Outfitting a Starter Apartment

On Thursday, I took a good friend’s daughter on a mission of mercy:  we went to Ikea to shop for her first apartment. We arrived at Ikea at 3:10, and by 5:20 we had loaded the car with 2 dressers, a table, four chairs, lamps, pots and pans, and various organizational stuff.  Plus during that time, we picked out bookcases, a sofa, and a reading chair to buy later.

As a designer and mother of three, I’ve set up more than a few first apartments. In doing so, I’ve developed a list of go-to basics. Given the time of year with parents getting their kids off to college and first jobs,  I thought it might be helpful to share my approach to outfitting a starter apartment.

1. Make a list of what you need. (You should know how large or how small of a space you’re furnishing. King beds don’t fit into twin bed size rooms.)

2. ‘Shop’ with family and friends first. See what others are getting ready to discard or replace. If it’s on your list, offer to take it off their hands. You can suggest to them to look at it as an opportunity to buy that new chair or desk or flatware they’ve coveted.

3. Get the basics first.  You can add stuff later.  No one really needs as much as they think they do.

4. My list (see below–by store) of durable, well-designed, not too pricey furnishings leans to simple, comfortable basics. The tables are more contemporary. But it’s easy to mix simply designed pieces with found items and cast-offs to come up with personality.


bookcases:  It’s Billy Billy Billy– they’re the best bookcases. Simple style, various sizes, and add-ons like doors. A basic Billy bookcase 42″H x 32″W x 11″D is $59.99.

sofa:  Ektorp slipcovered sofa for $399.  It’s a very comfortable basic. Get the white slipcover; it’s easy to wash and easily can go contemporary or country with a change of pillows.

coffee & side tables:  Lack are my favorites.  It’s Ikea’s knockoff of the Parson’s table and you can get it for an unbelievable $7.99 (side table) to $39.99 (coffee table).

reading chair & ottoman:  Poang (ranges from $99 to $199 depending on fabric choice). It may not look like it but it’s one of the most comfortable chairs.

lighting: my new favorite lamp is Ledet in white, table version $39.99 and floor $49.99.  It has a movable arm and a circular shade. I also like Stranne table lamp( $39.99) with fun LED tentacles.

bed frame:  Malm, the low ($119) and high ($199) headboard versions are strong and simply designed. (Unless you’re young and small, buy your mattresses elsewhere. You can use a regular mattress and box spring on Malm.)

dresser:  Malm wins again with six versions (48″H x 32″W x 19″D is $149) in five wood colors.

dining or work table: Bjursta (the $149 model)  is my number one choice for a table with multiple lives.  It is 50″ x 36″ (60″ x 36″ with the two side extensions pulled out).  It’s the perfect size for a kitchen table or worktable.

dining chairs:  Gilbert in white at $39.99 is sturdy, modern, and stackable.


office chair: sit in the adjustable Wrap chair $199.

upholstered dining chairs:  if you’re looking for something less utilitarian, the Porter slipcovered chair is $129 now on sale for $99.

side table: love the Martini ($129) in persimmon, white, silver, and green.

bed linens:  the hand blocked Leaf and Jaipur quilts ($99 for full size) resemble John Robshaw’s stuff.


bed linens:  love the DwellStudio line at $59.99 to $69.99.


desk: go to the Go-Cart desk for $149.

file drawer cart:  TPS file cabinet $159.

side tables:  look at the Formosa tray table in white or orange. It’s a dash of style for $49.95.

accent and floor pillows:  great graphics here.


accent and floor pillows:  take your pick.

counter stool:  the selection changes but they usually have the Lawson backless at $69.99. You can get them for less at Ikea but this is so sturdy you can stand on it.

dining table:  look at the ‘X’ table base for $119.95.  You can buy their glass top or you can be creative with your own.


lounge chair:  bring the outdoors in with the FSC Adirondack chair $169.96.


