There’s a basic safety checklist that often accompanies the arrival of a new baby: Cover outlets, install gates near stairways, and attach child-proof locks on lower cabinets.
But when Laura Forbes Carlin and her husband, Scott, were awaiting their firstborn in 2003, it was the chemical odor of their new baby gear—the furniture, toys, and bedding—stored in their soon-to-be nursery closet that prompted them to take the concept of “clean and safe” to a new level.
“Expectant parents tend to buy all new things with the idea that new equates to safe,” says Laura. “But it makes no sense to create a beautiful nursery without considering whether products and materials are potentially harmful.”
Those concerns motivated Laura and her sister, Alison Forbes Houlihan, to learn all they could about everyday ways to make homes safer—digging into research and picking the brains of experts. Armed with that know-how, the pair founded The Art of Everyday Living, a consulting company focusing on health and well-being—an approach they call conscious living. They also co-authored The Peaceful Nursery (Delta Books, 2006), a parents’ guide to preparing a healthy haven for their babies. Today, educating parents makes up a large part of their business.
Interior designers: Laura Forbes Carlin and Alison Forbes, The Art of Everyday Living, 310/867-1504, artofeverydayliving.com. Landscape design: Liz Speed
Landscapes, 310/234-8238. Builder: Kevin McCauley, Sandalwood Properties LLC, 2821 Dell Ave., Venice, CA 90291; 310/210-2428. Color consultant: Philippa Radon, Creative Paint Techniques Inc., 661/724-1054. Green consultant: Earth Friendly Interior Design, earthfriendlyinteriordesign.com. Healthy home consulting, H3Environmental, 818/766-1787, h3environmental.com. Flowers: Mary Burton, 310/451-2684, maryburtonflowers.com. Green baby nursery consultations and book: Peaceful Nursery, 310/867-1504, peacefulnursery.com.
Photographs by Edmund Barr
Written and Produced by Krissa Rossbund
Crib: Dax Stores, 650/591-2190.
Toy shelf: Peaceful Nursery, peacefulnursery.com.
Crib sheet and skirt (by Coyuchi): LifeKind Products, 800/284-4983.
Bumper: Sage Creek Naturals.
Mattress: Vivetique, 800/365-6563.
Nursing-chair slipcover and Roman shades: GreenSage, 415/453-7915.
Painting: by Sam Simon, samsimonprojects.com.
Ark set: Karen Harlow for the Home, 760/674-4663.
Giraffe pillow: Kata Golda, 360/379-4714.
Throw: The Dutch Mill Organic Collection, Natural Beds, 800/278-5004.
Giraffe (by Kathe Kruse): Acorn Store, 310/451-5845, and Maukilo Toys, maukilo.com.
Bear and puppy: Gaiam, 877/989-6321.
Sheep (by Mi Yim Simply Organic): Whole Foods stores.
Balloon: Ballard Designs, ballarddesigns.com.
Paint (Air 1 by Yolo Colorhouse): Living Green, 310/838-8442.
The sisters’ research went into high gear when Laura and Scott were expecting a second baby in 2006, requiring a move from Westwood, California, to a larger home in nearby Santa Monica. The renovation of the ’50s ranch required months of research, with the sisters discovering a variety of building and decorative products that are healthy for children. “Babies’ immature organs and developing immune systems are less able to cope with the toxins in their environment,” Alison points out.
Matthew, that second baby, is shown here in the playroom.
Pillows (“Tree’’ and “Woodland Creatures’’): K Studio, 616/363-4993.
Lion and owl pillows (from Zid Zid Kids): Design Public, 800/506-6541.
Throw (“Ask the Robin’’): Pillows and Throws, pillowsandthrows.com.
Art table and chairs; painted trucks, train, giraffe (Mohaupt Woodworking): Peaceful Nursery, peacefulnursery.com.
Train table: Little Colorado, 303/964-3212.
Wooden trucks: Nova Natural, 877/668-2111.
Art caddy: Under the Nile, 800/710-1264.
Shelves: IKEA, ikea.com.
