Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Tops in Green Countertops

Today I'm going to focus on two very cool materials I found at Greenmaker Supply - Squak Mountain Stone and Shetka Stone.

Squak Mountain's material resembles soapstone but unlike soapstone, it is available in a range of different neutral colors and it contains over 50% post-industrial or -consumer recycled content. Here is how the manufacturer's website defines the material:

1. A Fibrous-cement material comprised of recycled paper, recycled glass, coal fly-ash and cement. Material is hand-cast into “slabs” as an alternative to natural or quarried stone. Resembles soapstone or limestones.

Slabs are only available up to 72" in length but it can be seamed in pieces. The website has a pdf showing some creative ways designers have worked around the size limitations without resorting to standard seaming, which I really enjoyed reading.

While it has a really high-end look, it does require more maintenance than some of its competitors including stone - especially the standard soapstone it so closely resembles. Soapstone is extremely durable and idiot-proof - I was researching it last year and was reminded that it is often used in science labs due to its near indestructability. Squak Mountain stone is sealed with an acrylic sealant that you need to take care to maintain - no harsh abbrasives, no hot pots directly in contact with it, stain resistant but not stain-proof... I think it might be better used in bathrooms than kitchens which have more spills and potential other hazards to the stone. I still like the material a lot but you just have to be aware of its limitations.

Shetka Stone is really different. It is made from shredded pre- and post-consumer waste paper bound into a stone-like material that sometimes resembles granite. It has a high, glossy sheen and can be fabricated in endless sizes. It is also considered 100% sustainable, as it is made from recycled material and can be recycled again at the end of its life.

In terms of durability, the website claims Shetka Stone is:

Class A fire rated without the use of chemicals
Scratch resistant
Bacteria and fungus resistant
Stain resistant
Water resistant

They go on in the FAQ to state:

SHETKASTONE is not affected by water or humidity. In fact, we've taken a piece and submerged it in water for three months and nothing happened to it. SHETKASTONE did not warp or mushroom.

All this adds up to one super-durable product!

As a side note, there is one style that has shredded dollar bills, which could be fun to use for desktops or countertops in a bank or financial office.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Greenmaker Supply - So Many Shades of Green

I visited Greenmaker Supply, the nation's largest supplier of green building materials, located here in Chicago. They have a wonderful showroom where you can see all kinds of finish materials like countertops, flooring, etc. as well as building materials like insulation and also household cleansers and assorted other green products.

Here is the Greenmaker mission as outlined by their "Seven Seeds of Sustainability":

You can click to enlarge the photo, but the main headings are:

  • Energy Intelligent
  • Water Wise
  • Healthy Interiors
  • Recycled
  • Renewable
  • Regional
  • Lifecycle

I thought this breakdown was so great for the average person (like me) because it puts a clear structure to all these different ideas of the word "green" that fly around in the media all the time. "Green" can mean so many different things, from whether something is recycled, or energy efficient, to if it has low emissions, or is renewable. There are a lot of products that have become commonplace in our lives that fit into one of these categories but not others but are still considered green. For example, compact fluorescent bulbs: energy intelligent: yes. Regional: probably not, unless you live near a factory.

Ori, the owner who gave me a tour of the showroom, said that when they were putting together these seven seeds, they thought for sure that people would care most about the energy efficiency, so they put it on top. Now it turns out that people who are concerned about going green seem to care more about the health implications, and will spend more on those products, than they care about the potential cost savings implied by energy efficiency. To be sure, all the seeds are important, but health concerns have taken on a paramount position that was a surprise to Greenmaker.

Here is a sneak peek at the array of countertops I encountered at the showroom. Some are made of paper, some of glass, some of other materials. I will drill down on these in posts over the next few days. You can click on the photos to enlarge them so you can read some of the descriptions. Look at the variety of what's out there! I was pleasantly surprised.

Friday, February 20, 2009

New Bed - A Surprise Find!

Our actual bed set up in our room!

Website image of bed I kept looking at for the past couple months

I went to the Jayson Home and Garden warehouse sale today around lunchtime, which was a mistake. I had planned on going this morning when it opened at 10, but ended up walking over at more like 12:30. I realized when I saw the mob buzzing around outside that this may have been a grave error.

I saw a million things I wanted, but they all had "sold" tags on them. It was so frustrating! Why did I go so late?!

