Ask an Expert: Rachel Winokur

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Environmentally Friendly Designs

Q: I love your work – it’s amazing. I’d really appreciate discovering which environmentally friendly companies, vendors and/or products make you top ten Fall 2013 list. Also, do you have an affordable list as well, for some of us on a designing budget? - Karen
A: Hi Karen. Thanks for your kind words! My top eco elegant design products of the moment, including some affordable options, are below:

  1. Having sailed as a child and even lived on a sailboat for a few years, I’m really drawn to the hand-woven mats made with reclaimed marine rope by Serpent Sea.
  2. Lately, I have enjoyed very healthy sleep on my new Palmpring mattress, made from discarded coconut husks and natural latex, and wrapped in organic cotton and wool.
  3. I love textiles and I just learned about Xorel, the first bio-based high-performance interior textile containing 60-85% bio content.
  4. Award winning Zia Priven now offers vintage lighting which is not only eco-friendly, but also means an opportunity to have a very unique light fixture.
  5. A recent house guest runs Lead Safe America, which provides emergency intervention and support to families all over the country who have found out their children have been poisoned by lead in their homes. They also educate the public to prevent childhood lead poisoning in the first place. I was thrilled when she left me some non-toxic instant tests for lead.
  6. I’m always falling in love with the tiles I discover at LA based Filmore Clark, which offers a wide variety of US made artisan tiles.
  7. Who doesn’t love their pets and want the best for them? Let your pup be eco elegant with help from Growler Goods, including Ikat-print tipis and denim braided leashes.
  8. Vertical gardens seem perfected by EcoWalls. They’re made in the US using local post-consumer materials turned into a proprietary blend of inorganic, soilless, media that is both light weight and long lived.
  9. Browsing flea markets is always an adventure full of eco elegant discoveries, such as vintage Japanese paper with intricate cutouts that were used to print textiles. Just frame it and voila!
  10. Rugs are a great way to amp up the elegance factor. Try the Marigold Flower Rug, made with fair trade practices and crafted from sustainable natural fibers including pure wool, jute, cotton and hemp. Plus, all purchases benefit local schools in the weavers' villages.

Comfy Living Room ChairsImage: Rachel Winokur

Finding Eco-Friendly Finishes for Furniture

Q: I want to build a built-in media/bookcase/display unit in my living room. The finish I want is a lacquer finish. Is there a good non-toxic/eco-friendly way of getting this finish? - Sue

A: Hi Sue. I’m thrilled that you’re thinking about your health and that of the environment, with respect to your built-in piece. Of course, remember to use sustainable wood or eco-friendly MDF. As for the finish, a while back I had my nightstands beautifully transformed with non-toxic chocolate brown gloss paint from Now, Livingreen offers an even better option, trim paint from Lullaby, in gloss or semi-gloss. Lullaby was originally designed for the chemically sensitive, and contains no harsh chemicals, glycols, toluenes, formaldehydes, or phthalates. It’s also washable and suitable for primed or previously painted metal – it even contains food grade ingredients! Plus, their deep pigments are imported from Europe and meet the highest environmental and safety standards. Also, because their resins are not diluted with cheap solvents, they’re thicker and cover walls with ease.

Gloss Nightstand

Image: Rachel Winokur

Eco-Friendly Flooring Options

Q: I am thinking about renovating the one small bathroom in our condo. What are the eco-friendly flooring options for replacing the 30+ yr-old vinyl flooring? As you enter, the 27″ wide vanity and toilet are along the 8′ long right wall. The tub/shower are on the 5′ long far wall (opposite door). The floor space along the left wall must be left clear leaving no floor space for storage. How can we create storage space for towels and toiletries without making this small bathroom feel cramped? How can we expand the minimal counter space provided by the 27″ vanity?