The first child, who helped kick off The Art of Everyday Living: James, now 5, at his solid wood art table finished with linseed oil. Baskets (with unsprayed finishes) help corral art supplies and toys.
For decorative balance and laid-back charm, the Carlins relied on the elements of nature: wood, earth, fire, and water. They used unfinished furnishings, untreated wool rugs, natural latex rug pads, organic-fill sofas, cotton slipcovers, linen draperies, hemp pillows, and mineral-based lime paint.
Sofa; chairs; slipcover fabric (“Naomi’’/White): Cisco Brothers,
Throw: Viva Terra, 800/233-6011.
Coffee table; throws: Calypso Home, 310/587-0703.
Pillow fabric: GreenSage, 415/453-7915.
Bench: Hestia Home Furniture, 310/867-1504.
Drapery (“Palazzo’’/Eggshell): World Linen & Textile Co. Inc., 213/748-1370.
Demilune: Dan Marty Design, 310/ 576-6008.
Painting: Peter Brooke, peterwbrooke.com.
Candlesticks: Shabby Chic, 310/394-1975.
Compote; bowls: Pot Luck Studios, potluckstudios.com.
Living room furnishings use organic fill—natural latex wrapped in organic wool and cotton—and organic cotton slipcovers.
Elegant linen draperies on weathered rods are used throughout the house.
Throughout the house, sustainably harvested white-oak hardwood floors were installed and sealed with a low-VOC, nontoxic sealer. Traditional dining room chairs are made of reclaimed wood and water-based glue.
Dining table, chairs and chandelier: owner’s collection.
Console: Shabby Chic, 310/394-1975.
Art (by Jill Sykes): Milo Gallery, 323/935-3662.
In the family room, a sofa with organic fill and hemp slipcovers sits on top of a chemical-free wool carpet. Sofa pillows are stitched with eco-friendly, fair-trade baby alpaca wool.
Painting: Jill Douglas, jilldouglasinfo.com.
Sectional: Cisco Brothers, ciscobrothers.com.
Hemp fabric (“Summer’s Peak Raw’’): GreenSage, greensage.com.
Alpaca pillows and throw (by e bella): One Home, 720/946-1505.
Rug: Earth Weave Carpet Mills, earthweave.com.
Tray: Pot Luck Studios, potluckstudios.com.
Mirror: Howell Green Gallery, 310/455-3991.
Drapery (“Palazzo’’/Eggshell): World Linen & Textile Co., 213/748-1370.
In the kitchen, often the linchpin of renovation schemes, Laura and Alison worked as much as possible with existing materials. Cabinets, for instance, were salvaged instead of being replaced; they were given a coat of a low-VOC paint, glass fronts, and new hardware. New appliances were installed to make the kitchen energy-efficient.
New lighting, like the wrought-iron chandelier above the breakfast table, was installed in each
of the home's rooms.
For tile and stone floors like those in the master bath, natural grout sealer was applied. To enhance flow between rooms, mineral-based lime paint was used on most walls in the house.
Towels (from Indika Organics): H3Environmental, 818/766-1787.
Stone: Walker Zanger, 877/611-0199.
Paint (“Lisbon Yellow’’): Living Green 310/838-8442.
Tub: Kohler, 800/456-4537.
Teak bench: Smith & Hawken, 800/981-9888.
Drapery: World Linen & Textile Co., 213/748-1370.
Alison Forbes Houlihan with nephew James, left, and homeowner Laura Forbes Carlin with baby Matthew.
“We tend to focus on big events when considering our lives,” Alison says, “but it’s those everyday moments that affect us most.” Hence the name of the company—The Art of Everyday Living—that she co-owns with her sister Laura. A few of their tips include:
• Choose natural cleaning products. “People think their chemical smells mean clean,” says Laura, who opts for a spray bottle solution of half-water, half-vinegar to attack household jobs. Baking soda is another of her cleaning staples.
• Vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to remove airborne particles.
• To avoid the release of chemicals, remove dry cleaning bags before storing clothes in closets.
Be sure to read Laura and Alison’s popular book, The Peaceful Nursery (Delta Books, 2006), a guide with healthful design tips for new parents.