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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.)

Broom, Dust & Fur Ball on Parquet Floor

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.


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!

The Blue Sky of July: Choosing Safe Sunscreen


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.


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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Health Begins in the Kitchen

“The cure for what ails us both in our bodies and in our nation can be found in the kitchen. It is a place to rebuild community and connection, strengthen bonds with family and friends, teach life-giving skills to our children, enrich and nourish our bodies and our souls. Yet, in the twenty-first century, our kitchens (and our taste buds) have been hijacked by the food industry. In 1900 only 2 percent of meals were eaten outside of the home; today that number is over 50 percent.”

That quote comes from a brand new book, The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook, by Mark Hyman, MD.  Dr. Hyman is a family physician, a four time New York Times bestselling author, and is a recognized leader in the field of Functional Medicine:  a way to empower people to stop managing symptoms and instead treat the underlying causes of illness.  He is responsible for coining the phrase “diabesity,” to describe an American population beset by weight gain, diabetes or pre-diabetes.

The right diet is not the same for everyone; for instance, I feel best when I follow a sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free diet, as espoused by Dr. Hyman in his new cookbook.  Although the regimen you follow may differ, what is clear is that we must give up on dependence on fat, sugar and salt pumped into factory-made foods.  Dr. Hyman encourages us to take back our kitchens, and our food, and start cooking real meals, made from real ingredients.  His cookbook, just released, offers wonderful recipes to help us do just that.

He tells us:  “We are brainwashed into thinking that cooking real food costs too much, is too hard, and takes too long. Hence, we rely on inexpensive convenience foods. But these aren’t so convenient when we become dependent on hundreds of dollars of medication a month, when we can’t work because we are sick and fat and sluggish, or when we feel so bad we can’t enjoy life anymore.”

Preparing a meal from scratch, by contrast, can be a chance to reconnect with our spouse, children or aged parents.  Sharing that meal can be a ceremony, a ritual, a mindful observance of what matters most in the midst of a hectic life.  That is what a kitchen is designed for, and is its ultimate and most meaningful purpose.

Another book I have found useful on my way to more healthful eating is Forks Over Knives, edited by Gene Stone, which proposes that most, if not all, degenerative diseases can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.  Forks Over Knives:  The Plant-Based Way to Health is a book, a cookbook, and a film available on DVD or Blu-ray.  You can learn more from the website and blog found at 

There are other books, other cookbooks and other ways to preserve health, but there has been an overwhelming concensus from the nutrition and diet industry that fruits and vegetables are woefully lacking in our diets, and that increasing the amount we eat is the optimal path back to health.  Choosing organically-grown foods makes sense, as does eating animal protein as a condiment, not an entree, if you choose to retain meat in your diet.
An excellent source of organically-grown vegetables, if you live on Nantucket, is Pumpkin Pond Farm. This  9.5 acre farm and nursery located at 25 Millbrook Road owned by Marty McGowan is Eden-like oasis of color and flavor, offering a wide variety of delicious vegetables and greens.


My passion is helping my clients create beautiful and healthy homes, so I am often called upon to design extraordinary kitchens.  This is the place where nutritious, organic meals are prepared and enjoyed by family and friends, and so it is, truly,  the very heart of the home.

As Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma said, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”  That’s good advice.  I intend to follow it.  I hope you do, too.

The Green on Nantucket


Nantucket Island abounds with beautiful beaches, charming cottages, incredible inns and fabulous food.  Picking a favorite anything is almost impossible here, but there are a few places that I return to again and again.

The Green Restaurant at 6 West Creek Road is one of those special places.


I’m a firm believer that food should both taste good and make you feel good, and every time I go to the Green I am reminded that they believe that, too.  They offer healthy, organic and naturally delicious dishes, such as cranberry walnut chicken salad with scallions, baby arugula and brown rice.


Or crumbled goat cheese with sliced fresh strawberries, candied pecans, sliced avocado, balsamic vinaigrette, arugula and brown rice.


There are vegan cookies, such as oatmeal cranberry, or a vegan flourless chocolate raspberry pie.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about them!


Open for breakfast and lunch, some people say they have the best coffee and bagels on the island.  You can get everything fresh:  fresh smoothies, fresh juice from their juice bar, and other healthy offerings such as shots of wheat grass to boost your immune system.  If you’re off to the beach for the day, they’ll pack you a custom lunch bag full of goodies.


It’s a great place to go for healthy food you’ll love—the kind of food that loves you right back.



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.