How can people update their homes while keeping an eye on the green line -- remodeling or designing using materials and products that won't ultimately harm the Earth?
Interior designer Kirsten Flynn, whose business Sustainable Home focuses on eco-friendly design, will be teaching the nuts and bolts of green interior design through Palo Alto Adult School in mid-October.
Growing up in Palo Alto, Flynn developed an early enthusiasm for anything green. She remembers a time when there was a lot more open space in Palo Alto and she used to climb trees, go horseback riding and back-packing in the High Sierras with her father.
"I've always been interested in environmentalism," she said, so it wasn't much of a stretch to start her business or teach her class to pass on her passion for design that minimizes negative impact on the Earth.
Flynn's main focus is to design in a way that is "healthy for you and the environment," she said, which often includes using local products.
What people expect to gain from the classes are ideas for eco-friendly design and resources so that people can make decisions on green products. People will also gain "exposure to common green interior products, common issues and alternatives," Flynn said.
In her class Flynn covers flooring, wall materials and paints, solid surfaces such as countertops and furnishings, including upholstered furniture, illustrated with a lot of photographs of green materials.
"Not everyone has the inclination and resources to hire an eco-designer but everyone deserves to know about these techniques and products," Flynn said.
The main questions people should ask when choosing products or furniture to their home are "What does it do when you have it?" and "Where does it go?"
Flynn points to Reclaim, a Menlo Park store that specializes in salvaged materials, as a good resource. After six months, the store already attracts much interest from first timers and frequent visitors, according to the store's owner, Bridget Biscotti Bradley. Reclaim stocks cork from Capri, bio-degradable dog waste bags and Vetrazzo tiles made out of recycled glass.
Flynn suggests beginners to eco-design start off with an environmentally friendly paint, especially for health reasons, since the paints come in low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or no VOCs. "VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects," according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website. These may include "eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system." With these environmentally safe paint products "there is also none of that strong smell and the cost is in the same range," Flynn said.
Many products and furniture at home may be unsafe and pose health concerns. Flynn is especially concerned about toxic fire retardants that build up in a person's blood. According to an investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), based in Washington, D.C., toddlers and preschool-age children typically have three times more of these chemicals in their blood than their mothers. These chemicals (known as PBDEs) are found in everyday items, such as furniture and electronics and children are especially vulnerable to these toxic chemicals. "U.S. children are exposed to them on a daily basis while Europe has banned PBDEs," Flynn said.
Before becoming a principal at Sustainable Home, Flynn worked as a textile designer 15 years after graduating college.
"I love design, and I want to have form, color, shape historical articles around me," she said.
She has a bachelor's degree in Textiles from Syracuse University in New York and four certificates in interior design from Cañada College in Redwood City. She is also a certified Green Building professional through the Build It Green organization, a nonprofit based in Berkeley and a member of the U.S. Green Building council and the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Beside the class at Palo Alto Adult School, Flynn also conducts docent tours on eco-friendly building at the Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills.
One of the most exciting projects Flynn was personally involved in was the United States Department of Energy's 2007 Solar Decathlon. She worked with Santa Clara University's team and designed the interiors for its energy-independent house, which placed third overall in the international competition in Washington, D.C., last October.
The kitchen tiling in the house was 40 percent recycled ceramic content and the bathroom decorated with 100 percent recycled glass tiles. Flynn also incorporated a band of "jelly bean" tiles that are made of recycled coke bottles. The house was painted with water-based low-VOC paints that contain little or no heavy metals. In fact the university team painted the house eight hours before the event, resulting in no wet-paint smell, according to the SCU Solar Decathlon website.
Through her business, her class and her volunteer efforts, Flynn has created a seamless melding of her twin interests in design and the environment.
For her green interior design class, she said, "People do things they get excited about, I hope to make people excited" and, ultimately, she hopes to have "homeowners in her class who plan to put the information they get into practice."
What: Green Interior Design
When: Wednesdays, Oct. 15 and 22, 7 to 9 p.m.
Where: Palo Alto High School, Room 306, 50 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto
Info: Call 650-329-3752 or visit www.paadultschool.org.