Sustainable Style: Earth-Friendly Resources for Home Redecorating

Usually, it’s the little touches-picture frames, scarred books adorning polished shelves, a unique rug-that transform an impersonal space into a personal home. Fortunately, eco-friendly decorating doesn’t mean having to compromise your vision. Besides second-hand shopping, which helps lighten the load on landfills, sustainable resources abound for creating a stylish look to any room in your home.

Most furniture, carpeting and fabric upholstery contain formaldehyde, toxic resins and adhesives, and offgassing plastics. Most paints and varnishes also present health hazards, causing allergic reactions in some homeowners. Yet applying new paint or varnishing can dramatically change a room’s look. Nontoxic finishes and varnishes (available from San Diego-based AFM Enterprises), water-based paints (Benjamin Moore’s VOC-free variety), or “milk” paints (available at craft stores) are nontoxic options which set a room’s new look.

Floor coverings are another simple way to create a bold new style. New Jersey-based Ruckstuhl gathers the Earth’s natural fibers—including jute, flax, linen, wool, sisal, coir (from coconut shells) and cotton-to create long-lasting, nontoxic floor coverings. “Sisal and coir are natural fibers that are antistatic and antibacterial,” says General Manager Mark Weidner. “Both of them are durable fibers that can be made into carpets, and have terrific natural coloring.” Ruckstuhl uses natural latex and cotton backing for its floor covers, which Weidner says “is much better than using PVC rubber or foam, which are loaded with toxins and dangerous to recycle.”

And what about furnishings? Mitchell Gold, makers of sofas, chairs and pre-fabricated slipcovers, stresses the importance of creating a contemporary look without trashing your old furnishings. “We make sofas and chairs for Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Restoration Hardware using sustainably-harvested wood,” says Mitchell Gold’s David Glassman. “Our slipcovers are available in cotton and linen, and we’ve recently been looking into hemp because it fits with our ideology. We’re also just introduced recycled soda bottle fabric for our chair covers, and it’s gone over hugely,” Glassman says. Slipcovers, made specifically to fit Mitchell Gold furnishings, cost anywhere from $200 to $500, but will last 10 to 15 years and are machine washable.

Two-Day Designs uses reclaimed wood from old warehouses, barns and mills to create one-of-a-kind chests, end tables and accessory boxes. “We also use shorts (pieces left over from regularly cut timbers) and off-spec lumber from various manufacturers,” says 2-Day’s Melissa Jarrell. Jarrell says the cost is higher to process reclaimed timber, but notes that a lot of good wood is saved from rotting in landfills. “We’re always seeking out sustainable sources of wood,” says Jarrell, emphasizing that the beauty of each piece is found in its variations of color, texture and sources.

Nichols & Stone, in business for 140 years, makes hand-crafted Shaker chairs and furnishings using nontoxic, water-based finishes. The company’s philosophy stresses craftsmanship and durability, while offering over 60 hardwood chair designs. The company uses the handed-down techniques of mortise and compressed tenon joinery and steambent curving, which are practiced by only a handful of artisans today.

New Mexico-based Earth Runnings offers organic cotton and hemp throws and pillows, hemp shower curtains (which are mildew-free), hemp bedspreads and natural fiber sheets to accessorize any home. Owner Mary Christine’s latest creation is the Hempback whale pillow-a natural buckwheat hull and hemp pillow scented with lavender and sage.

And to gather it all together, Home & Planet-the world’s first eco-home department store—opened last May in Macungie, Pennsylvania. It sells eco-friendly home and garden accessories made from reclaimed sources: recycled glass, broken pottery, thrown-out bicycle parts, even textile scraps. Owner Jon Clark says the success of the 2,800-square-foot store comes from the interesting stories behind each product. “At this point, about 90 companies are represented in the store, including small companies and individual artists,” says Clark. “My biggest sellers are recycled glass flower vases, picture frames made from recycled bicycle parts, recycled soda bottle blankets, and our sustainably harvested cherry wood dining tables from Kane Forest.

“It took me four years to buy enough products to fill the store,” Clark adds. “And I won’t buy just any recycled product. I want it to be functional and stylish, and I also want it to have an overall environmental benefit.”
Fortunately, you don’t have to compromise style for a greener look.