Appealing, healthy, sustainable interiors have been the talk of interior design professionals for a few years now. The number of LEED-certified projects (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is multiplying rapidly in the contract or nonresidential arena. This means that more places where we work, shop, do business or obtain services are healthier places to be. It also means they possess a smaller environmental footprint, consuming less nonrenewable resources while promoting the use of environmentally friendly, sustainable resources and recycled or reclaimed products.
Green concepts have been trickling down to informed residential consumers. For example, many more people are aware of the negative effects of VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds), which are organic compounds that have high enough vapor pressure under normal conditions to significantly vaporize and enter the atmosphere. VOC’s enter the air we breathe from myriad finishing sources, including those chemicals that may once have been applied to all categories of applied textiles; wood window, wall and floor coverings; paints and stains; and products that we use to clean our spaces. In addition, common equipment such as computers and photocopiers potentially emit unhealthy gases into the air.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, its Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) studies found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be two to five times higher inside homes than outside. Whether people are using products containing organic chemicals, or the products are a part of the furnishings brought in or already in place, high pollutant levels and elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity or installation is completed.
Customers today are savvy as to the healthy effects of good indoor air quality (IAQ). Clean air with its refreshing clean smell is a healthy way to live indoors. Consumers are more frequently aware, too, that more high-quality air is required to mitigate the effect of furnishings off-gassing or emitting VOC’s.
In today’s market, professionals who sell products are asked about the toxicity of the stains or finishes. Window covering retailers report that customers are asking what it is they are putting into their homes: what’s the product’s composition, what kind of paint/stain is used? It should be a part of ongoing professional training to be able to answer IAQ questions accurately and with confidence.
SUSTAINABILITY AND WOOD
The renewability of wood is a No. 1 selling point for interior products made of it. Wood is one of nature’s most versatile and replaceable products. We may even think of it as the original sustainable material. In harvesting forests where sound conservation practices are firmly in place, there are efficient control and replacement procedures to ensure wood’s sustainability. Where one tree is cut down, another—or more—is simultaneously being planted somewhere to replace it.
Some woods grow more rapidly than others. Coniferous (needle-bearing) softwoods generally grow faster than deciduous (leaf bearing) forests, although each species’ rate of growth varies. Bamboo grows the fastest of any wood product; hence, it is considered the new darling of wood flooring. Split bamboo window shades are millennia old; having been used in China since about 4000 B.C. Perhaps bamboo will become a source for yet more innovative window coverings in the future as the increased awareness of sustainability becomes an ever more important consideration for tomorrow’s consumers
As important as VOC, IAQ and sustainable criteria are, they rarely constitute the first point of consideration for interior furnishings purchases, however. A client who is desirous of an environmentally friendly interior usually gravitates toward natural-appearing products, such as grasscloth (now very much back in fashion), cork flooring, bamboo and engineered wood products whose sources are from recycled products or materials.
To feel at one with nature happens in spaces where natural materials create a reassuring, calming, secure sense of rightness. This is a good description of wood products at the window, and this month Design Perspectives (and the Portfolio that follows) shows off the beauty of wood and wood-like products. The natural finish or stained color of wood enhances the natural grain, and its visual long-lived appeal makes it a wise choice for long-term installations.
WOOD AT THE WINDOW FOREVER
Wood is a product that you can sell with confidence. A customer often loves to be assured of the advantages of products they choose; it gives them a sense of pride in selecting home and contract furnishings that will stand the test of time. Wood products at the window have many advantages. Consider this list:
• Wood products are unlikely to wear out physically; they have inherent staying power
• Wood products often are of high-quality construction. Shutters, for example can last for decades
• Wood products are dense materials and are highly insulating, meaning that in many cases they will eventually pay for themselves in reduced utility bills
• Wood never has to be sent to a dry-cleaner. Except for occasional dusting or vacuuming, wood is most often a low-upkeep material
• Wood window coverings are classic choices; they blend well with many interior design styles, so that they will not require replacing even when the décor changes in the years to come
• Wood is a satisfactory choice for the lifetime of the product. It is generally unlikely that wood treatments will be traded for other treatments
• Aesthetically, wood products are consistently handsome, appealing to users and occupants of both genders and of all ages
• Wood is an environmentally appearing material. It looks natural, unpretentious and is universally appealings
• Wood is warm, comforting, safe and secure in appearance. Wood is a winner!
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.