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Silk Road To Happiness… never too cool for silk

 

The incredible heat and humidity lately has me thanking my lucky stars for the silk wrap skirt that was given to me many years ago.  I’m reminded of my mother in law when in her mid 50’s claimed that she needed to wear silk clothes to feel comfortable. The wonderful natural qualities of silk out-do cotton every time.  Humidity is not a friend of cotton… Wet T-shirt contest anyone!?silkworm+on+leaves

I was intrigued by the way silk feels and acts.  I read somewhere that when used as a pillow case, the amino acids in the silk can have a anti-aging effect on your face.  Uh, can I just swaddle myself in the stuff!!??

Even with all the potential of body temperature regulating and skin smoothing, there’s a sad fact about silk. The common production method of silk fibers is a cruel one.  Simplified: when the silk worms are still alive in their cocoon, they are dropped in boiling water to release the fibers of the cocoon.  The threads are then carefully pulled and wound onto spools for the next step in production.  The worms, now dead never get the chance to become the beautiful butterfly they were meant to be.

silk-ballsThere is an alternative to the killing fields of commercial silk production but you will really have to look for it. Ahimsa Peace Silk, produced in Fair Trade communities in India, this silk is ethical.  The mulberry larva are allowed to finish their growth into flying beauties and continue the reproduction cycle.  Their abandoned cocoon are collected, inspected for vacancy then painstakingly unraveled by caring, patient hands.

Sadly, wild eri silkworms are becoming endangered, possibly due to the same fate as honeybees.  The commercial use of silk worms too is unsustainable.  A couple only produce 50 eggs, so management is precarious if greed kicks in.IMG_20150724_164321

Research about silk also turned up that toxic chemicals and heavy metals like lead are used in the colouring of silks.  So, not only is ethical silk more desirable for fair treatment of living beings but also healthier if natural dye processes are used on the fabric.  But that’s a whole other post.

Excuse me while I attend to my bowl of ice in front of the fan.  I think there’s a hint of fresh air coming through the window.  In the meantime, feet up, silk wrap on, fan on full blast.  I’m dreaming of Ahimsa Peace Silk sheets and a cool night sleep.  Stay frosty my friends.

 

Fortuny Fetish … Get Your Edwardian Style On

 

Scheherazade

It’s not enough that fabulously design rich TV shows like Downton Abbey have dragged my modernist butt into the past… but now I have to deal with my crush on Edwardian stylist Mariano Fortuny’s stunning designs.  New obsession… Design Gods please help me!!

 

We were so fortunate and grateful to have won an LED desk lamp from Ottawa lighting specialists #Arevco.  Last week we dropped by their lovely new showroom on Clyde Avenue at Laperriere to claim our prizes.  Upon our exit I gazed up and there it was… a stunning chandelier which is befittingly called “Scheherazade”.  How appropriate… a very mysterious and sexy character she is.

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Designer Mariano Fortuny was born in Granada, the ancient Moorish capital of Spain, into a family of artists in 1871.  Trained as an artist in Paris after he his father passed away, he was successful producing beautiful textiles exploring inspiration from Egypt, China, Persia, Greece and South America.  He patented inventions in engineering and lighting as well as fabric and textile designs.  Mariano spent a great deal of his design energy on the stage with newly invented electric light.  This expanded into lighting fixture designs that incorporated dyed and hand painted silks with glass beads and silk chords… inspired by East Asia and Persian motifs.

Scheherazade in Modern

Fortuny’s designs are simply elegant works of art.  Whether a scarf, dress, chandelier or lamp shade, Fortuny has made his way into our psyches… and video screens.  Next time you swoon into a period drama … say of the 1920’s … challenge yourself to see where the costumers and set designers have been inspired by Mr. Fortuny.   Season 5 of Downton Abbey here we come!!

