December 31, 2009

Sliding Door "Math": Subtract Space Used, Add More Character

A sliding door partitions off the home office from the guest room in this California remodel, featured in one of my favorite books: The Barefoot Home.

I am a huge fan of sliding doors. Unlike their hinged counterparts, they take up almost no room, while adding a ton of personality to a space. They can be used in place of traditional doors, or even entire walls, which provides tremendous flexibility and adaptability in space usage - a core tenet of building smaller to reduce your home's environmental footprint.

With humble utilitarian roots, like housing horses in stalls while keeping the barn's center aisle clear, sliding doors come in all types and styles, from rustic to refined. Plus, bringing the barn vernacular indoors can be lots of fun.

Barn doors with glass uppers featured in House Beautiful's A Barn-Style House in Sun Valley. Design by Chipper Joseph, architecture by Sandra Vlock and Glenn Arbonies. Photo: Maura McEvoy.

Hardware can be exposed, or boxed in with all the rest of this wonderful trim and beadboard. Source unknown.

Even mainstream catalogs (I believe I found this on West Elm's website) appreciate the appeal of barn doors.

Glass doors lend a modern, industrial loft vibe to a space, while sharing precious daylight with adjoining rooms.

Polished hardware and frameless doors deliver the wow factor. Specialty Glass Doors.

Simpler, affordable aluminum doors from Sliding Door Company.

Of course, sliding doors are beautiful and functional on the exterior as well.

Gorgeous tall sliders mix with stone walls to create an inviting indoor-outdoor connection. Crown Industrial.

Who wouldn't want to work in this home office? Note the way the track extends beyond the mass of the building. Very cool. Sunset Magazine.

Even cooler, this tiny home's courtyard, from favorite architects Estes Twombly, is cleverly protected from north winds by a sliding door wall. See it in the firm's new book, Yankee Modern.

THE CONCORD GREEN HOME will utilize a mix of pocket and sliding doors to maximize space, while upping its own personality quotient.

Had the pleasure of meeting with Circle B Barn owner Tom Brownell on a snowy post-Christmas morning out in Lancaster, MA. Between feeding his horses, Tom spent time with me working out design details for a Hall Bath sliding barn door, as well as the entire wall partition between the Office/Away Room and the Great Room.

Imagine four of Circle B's hayloft doors shown on the upper part of this barn...

... partitioning this 10' wide by almost 10' tall opening. When closed, doors block sound while glass uppers still share daylight. When doors are slid along double tracks to sit on side wall, complete openness. So flexible. So functional. No space-hogging hinged doors to get in the way. Plus, if the room ever needed to be used as a first floor bedroom, one can mount draperies on the interior of that header for extra privacy. Perfect for a classic, Not-So-Big New England farmhouse.

December 11, 2009

The Art of Compromise in Green Building

View of driveway on northeast side of house, from behind kitchen nook.

"The perfect is the enemy of the good." - Voltaire

That quote kept running through my head as I approved an asphalt driveway. Ugh. Not green. Not permeable. NOT what I had planned.

I had long read and heard that green building is a lofty and challenging goal, and that it may require compromises along the way. This week, forces beyond my control led me to compromise away a green driveway. We had planned on gravel...

Gravel driveway with cobble insets - Revo Landscapes

or other permeable surfaces, such as porous asphalt...

Looks like traditional asphalt, but allows water to penetrate down to the ground below


Recycled plastic frames hold gravel in place, providing a much sturdier driving surface

or permeable pavers...

Aqua Bric porous pavers

... any of which would prevent storm water run-off. Traditional asphalt prevents water from naturally seeping into and filtering through the ground, which taxes the municipal water treatment system. Porous surfaces are always a better option.

The driveway, in all its blacktop glory.