5. If you’re hankering after something that’s beyond your budget, look into used furniture places.

Last year when we moved our oldest to Tucson, we found a used office furniture store, Anderson’s, where he picked up an almost new Aeron desk chair for less than half of the original price.  He also found some large black & white framed photographs for the same price as Ikea prints.

Good luck! Let me know what your favorites are.

Phase Out of Incandescents Inspires Hoarding

100 watt bulbToday’s email brought a reminder about the timing for phasing out less efficient incandescent light bulbs. In California, we’re slighting ahead of the nationwide phase-out. CA stores are allowed to sell their existing stock of 100 watt incandescent light bulbs but then can sell only more energy-efficient CFLs, LEDs, and halogen incandescent bulbs. The rest of the US follows suit with the traditional 100 watt bulb in January 2012 (courtesy of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 explained at http://1.usa.gov/hifQix).

An interesting byproduct of the phase out was reported by the NY Times as some decorators, designers, businesses, and homeowners stockpile incandescent bulbs. (Check out the story http://nyti.ms/mPyY8f.)

However, the incandescent bulb is not extinct.  It’s just going to be more energy-efficient. The new halogen 72 watt incandescent bulbs will produce the same level of light (1490 to 2600 lumens) as today’s 100 watt incandescent bulbs and use 25% less energy. Equivalent CFLs use 75% less energy and LEDs offer 75% to 80% energy savings.

If people were aware of what’s on the LED horizon they might now feel a little more comfortable about alternatives to incandescent lamps. The color of the light is so much better. The prices of the bulbs are coming down (to as low as $13 & $14 with a guarantee for 5 years). Plus there’s great new bulb shapes that have inspired me to design new types of light fixtures.

Here’s the phase-out schedule for the incandescent A19 lamps (the bulbs we’ve all grown up with):  January 1, 2012 – 100 watts,  January 1, 2013 – 75 watts, and  January 1, 2014 – 60 and 40 watts.

Look Beyond ‘Undecorating’ to Authentic Design

There’s been a lot of coverage about un-decorating and un-design in the past few weeks. Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal profiled a new design book called Undecorate” by Christiane Lemieux.  Imagine clutter,  disarray — our lives at their worst! Headlines can be so deceiving. The New York Times talks about the demise of shelter magazines and polished decorating style in the face of our economic downturn. The Wall Street Journal points to the rise of “informal, accessible, personal design”. Some of the responses to Lemieux’s book have been disparaging and reference boring, ill-kept, or hoarding environments. That’s not what she’s really talking about. Lemieux says, “It has nothing to do with not being able to decorate. It celebrates fearless personal style.”

I could quibble about semantics– fearless?– but . . . I agree with the concept.  Great design is about fit and honesty.  It  is authentic.  The best environments support the functions of living and working in ways that make the people who live there or use the space feel good.  Design should be seamless and specific.  It should support creativity and productivity.  And anything else that’s your objective.

Joan and I are working on a number of projects right now.  While they span a range of environments and venues, they share our passion for authentic design. Plus our dedication to incorporating green — sustainable strategies and products.

In addition to writing on green design and building, look for upcoming posts on How to Design Your Life — simple steps to finding your authentic style. environment.

Life Cycle Impact of Solar Goes Beyond Hot Water

Jimmy Carter with White House solar panelsIf you didn’t read it (and I hadn’t until a friend emailed it to me), the Scientific American article ‘Where Did the Carter Solar Panels Go?’ is a sweet haiku to U.S. energy policy and practices.

The journey of the 32 solar panels installed in 1979 to heat water at the White House mirrors the meanderings of our commitment to renewable energy sources.  The solar thermal collectors were used at the White House from 1979 until 1986 when the still operational panels were dismantled and put into storage. The article by David Biello chronicles the rescue and refurbishment of 16 panels by Peter Marmach who brought them to Unity College in Maine, and the eventual disposition of some of the other panels:  one to The Smithsonian, one to the Carter Library, and most recently to the Solar Science and Technology Museum in Dezhou, China. This last destination is particularly noteworthy, considering the gap between the US and China’s commitment to the development and use of solar technology.

