Tag Archives: green lifestyle

Cardboard Dreams

The Bold Chair by SanSerif

Image via Treehugger. The Bold Chair can withstand 1 tonne of weight, can you believe!

It’s true that to a certain age, the box will provide more play value than the gift it stores. And that loveable kid Caine and his cardboard arcade both exalted this building material and brought us back the the carefree creativity of childhood (it really feels like genius emerges when we play, so why don’t we play more? But I digress…).

Even adults have been known to do  surprising and inspiring things with this durable, recyclable material.  Take a look:

Speech Bubble Coffee TableImage via Crooked Brains

Designers are having lots of fun constructing usable, interesting furniture from cardboard. This one is Leo Kemf’s Speech Bubble Coffee Table. Kemf’s designs are inspired by Frank Gehry’s conceptual furniture, but made sustainably, and accessible to the average consumer.

Toby Horrocks Image via Art Boom

Australian Architect Toby Horrocks designed this furniture set – a bench and storage – when he asked himself to conceptualize how urban and rural environments can converge in a piece of furniture.  I love the mix of strong and soft lines in this piece.  Certainly a conversation starter.

Karton Art Design

Image via Inhabitat

Karton Art Design, a husband and wife duo from Hungary, invented a technique for constructing cardboard furniture using only cardboard and paperclips.  She’s an artist, he’s a carpenter and together they’ve come up with some breathtaking designs that mimic techniques that include intricately carved wood.  The designers say their furniture is as strong as wood and as light as paper.  It’s pretty cool stuff!

Jason Schneider DrawersAnother Schneider creation

Image via CalFinder

I think these drawers by Jason Schneider might be my favourite pieces.  Such whimsy! And function!  While these aren’t entirely cardboard – he does integrate some wood that is finished with an all natural milk paint.

Cardboard furniture is an interesting concept for sure.  If you’re living somewhere temporarily or just don’t have the funds to invest in serious furniture yet, this is a unique alternative to the IKEA phenomenon.  Once you are done with this, if you don’t have friends clamouring for the hand-me-down, you can just put this stuff out with your other boxes come recycling day!

Eco-Friendly Kitchen Renovation Tips

Greentea KitchenImage via Greentea Design

Planning your dream kitchen but worried about your environmental footprint?  It’s easy to introduce some eco-friendly elements.  Some will even save you money and won’t sacrifice style.  Indeed they elevate it.

Another Person’s Trash…

It starts before your demolition.  After all one person’s trash is another’s treasure, so ask around – friends, family, neighbours, charitable organizations, salvage and secondhand shops – to see if anyone might be interested in what your getting rid of.  From appliances to countertops, flooring planks and parts, sinks, cabinets, and tiles, divert as much as you can from the landfill, perhaps turning your refuse into an incredible gift.  In some jurisdictions, Habitat for Humanity and like-minded charitable orgs can issue charitable tax receipts for these donations.  If this seems like a lot of work and research on your end, then consider hiring a local green contractor (here’s a reputable one in Toronto) who will ensure your materials and components are reused, donated, and processed properly.  These experts are a wonderful resource to guide you through eco-friendly choices that fit your function and style needs.

Beware of VOCs

paint cansChoose natural or zero-VOC or low-VOC paints.  Image via Please Conserve

VOC stands for volatile organic compounds and these are the chemical substances that vaporize easily into air.  It’s one reason the EPA has stated that indoor air generally is 2-5 times more polluted than outdoors. Paint, sealants, adhesives, the processing of particle and MDF boards, even expensive granite – gas off chemicals from formaldehyde to radon that have been linked to everything from asthma to cancer.

The good news is that there are lots of natural and low to zero VOC paints, primers and sealers now on the market.  Do some research and talk to retailers about your options, especially if someone in your home suffers from asthma.  Likewise talk to the retailers of your furniture and ask where the wood comes from and about their company’s sustainability guidelines.

Green Materials

If eco-friendliness is a priority for your renovations, choose sustainably harvested materials such as cork and bamboo where the trees and grasses respectively aren’t killed in harvesting (regrowth happens relatively quickly too, another plus).   Recycled materials like glass, concrete, marmoleum and reclaimed wood are also good options but do ask about the processing as some treatments are more green than others.  The design of these materials has come a long way in recent years and the market is full of stunning options.

beautiful Bamboo FlooringBamboo flooring, via Build Direct

Patterned cork floorCork flooring via Cork Flooring Pros

Recycled glass for countertops via Vetrazzo

Butcher block counter top made out of bambooButcher block countertop made of bamboo via My Home Ideas

Energy Efficiency

energy efficient appliances

Choosing energy efficient appliances will save you a bundle on your electricity bills over their lifetime.

