The Environmental Magazine: Decorating with eco-style

Decorating with eco-style – environment-friendly furniture

Anne W. Wilke

Furniture Alternatives for a Chemical-Free Home

Right now, you’re probably sitting comfortably on your living room couch reading this magazine. Innocuous as it may seem, that couch is steadily releasing toxins. From chemically treated fabrics and wood bases to residual pesticides, bleaches and toxic glues, modern furniture can be a potential chemical trap.

“People want healthy alternatives, but they just haven’t thought about it with furniture,” says Lynn Marie Bower, author of The Healthy Household. She says that polyurethane-filled furniture cushions and padding, synthetic threads, polypropylene webbings and treated wood products all have the potential to “outgas” toxic chemicals, thus creating an unhealthy and unsafe environment.

So when it comes to decorating, it’s not just a matter of style, color and design anymore. We need to be alert to what goes into furniture and how to find safe and functional alternatives.

What About Construction?

Ben Shapiro, co-founder of Furnature, a chemical-free furniture company in Boston, Massachusetts, says his company had to go back to the basics, “the way it was 50 years ago,” to find natural and healthy furniture concepts.

Furnature’s custom-made sofas, love-seats, chairs and ottomans use solid rock maple for frames, steel bases and cores for cushions and bases, and 100-percent organic cotton batting, canvas and filling. Since natural dyes don’t work well with the large quantities of fabric necessary in furniture making, Furnature uses Foxfibre, a naturally-colored organic cotton fiber available in green, brown or natural.

Metals such as stainless steel, brass, wrought iron and chrome are other environmental options that save on resources and avoid chemicals, while offering sturdy, long-lasting furniture. Smith and Hawken, Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn carry metal furniture pieces and patio furniture which can be moved inside and decorated.

Conventional mattresses contain chemically-treated plastics, foams and polyester fills which may also contain residual herbicides and pesticides. Bower says these synthetic materials are known carcinogens and may also be the cause of poor health and sleeplessness.

Crown City Mattress, however, sells mattresses and boxsprings made with cotton filling rather than poly fibers, and a pesticide-free, organic cotton mattress. Nontoxic Environments, Inc. pre-washes its cotton and wool mattress padding in baking soda or vegetable soaps to produce 100 percent organic cotton and cotton/wool mattresses. And Bright Future Futons makes organic cotton futon beds and pillows that are chemically free.

What About Style?

When it comes to upholstery, you don’t have to settle for plain brown burlap fabric to be environmentally friendly. Organic cottons, hemp, recycled materials and fabrics that haven’t been bleached, treated with harsh shampoos, or colored with synthetic dyes are among the many fashionable options now available.

Designtex’s William McDonough Collection features five nature-inspired fabric designs, available in over 60 rich colors, that are certified organic and contain no carcinogens or toxins. Their wool material is supplied from a free-range farm in New Zealand and the ramie fiber is organic.

Hemp is a durable, natural fabric that doesn’t rely on pesticides and isn’t bleached. The Ohio Hempery in Guysville, Ohio offers five hemp blends and four 100-percent hemp fabrics that are suitable for window treatments and upholstery. The Hempery’s Debbie Daniels says hemp fabrics dye more readily than cotton or linen, and thus eliminate the need for a chemical-laden pre-wash.

While seeking the most in environmental furniture, don’t overlook construction materials. Glues, finishes, stains and waxes can also be a source of unwanted chemicals. American Formulating and Manufacturing (AFM) sells building and maintenance products that are both safe and healthy for people and the environment. Jay Watts, AFM’s vice president of marketing, says its paints, stains, sealers and cleaning supplies are water-based, rather than solvent-based, eliminating invisible toxins.

For other decorating ideas, Bower suggests cushions, throw pillows and slip covers made with natural fiber stuffings that are machine washable. “You should be conscious of your decisions, not just about color and design, but also how it will make you feel. There’s no need to expose yourself to chemicals.”

CONTACTS: The Healthy House Institute, 430 North Sewell Road, Bloomington, IN 47408/(812)332-5073; Furnature, 319 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02135-3395/(617)787-2888; Crown City Mattress, 250 S. San Gabriel Boulevard, San Gabriel, CA 91776/(818)796-9101; American Formulating and Manufacturing, 350 West Ash Street, Suite 700, San Diego, CA 92101-3404/(619)239-03210.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Earth Action Network, Inc.

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