Friday, 31 August 2007


When I talk to prospective interior design clients about all the green things we can include in their new home, I’m often greeted with the notion that it is going to cost more money than they want to spend. Sometimes new technology means that you have to spend a bit more, but often, when incorporated with energy saving elements like solar panels and low energy appliances, you can see a return on that money in your low [or no!] energy bills and in the increased resale value of your home.

You have to see the renovation not just as an esthetic update, but as an investment. Heating our houses and water won’t be getting any cheaper any time soon.

Having said that; did you know that there are also a number of grants available to homeowners and businesses who want to lower their bills and carbon emissions? It is worth checking in your borough or state to see what’s available.

For instance, in the UK, you can apply for a grant to insulate your home, regardless of your income, for up to 100% of the cost. It’s part of a government initiative to get homeowners to lower their energy bills. Losing heat from a ‘leaky’ house can cause greenhouse gases. If your house is well insulated, it keeps heat in during the cold months and the interior cool during a scorching summer. Insulation even stops noise pollution if you live near a busy road or airport flight path. Check it out and see how much you can qualify for.

This week I met Sunny Lee. She is a very inspiring woman who works for the Merton Chamber of Commerce and helps businesses in her area recycle properly, lower energy bills and reuse their resources.
She was able to help a restaurant get a 50% grant for a new refrigerator. They were using an old, leaky fridge and the new one is much more energy efficient and pollutes less. Another company saved £8,000 over two years after making the energy saving changes she recommended.
Sunny says there are grants to be found for solar panels and other energy saving additions to your business. The price for her consultation is nominal. A mere £10. If you are in her borough, her email is
Her programme is supported by The London Development Agency, so if you own a house or business in London, check online and see what’s available to you.

I encourage everyone to do the research wherever you are. There are schemes and grants for sustainable developers, homeowners and businesses being introduced all over the place so it is always worth checking your local authority/council to see what’s available.

My friend, Liza in Gloucestershire, was a victim of the floods last month. Her house was not flooded, but her water supply was cut off and in two weeks she amassed an enormous heap of empty plastic water bottles. Liza said it was the first time she realised how much plastic is wasted when we drink water from a bottle.
Uh Huh!!
Americans add over 30 million plastic water bottles to their landfills – everyday!

Can I also say, plastic milk cartons?
Remember in the olden days when the milkman used to leave glass bottles of milk on your doorstep and take away the empties that were washed, filled and returned in an electric milk cart!
Who ever thought that was a bad idea?

Does the Earth really need so much plastic? I think not.
There are (still) no mineral water regulations, so chances are, tap water is as healthy as any water you can buy. It’s fresh too. A lot of bottled water can have been in storage for weeks on end in hot warehouses growing all sorts of bacteria.
Then there’s the theory that the plastic from the bottles can be harmful and so we shouldn’t be refilling the bottles we do buy. Something I used to do, thinking I was recycling/reusing as much as I can. Tests have found traces of antimony, a chemical used in the making of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, used by most mineral-water sellers. Also studies into the safety of water stored for too long in plastic bottles showed that small doses of toxins can leak into the water from the plastic. It was discovered that the toxin levels almost doubled when the bottles were stored for three months. Something to think about…
Solution: Don’t keep buying your water in plastic bottles. Drink water from the tap, which is quite tasty here in London. Unfortunately, all Los Angeles water still tastes like a swimming pool, so I suggest you filter it. Use a Brita water filter or some other sort and carry the water around in a cool and trendy SIGGS bottle made from stainless steel. The SIGGS bottles come in lots of colours and fun designs. Check out the website.

