There are many ways to go green, from simple steps like recycling and checking your home for leaks, to more intense endeavors like hiring a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited professional to work on your home or offer design services. We asked LEED AP Designer Amy Cuker from down2earth Interior Design about her experiences and opinions when it comes to energy and environmental design. Take a look at what she had to say.
Why did you decide to become a LEED AP?
- I’ve always had a sense that a lot of good can be accomplished through thoughtful design, and spent the early part of my career working on healthcare and school design projects. These are areas where occupant health is critical, but often short-term budgetary constraints are impediments to making decisions that are best for the environment over the long term. So in 2006, when the US Green Building Council was looking for beta testers for the new LEED Commercial Interiors exam, I jumped at the chance. Some of the potential LEED credits fall outside the scope of the interior designer, such as access to public transportation and land usage. I really wanted to know where interior designers could have an impact, and it turns out, a lot of places. Sourcing regionally, reuse where possible, planning changing rooms for bikers…. the list goes on.
What does “going green” mean to you?
- I believe that the decisions made during the course of any interior design project provide countless opportunities to use natural and human resources wisely. I help my clients adapt and rethink existing spaces so that they can be used more effectively, perhaps while rejuvenating existing furniture or salvaging architectural woodwork. My focus is to create healthy and productive environments and consider the entire life-cycle of a product, not just short-term gain.
What do you look for as far as sustainability when buying materials, furniture and other products?
- I try to help my clients make design decisions that are practical. We try to reuse or repurpose items that are still workable, and when buying new items, we try to source items that are high quality and timeless. If a piece falls apart or goes out of style, it doesn’t matter whether its contents were recycled or whether it came from a certified forest. It’s still heading for a landfill a lot sooner than a well-made piece whose style and usefulness is enduring.
- Other factors we consider are the sustainability of materials, whether an item can be locally sourced, ongoing energy usage, and indoor air quality.
Do you look for any particular labels such as WaterSense?
- Fortunately when I help my clients shop for bathroom fixtures, I’m never flying solo. I have a great relationship with a couple of local plumbing showrooms where the salespeople are incredibly knowledgeable and service-oriented. I steer the bathroom design process from an aesthetic and space planning point of view, and then we ask the experts to help us sort out our questions about water usage. Therefore, the topic of labels doesn’t usually come up.
What are some of your favorite ways to re-purpose or upcycle old furniture and other “hand-me-downs” in your projects?
- I do a lot of design work in Philadelphia rowhomes, which can be as much as 150 years old. Homeowners used their spaces a little differently back then. In one home there was an old washbasin, right in the bedroom. The contractor did a masterful job removing it without causing damage, and we had it relocated to the new guest bathroom. We found new old knobs at an architectural salvage yard and chose new fixtures to harmonize with it. In another case we revitalized an old clawfoot tub and gave it a fresh look by painting the outside with a coat of spring green paint. (Check out the images below!)
- I also have a lot of hand-me-downs in my own home. Our design landscape can look homogenized if you source all your interior accouterments from chain stores. But something that’s been handed down will have personal history, whether it’s a family heirloom or something that’s been handed down from one homeowner to the next. And if it stuck around this long, it is likely to be of better quality or represent a higher level of craftsmanship than many objects currently being produced.
What are your favorite “green” materials or products to use in the kitchen or bathroom?
- This kitchen below features cork floors, locally fabricated concrete countertops and kitchen cabinets, and a peninsula made from teak salvaged from the walls of a local bank’s boardroom.
- countertops are a terrific opportunity to have fun with recycled content. Creative vendors are putting all kinds of things in them –glass, metal shavings from post industrial processes, walnut shells. There’s so many interesting and sustainable countertop options out there.
We hope you’re feeling inspired to make changes in your home that will have a positive impact on the environment. Every little bit counts.