Then my eyes lit on this bed, a style I had had my eye on in the store but it retailed for $2,450. Add in tax and delivery, and it's more like $3,000. I felt that I could get a bed upholstered in my own fabric for that much, in which case it would be in the perfect color for whatever scheme I landed on for the bedroom, so I gave up on the Jayson bed (which is available in their own fabric, a gray velvet, or probably in your own fabric at no reduced price - meaning it could add up to $1500 more depending on what fabric you chose, given the bed would probably require like 10-12 yards.)

Anyway, at the sale it was marked down to $1,150. My gut said to go for it, so I tracked down a flustered salesperson and said I'd take it.

We had to hoist both the three-sided headboard and the frame over our balcony since our stairs are so narrow, but the delivery guys were total experts and it went smoothly. Now we have ourselves a new upholstered bed that should last a long time!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Friend's Lakeview Home

Chicago Home Magazine recently featured the home of a college friend, Keith Largay, and his partner, Rob Andrews (names were mentioned in the article so I'm not undermining any attempt at anonymity.)

We recently attended a holiday party there and can attest to the beautiful simplicity they achieved with the combination of lacquered macassar ebony wall accents with pale neutral upholstery and very streamlined furnishings. Lonnie Unger, of Susan Fredman Design, did a fine job with these clients!

One theme in the article is the idea of the designer "arbitrating" between clients when the couple come in with different concepts that must be melded in creating one space. This is just one small part of a designer's responsibility that isn't covered in the job description.

The article also mentions potential difficulty in placing sconces due to the incompatibility of the electrical wiring in the sconce with the location of the junction box in the wall. Sometimes the wiring in the sconce will be located towards the top or bottom, which would require you to move the junction box in order to hang it at the right height.

This can be avoided if you locate the box during construction based on info from a spec sheet on the sconce, or you can sometimes make after-market adjustments to the wiring location on the sconce itself through a company that specializes in this kind of thing.

These problems are part of a designer's job to address during the purchasing process, to help the homeowner avoid costly mistakes, but even the best designers sometimes miss these small details. And sometimes the information just isn't available prior to purchase, so it's a surprise when the light fixtures arrive and don't work with the box locations.

Mirror Mirror

I came across this company, Mirror Mate, that can dress up your boring bathroom mirror. They will manufacture a frame for your existing bathroom mirror that hangs flat on the wall. It clips over your existing mirror with no need to even take the mirror down. This seems like an extremely practical solution to a problem that plagues builder-quality condo owners everywhere! .

And the price is only between $100-$300 depending on linear footage and frame choice - less than buying a new framed mirror!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Our Totally 80's Vacation Bedroom

The home we stayed in in Beaver Creek this past week was absolutely perfect for us - it was extremely spacious and had great sound insulation, which was paramount with our 15-month old nephew staying with us.

While it didn't have typical "mountain home" decor with antlers and pine everywhere, you could tell the original owners had put a lot of expense into decorating and it was very charming. It appeared that our bedroom and bathroom had been done in the 80's based on the wallpaper patterns, but for whatever reason, the condition of everything appeared virtually unused. No peeling wallpaper, soiled or worn fabric, etc.

Our room had the type of pattern that looks totally busy on a small sample, but when plastered all over the walls, valance, and dust skirts, it took on more of a background character. This is often done with toile but worked equally well with this pattern. With this wonderful red/blue based pattern, its high canted ceiling paneled in pine with pine beams, the shaped, upholstered valance, and the china lamps and duck sculpture on the small pine cabinet, this room just had me at hello.

The Octagonal Mirror Search

I have been on the hunt for an octagonal mirror for a powder room for a client for some time. You'd be surprised how difficult it is to find one that isn't completely cheese-ola when it comes to construction or frame design. It's as if the manufacturers think that everyone who wants an octagonal mirror must be into awful metal finishes and hollow metal construction that feels like you could bend it with your bare hands.

This one, on the other hand, appears very well-made. It is on sale at Jonathan Adler. It's upholstered in gray microsuede with silver nailheads and is pretty well-priced at $276.50 on sale (normally $395.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Vacation Update

I have been on vacation for the past week which is why I haven't posted. I will begin posting again tomorrow!


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Farewell, Domino

I reported last week that Domino magazine would be shutting down the presses. The NY Times has an article about it today. Apparently, the readership numbers were strong but advertising was so weak due to the suffering of home furnishings vendors in this economy that the financials just didn't work out. I'm not the only one who's upset!