Fortuny Lamp

 

Bringing the Past to the Future

What does modernism mean? We have been blessed here at Nested Green Inc. with a couple of fabulous design projects that have had me thinking deeply about designs of the past.  Those techniques, shapes and materials that are considered “old fashioned” to some are really the base for the what many would consider “modern” design.  When I’m asked by clients “Do you do modern?”… I have to ask what they mean by “modern”.  Technically, with tools, materials and techniques, unless we are building a space the way the hardcore Amish society can, then it will always be “modern”… our building code insists on it.  As for aesthetically, modern design has an impressive history that is subjective to each persons reality and perception of what “modern” means. One of our projects is a renovation of a 70’s high-ranch on a lake in an up-scale community.  There are many directions we could take this lovely back split bungalow with a sliver of a view of the lake… embrace it’s 70’s roots? … reproduce a Hampton’s upscale vacation home?… or take it back to it’s origins of the 70’s style and go for Craftsman. The client chooses the direction, we follow the direction to make the dream a reality. Large windows, posts & beams, river-stone fireplace, sweeping lake-side decks… I’m thinking (hoping for) Craftsman. Craftsman Style The Craftsman style we know today has many inspirations at it’s roots. William Morris of England at the turn of the 20th century promoted a philosophy of “have only what is beautiful and useful in your home”… an idea abused by modern day mega-mass furniture co. Ikea.   Arts and crafts for the masses back in the day, ironically were mostly afforded only by the upper classes.  Then there are the American sources like Gustav Stickley for his furniture and later Frank Lloyd Wright’s stylized version of Arts & Crafts with his Prairie School of designs and philosophies.

“A craftsman is an artist or artisan who practices a trade or handicraft and creates beautiful (decorative) or practical (useful) objects and structures from natural materials with skill and dexterity using his or her hands.”(1)

A recent visit to a commercial furniture dealer who sell Herman Miller furniture (thank you Ben at OBI Environments in Ottawa) had me contemplating the effect that mid-century designers have had the industry.  Companies like Herman Miller and Knoll have been influencing the designs of interiors for 75 years… furniture and textiles with designers such as Eero Saarinen, Frank Gehry, Marcel Breuer.  Suzanne Tick, whom I met in San Francisco almost 15 years ago is a talented textile designer whose work is very  much up-holds the philosophies as such designing with textiles. (2)

Florence Knoll defined the standard for the modern corporate interiors of post-war America

Florence Knoll defined the standard for the modern corporate interiors of post-war America

So we ponder the term “modern design”.  What does it mean?  It is a subjective term but there is more to it.  Is it about idealism or is about acquisition?  What does it mean to be a modern person?  Is it about the ownership of technology and how we use it?  Isn’t everything that happens is in the future considered modern?  What if our future selves are left without our much depended technologies and luxuries?  If we embrace the lifestyle of our ancestors can we still be “modern”?  Well, we know there is no going back completely to the ways of the past unless that much advertised Zombie Apocalypse actually happens… But we know too much to return completely to the way things were long ago. Evolution is a much desired trait by all species.  Adapt, grow and pass it on… that’s how nature does it.  So one is compelled to giggle just a little when asked “Do you do modern? Smile… pass it on.

Saarinen's revolutionary Pedestal Collection debuted in 1958

Saarinen’s revolutionary Pedestal Collection debuted in 1958

(1) http://www.arts-and-crafts-style.com/craftsman-style.html (2) http://www.knoll.com/shop/by-designer/suzanne-tick http://www.knoll.com/discover-knoll/timeline Photo credit: http://www.knoll.com/designer/Eero-Saarinen

Locavore your Living Spaces… Sourcing Design Products & Services Locally

The name “Locavore” is a popular name tag of Foodies who support food production as close as possible to thier community.  Where you live and what major centres that are near by may influence your decision of how far you are willing to have your home building and decorating products shipped.  I live near a city center that has New York, Toronto and Montreal within a 500 kilometers distance.  I am fortunate in that way but you may live in a prairie or mountain state or province where city centers, having a greater abundance of design sources, are at a much further distance.  We must remember that we are doing the best that we can to achieve our personal standards. There are many products such as textiles, door hardware and plumbing fixtures that are scarcely produced in North America anymore.  Unless you have an unlimited budget, you may have to forgive yourself for having to purchase items produced overseas.  I’m always on the lookout for artisans to fill the void of locally produced products. How does your local purchasing affect your community?  Most importanly, your money stays in your community.  As well, you are supporting the development of artisans skills and building a resource for quality of products.  Your support of local artisans may possibly increase the notoriety of specialized products in your region… think “Shetland” wool and “Waterford” crystal.

Where do you go to find what you are looking for?