In the middle of the 1970’s oil crisis, the Carter administration set a goal to derive 20% of U.S. energy from renewable sources by 2000.  Today, the US gets only about 7% of its energy from renewable sources (with less than .1% from solar).  China has reached 10% renewable energy supplies. But there’s a lot more to the development of renewable energy sources–existing systems that make retrofits more expensive, political agendas, technological developments, etc.

The comments at the end of the article, pros and cons on the true energy costs and savings involved with the manufacture and operation of solar systems, prompted a little more research. What is the cost/environmental impact of photo voltaic (PV) solar?

At Columbia University, the Center for Life Cycle Analysis researches life cycle assessment of solar PV systems (and nuclear energy). The materials used in the manufacture of PV cells include monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium selenide. I’m not a scientist or mathematician but as I skimmed the reports from a PV conference in October, I gleaned from the presentations that the manufacture of PV cells is becoming cleaner and more efficient (implying a degree of dirtiness and inefficiency).

Life Cycle Thinking - each stage of a product there is resource consumption. from NIST

Life Cycle Thinking--from NIST

For example, I did not know that the manufacture of PV cells (and all integrated circuit manufacturing) produces a greenhouse gas called NF3 with a global warming potential about 17,000 times greater than carbon dioxide. However, the damage from the NF3 produced during manufacturing is offset by the generation of clean solar energy.  Vasilis Fthenakis, head of PV research at Brookhaven National Laboratory, determined that a solar panel has to operate for a minimum of four months to balance its fabrication emissions.  Also, managing the end of life costs for PV cells through recycling, especially local recycling, of tellurium, and the development of thinner solar cells, leads to lower life cycle costs.

A statement in one of the reports about return on investment summarized the solar issue for me:  “PV takes years to give back all the electricity it can produce, while the energy investments to deploy it largely have to be made up front.”

Solar PV technology is a complicated issue because every technology–every action–has repercussions. And we can’t possibly know the consequences of everything. But in looking at the life cycle costs of PV, using solar comes out on the plus side.

For me, solar is a reasonable and desirable leap of faith.

a whachamacallit . . . heat island?

Last week as I reviewed LEED strategies with a client, I mentioned heat islands.  My client looked confused.

Basically, the term describes built-up areas that are hotter in temperature that nearby, less developed areas.  Buildings, walkways (and other hardscape), and roads replace open land and consequently these developed areas retain more heat.  The EPA estimates that  urban heat islands can be 50 to 90 degrees higher than the air temperature. This puts greater demands on cooling systems, and the increase in energy production in turn creates more air pollutants.  Heat islands can also impair water quality — higher stormwater temperatures affect water ecosystems.

So how we do to reduce the impact of heat islands? LEED and EPA strategies are similar:  add trees and vegetation, install ‘cool’ or vegetative ‘green’ roofing, use exterior materials with an SRI of at least 29 (SRI means solar reflectance index and indicates the material’s ability to reflect heat), and put parking under cover or underground.

What’s the strategy on this project? Trees. Lots of native/adaptive trees. In this case, acacia iteaphylla.

Trying Hard to Be Green

When we thought about names for our new venture — an interior design and building consulting firm with a ‘mission’ of broadening the adoption of green building, we toyed with using surnames (traditional), clever names (so clever I forget) and obvious names.  I guess we chose an obvious one:  LIVING WORKING GREEN.  Choosing a name involves dealing with perceptions, connotations, and plain confusion.  Some people said not to include the word green in the name because it would turn people off.  We felt strongly about identifying ourselves as concerned about our community and our planet.  But I must admit the word green can be confusing.

What does green mean? It’s a babel of concepts: earth friendly, eco-aware, eco-friendly, ecologically sensitive, ecologically sound, energy efficient, environmentally sensitive, high performance, and sustainable.  Basically, ‘green’ is shorthand for practices, products, and strategies, that, at best, have positive environmental impacts, and, at worst, minimize the negative ones.

