Is 'Green Design' consistent with beauty, fun and fantasy?

  • An environmentally sensitive interior, from "Green Design: A Healthy Home Handbook," by Alan Berman.

    An environmentally sensitive interior, from "Green Design: A Healthy Home Handbook," by Alan Berman.

Published2/14/2009 12:01 AM

At the risk of seeming curmudgeonly - or, even worse, politically incorrect - I do wish the environmental movement hadn't popularized "green" as a synonym for anything that's supposedly healthy and wholesome. We're hearing a lot now about the "green economy," for example, and in my own field, there's constant talk of "green architecture" and "green design." Because there's a certain self-righteousness as well as self-denial associated with the term, so much so that it's starting to give the color green a bad name! I hope fun and fantasy aren't antithetical to green consciousness; heavens knows, we could all benefit from some fun and fantasy these days - even as we go about saving the planet.

Q. I'm seeing lots of references to "green design." I suppose it means avoiding pollution in the production of furnishings and decorative elements. Is there more to it than that? And how exactly does one design a green interior?


A. I suspect that "green this" and "green that" has become little more than a marketing buzz term intended to make consumers feel good about what they're being sold. Which is not to suggest that there's no merit in choosing products that conserve resources and that don't endanger health or poison the environment. Of course those are important objectives. My gripe is that claims about an item's green pedigree often lack substance. It's also a fact that many so-called green design elements aren't all that attractive. Some manufacturers slap the "green" label on their furniture simply because it's made of wood or a recyclable material. The same assertion is applied to fabrics consisting of natural yarn. Fine. That's probably preferable, environmentally, to furniture or textiles made of synthetics. But what about the production process? Wooden pieces and silk fabrics are manufactured without use of fossil fuels? No emissions come from the factories where they're produced?

I don't think so. It's not my aim, however, to discourage readers from greening their homes. For reliable information and interesting suggestions, I recommend "Green Design: A Healthy Home Handbook," written by Alan Berman and published by Frances Lincoln. The accompanying photo shows one of the green interiors featured in this book. Those acquainted with modernist design will recognize the wood furniture as stylistically typical of the 1950s and '60s. Its natural finishes are complemented by raffia and coir rugs. Scandinavian-style interiors and Shaker-inspired design can make legitimate claims to being comparatively green. So can minimalism in general, I suppose, since by definition fewer resources were consumed in the creation of a setting of that sort.

But I'm not about to recycle the memorabilia that I've enjoyed collecting over the years. Similarly, I don't intend to stop buying oil paintings or antiques that were doubtlessly made in ways that environmentalists would find objectionable. I do want to be green; I also want to live in a beautiful home. Let's hope those goals aren't incompatible.

Readers with general interior design questions for Rita St. Clair can e-mail her at

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