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GreenSpace: Healthy Home

The feature eliciting the most oohs and aahs in this showhouse is invisible (hint: inhale)

Written by Amy Elbert
  • Werner Straube

    Step inside this newly built house and breathe deeply. You won't smell any odors from recently installed carpet, fresh paint, or harsh cleansers. You probably won't smell much of anything, and that's the point. Healthy Home 2010 is a sophisticated and comfortable family house free of the nasty airborne toxins that usually pervade new construction.

    "It was kind of a jolt when I realized that many of the new-house and new-car smells we think of as good are actually toxic," says designer Susan Fredman, who was part of the team that designed the interiors of the residence in Palatine, Illinois, a northwest Chicago suburb.

    Those "new" smells are gases or particles being off-gassed or emitted from fabric finishes, stains on wood floors and furnishings, adhesives and carpet backings, paints, cleaning solutions, and many other building materials. Exposure to those toxins takes a toll on people's health, particularly children and those with allergies and chemical sensitivities, says Victoria Di Iorio, the Chicago-area mother who was the driving force behind Healthy Home.

    Victoria was pregnant with her first child, Madelyn, now 6 years old, when the former Internet business entrepreneur immersed herself in learning about indoor air quality. She saw her builder husband, Anthony Di Iorio, come home from job sites with red, swollen eyes and a runny nose-symptoms that seemed to have more to do with exposure to building products than seasonal pollens.

    After Victoria toured a new LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) home in Chicago and walked out with burning eyes, the issue hit her, well, right between the eyes. While everyone in the green-building industry talked up energy efficiency, recycling, and sustainable materials, the issue of human health seemed to be just a footnote.

    Victoria's research led her to Healthy Child Healthy World, a national nonprofit that educates consumers on how to create healthful environments. She was so moved by the organization's story (see opposite) that Victoria joined on as its education outreach coordinator. With the support of Healthy Child Healthy World and Dior Builders (a family business owned by Anthony's father, Peter Di Iorio), Victoria was inspired to build a showhouse. "People love to go through designer showcase homes to be educated and get ideas that they could use in their own homes," Victoria says.

    "With Healthy Home 2010 we wanted to show that you could design a beautiful and affordable home that truly prioritized human health."

    To ensure that the interiors were showhouse worthy, Victoria enlisted a team of talent, including her showhouse cochair, Jill Salisbury, a designer and owner of Chicago-based el: Environmental Language.

    Since 2000, Salisbury has built her design business around creating "eco-chic" furnishings and interiors with environmentally responsible products and procedures. She designs chairs, desks, tables, and other furnishings that use woods from responsibly managed forests and that are finished with lacquers derived from tree sap. Additionally, her upholstered pieces are filled with wool and petroleum-free natural latex and covered with organic fabrics that have plant-based or no dyes.

    One of Salisbury's favorite sources for lumber is Horigan Urban Forest Products, a Chicago-area business specializing in harvesting, drying, and milling wood from trees that must be removed. They provided Salisbury with a black walnut tree that had been damaged in a storm on Chicago's North Shore. From that tree, she fashioned the family room fireplace mantel, a sofa table, a powder room vanity, and other furniture for the showhouse. "It was beautiful black walnut and made particularly special because it was reclaimed locally," she says.

    For the overall design plan, Salisbury deferred to Susan Fredman and two of her associates, Ruth E. Delf and Kathy Hoffman. That team stepped into the project as Dior Builders was buttoning up construction. "The interiors weren't finished, so we were able to make every selection, from paints to plumbing products to furniture to finishes," says Fredman.

    While Fredman and her group have been recycling, using regional suppliers, and making other sustainable design choices for years, Fredman admits that adding human health to the green equation required some new thinking.

    "We learned green and healthy are not the same," she says. "Green, in simple terms, is about the impact on the environment as things are manufactured and used. Healthy is what happens to you when you live with those things," she says.