  • Search on-line first!!  The easiest research and shopping you can do from the comfort of your sofa!!
  • Furniture – new, hand-made … the Amish community for example is prized for thier furniture production – includes the ability to custom order to fit your design criteria.
  • Thrift shops – especially if you’re handy and ready for a DIY project.
  • Up-cyclers – they’ll do the DIY and dumpster-diving for you!!
  • Recyclers of building products and architectural elements.
  • Crafters – whether on-line or at your local Farmers’ Market – beautiful products such as naturally dyed cotton t-shirts recycled into braided rag rugs, not just for country decor anymore… again, Amish quilts are highly coveted!!  Knitted blankets using local wools would be an investiment your grand-children could inherit!!
  • Artisans of textiles such as weavers, quilters… wood and glass works for vessels, dishes, pottery, plates and windows… metal works for items made from iron, steel, tin and aluminum especially for hardware and decorative items.
  • Antique dealers, estate sales and auctions – Antiques (and thier modern mass-produced look-a-likes) can be edited to fit into desired design styles… paint, change hardware or leave original finishes and hardware to maintain the future historical value.
  • Curb-side pick-ups (aka dumpster diving!!) – free treasures to be found, but you should take care thof yourself and be very discriminating about what you touch… avoid upholstered items (bugs, molds, disintegrating toxic materials).
  • Local College or Art Schools – up and coming artists, craftsmen and women are always looking for a way to make a living from the craft they studied… furniture, textiles, decorative household items, art… You benefit by obtaining less expensive products, unique ideas and untainted creativity.  Schools that specialize in historic artisan crafts such as stonework and millwork (cabinets, trim, etc) for example are a great source for new professionals to add unique details to your home.

What to look for…

  • always go for quality … it lasts longer
  • recyled … organic …. natural materials
  • non-toxic finishing ethical production (no harm to animals or people)
  • ask yourself if you really “need” it… and how do I feel about it!!??

Can’t find what you are looking for in your neighbourhood… think about supporting craftsmen and women working with sustainable development projects, home-base businesses, fair trade and community collective businesses… the money from your purchase goes directly into the community where the artisans are located.  Not only would you have a well crafted and unique product but you will also have a warm feeling that you are part of building productive and healthy communities world-wide.  Look for these traditional types of products (especially locally traditional products) as well as the term “social responsibility”… bonus for organic products too!!  Although the product list is endless… third party certification from NGO bodies such as:  “Fairtrade” ( http://www.fairtrade.net) … “The Fair World Project” (http://fairworldproject.org/) and “Fair for Life” (http://www.imo.ch ).

  • textiles, weaving, knitting, sewing
  • pottery & ceramics
  • metal work
  • woodwork, carving
  • glass work
  • woven grasses (baskets, rugs, wall coverings)

Your wallet is a powerful tool and “Big Business” is very concerned about how you use it.  How we spend our money sends a huge message to the marketplace… one that says “make me happy and I may spend more money with you… and so may my friends!!”  That message to industry is strong and can be relentless.  The Locavore mentality can help you to: reduce your personal carbon footprint by purchasing less travelled and packaged products; be conscious to avoid so many of the toxic chemicals used in the mass production of furniture and textiles; reduce the amount of plastics and synthetic materials used in household items and thier packaging; when your items have long out-lived their use and can no longer be repaired or renewed, the disposal of your item will return to the earth with less of the usual toxic residue; and benefit personally by obtaining unique and quality products that last longer than the mass-produced and become heirlooms to many generations. make a difference to your or someone’s community by building local economies. Embrace the emerging “Locavore” tradition and feel good about your consumerism… but please be kind to your friends and family if they don’t understand yet… they will someday, just by your example.  Happy Locavore Shopping!!

Avoiding Toxic Interiors… What’s Making Me Sick?

6 ways to include healthier environments in your wellness journey

In my persuit of healthier living, which began with a personal realization that I “did not feel well” far too often, I found that every element of my life was saturated with toxic chemicals.  I started with a detox diet, then edited my daily diet and started practicing yoga again.  I found I felt better after taking these steps but I knew there could be more I could do to feel even better.  I took a look around my home and realized that the source of alot of my stress was the clutter around me and the possible toxins all this stuff was shedding.

It is a challenge to avoid the toxins being dumped on us in every respect of our lives.  There is a substantial list of sources of toxins in our environment.  Unhealthy chemicals are present in our air, water, food, building materials, medicines, clothing and more.  Even people and stressful situations can be bad for our bodies. Practically every element of our lives is touched by over 80,000 “legal” chemicals.