Unfortunately, cold weather prevented us from laying a porous asphalt driveway, permeable pavers would have busted the budget, and gravel was not feasible, given the significant amount of unstable "unsuitable material" immediately beneath grade. Turns out our lot was the neighborhood dumping ground at least 50 years ago. Excavation turned up all sorts of household items and discarded building materials. Aedi Construction's experts and subs conferred, and explained that good old asphalt would actually help stabilize the ground.

Example of cobblestone driveway accent in the neighborhood.

I have consoled myself with plans for porous driveway accents, hardscaping of the patio and xeriscaping with native, hardy plants... and a reminder from Voltaire.

December 9, 2009

An Entire Color Palette in a (nut) Shell!

I like to use an inspiration piece, usually from nature, around which an entire color palette can be created. For THE CONCORD GREEN HOME, it was this unassuming seashell, discovered on the North Shore of Massachusetts last summer.

Who would think that this little shell...

with its perfect mix of warm and cool tones, would inspire creamy white walls and cabinetry, orange-tinged antique pine hardwood, tumbled stone flooring, taupe concrete countertops, flax and white linens, and more.

When we take our cues from nature, it's hard to make a mistake. What's your inspiration?

December 6, 2009

Let the Passive Solar Heating begin...

Along with the in-town park location, this sunny southern exposure is why we bought this lot.

The leaves on the large maple trees out back are long gone, revealing why we purchased this particular lot. The rear interior corner of the house faces directly south, so even though the park view is to the front, most of the windows run all along this interior corner. Since the winter sun is lower in the sky, warmth will penetrate deep into the home for most of the day, providing passive solar heating -- and keeping energy bills to a minimum in this super insulated house. When you work closely with nature, your house can heat itself.

From front entry to rear french doors, a wide swath of stone flooring will provide thermal mass, which absorbs and stores warmth from the day's rays and then slowly releases it at night as the house cools.

The light-reflecting plaster bounces sunshine off all of the walls, eliminating the need to turn on lights during the day.

What a difference from the light-absorbing blue boarded walls just a week earlier.

The sky-lit gable ceiling over the kitchen, with view to breakfast nook beyond.

The nook will be a cozy, sunny place to relax.

The tall open stairwell is a key component of passive cooling during the summer. The north-facing windows at the stairwell bottom allow cooler air to rush in as rising hot air escapes through higher windows in the attic loft.

The lovely allee of trees in the park across the street after our first December snowfall.

December 4, 2009

10 Classic Design Strategies for Greener Interiors

Recycled Home by Mark & Sally Bailey.

It's finally time to focus on the interiors of THE CONCORD GREEN HOME, after blogging for the past few weeks about its construction. I look forward to sharing ways we are creating a sustainable and healthy home that still honors its historic setting.

Most of the eco-friendly design pioneers have had a super-modern bent. While I love pouring through their portfolios, my goal is to show that these strategies are just as compatible with classic style.

Here are 10 of my favorite "go-to" green and healthy strategies. What are yours?


1. Reclaimed Building Components
Hardwood floors (see my earlier post) are a great way to incorporate the beautiful patina of old growth wood, salvaged from local barns, mills and homes. It doesn't hurt that reclaimed wood fits right in with all the hot design trends, from Belgium, Sweden, France and beyond.

You can even use it on the ceiling. Kay Douglass design, courtesy of House Beautiful.

Or consider antique stone and brick, rescued from narrow old Boston streets or an ancient Tuscan tower (of course, that would only be green if you are lucky enough to live near Tuscany, and don't have to fly it over an ocean).

I snapped this photo of antique stone and concrete copies at the Paris Ceramics showroom. They have a beautiful selection from all over the world.

2. Daylighting
Let the sunshine in! Keep the lights off and save energy. Avoid blocking precious light with heavy, dust-collecting drapery. Use solid shutters, plantation or cottage-style blinds, linen and other natural fibers that filter beautiful sunlight all day long. Some of these selections also provide terrific insulation on colder nights or let you control heat gain in summertime.

