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Green Design - Couched in Green

By Sarah Van Arsdale on May 02, 2008 Green Design sofa

Fabulous design. Cutting edge looks. Interesting twists in color, fabric, and texture. These are all elements inherent in design that's ecologically sound. Yes, your creativity can have free reign even as you make choices that help protect the planet. Increasingly, manufacturers are creating products that have minimal impact on the environment, whether because they're made from organically-grown cotton or because they're made with renewable resources.

In our "Decorating Green" column we'll look at a sustainable, low-impact element of design in each issue of "Designer Monthly." We hope these articles will help us all help the planet and the many creatures that share it with us.

You may think that green design is all about wall paint, or that "organic" is only a concern about the food we eat. But green design is a concept with far-reaching implications. One good place to start is by considering the living room, and how you can make it more green — without dipping into pistachio wall paint.

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There are three main considerations in looking at green design. One is where the stuff of the furniture comes from — are slow-growing trees used in creating it, or is it made of renewable resources, for example. Second, what is the impact on the environment of the item in question — for example, how much electricity does it use. And the third consideration is how healthy the item is for the people (and pets) using it.

When looking at green design for living rooms, we came across some interesting information regarding that third consideration, when looking at upholstered furniture.

It turns out the stuff that makes upholstered furniture flame-retardant is not that good for human consumption. We know it's a bad idea to eat anything you can't spell, and nor is it such a great idea to have your sofa saturated with stuff you can't even pronounce. Of course, no one wants their sofa catching fire — and we're not advocating giving up all types of protection from this very real hazard. Green Design Chair

The flame-retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, used in upholstered furniture, have come under scrutiny by those concerned with toxins in the home. The EU has already banned some of them, and California is set to do the same this year.

The good news is that you can find upholstered furniture that is PBDE-free. IKEA, for one, promises its upholstered furniture is PBDE-free. Again, we do advise you to look into how flammable the furniture is if it isn't treated — there is no sense is trading a short-term hazard for a long-term one.

In your search for green living room furniture, you can also look for furniture that is made with organic cotton, filled with organic cotton batting, and made with untreated woods. Furnature is one such maker.

Furnature has a line of upholstered furniture that would suit any traditional style of design, while sparing the earth. It has an elegant, clean look without being overly fussy.

Branch Home Cork Chaise

Another thing to look for is living room furniture that isn't upholstered at all, which gives you a clean living environment and a modern, sleek look at the same time. We found this chaise lounge from Branch Home to be particularly appealing.

It's made of cork — a renewable material, so it also addresses that first concern we mentioned when looking to buy green. It's also impervious to rot and mold, which is important for anyone with allergies.

When choosing living room furniture, it can help to think in new ways about the living room itself. Maybe an overstuffed sofa isn't for you, and you'd be happier with something made of recycled materials that you'd never dream could transform into furniture. Or, you may want a traditional look, but without the hazards of treated furniture.

Luckily, thanks to the designers who are working hard to develop lines that meet our needs of comfort and environmental responsibility, you can find what you want — and do the planet a favor at the same time.