Another Shade of Green Design
Finally, we had a slice of the American dream: a 100-year-old Victorian fixer upper in the suburbs of New York City. There was insulation to yank from the rafters. Linoleum to peel from the floors. Tar to be scraped from ceiling tiles. My husband and I were new homeowners, with a vision for our derelict domicile, and an ambitious mission to renovate it environmentally.
That was three years ago.
Hundreds of trips to the hardware store later, I sometimes feel like a Home Depot refugee. These days me and the old house have sort of a love-hate relationship. (Some of you DIYs out there might know what I mean.)
I can spend long hours dreaming about what this place with “tremendous potential” will look like when we finally finish the front porch, paint the exterior, redo the kitchen. But I dread the weekends spent hammering, sanding, brushing, and scraping. (Weekends we could be off hiking in the woods, touring new towns, eating in fine restaurants, sipping wine…But no, there I’ll be: on my knees, in a pair of ratty old jeans covered in paint splatter…)
Ok, I’ll stop whining and get to the part about renovating green. Whatever happened to those plans?
Well, that hasn’t been as easy as we thought either.
Call it an excuse if you want, but the trouble is there’s no clear-cut definition of what it really means to do a “green” renovation. Yes, oodles of new environment friendly products have come on the market in these past few years. But the line between good advertising and social morality is still pretty blurry, if you ask me—not to mention kind of pricey.
I can read my favorite home interior magazine, as I sip organic, shade-grown coffee from the comfort of a designer bamboo chair. But is that “eco carpet” they’re trying to sell me on page 3 good for my health? Made from sustainable resources? Recycled? Or what?
It seems very few products address all of these ideals. That is, except one category of oft forgotten wares: the old ones. And since that’s the one we could afford while paying the mortgage on our handyman’s special, we embraced this ideal wholeheartedly.
That’s why the bathroom tiles we ended up with are not the latest in recycled glass; our cupboards were built from wood, not wheat; and our feet have never felt the comfort of cork floors. But I think most of the things in our house are a bright shade of green—maybe even chartreuse.
They’re as green as they ever were. Made from things we had, or stuff we found. They are anything solid enough to last at least a while. Or too nice to leave in someone else’s trash.
Like the house we fell for, they have potential, and good stories to tell. The French doors in our bedroom? A treasure that once lived in the New York City yacht club; we dug them from a pile of old doors at a nearby salvage yard. The limestone tile in the bathroom? Leftovers from one of our contractor’s more well-to-do clients. The wide, pine hardwood floors? They were hiding beneath those aforementioned layers of linoleum, disguised by age, paint, and stains. But once they were sanded and sealed with water-based poly they made our house glow with the warmth of old wood.
So while almost nothing in our home is from the new line of green products spilling from the pages of those shelter magazines I love to read, I think they’re all deserving of a special seal: one that expresses an environmental ideal that can’t be packaged and shipped, but rather collected and shared.
If you think about it, decorating and renovating with old stuff is a fine way to go. It saves the planet’s resources, extends the life of landfills, and rarely does damage to our health—unless you’re into collecting goods made from asbestos (don’t do this). It also leaves a little green in our wallets. And that’s an awfully good thing, because all of this renovating—green or otherwise—is expensive!
What are your thoughts about green design? Post a comment or share your own home repair stories.!--/end tags-->