To magnify the sun's rays further, use a small dose of reflective surfaces like mirrors and glossy finishes, along with light colored walls and painted floors - design secrets that figure prominently in sun-starved Swedish interiors.

Solid shutters grace the windows of this charming nursery. Design by Shannon Bowers.

3. Antiques
Reuse and recycling are always better than building new. Happily, antiquing happens to be a very green thing to do. You can source online at high end sites, such as or Bond & Bowery, or search for bargains on ebay or craigslist. Re-purposing old pieces in new ways can be quite satisfying, whether it be conversion of an old dresser as a new bath vanity (see my earlier post), or metal gym lockers as laundry storage.

Here is the Before and After of an old vanity that I found on Craigs List, refinished as a writing desk for a young girl's bedroom.

BEFORE: Tired old vanity purchased via Craigs List for $100...

AFTER: Reborn as a sweet writing desk with painted and hand-rubbed wax finish, and glass knobs. Available in our "Reuse Recycle ReSale" - see details at bottom of sidebar on right.

4. Non-Toxic Paints and Finishes
The most commonly used paints and finishes, even some eco-friendly varieties, are filled with nasty volatile organic compounds that off-gas harmful fumes in your home, long after that fresh-paint smell disappears. (Of particular concern, the nesting instinct that has expecting parents hurriedly painting the new nursery lands baby in a toxic soup environment.) I specify Mythic Paint (even the primer doesn't smell!) on most of my design projects.

Mythic Paint: Safe for People. Safe for Pets. Safe for the Earth.

I also love Farrow and Ball paints for walls - not only does its historically inspired color palette have incredible depth and richness, its clay-pigment formula is naturally non-toxic.

Farrow and Ball "wrote the book" on Paint and Colour in Decoration.

Lastly, a word on the ubiquitous polyurethane, used to finish floors, furniture and many other surfaces in the home. Avoid! This stuff is extremely toxic!!! Look for natural finishes and other alternatives - depending on the requirements of your project. There are more and more quality alternatives being introduced all the time. Or you can turn back to time-tested methods of our ancestors, like tung oil (be careful if you have tree nut allergies), linseed oil and waxes.

5. Closed Storage
While beautiful, open shelving should be used sparingly, as it collects dust (and grease in the kitchen) - not good for a healthy home. There are so many gorgeous options too, from glass-front cabinets, to fabric lined doors, to antique hutches.

Fashion icon Kate Spade's own kitchen demonstrates that you can still have the look of open storage, without the build up of dust and grease.

Kitchen designer Cyndy Cantley's fabric-lined doors add a soft, fresh touch to this breakfast nook makeover. Southern Living magazine.

Open shelving is stylish and functional - even when you have to stand on a chair :) - but use it sparingly. Katie Lee Joel's dining room featured in Domino magazine, design by Nate Berkus.

6. Ban the Wall-to-Wall
Wall-to-wall carpet should be avoided, especially in sleeping spaces. It collects and holds all sorts of offenders, including dust, pollens and pesticides tracked in on shoe bottoms, pet dander, and plain old dirt. If you need a soft landing, area carpets can be cleaned and even replaced. Check out Flor recycled carpet tiles, which can be washed in the sink, or replaced, one square at a time. They regularly introduce new designs that fit any style home. Even Martha Stewart has a line with them.

Recycled Carpet Tiles give you unlimited design options. Flor Martha Stewart Collection.

7. Renewable Resources
Whenever possible, specify renewable alternatives for interior selections, such as countertops, and flooring. Concrete countertops can range from industrial cool to warm European rustic, depending on the color and type of finish (see my earlier post). Bamboo flooring, made from rapidly renewable grass, has come a long way, now offering different grain selections that are not just for super-modern spaces.

The juxtaposition of rough and smooth - concrete countertops surround a smooth farmhouse sink - a lovely mix. Kitchen design by Shannon Bowers - House Beautiful.

