2010 Idea Home: Smart Ideas for Eco-Friendly Decorating | Midwest Living
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2010 Idea Home: Smart Ideas for Eco-Friendly Decorating

We redesigned the Museum of Science and Industry's green Smart Home in Chicago. Step inside for ideas to make your home greener, whether you're building, remodeling or decorating.

Versatile outdoor living

Idea Home: A patio and trellis extending from the kitchen connect the detached garage to the house. A second modern see-through Clopay garage door on the “back” end of the garage opens to enlarge the patio entertaining area.

Your home: Think outside of the box when planning outdoor living spaces. Connect and expand usable space with trellises, fencing, pathways, simple decking squares, etc. Could your garage expand your outdoor living space?

A very Smart Home

Idea Home: This slideshow features the decorative elements that make the Smart Home live and look good. But there are a lot of behind-the-scenes aspects that set the groundwork for the home's eco-friendly theme. Construction of the Smart Home included the following energy-saving features:

— Modular prefabrication in a factory, which reduces wasted materials and speeds construction
— FSC-certified wood and fiber-cement board exterior
— Spray-in insulation, which is up to 50 percent more efficient than roll-in
— High-efficiency heating and cooling system
— CFL and LED lighting
— Insulating dual-panel, low-E glass windows and doors
— Water-conserving low-flow faucets and dual-flush toilets
— Rain water and gray water collection
— Wind turbine
— Solar roof panels
— Planted insulated roof
— Energy Star appliances

Your home: When upgrading or replacing systems in your home, check out green alternatives that might cost a little more now but offer substantial savings in the long run.

A natural direction

Idea Home: Earth herself inspired our redesign. Objects, images, forms, textures, materials and colors relating to nature fill the house. A coat tree made from a tree trunk and close-up nature photography introduce the natural theme at the front entry.

Your home: Choosing an overall style, look or theme up front naturally leads to coordinating and complementary colors, fabrics, furniture styles, accessories and more.

Responsible style

Idea Home: In the living room, a driftwood lamp, a wool rug, a fireplace that runs on denatured alcohol, and art highlighting threatened prairie grasses create a clean and natural effect. The fact that the furniture is made in the USA from sustainable wood, recycled steel, soy-base cushions and organic fabrics means this room is kind to nature and a reflection of its beauty.

Your home: Even small steps, such as noting the materials used in a home-decorating item, help you make eco-friendly choices. Our jazzy throw pillows are made from recycled scraps of cotton.

Connecting spaces

Idea Home: Sets of 12-foot-wide folding French doors open to allow breezes to cool the main level during good weather. Colors from the outdoors, such as earthy browns, mineral grays and stone neutrals, are on the walls. We used environmentally friendly zero-VOC paint throughout the house. Chandeliers made from painted twigs and outfitted with energy-saving GE LED bulbs continue the nature theme.

Your home: Create visual continuity by keeping one color scheme flowing through connected spaces. Here, a natural marble floor unifies the living and dining areas.

Nature's accents

Idea Home: A table/bench made out of wood salvaged from teardown buildings stays eco-friendly because it was finished with nontoxic water- and soy-base finishes. It provides an attractive display space for bits of nature: twisted tree roots, rock geodes and sculptural willow branches in a vase.

Your home: Look for natural items to use as accessories. Shells, pinecones, rocks, dried flowers, branches, sand in glass vases, etc. -- all add life to manufactured decor.

A second life

Idea Home: A 100-year-old burr oak on museum grounds fell over during a storm. We reclaimed the wood to make a striking cement-and-wood dining table top, along with a coffee table in the living room, headboard in the master bedroom and three “stump” tables in the lounge area.

Your home: Before buying new, consider giving a second life to existing materials, such as vintage furniture, salvaged building materials or wood from downed trees.

Eco-friendly kitchen

Idea Home: Our kitchen shows that eco-friendly choices can have style. These rich-color cabinets are made from sustainably harvested wood, formaldehyde-free particleboard and zero-VOC sealant. The countertops were made in Chicago from locally recycled glass. All Bosch appliances exceed Energy Star requirements.

Your home: When you replace an appliance, buy Energy Star-rated options. Energy Star products saved consumers nearly $17 billion on their utility bills in 2009, along with conserving massive amounts of energy.

Entertaining space

Idea Home: The open design of the kitchen and family room/lounge areas makes a relatively small space function like a large one. A roomy island divides the space and works as additional prep area or as a buffet when entertaining.

Your home: Choose versatile furniture for small spaces. Instead of a sofa, we chose two slipper chairs and a woven side chair for the flexibility in arranging furniture to accommodate entertaining friends or watching TV.

A TV with benefits

Idea Home: Not only is our flat-screen TV Energy Star-compliant, but it has a real-time whole-house energy tracker that identifies high and low usage periods of heat and electricity, offering an opportunity to control costs. It also tracks and stores data about energy (stored and used) supplied by the solar roof panels and wind turbine. A built-in cabinet under the TV offers extra seating and much-needed storage in this compact space.

Your home: Consider installing a programmable thermostat so you can preset heating and air-conditioning at low- and peak-need times during the day to maximize efficiency.

Moveable convenience

Idea Home: A rolling cart made of naturally finished, sustainably harvested oak stores kitchen overflow items and can easily be rolled onto the patio to serve as a buffet for outdoor summer entertaining.