And better yet get a thermal energy map of your home done to locate particularly drafty places.  In older homes, because of their placement in the house, kitchens are big culprits.  Investing in eco-friendly insulation is well worth it.  Your choices run from natural batts made from old denim, fire resistant recycled newsprint, and soy-based spray in foam insulation.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Whether you repurpose old furniture, shop vintage, or seek out recycled and reclaimed products, using old furniture and materials is a wonderful way to add character, integrity, and beauty to your space.  Think of the stories these pieces tell; and their age also attests to their strength to still be in use today.

Reclaimed wood to create floating shelvesReclaimed Wood to create Floating Shelves via Apartment Therapy

Salvaged wood, recycled glass and GFRC concrete are just a few recycled products that can elevate a space with their beauty and character, harmonizing with many design schemes.

Beautiful GFRC CountertopGFRC Countertop via Concrete Countertops

Greentea Design uses only reclaimed wood to build their kitchen cabinetry.  Even their handles, hinges, and pulls are hand-forged from recycled iron.

Best of luck with your kitchen renovations!

The Story Behind the Maru Table

Wide Maru Dining Table

No question people make a home, as do the memories that permeate a place.  But furniture can too. For me one of the most beautiful pieces in Greentea’s collection is the Maru dining table, at once rustic and sophisticated, harmonizing beautifully with design schemes from modern to traditional.  But the Maru is more than just beautiful furniture, they tell a story.  The word “maru” in Korean means porch or floor and these tables are indeed that.

flooring in a historical building that was salvaged by Greentea DesignConstructed from century old Korean flooring, the wood is salvaged when traditional buildings are torn down or remodeled.  The reclaimed flooring is transformed into these beautiful tabletops.  Each batch comes from a different historical salvage project, the last for instance, a very old platform from Ewha Women’s University in Seoul. For this reason also, no two are identical.

Greentea Design's Wide Maru Dining Table

Close up of Maru patina

The age of the wood gives the Maru table its beautiful patina, while also attesting to the strength and durability of these 3-inch thick boards of Asian Pine.  In fact, no trees are felled to create these tables: while flooring slabs are used for the tabletop, the legs are constructed from original flooring supports.

Greentea Design's Narrow Maru Dining Table

The Maru table is a true heirloom piece, not just because of the story it tells, but in the history they continue to absorb in their new family’s treasured meals, as a hide and seek spot, and a gathering place for those who make a house home.

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Solar Power! Part 2

Last September 29th to October 2nd, the US Department of Energy held its biennial sustainable design competition, the Solar Decathlon, in Washington, DC. The competition challenges collegiate teams from around the United States and the world to design and build homes that are affordable, energy efficient, and attractive.

While usually held on the National Mall in the center of Washington, DC, the Solar Decathlon this year took place in West Potomac Park, a short shuttle ride away from the Smithsonian. A number of people complained about the location this year as it was not as accessible as previous years.

All of the houses were rather interesting and had unique interpretations on a low-cost solution for well-designed energy efficient homes. There were 19 houses total, from five countries, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Belgium, and China.

Team Canada

Team China

Each of the houses had a limit of 1,000 square feet and was constructed on-site prior to the actual event. I didn’t get to see all the houses because of the number of visitors to the event, but I did see a few of the interesting entries.

Team California’s “outsulated” house

Possibly the quirkiest of the lot was team California’s entry, which consisted of a pod wrapped in an insulating skin the team called “outsulation.” It supposedly is a better way of reducing heat transfer to the outside of the structure.

Interior of Team California

Team Belgium

Team Belgium’s entry was from Ghent University, and was the only two-story structure in the competition. The main innovation was in its construction – you could supposedly put the house together like something from Ikea, and customize the inside space configuration according to your needs. The walls were made of an insulating material that was also structurally sound. The crates the structural panels came in were also converted into the water tank!

Interior of Team Belgium

Team Belgium’s second floor

Team University of Maryland won the competition overall. Their design was called Watershed, and was inspired by the Chesapeake bay ecosystem that Maryland is a part of. It took a very environmental approach as well, incorporating lanscaping around the house that replicated the wetlands of the Chesapeake.