    For guidance with product selections, Victoria pulled together an expert advisory panel, including members of the GreenGuard Environmental Institute (GEI). The independent organization oversees voluntary product testing to determine emission levels for many household materials. Those certified as low-emitting may carry the organization's GreenGuard Certification mark (

    The design team worked with manufacturers, fabricators, and artisans to choose rugs, upholstered furniture, bedding, and other textiles made from natural fibers (often organic) and treated with vegetable and other plant-based dyes rather than heavy-metal solutions.

    "The rug in the family room has no dye at all; it's the color of sheep," says Delf. "You get this beautiful blend of browns, tans, and creamy colors." The natural oil in the wool acts as a stain repellent, too.

    Every appliance in the kitchen is energy efficient, and every surface-, from Cambria countertops to Holiday Kitchens cabinets, is low-emitting. Three of the big manufacturers of kitchen products-Cambria, Holiday Kitchens, and Kohler--are based in the Midwest, another plus in the green ledger.

    Style and green qualities were equally important as the designers developed warm family spaces. "I didn't feel we compromised design at any point just because we were making healthful selections," Hoffman says.

    After Chicago designer Terrell Goeke came up with the kitchen layout, Delf and Hoffman chose a taupe glaze over cream cabinets. "The finish gives them character and softness," explains Hoffman. "We wanted to give the home a sense of age."

    While Healthy Home 2010 was green inside-out, the real lesson was that even small changes can make a difference. "I get most excited about educating people to the simple, everyday lifestyle choices they can make that will create healthier environments for their families," Victoria says.

    Her simple suggestions: "Take off your shoes when you step into the house, open windows for 10 minutes a week, ask questions about how products are made. All those things add up."

    "This project was a great adventure," Fredman adds. " There was a lot of learning for everyone. We all felt we were telling a story that needed to be told."

    Interior design: Susan Fredman, Ruth E. Delf, Kathy Hoffman, Jill Salisbury;
    furniture designer: Jill Salisbury, Susan Fredman Design Group, 3530 W. Erie, Suite 1S, Chicago, IL 60654; 312/587-8150,
    Kitchen design: Terrell Goeke, Terrell Goeke Inc., 222 Merchandise Mart, Suite 105, Chicago, IL 60654; 312/329-0486.
    Builder: Anthony Di Iorio, Dior Builders Inc., 116 W. Northwest Hwy, Clock Tower Plaza, Palatine, IL 60067; 847/934-1500,

    Photography: Werner Straube
    Produced by Hilary Rose

    Paint ("Rustique" #AF-275, Natura Collection): Benjamin Moore, 888/236-6667,
    Area rug (#F376-2592): Orley Shabahang, 212/421-5800,
    Coffee table (by Maria Yee); bookcase ("Newport"); sofa end table ("RAP-0277); table lamp on sofa end table; table lamp on "Pava" side table: C.A.I. Designs, 312/755-9163,
    Chairs ("Prasada Zen Chairs"); round side table ("Pava"): el: Environmental Language, 847/382-9285,
    Chair fabric ("Chanvre"/Portland #1036/07, discontinued): Classic Cloth, 785/434-7200,
    Window treatment ("Camaca" #LE1056, Liniedge Collection): Hartmann & Forbes, 888/582-8780,

  • Werner Straube

    Smart design ideas from the Healthy Home showhouse:

    Natural Upholstery
    The living room sofa by Cisco Brothers is made of sustainable wood with no added urea-formaldehyde (

    Low-Emitting Paints
    The walls and trim in the house are finished with Benjamin Moore low-VOC Natura paint (

    Vegetable Dyes
    The naturally stain-resistant wool rug is colored with vegetable dyes (

    Sustainable Woods
    Designer Maria Yee created the living room bookcase and coffee table with sustainable woods (

    Sofa ("Tulane"); fabric ("Tamara Yellow"): Cisco Brothers, 323/778-8612,
    Area rug (#F376-2592): Orley Shabahang, 212/421-5800, Artwork and accessories: C.A.I. Designs, 312/755-9163,
    Coffee table (by Maria Yee); bookcase ("Newport"); sofa end table ("RAP-0277); table lamp on sofa end table: C.A.I. Designs, 312/755-9163,

  • Werner Straube

    Nontoxic Finishes
    The dining room table and chairs from Lorts have low-VOC finishes and no added urea-formaldehyde (

