresh breezes off the ocean, both Long Island Sound and Nantucket Harbor, means I regularly enjoy brisk, clean air when I am outside. As a designer and proponent of healthy living, I want all of us to enjoy the same feeling of pristine air inside our homes as well.

A product that I use in my own home, and recommend to friends and clients, is the HealthMate+ from Austin Air Filters, Inc. This filter is enhanced to offer the ultimate in air filtration, making it an ideal choice for those with chemical sensitivities. A medical filter uses solid activated carbon and zeolite impregnated with potassium iodide to remove harmful gases, in addition to dust, pollen and pet dander.

Austin Air Systems, Limited was recently chosen by the National Sleep Foundation to make a new filter specifically for the bedroom, to be used while sleeping. The Bedroom Machine removes particulates that can be seen by the naked eye, like dust and pet dander, along with molds, spores, pollen and chemical gases such as sulfuric acid and ammonia.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America rates indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental health risks, which means that I recommend doing more than just opening the windows from time to time. Indoor air can harbor a number of irritants, from smoke particulates to pollen. Other chemicals such as formaldehyde from particleboard cabinets and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from paints and finishes can also be present.

A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that using High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters for just two days removed 60 percent of air particulates and improved cardiovascular health in non-smoking adults. To be sold as a HEPA air filtration system, the air filter must remove 99.97% of all particles larger than 0.3 microns.

Five more things you can do to ensure clean indoor air:

• Turn on your fan while cooking, especially with gas stoves.
• Use green cleaning methods instead of heavy chemicals for housekeeping.
• Choose “green” dry cleaners that use only non-toxic cleaning products.
• Don’t wear shoes indoors. Shoes track in pesticides and chemicals, which then become trapped in carpet fibers.
• Use low or no-VOC paints and finishes in your home.

Take a deep breath and resolve to do at least one, if not more, of these suggestions. Your heart and lungs will thank you.

Spring Cleaning: Be Both Clean and Green

 

Which of these products would you like to add to your home for a spring time fresh feel and smell?

• Alkylphenol ethoxylates
• Ammonia
• Chlorine
• Lye
• Formaldehyde and petroleum solvents
• Synthetic fragrance
The ingredients listed above are in most conventional cleaning products, and rather than cleaning your home, actually pollute it with a toxic mixture of petrochemicals. Synthetic fragrances are added to mask the odor of chemical vapors, implicated in headaches, dizziness, skin rashes and respiratory problems.

It’s easy, and healthier, to choose products that are readily available on your pantry shelves or at your grocery store to get your home sparkling clean and ready for spring.

Here’s what you’ll need:
• Baking soda
• Borax
• Hydrogen peroxide
• Kosher salt
• Lemon
• Olive oil or jojoba oil
• Rubbing alcohol
• Vodka
• White vinegar

This list not only sounds better; these items actually clean your home and leave no chemical residue behind. Here’s a guide to cleaning even the toughest messes in a healthy way:

Kitchen: Try baking soda sprinkled on counters, tabletops, sinks, refrigerators and cutting boards; use a damp sponge to scrub lightly and rinse. If you need more abrasive action, add a little kosher salt. For stains and greasy spills, you can add lemon juice or vinegar. Vinegar kills most mold, bacteria and germs, and lemon juice has antibacterial and antiseptic qualities, plus it is a natural bleach.

For marble, granite or stone countertops, use rubbing alcohol or vodka instead of vinegar for cleaning.

Your oven can be cleaned with a paste of baking soda and water; apply it with a damp sponge and let it sit overnight. In the morning, wipe clean. For greasy ovens, you can add ½ cup washing soda (sodium carbonate) and white vinegar.

Freshen the air in the kitchen by simmering a potpourri of cinnamon sticks and cloves on the stovetop.

Bathroom: Baking soda and vinegar will clean your sinks, showers, tubs and tile. If you like, add a little lemon juice for a fresh scent.

To clean grout, mix a half a cup of hydrogen peroxide with one cup of water. Spray it on the grout, let it sit for one hour, then rinse.

To clean the toilet, use one quarter cup of baking soda with one cup of vinegar. Pour it into the bowl, let it sit for a few minutes, then scrub and flush.

Wood Furniture Cleaner: Make a natural furniture polish from ¼ cup white vinegar with 1 tablespoon of olive or jojoba oil. Or you can mix two parts olive oil with one part lemon juice.

Glass Cleaner: Mix ¼ cup white vinegar or 1 tablespoon lemon juice with 2 cups water. You can add 3 to 4 drops of liquid soap, but it’s not necessary. Spray on glass and mirrors, and wipe off using old newspapers for a fabulous shine.