Even our pets and creatures of the wilderness are affected by our use of chemicals.  Honey bees for example, which our flowering crops depend on for production, are mysteriously dying off.  The reason, discovered by bee keepers, the spraying of herbicides (glysophates) such as Monsanto’s popular product Round-Up… but that’s a whole other topic for future articles.

We don’t live in a bubble and can not possibly hide ourselves from all the toxic substances floating around our environment, but riding our lives of the troubling “low hanging fruit” can be acheived gradually if you have time… or go for the total Detox with “Chemical Cold-turkey”.  Here are six areas in which we can make changes that will make a difference to the health of our bodies and to the environment.

1.  Choose natural, organic and ethical fabrics.  Why?  Textiles such as nylon are produced using fosil fuels which impact greatly on the Earth’s environment.  These chemical based fabrics also contain endocrine disrupting toxins such as BPA and thalates.  Choosing organic cotton over standard cotton is important because the production of cotton is one the largest users of toxic herbicides and pesticides and thus polluters of our water system.  Most of the cotton crops from Indian are a GMO (genetically modified organism) crop called BT Cotton.  BT Cotton in India has recently been exposed as the reason for the mass suicides of poor cotton farmers.  Another productive fibre, hemp (Cannabis Sativa L) is considered a “carbon negative” material.  Naturally organic, it grows quickly without the usual chemicals, less water than crops such as cotton and higher yields per acre.  Canada has a controlled production of hemp crops and several states in the USA have recently made hemp production legal again.  I could write a long essay on this topic alone.  Silk, wool, linen (flax) and ramie (nettle) are other classic natural fabrics, used for centuries all over the world.  Look for the label of the organic textiles organization OEKO-TEX® on your purchases to ensure you are getting a certified sustainable textile product.

2.  Re-upholster or slip-cover your gently used quality sofas and arm chairs.  Why?  Upholstered furniture sold at department stores is almost always treated with toxic fire retardants.  Studies have shown that Brominated Flame Retardants (BFR) and more specifically Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) are “chemicals (that) may disrupt human thyroid hormone functioning and cause other health effects, prompting many nations to ban or suspend their use in new consumer goods”(1).  These bio-accumulative toxins store in our fatty tissue (such as breast tissue and waist line) and contribute to our suseptibility to cancers.  PBDE are found in household things such as sofas, rugs and electronics and leaches out in the form of household dust (5). Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) trade names like Stainmaster and Teflon are use as stain guards added to textiles are considered toxic and possible causes of birth defects, developmental problems, hormone disruptor and “likely carcinogen” (6)  Wool is the most naturally fire resistant natural textile.  When you purchase soft furnishings from your favourite retailer, if you can choose the fabric, ask if it is treated with a fire retardant and stain repellant.  If available and guaranteed for long-wear, choose organic and sustainable fabrics that can be washed since dry-cleaning is another toxic source called Perchlorethylene (PERC) an is a known carcinogen.  Don’t take the retailers verbal assurance that there are no toxins… ask for the specifications and organic textile association to be certain you are getting what you are paying for.

3.  Choose no VOC paints, varishes, solvents, furniture, wall coverings & flooring.  Why?  Anything in your home that has glue, paint, varnish or made of plastic emits VOC (volitile organic chemicals).  VOCs can cause allergic reactions and respirtory illness.  Prolonged exposure has been linked with liver and kidney diseases, cancer, as well as autoimmune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinsons Disease (PD) (7).  Formaldehyde is a cancer causing chemical found in mass produced furniture with particle board and melamine.  A healthier solution is to re-purpose antiques or purchase quality solid wood furniture (that have a no VOC guarantee) and if you need to re-finish use no VOC paint, varnish and cleaning solvents.  Always refinish in well ventilated space, outdoors is prefered and dispose of the remaining products at proper recycling and hazardous waste facilities.  Don’t dump anything down the drain… it is still a toxic chemical!!    Replace old wall-to-wall carpet and pealing vinyl flooring with factory finished, water-based varnish on solid hardwood flooring and ceramic tiles.  Not only will this type of flooring not have the dangerous toxic dust production but you will be able to better clean these solid surface floors.  Little ones who live closest to the ground will benefit from the cleaner air.  Add natural fiber area rugs to make a softer zone for your crawler, in materials such as wool or cotton.  Wet or areas of your home with more traffic would benefit from durable jute.  Think about the cleaning product you use too!!  Products with perfumes are another source of harmful VOCs.  Read the labels on everything since infants are especially at risk from toxic compounds as thier immune and respitory systems are newly developing and ill and elderly family members may have weak immune systems.

