Making a statement with style

Renewable decor isn’t dowdy, it’s downright stylish

Lisa Kadane, Calgary Herald
Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mike Lucas and Farah Salaria ripped out the carpet and repainted the walls before moving their belongings into their newly purchased Braeside bungalow.

But instead of laying down an exotic wood floor and splashing the latest colours on the walls, the 30-something couple chose wide-plank, farmed alder for the floor and used a zero-VOC paint in a subdued, off-white colour.

The wood was harvested from an alder farm in B.C.; the paint had minimal off-gassing. Both home-building products are considered environmentally-friendly.

The couple also added R-50 insulation (considered the best energy-efficient choice for attics) into the ceiling, and plan to install low-flush toilets.

“We wanted to do something environmentally responsible,” Lucas says. Greening their lifestyle has “become sort of second nature.”

In their last home, the couple — who recycle, compost and hang their clothes to dry — put in bamboo flooring, another renewable material.

They probably would have been considered hippies a decade ago. Today, they are merely part of a growing number of eco-minded homeowners — a June 2006 World Wildlife Fund Canada survey found that 52 per cent of Canadians are “very concerned” about environmental issues.

Going green is getting easier, even in the realm of interior design. As sustainable home products become more available, it’s no longer just bathrooms, appliances and light fixtures getting low-flow or energy-efficient makeovers:

– Floors are being made from renewable grass (bamboo), wood (cork) and recycled wood products (Marmoleum);

– Backsplashes of recycled glass are making waves;

– Dinner is being prepared on counters crafted from hemp (see story on Page G4), and served in bowls hewn from bamboo;

– Food and utensils are being stored in cabinets made of strawboard, a formaldehyde-free product constructed from agricultural by-products;

– Beds are being laid with sheets and pillows made of bamboo fibres, reputed to be softer than silk;

– Finally, everything is being cleaned with biodegradable detergents, dish soaps and floor cleaners.

What’s more, these products aren’t utilitarian; they’re downright stylish. Being green inside the home has become almost, well, sexy. But people have been recycling for decades. Why is the green movement just now gaining lifestyle credibility, moving from how we dispose of products we consume to how we consume in the first place?

An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore documentary, has helped push environmental awareness into mainstream conversation, says Karyn Elliott of Albertine Design in Calgary.

Also fuelling the trend, she says, are educated homeowners. They’re beginning to ask questions about where home materials come from, and whether they’re sustainable. In response, companies dedicated to green manufacturing are springing up. “I think the real surge (in eco-right products) will come in 2007,” Elliott says.

Change is already happening, albeit slowly, in Calgary. Our oil-rich city recently received a green report card grade of C- in Western Living magazine’s August green issue.

Hopefully, that grade will improve with the addition of such companies as The Healthiest Home & Building Supplies, which opened a store in Bridgeland in February 2006. The shop supplies everything from tiles made of recycled glass (otherwise destined for the landfill) to roof shingles created from recycled plastics, fibres, and rubber from discarded tires.

Franchise owner Roxanne Calver says clients choose sustainable products for both health and environmental reasons. “They want to be in a safe home environment, but do good for the (planet’s) environment as well,” she says.

But not everyone is jumping on the eco-wagon. “There’s a kind of feeding frenzy on green products” going on right now, says Marc Boutin, director of the University of Calgary’s architecture program, in the faculty of environmental design.

Although green home products are a step in the right direction, he says, real sustainability requires a seismic cultural shift.

It’s not enough to consume green products — we should really be striving to consume less of everything, Boutin says.

How about building a house with a smaller footprint so even less bamboo or cork flooring is needed? Or building only one bathroom — not six with dual-flush toilets.

“If we really want to put a stake in the ground and become environmental, we need to (know how to separate) needs from desires,” Boutin says. “We should be doing more with less.”


Want to green up your home without painting the walls Wasabi? Check out the following:

– The Healthiest Home & Building Supplies is at 833 1st Ave. N.E. (290-1746). The store sells strawboard cabinets, non-toxic paints and bamboo counters and floors, among other green items.

– Cork, Marmoleum and bamboo floors are available from flooring suppliers.

– Alberta’s Built Green program promotes home building products and practices that are environmentally friendly and energy efficient (235-1911 or go to

– Linens ‘N Things carries Wamsutta sheets and pillows made from 60 per cent bamboo and 40 per cent cotton.

– Bambu makes baskets, bowls, cutting boards, utensils and Veneerware (disposable plates and utensils) out of bamboo, the planet’s fastest-growing grass and a renewable resource. Visit

– Shoppers Drug Mart sells Method cleaning supplies that contain only biodegradable ingredients.

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