8. Bring the Outdoors In
Incorporating natural elements, and items meant for outdoor use, is a favorite design strategy. Collect dead branches and create a knock out chandelier, or rewire an old post lantern as a kitchen pendant, or clad interior walls with shingles meant for the outside of your house. They all serve to reconnect us, literally or figuratively, to our outside world, and remind us to take care of it.

Huge chandelier-like hanging crafted from tree branches. Point Click Home.

Exterior cedar shingles clad the interior walls of this New England beach home. Source unknown.

9. Eco-friendly Furniture
Thankfully, there are a growing number of manufacturers who specialize in eco-friendly furniture, with FSC-certified wood and non-toxic finishes. A new favorite is Cisco Brothers, a firm that has even helped redevelop their surroundings in South Central LA after the 1992 riots there. Some mainstream retailers, like Crate and Barrel, are also getting into the act.

10. To Bed... Organic Mattresses
We all spend a third of our lives in bed. And yet, most commercially available mattresses are filled with chemicals, even those that cost several thousand dollars. Shop for the healthiest mattress you can afford. This is one area in which you don't want to skimp. Look for the GreenGuard label.

The Organic Mattress offers a nice selection of mattresses, pillows, linens and accessories like mattress toppers and dust mite covers.


December 2, 2009

Concrete Countertops - A Renewable Alternative to Marble

Stunning white marble kitchen - Martha Stewart Living

After pouring through the pages of interior design magazines, it is hard to ignore the beauty of natural stone countertops, (particularly white marble, which is so hot these days), quarried and transported from far away places.

And yet, when making plans for the light and airy 10' kitchen island, along with the bath vanities of THE CONCORD GREEN HOME, the thought of pillaging the earth for a big slab of non-renewable stone, along with the energy consumed and pollution created to transport it over land and sea, had me thinking twice.

"Stainless Concrete" countertop from J. Aaron.

I decided to go with concrete countertops. They are made from renewable resources, are easily maintained, durable and have a look that is at once industrial and rugged, yet warm and mellow at the same time.

I reached out to several East Coast suppliers. I fell in love with the samples from J. Aaron Cast Stone as soon as they arrived. They can create a countertop with any shape, in any color (light colors seem harder to find in concrete).

The only design limit is your imagination.

Plus, J. Aaron has developed a "stainless concrete" formula that eliminates the biggest disadvantage of concrete, while maintaining its soft patina. As the company's website explains:

For centuries, concrete has offered a beautiful alternative to natural stone for a variety of surfaces. As a counter top it has always been durable and extremely versatile with the one drawback being the tendency to etch when exposed to acids such as wine, citrus, vinegar and coffee. The look that results can be unsightly. Until now, the alternative was to coat the concrete with a topical sealer such as the epoxies many companies use. This does end the etching but... it smothers the original texture while stopping the natural patina process that makes concrete grow more beautiful with age.

Our exclusive stainless concrete solves this problem. It offers the best of both worlds, allowing the lovely texture of the material to remain and take on a slow natural patina though usage while stopping the etching effect of acids.

No wonder the samples are so lovely. I am pleased to welcome J. Aaron, a company whose products fit with THE CONCORD GREEN HOME's mission and aesthetic, as our 8th sponsor.

J. Aaron traditional gray color in any desired thickness. Go ultra modern, rustic or traditional.

Anne Balogh, Columnist, states "In addition to their versatility and distinctive beauty, concrete countertops have another virtue that appeals to many people, especially the ecologically aware: They are more environmentally friendly, or "greener," than most other types of countertops."

"Solid surface materials are made of plastic, engineered quartz materials contain a synthetic resin binder, and granite and marble are nonrenewable mined resources. Concrete contains mostly just good old sand, rock and cement," says Jeff Girard, president of The Concrete Countertop Institute and one of the Concrete Network's technical experts."

Concrete bath vanity top with integral sink.

To ensure that your concrete countertops are as green as possible, be sure to ask for maximum recycled content, and specify non-toxic, non-volatile organic compound (VOC) finishes.
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