Your home: When furnishing small rooms, make sure furniture can serve double-duty, by either being moveable or having additional function and/or storage.

Calming ambience

Idea Home: Soothing soft green on the walls, a sustainable bamboo floor and platform bed, organic linens, a renewable wool rug, and free-flowing natural wood headboard and nightstand create a relaxing retreat in the master bedroom.

Your home: Nature tends to calm and sooth us, so promote a good night sleep by decorating your bedroom with nature's colors and materials.

Natural accents

Idea Home: Grass-cloth wallpaper naturally accents one wall in the master bedroom. The dresser is sustainably harvested oak finished with Earth-friendly products. Our organic design continues with a lamp made from a slice of tree trunk, a free-form piece of root, and two photo prints of fern and tree leaves.

Your home: We took the color scheme of this room from the colors of the treetops outside its windows by drawing from leaf and bark colors. Find inspiration in one object or one element of nature, which will naturally lead you to color choices that work together.

A green bath

Idea Home: The clean lines and soothing colors of the master bath make this a retreat worth getting out of bed for. But its smart use of resources is a wake-up call to how great looks and eco-friendly choices work together. Dual sinks are made of concrete and recycled toilet porcelain; cabinets are FSC-certified wood; a dual-flush toilet saves as much as 25,000 gallons of water a year; and low-flow faucets and showerhead cut water consumption by 30 percent. The marble flooring was salvaged from renovation of a Chicago building. Even our wallpaper is green, with real dried magnolia leaves creating the pattern.

Your home: Install aerators on faucets to reduce water flow; this is a change just about anyone can execute. Even a small change like turning off the water when brushing your teeth saves 4 gallons of water each time.

Down to business

Idea Home: Recycled and recyclable furniture equips our home office, decorated in subtle neutrals. The desktop is (almost ironically) made from recycled office paper. The moveable file cabinets are made from locally grown sustainable wood and provide flexible office storage that can be rolled to where it's needed. And the chair is completely recyclable. Even our storage baskets are made with eco-friendly water hyacinth applied over recycled chipboard or rolled newspapers.

Your home: Be sure your computer and printer/fax machines are as energy efficient as possible. We connected ours to a Smart Tower that automatically powers down outlets when not in use, reducing standby power by up to 85 percent.

Child's play

Idea Home: In this room, stuffed animals and wall-size murals of endangered/protected species (polar bears and seal pups) bring attention to the effects of global warming and teach children how important it is to be environmentally responsible.

Your home: Create a safe environment for your children with choices like our bamboo chest, FSC-certified birch play table and papier-mache lamp base (all painted with low-VOC paints).

Sleepy time

Idea Home: Opposite the play area shown in the previous slide, our nursery/playroom includes a cozy sleeping spot. Organic bedding adds soft comfort to the bamboo crib. The nearby stool, cleverly crafted to look like a tree stump, is papier-mache painted with low-VOC white paint.

Your home: Art doesn't have to be expensive. We clipped polar animal photos out of a book and framed them in white for art in this playful room.

Nature bath

Idea Home: On one wall of this bath, a life-size mural of aspen trees in winter captures the feeling of standing in a forest. Warm-hue paint (zero-VOC, of course) and two tones of wood accents keep the scheme from going frigid. The simple but stunning countertop is made from 55 percent recycled glass.

Your home: You can go green even with your choice of accents. Here, we selected marble accessories and spun-bamboo towels.

Hobby space

Idea Home: Under the stairs, we carved out an area for a nature photography enthusiast. Side-by-side nightstands hold supplies and a collection of old cameras. An easel fits at the end, along with a chair, which of course has an FSC-certified wood frame, soy-base cushions and cotton fabric. To help keep the area bright, a full-length mirror leans in the corner and reflects sunlight that slices through the open-riser staircase. The mirror frame is made from lumber scraps destined for landfills.

Your home: Before you decide to move or add on to your house, think about ways you can use the existing space better. Here, we show how even a sliver of space can be outfitted to accommodate favorite activities.

Versatile outdoor living

Idea Home: A patio and trellis extending from the kitchen connect the detached garage to the house. A second modern see-through Clopay garage door on the “back” end of the garage opens to enlarge the patio entertaining area.

Your home: Think outside of the box when planning outdoor living spaces. Connect and expand usable space with trellises, fencing, pathways, simple decking squares, etc. Could your garage expand your outdoor living space?

Eco-smart landscaping

Idea Home: In addition to having a green roof garden, the Smart Home gardens contain eco-friendly features such as:
— Native plants: Proven Winner plants adapted to our climate that require little upkeep
— Water control: Permeable pavers, rain gardens and bioswales (shallow depressions in the ground) to ease water run-off; self-watering planters with reservoirs from Lechuza to help control water usage
— Rain gathering: Barrels to collect rainwater to irrigate plants
— Composting: An area to compost kitchen and yard waste
— Outdoor furniture: Pieces made from recyclable resin wicker and wood grown on managed plantations
— Maximizing space: Getting more green in a small space by using trellises, caged and staked tomatoes, container gardens, raised beds and vertical planters.

Your home: Whether choosing a plant or planning an entire garden, think about how your choices will affect care, water, fertilizer and yield (flowers or produce). Plants that require a minimum of care have a long-lasting positive effect on the environment.

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