    Gentle Fabrics
    Dining-chair fabric from O Ecotextiles is softened with a finish of beeswax and aloe vera (

    Wall treatment (custom): Sheri Zeman Designs, 630/627-1011, Chandelier ("Moderne" #1059): Framburg Lighting, 800/796-5514,
    Area rug (#F27-2645): Orley Shabahang, 212/421-5800, Dining table (#210201/210202); chairs (#220102): Lorts, 623/936-1437, Chair fabric ("Quilcene"/Bronze): O Ecotextiles, 206/633-1177,

  • Werner Straube

    Low-VOC Cabinets
    Cabinets from Holiday Kitchens have no urea- formaldehyde and are finished with low-VOC stains and topcoats (

    Nonporous Countertops
    GreenGuard-certified nonporous quartz counters by Cambria require no sealers or toxic cleaners (

    Energy Star Refrigerator
    Liebherr is über energy-efficient, and the company leads in eco-responsible production processes (

    Induction Cooktop
    Induction is the most energy-efficient and safest method of cooking, using no gas that can pollute the air (

    Water-Based Floor Finish
    Locally sourced and sustainable white oak floors are finished with a low-VOC stain and water-based topcoat (

    Paint ("Putnam Ivory" #HC-39): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667.
    Bar stools (#220601): Lorts, 623/936-1437,
    Bar-stool fabric ("Quilcene"/River Otter): O Ecotextiles, 206/633-1177,
    Hanging pendant over island ("Astor" #2175): Framburg Lighting, 800/796-5514,
    Dishwasher; induction range; vent hood; steam oven; convection oven: Miele, 800/843-7231,
    Refrigerator: Liebherr, Cabinetry: Holiday Kitchens, Cabinetry hardware: Colonial Bronze, 860/489-9233,
    Countertops ("Halstead," Quarry Collection, and "Oakhampton," Desert Collection): Cambria, 866/226-2742,
    Backsplash (crystal matte 5x2-inch oatmeal, standard matte, "Koi Shibo"/Sharkskin): Ann Sacks, 800/278-8453,
    Shades: Hunter Douglas, 800/274-2985,

  • Werner Straube

    Organic Wool Area Rug
    The family room rug is a blend of undyed wool fibers that create a variation in neutral hues (shabahang

    Reclaimed Lumber
    Sofa table and fireplace surround were locally made with wood from a walnut tree felled in a storm (

    Paint ("Putnam Ivory" #HC-39): Benjamin Moore & Co., 888/236-6667,
    Area rug (#F149-3144): Orley Shabahang, 212/421-5800, Sofas ("Serena"); fabric ("Lan Oatmeal"): Cisco Brothers, 323/778-8612,
    Coffee table ("Santos"); sofa table ("Campinas Console"): Environment Furniture, 866/981-3976,
    Woven chair (by Palecek): C.A.I. Designs, 312/755-9163,
    Mantel (custom); cabinetry (custom): el: Environmental Language, 847/382-9285,
    Fireplace surround (custom): Denise Siegel, 847/212-7209, Fireplace (Built-in electric fireplace #BF39DXP): Dimplex, 800/668-6663, Window treatments ("Serengeti"/Maasai Shield, Provenance Woven Wood Collection); light filtering lining (Ivory): Hunter Douglas, 800/789-0331, Chandelier ("6-Light Single Tier Chandelier" #F2564.6PCN, Logan Collection): Murray Feiss Lighting, 800/969-3347,
    Floor lamp (#PAL-4057, by Palecek); three-tiered table by sofa ("Molave Table" #MNA1-0653); log table: C.A.I. Designs, 312/755-9163,

  • Werner Straube

    Locally Made Bronze Tiles
    Chicago artist Denise Siegel's tiles are bronze, a metal that can be recycled repeatedly (denise

  • Werner Straube

    100% Organic Sheets
    Indika Organics uses only plant-based dyes on its cotton sheets (

