May 31, 2010

"Staycations": Tips for Creating Your Own Barefoot Home

Capture a bit of that vacation feeling every day.  Photo courtesy of

What is it about vacation homes that are so appealing?  For those lucky enough to own one, or even just visit, the relaxation and happiness one feels upon arriving and settling in is not just due to the escape from the daily grind.   It is also because one literally lightens one's load in life - down to what fits in a suitcase - and spends their days in a simpler environment. 

The good life...

For me, the dream is arriving at a small cottage in a little town near the beach.  I throw open the windows to the fresh breeze (there is no air conditioning - I feel closer with nature already). I unwind the stress in my mind as I unpack my bags into a blissfully empty closet, where everything I own has its place.  I pad barefoot across the time-worn but clean hardwood floors towards the kitchen.  I grab a quick snack in this space populated with only the bare essentials... no fancy pasta makers or espresso machines here.  Whistling, I head out the front entry, with screen door slamming behind me, for a short stroll into town -- where passersby on their way to the beach wave hello and local shop-keepers welcome me in for a tea or a browse.

This net-zero energy home in Woolwich, Maine, complete with swimming pool, was designed with family staycations in mind.  Read the complete Design New England article here.    Photo via ReVision Energy.

The great news is that we can bring these same sweet barefoot simplicities into our own homes for year round enjoyment.  We will also save a boatload of energy and money in the process.  The key is to make smart choices about where and how we live.  Now, of course not all of us can afford to live by the beach.  But here are some things we can all do:
  • Live near town, where we can enjoy the walking lifestyle and leave the car in park.  
  • Declutter our homes down to just the essentials, and support charities with our donations.   
  • Create strong indoor/outdoor connections.  Forget the AC and throw the windows open.  Use the same durable and natural flooring materials inside and out.  
  • Flood our homes with sunshine by stacking back the draperies during the day and leaving the light switches off.
  • Dress down - skip the formal dining room and turn the space into a casual destination where everyone can eat comfortably, or where shelves of books encourage you to slow down and read. 
  • Live smaller.  Vacation homes are usually charming and inviting because they are cozy.  Downsize to a home that is easy to keep, and only has spaces that you use every day.  You might even find that you can live in locales you never thought you could afford.
 In his book The Barefoot Home:  Dressed-Down Design for Casual Living, Mark Vassallo reminds us of the many ways we can "staycation" every day.

This 388 s.f. Beach Chalet, designed by StudioMama pares down the classic shingled beach house to the bare essentials.  Photo via

The best aspect of THE CONCORD GREEN HEALTHY HOME may not even be the home itself, but what is across the street.  Emerson Field offers an expansive view of tennis courts, baseball fields, a running track, playground equipment, basketball courts, swimming pool, lots of large shady trees and pesticide-free grass, all within a 1/4 mile walk to town center. 

May 28, 2010

Waiting for Nature's Little Miracles

Bringing in a bit of the outdoors while waiting for the grass to grow helps us stay patient with nature.  A weathered outdoor teak table, along with starfish and a seagrass basket from the very cool Spero Home in Concord, beautifully complement the living room's reclaimed antique heartpine flooring.

Inspirations from the sea remind us to water the Eco-Lawn grass seed until it gets established at THE CONCORD GREEN HEALTHY HOME.  

The eco-friendly seed has finally been sown.  Trim still needs a fresh coat of paint, the driveway needs its topcoat, and the cable guy will soon be connecting to the house... but we are closing in. 

Once the grass shows us where it is happy to grow with minimal water and attention, xeriscaping with low-maintenance plants and mosses will fill in the landscape.

A layer of peat moss on top of the grass seedlings helps them retain moisture as they compete with the massive sugar maple trees for water.

May 27, 2010

"Domestic Detox" featured in The New York Times

Photo courtesy of The New York Times.  Illustration by Josef Astor

Today's New York Times article, Domestic Detox: Extreme Home Cleaning, by Penelope Green, provides a humorous and helpful look at the many ways to keep your home healthier:

WHEN Matthew Waletzke appeared at the door of my East Village apartment to evaluate my home for what he calls “toxic exposure” — the alternative world’s catch-all phrase for potential health hazards like mold, indoor air pollution, household chemicals and electromagnetic radiation (beware your Wi-Fi!) — I half-expected to see a guy in an “Andromeda Strain”-era hazmat suit.

Mr. Waletzke, however, was dressed casually enough, in a polo shirt and khakis. But the aluminum suitcase he carried was all business, filled with an impressive array of meters, probes and other devices that he proceeded to unpack onto my dining room table. 

Mr. Waletzke is a “building biology” consultant, which means he has trained for a year with the Institute for Bau-Biologie & Ecology, a Florida-based, mostly online school that teaches its students to test water, air and building materials for a checklist of toxins and then prescribe a cure. (They will also vet the cleaning products under your sink and the lotions and cosmetics in your medicine chest.) 

The training and its tenets are a European import, developed in post-World War II Germany to deal with the problems that emerged as new housing went up and some inhabitants began to suffer what would be later identified as “sick building syndrome,” or a sensitivity to chemicals like formaldehyde used in construction...

