Reduce, reuse, redesign: Home decor gone green

Written by mickey goodman
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Eco-friendly home furnishings have gone mainstream

Reduce, reuse, redesign: Home decor gone green
(StrahilDimitrov/iStock/Getty Images)

We plan to leave the Earth better than how we found it.

— Cameron Cook, spokesperson for Four Hands

Green products are more popular than ever, where the eco-friendly movement has gone from fringe to mainstream. But going green isn't just about the product itself. It entails other aspects, like the manufacturing process and even how far the products are shipped. And it's not just about new. Just as important is reuse -- making your own creations out of things you already have around the house.

Going green

Most homeowners don’t have the luxury of starting anew, but it’s not hard to begin the green journey one step at a time. Updating antique and used furniture with new upholstery or slipcovers made from eco-friendly natural products like cotton, linen and wool provide the most bang for the buck and keep old furniture out of landfills. By using natural fabrics, you create a healthier indoor environment.

Start by covering the walls with no- or low-VOC paint. Replace nylon carpeting with 100 percent natural fibers like wool, sisal or cotton or carpeting made from recycled items. Purchase (or make) curtains from hemp or linen instead of man-made fabrics, and add vintage throw pillows for pop. To ensure an item is green, check for a Forest Stewardship Council FSC label.

Buying new and green

Four Hands has been manufacturing furniture from reclaimed wood since 1996. Today, more than 75 percent of the company’s case goods utilise eco-friendly raw materials, including plantation-grown wood, reclaimed hardwoods and recycled metal.

Used pallets, packing crates, cable reels, bridge beams and torn-down buildings are fashioned into furnishings that fit every decorating style. Even the hardware and fittings are manufactured from recycled metal or brass with Old World detailing. No unused wood goes to waste. The cross section of telephone poles with the holes clearly visible turn ordinary benches into conversation pieces. Tables are made from scrap lumber that would formerly go into landfills.

“Our operations are streamlined online [minimising paperwork], and our factories go to extra lengths to make sure our carbon footprint is minimal,” said Four Hands spokesperson Cameron Cook. Furniture is imported from all over the globe in crates that are generally recycled into furnishings. “We plan to leave the Earth better than how we found it,” said Cook.

Another eco-friendly company, Journey Trading Co., makes “puzzle-piece” side tables in different wood tones fashioned from sustainable mango wood. The pieces can be placed to fit snugly together or separated into individual tables. A chunk of tree trunk found on a forest floor is similarly subdivided to morph into two tables.

Skilled homeowners can re-create both ideas with scrap lumber or the trunks of large trees that have come down during brutal weather (make sure the wood is totally dry). The imperfections and differing characteristics in the wood only make them more unique.

If you’re determined to go green, look for furniture makers who are members of the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC).

“We use only renewable natural fibers,” said Ibolili spokesman Michael Fisher. “Our furniture made in Indonesia is contemporary and unfettered like the ball-shaped table base with a glass top made from two-tone wood,” said Fisher. “The square cubes are handmade from pieces of wood found on the forest floor.” Chunky polished driftwood tables and bases are suitable indoors and out, and each wicker piece is hand-woven from natural leaves, bark, wood, grass or sisal -- all in natural colours.

Items made from either recycled wood flooring or renewable woods like bamboo play an important role in living green. To cosy it up, choose area rugs made from natural products, like Journey’s 100 percent T-shirt cotton strips.

T-shirt rugs can also be made at home. Choose inexpensive new or old tees and bleach them bright white. Cut into strips and sew rows onto a sturdy natural fiber base like sailcloth.

Another Journey rug with a totally different look and feel is made from recycled strips of woven leather. Though working with leather is best left to the experts, you might be inspired to amass a collection of well-worn belts (minus the buckles) and weave them into a decorative mat.

Green on a budget

When Abigail Kiefer began a quest to find affordable accessories for her home that were neither beige nor burlappy, she thought it would be easy. Not so. The solution: form her own company, Red Clay, dedicated to producing attractive green items that appealed to mass markets.

Her "aha" idea was launching a contest to reach out to emerging artists eager to design decorative items like pillows, wall decor and pottery and see them produced.

“All our products are sourced locally and located near each manufacturing facility,” said Ashley Etling, director of product supply. “We want to make the greatest impact on your living room and the smallest impact on the planet.”

To that end, the company's pillow covers and pillows are made from 100 percent certified organic cotton. The twill covers are grown locally, and the ink in the designs is water based. Furniture-grade picture frames are handmade from FSC Certified wood, with the pictures printed on 100 percent archival quality paper or post-consumer waste paper (recycled newspapers, magazines and junk mail).

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