    Paint ("Elk Horn" #AF-105, Natura Collection): Benjamin Moore, 888/236-6667.
    Chandelier ("Angelique"/Antique Silver #1976): Framburg Lighting, 800/796-5514,
    Bed (#4105, discontinued); nightstands (#9818): Lorts, 623/936-1437, Guest chairs ("Orion"); side table ("Origami") el: Environmental Language, 847/382-9285,
    Bedding (custom): Indika Organics, 800/458-3106,
    Area rug (#A3010, pure silk): Orley Shabahang, 212/421-5800,
    Window treatment ("Borders" #EW68B, Ertheweave Collection): Hartmann & Forbes, 888/582-8780,
    Table lamps: C.A.I. Designs, 312/755-9163,

  • Werner Straube

    Quartz Tub Surround
    A Kohler tub is framed by quartz surfacing from Cambria, a U.S. company practicing eco-kind processes (

    Water Sense Fixtures
    Faucets, toilets, and other Kohler plumbing fixtures are Water Sense-certified to conserve water usage (

    Wall treatment (custom): Sheri Zeman Designs, 630/627-1011, Cabinetry: Holiday Kitchens,
    Cabinetry hardware: Colonial Bronze, 860/489-9233, Countertops ("Sussex," Desert Collection): Cambria, 866/226-2742, Faucets ("Margaux Widespread"); tub ("Sok"); hardware: Kohler, 800/456-4537, Tile ("Pietra Art & Glass Tile accents): Mid-America Tile, 800/325-5679,

  • Werner Straube

    Vintage Furnishings
    Low-VOC paints renewed a vintage bed and side tables for a girl's room.

    Reusable Artwork
    A fairy-tale mural painted on canvas is framed by white molding. It can be removed, rolled up, and used elsewhere.

    Paint ("Sanctuary" #AF-620, Natura Collection): Benjamin Moore, 888/236-6667,
    Mural (custom): Andrew Zabela, 224/623-7337.
    Bed ("Christian Miller Bed"): Ron Fisher Furniture, 800/231-7370, Nightstands (antique); chair (antique): C.A.I. Designs, 312/755-9163, Bedding (custom): Indika Organics, 800/458-3106,
    Area rug (#F645-3783): Orley Shabahang, 212/421-5800,
    Chandelier: repurposed.

  • Werner Straube

    Dimmable Lights
    Light fixtures throughout the house are on dimmers to save energy. Compact fluorescent bulbs were not used because of their mercury content.

  • Werner Straube

    Natural Wood Finishes
    Jill Salisbury used a vinegar-based solution and natural lacquer finish for her desk and chair frames (

    Hemp Wall Covering
    Office walls are softened with a natural hemp covering that's hung with a low-VOC adhesive (

    Wall treatment ("Knotted Hemp"/Ivory #HP-2352): Maya Romanoff, 773/465-6909,
    Area rug (#F128-3037): Orley Shabahang, 212/421-5800, Desk ("Ara"); chairs ("Pyxis"): el: Environmental Language, 847/382-9285,
    Chair fabric ("Savonnerie"/Antique Lace #1080/01, discontinued): Classic Cloth, 785434-7200,
    Desk light: C.A.I. Designs, 312/755-9163,
    Window treatment (silk with low impact dye): Susan Fredman Design Group, 312/587-8150,

  • Werner Straube

    The Healthy Home showhouse was spearheaded by Victoria Di Iorio, left, and Jill Salisbury.

  • Werner Straube

    Designers Ruth E. Delf (seated) and Kathy Hoffman.

  • Werner Straube

    Above: The Healthy Home showhouse

    Chicago mom Victoria Di Iorio has tried hundreds of products in her quest to create a healthful home for her family, and in her role as education outreach coordinator for Healthy Child Healthy World ( Here are Web sites where you can find her 10 favorite home products.

    Bonded Logic Denim Insulation

    Eternal Hybrid (98 percent efficient tankless hot water heater)

    Cambria quartz surfaces

    American Clay (natural earth plaster for interior wall finishes)

    Rosetta Stone (outdoor flagstone, brick pavers and retaining walls)

    Miele steam oven and induction cooktop

    Liebherr refrigerator

    Bona (flooring finishing and care products)

    Colonial Bronze cabinet hardware