Floor Cleaner: Mix ½ cup Borax with 1 gallon hot water. For hardwood floors, try a gentler mix of ¼ cup white vinegar and 30 ounces of warm water. Put it in a recycled spray bottle, then spray on a cotton rag until lightly damp. Use the rag to wipe your floors clean.

Carpet Cleaner: Sprinkle your carpets with baking soda before vacuuming to deodorize; to clean stains, mix equal parts borax or baking soda with salt and white vinegar. Apply the paste to the rug, let dry, then vacuum.

The March/April issue of Natural Home Magazine has a wonderful article with more tips on homemade cleaning supplies and tips for a healthy home.

As an alternative, good commercial products are made by Seventh Generation. Located in Burlington, Vermont, this socially responsible company has been making non-toxic cleaning products for twenty years.

Remember to open the windows and let the fresh breezes flow through the house. Add a good air filtration system, and you’ve made a great start on living in a healthier home!

living room photo courtesy of Erik Rank; daffodil photo courtesy of Stacy Bass

Battling Household Mold

Part One of a Series on Mold and other Household Allergens

This winter’s cold and snowy weather has wreaked havoc on many homes, causing ice dams on roofs and subsequent leaks into interior ceilings, walls and window sills.  Bubbles and cracks in the paint and dry wall indicate the need for repairs, but you may also need to investigate the growth of mold that must be eradicated for your health.

There are a few basic requirements for sustaining life; among them are moisture, food, and warmth. Our homes are replete with these three things, and thus, they can be breeding grounds for dangerous and allergy-causing molds.  Water damage in walls and insulation, and sustained moisture in heating and central air conditioning systems, can create the perfect breeding ground for microbial mold growth.

If you have water damage from this winter’s storms, you may have the beginnings of a mold problem.

A Healthy Home is the Ultimate Luxury

You may not see mold spores, but even when invisible to the eye, they can be present in the air you breathe.  Asthma, coughing, sneezing and rashes may be a clue that something unhealthy has permeated your living spaces.  Stachybotrys, a celluphyllic mold that is frequently found on the paper covering of sheet rock and ceiling tiles, can be toxic when inhaled, resulting in flu-like symptoms, including sore throats and fatigue.

Toxic mold has become a growing problem in the U.S. in recent years.  Why?  As insulation improved and homes became more air-tight, exchange with fresh air from outside has slowed, creating perfect conditions for mold to flourish.  If you smell a musty odor, that may be a sign there is a mold problem.  You may see a slowly spreading stain across ceilings or walls, on shower curtain liners, or even books or clothing that have become damp from humidity or water leaks.

Remediation Options

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) divides mold clean-up into three sizes:  small, medium and large. Small mold remediation is where the total affected area is less than 10 square feet; medium is between 10 and 100 square feet; large is greater than 100 square feet, or when exposure to mold spores during remediation is a risk.

Mold spores are invisible when airborne, yet still pose a risk to your health, so if you’re going to tackle the clean up yourself, you should isolate the work area as much as possible.

  • Clear the room of any uncontaminated furniture.
  • Items that can’t be moved should be sealed in plastic.
  • Cover any open doorways with plastic sheeting.  You’ll need two sheets:  attach one to the left side of the doorway, covering two thirds of the opening.  Attach the other to the right side of the doorway, covering two thirds of the opening.  The overlap will provide a partial seal but will give you access into and out of the room.
  • If books, papers or other items have a musty smell but no visible mold, take them outside and vacuum them with a HEPA filter vacuum.  Anything that has visible mold should be discarded.
  • If items need to be carried through non-contaminated rooms on the way outside, place them in plastic bags first.
  • Small patches of mildew on walls and ceilings can be wiped with diluted bleach (one part bleach to ten parts water).
  • Even if you don’t think you are sensitive to mold, you should wear plastic safety goggles and a NIOSH N95 mask, along with latex gloves.  (Non-latex gloves if you have a latex allergy.)
  • For anything larger than 10 square feet, you should consult a professional.

Seeking Professional Help:

Homeowners with winter water damage should call a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH), and have their homes thoroughly investigated for microbial volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  A CIH is qualified to enhance the health and safety of people at work and in their homes by identifying hazards, and taking corrective action where necessary.  They have met stringent requirements for education and experience, and through examination, have demonstrated expertise in areas such as air sampling, bio hazards, ventilation and engineering controls, health risk analysis, toxicology and methods to mitigate these issues.

For More Information:

A local CIH in the New York metropolitan area is Bill Sothern, of Microecologies in Manhattan (www.microecologies.com).  An interview highlighting the dangers of toxic mold in New York City is available at the New York Times.

You can go to www.epa.gov and read A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home.

I also recommend a book titled The Mold Survival Guide for your Home and Health, by Jeffrey C. May and Connie L. May, available through amazon.com.