Here are some of the fun and stylish 
Eco Things 
I have come across this week

STOP! Don’t throw away or take to the charity shop all that fabric you have had lurking in the back of your cupboard because when you bought it three years ago you were going to make it into…oh…something, you’ve forgotten quite what... Or those old doilies and napkins and antimacassars...or that dress with the vintage print that doesn’t fit you anymore. Give them to Sarah Louise Baulsch.
Sarah is one of my friends from the Enviro Entrepreneur School. She takes old jeans and vintage fabric and revamps them into fabulous new cushions, bags and doorstops. My favourite are her cushions made from jeans incorporating the pockets which are perfect for holding the elusive TV remote! (see photo above). I have put her in touch with my friend who has a wedding dress shop in Essex. Each season, Laura is left with a room full of her samples, some of which she sells, but some of which she bags up in mothballs. I can’t wait to see the gorgeous lavender scented pillows and ring bearers cushions that Sarah can make from all those reams of beaded silk! I have another designer friend who hangs a lot of curtains and always has a lot of the wooden curtain rings left over. I’ve asked him to start saving them. Yes, he throws them away – Eco Warrioress isn’t having THAT - so I’m giving them to Sarah and she is gong to use them for hanging Christmas decorations.

She sells her wares at markets around west London (Acton) and also on line. Please, if you have any vintage tea towels, fabric or clothes that you can’t put to any use, contact her through her website and send them her way.

This week I spoke to Lisa Harland, an upholsterer whose company, Harland Organic Furnishings does what it says on the box. She uses organic and ethical fabric to cover her furniture. Hers is another company that scores high on the how-many-green-elements-can-you-include-in-your-business-practise scale and she has many to be proud of?

Some of her philosophies include using only organic cotton, hemp and organic British wool from a sustainable source. All the fabrics are biodegradable and the dyes are non-toxic. All the woods in her furniture are recycled or sustainable, she only uses non-toxic, formaldehyde-free, water-based glues and her wood finishes are non-toxic. She doesn’t use leather, only works with peace silk, where the moth has been able to mature and leave the cocoon to complete its natural life cycle and instead of using feather down, she uses organic wool balls. That’s a high eco rating if you ask me!!

We had a long chat re sourcing eco design elements like hemp and organic cotton. It can be a challenge. As a designer I need someone like Lisa to do that for me – otherwise I would never sleep!

Lisa also sells wallpaper that contains no vinyl and has no harmful chemical finishers. By law fabric has to be flame retardant and many companies fall down at that particular 'green' hurdle. However, Lisa uses naturally flame retardant fillings that comply with regulations. She says, "The nearest we get to FR's is natural borax. All of the fillings are from ethical sources, and several of them are Soil Association certified."
Wow! This is great.
Often, when you say you are ‘green’ people expect you should follow every single element to the eco letter. My philosophy is that every little bit helps and we don’t have to be as ‘Catholic as the pope’ when it comes to being green. Harland Organic Furnishings is ticking nearly every green box, for the rest of us, if we do what we can, the accumulative effect is enormous. Lisa’s company scores big points with me, not least of all because her fabric and wallpaper are so blimmin’ GORGEOUS!!
Photos of fabric and wallpaper from Mod Green Pod

Don’t forget, if you need me to facilitate your green makeover, give me a call. I will advise you on all things eco and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll go and find it for you. I’ll create a 'greenprint' for you and do the simple things like changing your light bulbs to the curly low energy ones, arrange for your solar panels to be installed and everything in between. You may not be able to implement everything at the beginning, but I will leave you with a list of “can do’s” to work towards for future reference. You will end up with a folder full of green solutions and websites to help you lower your energy bills and reduce your carbon footprint.
Go on, you know you want to!
You know you should do!
Email me.


Nelson said...

Great ideas, Alexandra. Let's all plan to have a "Green" Christmas season and make similar eco-resolutions for 2008!

Anonymous said...

Well here it is, Alexandra. "WICKED", the musical, is going green. Good idea, dont' you think? The show about a green witch goes green. One of our producers called a meeting last week to encourage us all to make what changes we can, both at home and at the theatre. We're adding more re-cycling bins, having re-usable pay envelopes, changing dressing room light bulbs, using environmentally sound laundry detergent for costumes, etc. Too many ideas to mention here, but if you think of anything further, let me know! Linda

Cindy said...

Your most informative blog yet! I will definitely go online and view the websites you mention!
Peace and Hugs from Kansas City,

Pulp. It. said...

You are still one of my major heroes. Excellent blog, ma'am. Really well done. I truly see this workign for you. Will write off the blog to you.

xo p