For the complete article, click here.

May 13, 2010

Follow the Landscape Design Clues of your House

"Your house is the center of your garden.  The moment you fully understand the implications of that statement, designing your garden will become a more manageable and rewarding task." -- Gordon Hayward, in his acclaimed landscaping book - Your House, Your Garden:  A Foolproof Approach to Garden Design."  Photo of Hydrangea Paniculata courtesy of    

Most of the clues for creating an inviting landscape on your property arise from the property itself.   According to Gordon Hayward, my landscape design hero, "The doors of your house dictate starting points for paths... each window is... a vantage point from which to look into your garden... the shapes, proportions and materials of your house give rise to the shapes, lines, proportions, and even materials of your gardens.  Those initial design decisions - even the shape of your property and the relationship of your house to the street -can result in a coherent, overall landscape plan that seamlessly links house to garden."
My crude sketch of the rear patio design for THE CONCORD GREEN HEALTHY HOME.  It heeds Hayward's advice to follow the contours of the house and property lines, which are both shaped like an L.

Install Day # 2 of the rear patio.   
Anthony Bonanno Masonry's talented crew is hard at work.

The completed patio is a lovely mix of Boston City Hall brick, salvaged from another jobsite, framed in bluestone to create a sense of connected outdoor rooms that will be landscaped and furnished accordingly.  The bluestone stepping stones make travel to recycling bins and the driveway a nice little walk.

 The front walkway is also of local bluestone - wide at the welcoming front porch stairs and narrowing towards the sidewalk - but still a generous 5' width for walking alongside a companion.

The bluestone selection took its cue from the color of the gray metal roof of the home.

I'm imagining adding Hydrangea Limelight somewhere in the landscape.  Photo courtesy of Proven Winners via Weston Nurseries, which hosts an incredible website dense with New England gardening references and resources.

More Hayward Garden Design eye candy, courtesy of Zimbio...

May 9, 2010

Gorgeous Green Lawns Without All the Mowing and Watering

Eco-Lawn is a special drought-tolerant, low maintenance grass blend that grows in full sun and shade, developed by Wildflower Farm, as featured on TreeHugger

Is it possible to have a beautiful green lawn, with minimal or even NO watering or mowing?  Yes!

Once established, these two options will have you selling the mower and saving the watering hose for the flowers.  THE CONCORD GREEN HEALTHY HOME will be trying out both.  Stay tuned.

 Sheet Moss (Hypnum) from Moss Acres - perfect for carpeting the shady areas of your property

May 6, 2010

22 Allergy-Friendly Landscape Tips

The Red Maple (Acer Rubrum) "October Glory" is a low pollen, native beauty.  

As pollen counts reach record levels this season, now is the perfect time to consider ways to make your garden more allergy-friendly.   Landscape designer and neighbor of THE CONCORD GREEN HEALTHY HOME, Ellen Matheson, stopped by to share her expertise as we finalize landscape plans for the site.  She even forwarded the highly useful article below for anyone with allergies, which includes over 50 million Americans.  Thank you, Ellen!

Twenty-Two Tips for Producing Low Allergy Gardens
by Thomas Leo Ogren

What we plant in our own yards often has a direct effect on our own health and the health of those near us. A pollen-producing male tree in our own yard will easily expose us to ten times more pollen than would a similar tree growing just down the block. This can be compared to second-hand smoke. Yes, it is possible to inhale some smoke from a person who is smoking a block or two away from you, but it is hardly the same as someone smoking right next to you. It is the same with plants. If your own yard is full of allergenic plants, then you will be exposed most.

The greater your exposure, the greater your chances are of having allergies and (or) asthma. Here are some tips to avoid allergies and asthma.

1.  Don't plant any male trees or shrubs.  These are often sold as "seedless" or "fruitless" varieties but they're males and they all produce large amounts of allergenic pollen.

2. Do plant female trees and shrubs. Even though these may be messier than males, they produce no pollen, and they actually trap and remove pollen from the air. There is also some very good all-female sod to use for pollen-free lawns. As an added bonus, these female lawns stay low and require less frequent mowing.

Eryngium x "Big Blue" Sea Holly.  Photo:  North Creek Nurseries

3. Plant disease-resistant varieties: mildew, rust, black spot and other plant diseases all reproduce by spores and these spores cause allergies. Disease resistant plants won't get infected as much and the air around them will be healthier.

4. Use only trees and shrubs well adapted for your own climate zone. Plants grown in the wrong zone will often fail to thrive. Because they are not healthy, they will be magnets for insects. Insect residue, "honeydew," is a prime host for molds and molds produce allergenic mold spores. Often native plants will be the healthiest choices.

5. Be careful with the use of all insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Accidental exposure to all of these chemical pesticides has been shown to cause breakdowns in the immune system. Sometimes one single heavy exposure to a pesticide will result in sudden hypersensitivity to pollen, spores, and to other allergens. This is as true for pets as it is for their owners. Go organic as much as possible. Make and use compost!...

... For the full article, including all 22 helpful tips, click here.
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