Earth friendly

Many stylish new options in 'green' home decor are made with recycled or renewable resources

March 26, 2006|By ELIZABETH LARGE | ELIZABETH LARGE,SUN REPORTER

Green just isn't what it used to be -- at least not in home design.

Remember when environmentally friendly furnishings were something tree huggers purchased? Ugly bark and twig chairs that said, "I'm saving the earth?"

The rest of us brought nature indoors with a fern-patterned throw pillow or two.

Well, wake up and smell the greenhouse gases. With the opening of Bluehouse in Fells Point, the city has a store devoted exclusively to eco-decor, from reclaimed dishes to organic sofas. You don't have to drive a hybrid to love the look of these furnishings. Right now there are a lot of stylish, earth-friendly products out there -- at Bluehouse and also at more traditional home furnishings stores.

Although many of these products are more expensive than their non-green counterparts, you can find them at any price range. Target has jumped on the bandwagon, and IKEA has been there.

Megan Higgins, a 30-year-old physician's assistant, recently bought a dining-room table and bedroom suite for her Canton townhouse at Bluehouse. Her new furniture is made from plantation-grown mahogany, beautifully detailed with insets of exotic woods that have been recycled from old buildings in Brazil. On her first visit to the store, Higgins didn't realize it specialized in goods that preserve natural resources.

"The beauty of the furniture is what appealed to me first," she says. "Learning it was eco-friendly really sealed the deal."

Home furnishings trend analyst Michelle Lamb calls it "design with a conscience." She's seen the eco-trend come and go over the years. Sometimes it's had legs, as when cotton and other all-natural fabrics became important. Other times it hasn't. (Who talks about biodegradable packaging anymore?)

Your green is showing

Palacek, a well-known manufacturer of accent furniture, has never emphasized the fact that its chairs, lamps, planters and hassocks are handcrafted and made from natural, fast-growing, renewable materials. If wood is used, it's plantation-grown.

That low eco-profile will change, says spokeswoman Lisa Frudden, at next month's wholesale home furnishings market in High Point, N.C.

"Suddenly it's very important to the consumer, so we're playing it up," says Frudden. "In an era of mass production, computers and so many natural disasters, people are becoming more conscious of our limited resources. People need a break from the high-tech stuff."

As Lamb puts it, right now "we're on a roll with green."

The trend analyst is struck by the sheer number of news releases she's getting about green-centric home furnishings, and how many products she's seeing at gift fairs and home design shows made of recycled or reclaimed materials.

Most important, she says, a large customer base for eco-products is coming of age: Generation Y.

"Remember that these kids and young adults have always been rabid recyclers," Lamb says. "They are probably more concerned about issues like the melting polar ice cap, air quality, the need to replace gasoline as a source for our cars and the cost of heating and cooling than most others. I forecast that this group will push the green issue in a big way."

But it's not a huge trend yet, says Donna Warner, editor-in-chief of Metropolitan Home, "although we'd all like it to be. It's been an ongoing movement, and I think it's gaining momentum."

Her magazine often features green products and green design. "People are certainly aware of it and certainly moving toward it," she says.

Making a start

Patricia Gaylor, a New Jersey-based interior designer who calls herself a "green advocate," suggests that people take what they like from the eco-movement and leave the rest. Every day, someone is coming out with some new product or design -- many of which, like Richlite's paper-based countertop line, are nothing short of amazing.

These days there are so many ways to be socially conscious about your home furnishings.

You could start by doing nothing more than using CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps), says Gaylor. Many produce a warm light, much like an incandescent bulb, and they are much more energy efficient.

Most of Gaylor's clients support environmentally friendly design, but lose interest if it's inconvenient or expensive. Still, "if a customer does one thing to help the environment," she says. "That's a start."

You can use natural fabrics and materials that don't produce toxic substances or use up valuable resources in their manufacturing. You can look for products based on renewable resources like bamboo and hemp, which grow very quickly. You can buy furnishings made from reclaimed and recycled woods, plastics and metals.

Viva Terra, a stylish eco-catalog company, sells oriental rugs made from recycled plastic bottles and packing materials and weathered shelving made from railroad ties.

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