Don’t Underestimate This Serious Health Concern:

Like radon, lead paint and other chemicals we now know to be hazardous to our health, we are learning more about mold and its dangers all the time.  Mold can be found in multiple household locations that you might not expect, including the underside of furniture, interior window trim, bathroom walls and ceilings, underneath sinks and refrigerators, carpeting, and even around potted plants.

I will continue to cover the dangers of mold and ways to keep your home healthy and free of allergens in future posts.  Stay tuned for more ways to safeguard your health, and the health of your family, friends and pets!


A Green Bedroom Says "I Love You"

“When I woke up this morning my girlfriend asked me, “Did you sleep good?”

I said, “No, I made a few mistakes.” –Stephen Wright, American Comic

 

It’s hard to seriously imagine making mistakes while you’re sleeping, but if you’re designing a bedroom, there are good and better choices for your lifelong health.  During sleep, your body works to remove any toxins that you were exposed to during the day.  Sleep is the time for cellular repair, for rejuvenation, for restoration of energy and health for both body and mind.  That’s why, more than any other room in the house, you want your bedroom to be a pristine environment.

You may be surprised to learn that your bedroom can be a repository of potentially harmful chemicals.  Conventional mattresses, for example, are made with petroleum-based polyester and polyurethane foam, then treated with flame retardants. Those chemicals can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that become part of the air you breathe.  Pillows are also often made of synthetic materials that are treated with chemical finishing agents.  Other sources of chemical contamination:  Carpets, wall paint, wood furniture, even your cotton pajamas.  With everything else you have on your mind, you don’t need worries about the health of your bedroom to keep you up at night.

Luckily, there are products available to ensure your rest is undisturbed by allergens, toxins, or chemical vapors.  For my interior design clients, I recommend using natural furnishings and finishes free of formaldehyde, VOCs and petroleum-based products.  Here are a few simple steps you can take to ensure a healthful night’s sleep:

  • Choose low or no-VOC paints when coloring your walls and wood trim.  Paints can emit VOCs over a long period of time, so just airing out the room may not be sufficient to create the healthful retreat you’re dreaming of.
  • Choose hardwood floors (easiest to clean), finish them with water-based sealants (one of my favorites is Basic Coatings) and finally, cover them with organic wool or cotton area rugs.
  • Select an organic mattress, made with natural latex, wool or organic cotton.  Be sure your pillows are all natural as well.  You can find pillows filled with organic wool or natural latex foam, and covered with organic cotton.  Non-organic cotton, by the way, is a heavily toxin-laden fabric.  Cotton is grown in fields soaked in insecticides; dyes and color fixers use heavy metals like chromium, copper and zinc.
  • When choosing wood furniture, consider eco-friendly wood products that are FSC-certified, a designation from the Forest Stewardship Council ensuring that the wood was grown and harvested in a way that protects forests for the long term.  Antique furniture is beautiful, and has the added benefit of no longer emitting harmful gases from wood or finishes.
  • Clear the air by adding a room air-purifier, or go one step further and install a central filtration system.  Models are available that filter particulates (pollen, dander and mold) and vapors (formaldehyde).

Remember that a good night’s sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.  If you follow even one of these suggestions, you’ll be taking a step forward in improving the health of your family, yourself and our shared earth.  After many years of devoting my work to the values of sustainable design, my clients tell me they sleep easy.  I wish that for you as well.

Signature Lilly Pad

Reducing Our Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Twenty years ago, the city of Kristianstad in Sweden, home to 80,000 people, relied entirely on fossil fuels to heat homes and businesses through the long cold winters. Today, the city uses almost no fossil fuels. Instead, they’ve successfully made the transition to burning biogas, derived from an assortment of waste materials like potato peels, manure, cooking oil and animal detritus.

Kristianstad harnesses energy from other unlikely sources as well, such as gases that emanate from old landfills and sewage ponds. Organic debris like wood chips are also used.

The result: The city’s carbon dioxide emissions have been cut by one-quarter in the last decade, and its fossil fuel use is down by one-half. Could we possibly do this in the United States?

Follow this link to a recent story in the New York Times to learn more: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/science/earth/11fossil.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

With Every Breath You Take


“Let the clean air blow the cobwebs from your body. Air is medicine.”

–Lillian Russell (1862-1922)

 

There is a priceless gift you can give to yourself, and to your family: the gift of health. Most of us try to eat nutritiously, and exercise to keep our minds and bodies strong. We may take vitamins and supplements, meditate, or know the importance of sleep at night. There is, however, another element to consider. The environment we live in either supports us or stresses us. We’ve long thought of the environment as something “out there”— acid rain, air pollution, a diminishing ozone layer. As important, though, is our indoor environment, and the quality of the air we breathe in our homes.

