Ten years ago, she’d helped the client couple incorporate numerous green elements into the remodel of their primary residence in Boulder. So when the couple later wanted to do a green remodel on the site of their country retreat, the interior designer who now operates Inspirit-llc was again asked to be part of the decision-making team.
“What they wanted was a family and friend home, a structure that had a healthy indoor environment, was comfortable, and low maintenance,” she says. “That meant everything had to be formaldehyde and VOC free or as low in both as possible.”
But as it turned out, these stipulations would lead to struggles with subs; the biggest involved overcoming the intransigence of a cabinetmaker who balked at using water-based finishes due to concerns over their long-term performance.
She resolved the temporary impasse by introducing him to a colleague in Carbondale, Colo., outside of Aspen, who had gone green himself and reassured the cabinetmaker about the reliability of the finishes.
Similar discussions were also part of her dialog with custom furnishing manufacturers. “They’d say, ‘I’m not familiar with this or that product,’ or “Am I going to have your client coming to me in a year or two because these products are not performing?’ And the only way you can resolve these issues is to keep the lines of communication open and, in some cases, introduce them to those that have already embraced these products.”
In cases where very low VOC or formaldehyde levels were unavoidable, the team turned to a product called Safe Coat, manufactured by Safe Coat, using it to seal exposed surfaces and prevent off-gassing, she says.
Because the client put a premium on natural sunlight and wanted to refrain from using window coverings as much as possible, the path of natural sunlight was mapped through the structure, and the rebuilding of the home was planned accordingly.
“Managing” the use of sunlight in the home helped minimize the use of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. But it also required that the construction team and the interior designer pay especially close attention to the durability of materials.
“A real concern was the intensity of the sunlight,” Stelmack says. “In terms of fabrics used in furniture and other elements, we made sure that they were all natural fibers, and we stayed away from anything that was petroleum based, and we also did everything we could to make sure the kinds of fibers we used would not just disintegrate in the face of the UV rays streaming in.”
Asked about other internal elements, Stelmack says reclaimed oak flooring and interior doors are a sustainable option, as oak is a durable hardwood and the distressed nature of reclaimed wood makes it particularly forgiving.
“Integral colored plaster walls support healthy indoor air quality as an inert finish that is available additive free,” she said. “Additionally the skim coat of plaster blocks the small amount of VOCs in drywall and taped joints, supports moisture management, and can act as an air barrier.”
Other green elements Stelmack particularly likes are:
• recycled glass tiles for bath walls and backsplashes, which are available from 100% recycled, post-consumer glass materials and are “beautiful, durable and long lasting
• hard surface flooring—wood, stone, tile, and cork—which are durable, easy to maintain, and don’t release harmful gases
• used wood framed dining, counter, and bar stools with washable seat cushions which also supports long term durability
“From my perspective the jury is no longer out as there are high-performing products that are green, sustainable, and eco-friendly and products that are less ideal for the triple bottom line—people, planet, profit,” Stelmack says. “Performance concerns are not a specific issue with just green products. Vetting products and the issues around performance come with any type of product, regardless of whether it is LEED compliant or meets a set of sustainable criteria.”
To view this article as it originally appeared in our September 2010 issue, please visit our Magazine Archive.