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:

I’m Helping to Build Healthier Communities

I’m excited to join the Connecticut Chapter of the Green Building Council (CTGBC) as a Board Advisor.  The CTGBC is a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Connecticut through the promotion of intelligently designed and constructed high performance green buildings.

Volunteering for this position is one of the ways I can share what I’ve learned about sustainable design, and give back to the community where I live and work.

You can find out more about the work of the CTGBC at

Practical Green Remodeling

Practical Green Remodeling: Down-to-Earth Solutions for Everyday Homes

Going green doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition.  It’s possible to make sustainable choices that result in a more energy-efficient home and healthier living spaces by incorporating ideas from Barry Katz’s new book Practical Green Remodeling: Down-to-Earth Solutions for Everyday Homes. (Published by The Taunton Press, 2010)

An architect and building professional who offers green building services for both residential and commercial projects, Barry has written a user-friendly book to guide novice and expert alike through ways to improve the home you live in.

Remodeling an existing house is always “greener” than building a new one: as Barry explains, “you are keeping significant amounts of material—lumber, hardwood flooring, copper tubing, cabinets—and continuing to use these resources rather than sending them to a landfill and replacing them with virgin material.”

He continues, “And you are continuing to live in a place where infrastructure—roads, sewers, utility lines—is already in place, rather than moving to a new sub-division where previously undeveloped land needs to be cleared, dug up, and paved over and where new water and sewer lines and electric, telephone and TV cables must be installed, all at great cost both financially and in the consumption of resources.”

This book covers the fundamentals of green remodeling and explains things in reader-friendly language that makes it a perfect guide for anyone updating or remodeling their home.

I’ve remodeled two waterfront homes and speak from experience: you can create the holistic house of your dreams without changing your address. This book can show you how.

Don’t Postpone Joy!

In my last blog post, I wrote about the renewal of mind, body and spirit that I experience at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. One other thing that I always come away with is expressed in these three words: Don’t postpone joy!

It’s easy to feel stress in our daily lives. We all have to-do lists that seem to get longer as the day goes on. But we can’t live a healthy life without joy. So keep it on your calendar. Schedule time for the things, and the people, you love. Take a walk with your dad, catch a movie with your spouse, make time for a yoga class.

Do something joyful every day!

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.

Canyon Ranch

The beginning of the New Year has always meant a time of reflection, and for me, a time for renewal of body, mind and spirit as well.  I use the early weeks of January, when the holiday lights have been taken down and the cold weather has settled around us, for a trip to Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts.

I know that it is important to keep myself in balance through the right nutrition for my body, good sleep in a healthy environment, and exercise that gently stretches me to new levels of fitness.  The experts at Canyon Ranch offer an innovative approach to health and wellness, and a passionate commitment to holistic care, all in beautiful and relaxing surroundings.

Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts is housed in the former Bellefontaine Mansion, in the heart of the Berkshires.  Built in 1897, the building has been restored in a style harmonious with the surrounding countryside.  Architects worked with the local historic preservation board to be sure their restoration was fully authentic.  In recent years, the spa has embraced the concept of sustainable interiors, and has chosen to use low VOC paints and other non-toxic materials in their healthy and beautiful surroundings.

It’s a step forward for all of us (and for a healthy planet) whenever sustainable choices are made:  my enthusiasm for the good work done at Canyon Ranch is amplified by their conscious stewardship of the earth, and their dedication to the health of their guests.

The bottom line:  however we choose to honor and care for ourselves, we must never take our health for granted!

Please Join Me in Reading

Anthill: A Novel E.O. Wilson

I’m reading a wonderful book:  Anthill: A Novel, by E.O. Wilson.  Join me!

Edward O. Wilson, a Pulitzer-prize winning author of 22 non-fiction books, has written a wonderful first novel.  Anthill tells the story of three parallel worlds:  the smallest is the world of ants, then there is the world of humans, and last, “thousands of times greater in space and time…the biosphere, the totality of all life, plastered like a membrane over all of earth.” (from the Prologue).

Wilson, a naturalist and ant expert, has become increasingly concerned about the declining health of planet Earth.  He has written deeply on topics of conservancy, including in 2006, The Creation—An Appeal to Save Life on Earth.

Anthill tells the inspirational story of a boy who grows up determined to save earth from her most fierce predator:  man himself. The novel follows the boy as he grows up, first witnessing through a child’s eyes the creation and destruction of four amazing anthills, and then later, his life as a legal gladiator in a fight to preserve the wilderness he loves.  It is a parable for our times, and can teach us all important lessons about survival in a world that we must learn to treat with more care.