the skinny on building materials

I discuss the impact of the built environment on human health and wellness a lot, and I do so because where we use our bodies is just as important as what we put into our bodies.  The construction industry is seeking to meet new demands to improve, or at least not diminish, human health and wellness.  Focusing on building materials and finishes is a great place to start.

An emerging concern is whether or not a material contains toxicants.  Toxicants are chemicals synthesized or concentrated by manufacturing that are harmful to our health.  They may negatively impact the functioning of respiratory, neurological, endocrine, and other bodily systems.  And even though we’ve come a long way in reporting data that relates to recycled and regionally sourced content, we still know very little about a materials ‘ingredients’ and how they will affect an occupant’s health.  We now know, after decades of delay between science and practice, that lead and asbestos are not to be used at all costs. We are, however, still in the incubation phase of regulating toxicants.  And beyond that, it’s rare that a product even declares what it is actually comprised of.  The newest version of LEED rewards projects that source at least 20 materials where the manufacturers have fully disclosed the ingredients it contains.  This is proven through third-party entities and published on the Health Product Declaration online database.    It is my hope that just like the FDA requires compositional data from food manufacturers, we will have the same access to a product’s ingredients in the building industry.  And just like those that choose to eat artificial, bad-for-you ingredients, there will be consumers / builders who will still opt to go the unhealthy route, which is unfortunate.

As a LEED AP,  it was drilled into me years ago to be aware of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) in products such as paint, the presence of formaldehyde in particleboard, and the toxicity of flame retardants on furniture and stain guard on carpets.  However, we’re learning more and more every time I turn around about the real threat of a lot of common building products and finishes to human health and wellbeing.  A recent study showed that minimizing VOCs in an office environment significantly improved cognition.  This isn’t just great for the inhabitants, but for business’ bottom lines, as well.  Healthcare environments have eliminated formaldehyde, which in turn has led to a reduction in asthma symptoms by over half.  These types of measures have been shown to be more cost effective than clinical treatments of related illnesses.

What can you do?  If you’re embarking on a new project or remodel, early planning is key.  Hiring a qualified design or building professional who knows how to navigate through the threat of ‘green washing’ is a good route to go.  If you go it alone, research, research, research.  There is information available that is trustworthy.  Here are a couple of third party organizations that certify, report, or catalog healthy materials: Cradle to Cradle, Pharos, and GreenWizard.  In my own practice, there are times when it’s unavoidable to source some less-healthy products because of durability, code, availability, cost, but when I have the opportunity to substitute a ‘good’ finish with a ‘bad’ finish, I feel it’s my obligation to my clients, family, and friends to do so.

It’s important to know that there are options. Many manufacturers are preparing themselves for the inevitable trend of consumers requiring more information on products’ impacts on their health and wellbeing, and are taking strides in providing more data for us to make informed decisions.

12 reasons why you should hire an educated, professional interior designer

I spend a lot of time and energy demystifying the profession of interior design because there are many misconceptions about us:

1. “Interior designers are only for wealthy people.”

2. “What skills do they have that I don’t have or can find from various retail sales staff?”

3. “I’m afraid they’re going to make my home in their taste / vision, not mine.”

4.  “I’m afraid they won’t listen to my needs and won’t adhere to my budget.”

5. “I think I can find all the items I want and can do it all myself.”


NO!… Interior design doesn’t have to be mysterious, expensive, or intimidating.  Interior designers are curators who deliver an experience and an outcome that can only be offered to you and your project because of our education and expertise.

Here’s what we really do:

1. Save your hard-earned money.  

  • Selecting the wrong product for your interior renovation or remodel can cost you money and unnecessary anxiety.
  • Some fabrics and products are much more durable than others.  Selecting the best ones for your needs will save you money in the long run.
  • Some finishes, treatments, and design elements are more energy efficient, causing a huge potential for cost savings in your energy bill.
  • We’ve done heaps of research on products and sources and know where to look for more information.  We know and stay up to date on the products on the market.  Save your time by using our knowledge.  Your time is money.
  • Many subcontractors cut corners and this can cost you.  I only work with reputable subcontractors I trust and know.  And if you’ve already hired a contractor I’m not familiar with, I will discuss with them their approach and techniques.  Having decades of experience in construction, I know talent and expertise in the field.

2. Save your valuable time.

  • Coordinating and managing the logistics of multiple products and installations require a considerable amount of skill and patience, a process that can be a frustrating experience for people.
  • As a value added service, designers recommend contractors and vendors that come highly recommend and with which we’ve nurtured relationships with.
  • Often in new construction and remodeling projects, one encounters unanticipated or unrecognized problems.  We broker solutions to those issues, making sure the project is done correctly and you’re always in the communication loop regarding the problem solving process, possible solutions and their costs.
  • Together, we will save you time and eliminate any mental anguish for you.

3. Some are members of professional organizations: I’m a member of ASID and LEED.

  • Organizations such as AIA, ASID, NKBA, and LEED require standards that are stringent for continued membership.  Continuing education requirements must be acheived and reported every two years, keeping designers up to date on the latest trends, products, and techniques.
  • LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) accreditation requires a substantial amount of specific training and education, as well as having to pass a LEED AP (Accredited Professional) exam.  LEED offers various specialties, mine being in Building Design and Construction (BD+C).

4. Recommend only trusted professionals.

  • Countless unscrupulous contractors and installers go in and out of business every year, changing business names, and delivering a warranty that may only be as long as your driveway.  By selecting professional design services, you will not have to wonder if you’re giving your hard-earned money to a dishonest contractor.

5.  Provide professional design expertise through a Comprehensive Needs Assessment Analysis.

  • We begin every project by asking lots of questions and listening closely to your answers, revealing your design wishes, likes, dislikes, uncovering and defining your individual design goals.
  • Careful analysis provides a better understanding of the needs and wants of the project by taking the entire family’s view of the project into consideration.

6. Trade-Only Access.

  • Hiring a professional designer allows you access to countless showrooms available only to design professionals.
  • Retail ‘free design services’ aren’t free.  They are sales people trying to sell you their product, even if it’s not the product or vendor that’s right for you and your needs.
  • Professional designers receive discounts on the whole gamut of vendors and I pass discounts on to you.


  • Budgeting is always a major challenge in home building and renovation.  Projects can far exceed budget if not properly managed.  Design professionals manage scope creep, and eliminates or minimize the unknown costs.

As a professional interior designers, it’s our goal to provide you with a thoroughly satisfying experience through our design and project management skills, and the contractors and installers we recommend.  If you have a project you’re considering, it’s never too soon to bring an interior designer into the project.  As a critical member of the design team, we ensure that consideration is placed on design from the inside out, making a beautiful space that works for you!