I love to show clients earth-friendly materials. Sourcing local materials adds warmth and character to a home. And, while there are similarities between natural and sustainable design, it’s important to understand what makes a design natural vs. truly sustainable.
Embracing an eco-conscious mindset is the first step on either path. Both natural and sustainable designs can invoke certain feelings, as if you’re bathing in the woods … next to a beam of reclaimed wood (an example of natural design).
The bathroom is the biggest place to be water conscious, with natural elements. Here, too, you have the opportunity be truly sustainable. As technology progresses, luxury and efficiency go hand in hand. A Watersense shower head uses no more than 2 gallons per minute, 20% less than the standard. Delta’s shower head makes the water spin, so every stream comes out in a corkscrew -- less water feels like more water.
So natural design keeps natural materials in an organic state. There are many ways to do this, and it all depends on the client’s taste. Light clear stains showcase the beauty of wood. Non-toxic wool carpets that haven’t been dyed come in a range of off-white to grey to light brown to black. It’s amazing the color range you can get using undyed wool -- a very earthy natural palette. Essentially, natural design embraces nature.
On the other hand, sustainable design means renewable, lasting. That’s why I help clients choose materials mindfully.
The conversation often circles back to wood. Oak is a popular option. Remember that their trees live forever but they grow slowly. When you cut down an oak tree, you’re not going to have another tree for 100 years. Yet, sustainable forests do replant two trees for every one tree they cut down. They tend to be faster growing and produce easy-to-use wood like alder. We use a lot of alder in furniture. If you love the oak, then using reclaimed oak is a great way to go. Usually the previous owner will tell a story about where it came from. For one project, we sourced oak that had been taken from an old estate home in France.
Others to consider are mesquite and bamboo. They’re both sustainable and natural. Mesquite is actually a bush, not a tree -- soon after being cut, it pops right back up. It has a live natural edge that’s great for dining tables, desks, coffee tables, and like we used in our Desert Mountain Home, flooring. A tighter grain than oak, the reddish-brown color is similar to mahogany.
In my new project questionnaire, I ask clients how familiar they are with sustainable design. I take time to understand their lifestyle as well. Are there any health issues? People bring up their health more often than they do sustainability. For allergies, we want to minimize dust, so we’ll use more hard surface floors and non-toxic finishes. Most people do not realize the fumes that you smell from a new carpet, paint or furniture can irritate the lungs and cause allergies or asthma. Low-VOC finishes eliminate this problem.
Awareness is key. When we make thoughtful choices, we can improve the quality of life, for ourselves and our planet.