On the Domino website, the editorial staff has this farewell message:

Dear readers,

It is with very heavy hearts that we say farewell. Over the last 4 years, in 28 issues, we have done our best to create a great magazine. We started with a real idea—that style is for everyone—and tried to carry it out with stories that provide inspiration and empower you to act on it. From your tremendous response, we know that we were onto something. In this tough economy, however, we simply weren't able to get the advertising support we needed.

As domino evolved, we never lost sight of our original democratic premise. Looking back at the manifesto we published in the premiere issue, the first tenet of domino is still the truest: Home should make you happy. We hope we have played a part in making this come true for you.


All the editors of domino

Dining Room Chairs - Search Back On!

Well, I got an annoying email from Horchow this week stating that my chair order has been canceled due to inability of the manufacturer to fill the order.

This came in an "order status update" email with no real apology, alternative, or warning. I felt Horchow handled this poorly and will definitely think twice before ordering from them again. I ordered these chairs 3 weeks ago, and am just now being notified that I won't be getting them.

Here's what the email said, before listing each item with a status of "canceled" next to it:

We apologize we are unable to fulfill your order as requested. The merchandise below has been discontinued and our vendor is unable to supply additional quantities; therefore, the merchandise has been cancelled.

Sheerly Fab

(Click photo to enlarge)

I took this photo recently at the Kravet showroom in the Merchandise Mart - they used one of their embroidered lightweight linens on soft Roman shades in their large windows, which allowed the chain link pattern of embroidery to really stand out. I found it really striking.

While you wouldn't want to do this in a bedroom where you need the shades to provide privacy, it works really well in a living room or other more public space where you just want the shades to obscure the view a bit, but they're really there more for visual impact.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Napa Style - some good finds!

I recently receive a catalog that is new to me - Napa Style.

Even though I rarely drink wine, I found lots of things that jumped out at me as original and/or tasteful interpretations of standard catalog furniture, as well as a lot of original and inspirational other pieces.

Lots of their larger case goods have built-in wine racks, which always strike me as the type of thing people just don't use. I absolutely love a lot of their other furnishings, accents and kitchenware though.

Here are some of my faves:

Assortment of renaissance mirrors in reclaimed pine - love that these are in reclaimed wood and are not glossy. The shapes with the protruding upper moldings remind me of faces.

Large-scale houndstooth jute rug - a great juxtaposition of British pattern (straight out of my design wheelhouse) with the more casual, rustic feel of jute (another personal fave).

Wine barrel pet bed - this should be added to the list in my earlier post! Love it!

Beautiful handmade market basket - I love the softness and organic feel of this basket as opposed to the more generic, stiff styles you often see in mass retailers.
Totally useful plastic baggie drying rack - I've never seen anything just like this and it is so practical, as many of us are trying to increase our recycling and reuse efforts. Now you can really effectively wash and dry out those plastic bags instead of throwing them out after a single use.

"Sojourner" desk case - use it to store your ink bottles and vintage postcards as shown, or make it into the world's most practical freestanding junk drawer.
Silicone bowl lids - I've never seen this alternative to those shower cap-type stretchy bowl covers, but they look amazing - they fit multiple sizes of bowl you already have, are made of silicone so they stretch and have a super-tight grip, and are microwave-, dishwasher-, and freezer-safe. After all the scary warnings about reheating foods in disposable plastic containers, these look like a healthy alternative I'd like to try.

Health Post: An Epidemic of Misdiagnosis

According to an article today in the NY Times Health section, there is rampant over-diagnosis of allergies in children due to physicians' regular practice of using faster, cheaper blood tests and not following up with "food challenges" where the child eats the food under doctor supervision and is observed for reaction. Often the food challenges result in the realization that many more foods can be eaten safely than the blood tests would indicate, as the article states:

A 2003 report in Pediatrics said a positive result on a blood allergy test correlated with a real-world food allergy in fewer than half the cases.

Does this partially answer the confusion over why peanut allergy is supposedly so much more prevalent now than in the past, and the question of whether it is due to better diagnostic tools or an actual increase in the number of kids with the allergy? Maybe it's due to diagnostic tools with false positives more than half the time.

If it was established in 2003 that this type of testing is completely inaccurate, why is it still widely used?

My favorite part of the article is towards the end:

A 2008 study of 10,000 British children, reported in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that early exposure to peanuts lowered allergy risk.