I have been privileged to work as an interior designer for many years, in some of the most beautiful spaces on earth. Nantucket, in particular, has long been my home and one of my favorite places to design elegant interiors. The crisp ocean air blows cobwebs away from mind and body; homes there reflect the invigorating effects of sand, salt air and sea. The natural next step is to ensure that the air in our houses remains as pure as the breezes that first blew in, even when the windows are closed. That’s why creating homes that are both warmly inviting and supportive of health has been my design passion since 1987.

What causes indoor air pollution? The list is longer than you might imagine, and includes chemicals like formaldehyde and polyurethane, emitted from both furniture and wood used for cabinets, stairs, banisters and trimwork. Fabrics and stuffing from upholstered furniture can be a source of noxious indoor fumes; mattresses and bedding can be laden with chemicals intended to keep us safe (for instance, flame retardants) and yet be dangerous to our fragile immune systems. Paints and finishes emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds), a term for chemicals that emit harmful gases.

As daunting as this sounds, there is good news. Manufacturers are responding to consumers’ demands for healthier products, and today we can choose from low-toxic building materials, low VOC paints and finishes, and fabrics and stuffings made with 100% natural materials like cotton and wool. Eco-friendly wood products are available that are FSC-certified, a designation from the Forest Stewardship Council ensuring that the wood was grown and harvested in a way that protects forests for the long term. If you are planning to build a new home, or intend to renovate an existing one, I urge you to consider these materials. Not only is it better for you and your family, but when the day comes to sell your house, prospective buyers will surely be in the market for sustainable construction and design. (Homeowner interest is growing: according to the U.S. Green Building Council, the market for green building products and services has catapulted from $7 billion in 2005 to more than $12 billion today).

If you’re simply considering redecorating, there are still good choices to be made. Bare floors are easier to keep clean and free of allergens, yet they can be stunning when painted in mosaic patterns, or tiled in colors and textures reminiscent of carpet. Where rugs are used, 100% organic wool is a wise choice. Antique furniture has always been desired for its unique blend of beauty and history; it has the added benefit of no longer emitting harmful gases from wood or finishes.

If you are like one of four Americans, you may well suffer from allergies and asthma. Children, especially, are prone to these ailments. Good home design should include a combination HEPA and carbon filtration system for household ventilation, designed to remove both airborne particulates like dander and pollen, as well as chemicals, gases and odors. It is imperative to properly ventilate kitchens and baths to prevent the growth of mold; hiring a designer knowledgeable in sustainable construction can literally be a breath of fresh air for your whole family.

I have always emphasized natural light and fresh air in my designs. At first, it was an intuitive response to my love of sunlight and nature and the joyful feeling of a home that reflects the best of the outdoor world; today, I know that it is crucial for indoor air quality as well. This is a wonderful time for all of us to take a deep breath, and resolve to live lightly on the earth, both indoors and out.

Gently Green

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.” ~Wendell Berry (American author)

After spending more than two decades of my life dedicated to “green” home design, and the life-affirming value of “green” living, I’ve found that there are myriad ways to live in harmony with the earth. I know that many people are trying to leave a lighter footprint. Most of us recycle now, many of us carry canvas bags to the grocery store, some of us search for organic alternatives in food and other products.

But we can do more. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that Americans spend 80-90% of their time indoors, and with more than 77,000 new chemicals introduced into the environment since World War II, our homes are the most logical place to start. Indoor air quality can easily be compromised with the introduction of new furniture and carpeting, or by using chemical-laden materials in a renovation or building project. There are many hazardous toxins in the normal construction process, but there’s also a healthy substitute for every one of them.

My passion for green design came out of my desire to live in harmony with myself and with this beautiful planet. I’ve built two healthy waterfront homes for myself, one on Nantucket Island, and one on Long Island Sound in Connecticut. In 1993, I built my first Holistic House™ on the harbor on Nantucket, determined to make it a haven for healthy living and minimize its impact on our fragile ecosystem. Later, in an ironic twist of fate, I developed Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, resulting from exposure to pesticides on a farm as a child, and years of working in unhealthy construction sites. Fortunately, my home on the island was a clean environment where my body could heal.

If you’re not planning new construction or a major renovation project, there are still key spaces in the home that you can make as pristine as possible. Bedrooms should be first. While you sleep, your liver is working to detoxify the body of any contaminants encountered during the day. Adding a room air-purifier can be a great first step. Next, use only non-toxic products, including paints with low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), natural fiber carpeting without chemical treatment, and fabrics and wood furniture produced with non-toxic products. I tell my clients to begin with the nursery, then their own bedroom, then continue to examine opportunities to live lightly in their homes, and on the earth.

In future posts, I’ll share ideas for beautiful choices in interior design, keeping our homes healthy by using chemical-free home cleaning products, and adding to the soul and spirit of our homes through organic choices in lawn and garden care.