Team Maryland exterior

Team Maryland interior

Although the house doesn’t look that large from the outside, the interior space was actually quite sprawling and very liveable. From the inside you could also see through to the constructed wetlands, which made it seem like the connection with nature was something that really took precedence for them in terms of how they thought about sustainability.

Team Maryland’s exhibit display on house systems

My favorite house was the house by Parson’s and Stevens Institute of technology, called Empowerhouse. The house was built and designed not only with the competition in mind, but also with its future residents involved throughout the process. Following the competition, the house was going to go to a family in Washington through Habitat for Humanity.


Empowerhouse porch

My favorite feature of the house was actually in its exterior design – the porch was definitely a hot spot for visitors and staff alike. The interior of the house too was also spacious and liveable, I could very well imagine people living in the space.

Empowerhouse interior

Apart from the houses themselves, there was also a lot of other types of programming during the event, like exhibits about energy and sustainablity in tents and displays alongside the actual houses.

An exhibit about hybrid vehicles and how they work

An exhibit about energy efficiency in the home, giving visitors the chance to see ready, feasible solutions for conserving energy

Despite the unusual location and the fact that it rained for most of the event, the Solar Decathlon this year was a success. People from all over the country came to see it and to learn more about affordable sustainable energy methods, implemented in well-designed strucures. This event really showcases how creativity and resourcefulness can lead to improved standards of living for us and the environment.

All images original – by Renée Alfonso

Solar Power! (Part 1)

Every year, Washington, DC is home to a whole new village of homes – solar homes, that is. The United States Department of Energy holds a yearly competition for sustainable living. Universities from around the globe participate in this prestigious event, with students from renown architecture and engineering programs collaborating in designing what can be considered the house of the future.

While traditionally held on the National Mall amidst the Smithsonian Museums, the location this year moved to the East Potomac Park, slightly off from the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin where the world-famous cherry blossoms can be seen during the spring.

Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The houses are usually highly innovative, utilizing the latest technology and sustainable materials. Needless to say that whoever is on the design teams for these houses should have no trouble studying for LEED accreditation!

Carol Anna/U.S. Department of Energy

On the other side of the spectrum, however, sustainable building practices and energy conservation can also be efficient and realizable through every day materials. Take the case of the plastic bottle.

In the Philippines, an initiative called Isang Litrong Liwanag (trans. One Liter of Light) produces low-cost, solar light bulbs for communities that have limited access to power. The bulb itself consists of a standard liter-sized soda bottle filled with a water and bleach solution. Once the bottle is filled with solution it is sealed and inserted into a piece of metal roofing. The bulb is then installed onto the roof by cutting a hole in the home’s roof, and placing the bulb into the hole.

Courtesy Isang Litrong Liwanag

The bulb diffuses the sunlight into the structure below it, generating light as bright as a standard 60-watt bulb. The initative and its parent foundation, the My Shelter Foundation, has plans to light one million homes in the Philippines by 2012.

Courtesy Isang Litrong Liwanag

Apart from the solar light bulb, the My Shelter Foundation has other sustainability projects, one of them again using the plastic bottle. In 2010 the first plastic-bottle school was built in San Pablo, Laguna, Philippines.

Courtesy My Shelter Foundation

The structure consists of a frame built with cement, with the plastic bottles reinforcing the concrete like bricks. The bottles are filled with adobe, a cement-like substance made from sand, clay, water and fibrous binder. The plastic holds the adobe in place and provides a rigid structure for reinforcement. Adobe is a common building material in the Philippines and other parts of Asia and Central America.

Courtesy My Shelter Foundation

A similar initiative to build plastic-bottle school is also happening in Guatemala, thanks to the Non-profit Hug It Forward. As you can see, however, their building method is slightly different from that seen in the Philippines, with the bottles held in between chicken wire and the reinforced with concrete to conceal the plastic from view.

Courtesy Hug it Forward

The two initiatives show the concept and spirit of the solar decathlon, but applied in the local communities of developing countries. No matter where we are or what we build with, sustainability concerns everyone and can have a tremendous impact for the future.

The solar decathlon runs until October 2 this year. Part two in this series on innovations in sustainable building practices will have more details on the Solar Decathlon 2011.