A: Hi Gayle. I can understand your instinct to replace the vinyl floor, but consider covering it. Since the vinyl is so old, it’s not off-gassing anymore. Plus, the majority of vinyl isn’t recyclable, nor is it biodegradable. Also, if the backing has Asbestos (which you can get tested), removing it must be done very carefully and ideally by a certified asbestos abatement contractor. To cover the vinyl without adding too much height, look into eco thin floor tile and layer it on top of the vinyl. Then undercut the door accordingly. One option is StoneTech Slim4 from Floor Gres.

As for maximizing storage in your small bath, see if you can add a recessed medicine cabinet between studs on the return wall by the vanity and/or a full-length one on the wall across from the toilet/vanity wall. Make sure the cabinet door won’t crash against the mirror. Also, a towel rack over the toilet offers both storage and a place to dry towels without closing up the space like a pair of upper cabinets. Plus, you can increase your counter space by installing a wall-mounted faucet and vessel sink. Take it a step further and mount the wall faucet and sink to the side of the vanity (by the toilet) so that you can more securely store items by the other side, instead of dividing the small amount of space equally to the left and the right of the sink.

Vessel Sink
Image: Michael Tauber Architecture


Q: I have a super-long, wide coffee table. It’s as long as my sofa (so, about 80-something inches) and about 30″ wide (or maybe a few inches more). Originally, it was some kind of display table that was in a bank lobby and held brochures and things in the waiting area. Anyway, I love it, but can’t figure out what to put on it. I want varied height, and little “scenes” of some sort (I think?!?), but more importantly, I want it to remain empty enough that people on both sides can put their drinks – or their feet – on it. Any thoughts??? P.S. My style is kind of “Rustic Modern.” Lots of natural items: linen sofa, leather club chair, cowhide rugs, metal tables, pottery lamps. A little on the stark side. I much prefer natural things; not too kitschy or cluttered. - Mike

A: Hi Mike. I applaud your re-use of this furniture piece – what a cool story! How wonderful to have so much room for display, as well as for guests’ beverages. I’m a big fan of using items that have meaning to you and/or are functional to decorate and not acquiring accessories just to take up space. Start by stacking a few of your favorite coffee table books a little off center. Then add either a keepsake box or a small display item on top, perhaps an item from your travels. Then add a plant or vase of flowers next to that. Let this vignette reflect your personal style – feel free to try different arrangements and see what feels best to you.

Wood Coffee TableImage: Kim Woods

Complimenting Retro-Furniture

Q: I found a retro couch/chair set at a yard sale and fell in love. I purchased the set for a very low price but am now looking at how to incorporate it into my living room. The set is from the early 70′s; yellow/gold/white cross pattern; cloth. My husband hates it but is giving me the opportunity to pull it together as long as I don’t get rid of his dark brown recliner. I am prepared to paint and add color… I just don’t know what would compliment this furniture too. The lighting I have is minimal with one large bay window. Color suggestions please. - Tracy

A: Hi Tracy. If the upholstery is in good condition and you want to keep it, then buy a toss pillow in a pattern that has the yellow/gold in it with a neutral that’s prevalent in the room, perhaps picking up the dark brown of the recliner. One of my favorite sources for eco pillows is Bonnie and Neil. These are hand-printed with water-based inks on natural fibers. Replacing the lamp shade can be another great way to bring in the yellow/gold, or even just adding a yellow grosgrain ribbon to the bottom edge of your existing shade. if it’s too much pop, you might not need both the chair and the sofa in the same room. Perhaps one of them will work better in another room.

Colorful Pillows
Image: Bonnie and Neil

This Week's Ask an Expert: Louise Roe

Louise Roe

Style expert and journalist, Louise Roe has written home and design pieces for a number of publications, including In Style UK, Elle UK, and Men's Health UK, amongst others. She also writes a home decor column for LuxDeco. Roe has a passion for Interior design and finding and revamping flea market and vintage home items.

This Week's Topic: How to Mix Modern and Antique

This week Louise Roe will be answering questions about mixing modern designs with antiques.

Ask a question here!

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