The feature eliciting the most oohs and aahs in this showhouse is invisible (hint: inhale)
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 (greenguard.org).
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, susanfredman.com.
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, diorhomes.com.
Photography: Werner Straube
Produced by Hilary Rose
Smart design ideas from the Healthy Home showhouse:
The living room sofa by Cisco Brothers is made of sustainable wood with no added urea-formaldehyde (ciscobrothers.com).
The walls and trim in the house are finished with Benjamin Moore low-VOC Natura paint (benjaminmoore.com).
The naturally stain-resistant wool rug is colored with vegetable dyes (shabahangcarpets.com).
Designer Maria Yee created the living room bookcase and coffee table with sustainable woods (mariayee.com).
The dining room table and chairs from Lorts have low-VOC finishes and no added urea-formaldehyde (lorts.com).
Dining-chair fabric from O Ecotextiles is softened with a finish of beeswax and aloe vera (oecotextiles.com).
Cabinets from Holiday Kitchens have no urea- formaldehyde and are finished with low-VOC stains and topcoats (holidaykitchens.com).
GreenGuard-certified nonporous quartz counters by Cambria require no sealers or toxic cleaners (cambriausa.com).
Energy Star Refrigerator
Liebherr is über energy-efficient, and the company leads in eco-responsible production processes (liebherr.us.com).
Induction is the most energy-efficient and safest method of cooking, using no gas that can pollute the air (mieleusa.com).
Water-Based Floor Finish
Locally sourced and sustainable white oak floors are finished with a low-VOC stain and water-based topcoat (bona.com).
Organic Wool Area Rug
The family room rug is a blend of undyed wool fibers that create a variation in neutral hues (shabahang carpets.com).
Sofa table and fireplace surround were locally made with wood from a walnut tree felled in a storm (el-furniture.com).
Locally Made Bronze Tiles
Chicago artist Denise Siegel's tiles are bronze, a metal that can be recycled repeatedly (denise siegelbronze.com).
100% Organic Sheets
Indika Organics uses only plant-based dyes on its cotton sheets (indikaorganics.com).
Quartz Tub Surround
A Kohler tub is framed by quartz surfacing from Cambria, a U.S. company practicing eco-kind processes (cambriausa.com).
Water Sense Fixtures
Faucets, toilets, and other Kohler plumbing fixtures are Water Sense-certified to conserve water usage (kohler.com).
Low-VOC paints renewed a vintage bed and side tables for a girl's room.
A fairy-tale mural painted on canvas is framed by white molding. It can be removed, rolled up, and used elsewhere.
Light fixtures throughout the house are on dimmers to save energy. Compact fluorescent bulbs were not used because of their mercury content.
Natural Wood Finishes
Jill Salisbury used a vinegar-based solution and natural lacquer finish for her desk and chair frames (el-furniture.com).
Hemp Wall Covering
Office walls are softened with a natural hemp covering that's hung with a low-VOC adhesive (mayaromanoff.com).
The Healthy Home showhouse was spearheaded by Victoria Di Iorio, left, and Jill Salisbury.
Designers Ruth E. Delf (seated) and Kathy Hoffman.
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 (healthychild.org). Here are Web sites where you can find her 10 favorite home products.