4.  What’s lurking behind those walls?  Why?  Older homes and those that are less-than-loved may be hiding toxins such as mold and mildew, asbestos and led paint for example.  Be aware that any renovation project on buildings with a mysterious history should be conducted with care and that specially trained professionals may be needed to handle your mold or asbestos issues, so as not to release dangerous toxins into your environment.  Disrupting aged materials can cause respitory illnesses or worse, birth defects if an expectant mother is exposed.  Leave your home while work is being done and allow it to be aired out for several days after the work is complete.  Renovation projects are an ideal time to add sustainable and energy efficient building techniques, materials and products to your home.  Be vigilant and protect your family, pets and your property by hiring a qualified building professional.

5.  Open the windows!!  Why?  Especially in our extreme seasons, the quality of the air in our interiors declines.  Modern air tight buildings offer little fresh air flow and often the re-circulated mechanical air is pushed through dirty filters and vents… commercial buildings are the worst but your home may be making you suffer too.  Plan to have your vents cleaned at least once a year and change your furnace filter as well, especially after any renovations.  This will help keep mold, mildew, toxic off-gassing of new furniture and finishes as well as keeping those nasty VOCs (volitile organic compounds found in paints, varishes and more) at bay.  Opt for fresh air not phthalate ladden air-fresheners.   A breath of fresh air is very cleansing to your body… just opening your windows may not be enough… get outside and into nature… take a deep breath… relax, smile and take care of yourself.

6.  Too much stuff!!  Why?  Visual clutter is mental clutter.  You don’t have to live a minimalist’s lifestyle to rid yourself of the mental anguish of too much stuff, but making your home more organized and editing the things you have is a good start.  My mom, for example has piles and drawers full of video tapes but doesn’t have a VCR anymore… this creates the stress of dusting off things she will never use again (although, she claims she “needs” them!!).  Stress has a negative physiological effect on your body…. and stress manifests itself differently in everyone.  Having too much stuff in one space can seem out of control, cluttered, confusing.  Organizing spaces such as closets and kitchens can make the process of getting dressed and cooking a meal alot more efficient and enjoyable!!  Visitors to your home will also appreciate a calm and uncluttered space.  The task of editing your home, if you’ve never done it before, can be absolutely daunting. Start with a small space and don’t get frustrated.  Make piles of things to go to storage, give-away, re-cycle and trash.  If you can’t do it because sometimes it is just too emotionally difficult or physically challenging, recruit someone you trust who will listen to your desires.  They will also help you make the hard decisions of getting rid of things you don’t need but are attached to.  De-cluttering is like therapy really, you have to be ready for it… otherwise it won’t be successful.  Editing or decluttering your possesions can be a mentally freeing, although many have a difficult time letting go of sentimental items, the act of editing is definitely an emotional one… but the result is freedom!!

We spend so much time and money removing toxins from our bodies with organic food, vitamins and de-tox baths where we should also be mindful of the toxins in our envionment that we have control of.  Being aware of and taking care of our environment is a benefit to us and future generations too.  Take care of what you can and remind yourself not to not stress over what you can’t control in the environment.  The world is stressful enough… we don’t need to add to it.

1.  http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=EnHYPERLINK “http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=En&n=05DF7A37-1″&HYPERLINK “http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=En&n=05DF7A37-1″n=05DF7A37-1

2.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2367656/

3. https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/manufacturers/philosophy/phylosophy_start.html

4. http://www.global-standard.org/the-standard/general-description.html

5.  Smith, Rick “Slow Death By Rubber Duck – How the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health”, Toronto:  Alfred A.Knopf Canada, 2009 (page 96-130)

6.  Smith, Rick “Slow Death By Rubber Duck – How the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health”, Toronto:  Alfred A.Knopf Canada, 2009   (page 69-95)   (http://slowdeathbyrubberduck.com/CAN/)

7.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078137/