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Green Space: New Beginnings

A Northern California home remodel became a crash course in green design

Written by April Hardwick
  • Andrew McKinney

    When newlyweds Lia and John Ray Fernandez decided to remodel their mid-century hillside ranch house in Northern California, what they got was more than a new home—the process was a crash course in green design.

    The couple had spent a cozy three years in the house before collaborating with green designer Kimberly Rider—known for pairing sustainable materials with comfy, sophisticated style—whom they discovered after tuning in to Curb Appeal on HGTV. "I really liked what I saw in her designs," says Lia. "She understood what I wanted."

    Because Lia favors darker colors, Rider decided on a palette of grayish-blue, black, and white to maintain a simple yet stylish aesthetic. In the family room she incorporated exotic touches like the peacock-feather screen designed by local decorative painter Caroline Lizarraga (who only uses nontoxic materials). The windows are dressed with subtly colored dupioni silk curtains. Rider retained the original red-oak floors and had them refinished with a water-based urethane.

    The centerpiece of the room is the fireplace mantel, built with a  formaldehyde-free MDF (medium-density fiberboard), which is made out of wood waste fibers painted with a semigloss finish in linen white. The wood-planked ceiling was painted with a similar semigloss finish, which highlights the architectural detail.

    Design: Kimberly Rider, Atmosphera Home, 526 Third St., Suite A/3, San Rafael, CA 94901; 415/455-8430,

    Photography: Andrew McKinney
    Produced with Heather Lobdell

    Sofa; drapery: owner’s collection.
    Flowers: OrganicBouquet, 877/899-2468,
    Glass vase on mantel ("Urchin Small Flat vase’’ in Crystal Clear, $319); vase on coffee table ("Savannah Juice Glass’’; $55): Union Street Glass, 888/451-7752,
    Paint: Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667.
    Screen (custom): Caroline Lizarraga Decorative Painting, 415/724-3200,
    Mantel: fiberboard.
    Custom furniture; cabinetry; custom trays: Ralph King, 415/822-5847,
    Vases on armoire: Erin McGuiness, 510/388-6346,

  • Andrew McKinney

    "From the beginning, Lia had her own style direction, but she didn’t know how to pull it all together," says designer Kimberly Rider. When Lia came to her bearing color ideas and pages torn from magazines, "It was my job to help her edit for clarity and then make the design fit the space."

    Lia’s wish list included revamping kitchen cabinets, refinishing hardwood floors, and giving the main level a sophisticated French look. For Rider, the challenge was to present Lia with eco-friendly products that were elegant and affordable. Lia chose low-voltage halogen lighting and appliances with a government Energy Star designation for using less energy.

    For the walls, Lia agreed with Rider’s choice of low-VOC (or low level of measurable emissions) paint in neutral colors.

  • Andrew McKinney

    In the master bedroom, the walls shimmer with a seductive pewter-hued faux finish. Lia wanted a damask effect, so Rider again collaborated with Caroline Lizarraga, who worked her magic by creating a textured metallic surface with water-based glazing.

    The bed’s decorative pillows are made with vintage recycled fabrics and new natural and untreated materials. Rider encourages homeowners to use organic hemp, linen, and cotton fabrics that are dyed with soy-based inks. And for a more healthful and peaceful slumber, look for upholstery and mattresses with natural rubber, wool, and cotton fillings, she says.

    Locally made glass table lamps on the bedside tables cast a warm glow. Endlessly recyclable, glass is a green choice, Rider says, as is buying from local artisans.

    Desk ("Lady’s Desk’’ #B8000-45-235); desk chair ("Bracelet Chair’’ #BB026-03): Barbara Barry Realized by Henredon, 800/444-3682,
    Side tables ("Elizabeth’’): Oly, 775/336-2100,
    Flowers: OrganicBouquet, 877/899-2468.
    Bedside lamps ("Morph Pod Table Lamp’’/Lime, $715 each): Union Street Glass, 888/451-7752.
    Duvet; bedding: owner’s collection.

  • Andrew McKinney

    In the master bath, an onyx remnant was installed for the countertop and backsplash. Stone yards often have large leftovers suitable for small projects. Glass tiles made of partially recycled glass shimmer on the shower walls.

    Although Lia didn’t set out to green her home, Rider convinced her that "sustainable" and "stylish" go together like love and marriage. "It’s going after the look you want and then incorporating those products into that look. The paint was a good fit, and using furniture that I already had was a good thing, too," Lia says.

    Countertops (onyx remnants): Integrated Resources, 415/657-0280,
    Shower tiles (marbleized partially recycled glass tiles in vintage oyster): Walker Zanger, 877/611-0199,

  • Andrew McKinney

    Kimberly Rider’s background in industrial design and marketing came in handy when she founded Atmosphera Home, a thriving interior design business in Marin County, California, that promotes eco-friendly products and practices.

    This spring, Rider released her second book, Organic Baby: Simple Steps for Healthy Living (Chronicle Books, 2007), a follow-up to Healthy Home Workbook: Easy Steps for Eco-Friendly Living (Chronicle Books, 2006). She writes regularly for the parents’ magazine kiwi. Rider also recently began selling on her Web site home furnishings made from safe and sustainable materials.

  • Andrew McKinney

    Decorative painting is an earth-kind alternative to many vinyl wall coverings—particularly when low-VOC and water-based paints and glazes are used. California artist Caroline Lizarraga created the family-room screen in the Fernandez home (see the first slide) and decorated their bedroom walls with a subtle, tone-on-tone textured stencil in metallic pewter shades—all with water-based products. To see more of her work, visit