Sustainable Research (partnering with local  USGBC chapters in the US and with the Alberta chapter of Canada Green Building Council),  conducted research of attitudes toward and the market for green building among 550 building industry professionals in three areas, Ohio, the North Carolina Triangle region, and Alberta, Canada.

The key findings are:  about 80% said their clients had ‘somewhat embraced’ the message of green building; 46% said they had the in-house capability to respond to green building market needs; energy efficiency and operating cost reductions are primary motivators (health and productivity are the least important); more than half felt that green building adds costs (it really doesn’t but I’ll tackle that in another posting); more than half also felt that green building offers a significant ROI; green certifications are confusing; the word green is confusing; and the communication of the benefits of green building is less than satisfactory.

It means green building is at the tipping point. It is being embraced by the mainstream. Slowly. . . with confusion. . . but definitely.

Mad about LEDs

I am a big fan of recessed LED light fixtures.  LEDs are about 85% more efficient than incandescent bulbs and they don’t contain mercury (like CFLs do).   I’ve tested different LED products.  I’ve used recessed LEDs and cove LEDs in new construction and retrofits.

Nearly five years ago, we retrofit recessed Lightolier housings with LEDs in the high use/high traffic areas of an environmentalist’s home:  I spoke with her a few weeks ago and asked her if she was still happy with the LEDs.  She is:  with the quality of the light and the lower electric bills.

Since 2006, there’s been a lot of development on the LED front.  We’re seeing new products, improved light quality, and lower energy use (higher lumens/watt).  In the last couple of design projects, I used Cree LEDs; one of their best products is their 6″ downlight.  It’s great in both commercial and residential use.

Carnegie Mellon Green Design Institute did some research for the DOE on the energy consumption of LEDs lamps (bulbs) over their life cycle (from raw material,extraction, materials and parts manufacturing, to product manufacturing, and use and end-of-life). They wanted to see if the lower energy demands of LED use was undercut  by higher energy requirements associated with the materials and manufacturing process.  Does the LED really save energy? While the research into LEDs is on-going, the preliminary results place the energy efficiency of 60 lumens/watt LEDs at a par with CFLs.  However, the mercury in CFLs is problematic.  But what about LEDs being safer than CFLs? A recently published study by UC Irvine showed that LEDs contain varying amounts of lead, arsenic, and a few other potentially hazardous substances and advocated reducing or eliminating these materials.

So as the development of higher lumens/watt LEDs moves forward,  LEDs come out cautiously ahead of CFLs.

Read this part if the last paragraph about research put you to sleep, click on this and see a big piece of news.  Just four weeks ago, Cree came out with a LED based A-lamp (the bulb screws into a regular incandescent fixture socket) and meets ENERGY STAR performance requirements.  I can’t wait to try it!

Clock Ticking on CA ‘Secret’ $$$ Giveaway

What’s the hurry? Give us a little more time. The Energy Upgrade California $100,000 makeover contest is only a month long — by the time people find out about it, it will be over.  Not a word of it in the LA Times.  One mention in the LA Daily News.  It must be a secret contest.

I applied yesterday. It wasn’t hard:  name, address, home’s total square feet, electrical, water, and gas costs for the past year.  I already had an on-line account with the DWP so all it took was totally up the monthly bills.  I didn’t have one for Southern California Gas, so that took a few more minutes.  And then I had to write a statement about what I’d do with the $50,000. Fly to Paris, take that cruise to Tahiti, oh . . . and pay off three kids’ college educations. But I figured out that what they really wanted to know is what energy efficient things I would do with the money. That list, too, is long. From insulation and rain cisterns and replacing all the light fixtures with LED recessed and tubes to new windows and photovoltaic integrated roofing.

While fewer entries increase my chances, I’m interested in getting as many people as possible on the energy bandwagon. Here’s the link for the info and application.

Also ticking away is the deadline for the Blu Dot SWAP.  It started on February 28 and ends on March 11. Blu Dot is one of my favorite furniture companies, a small Minneapolis group, who produces great contemporary designs.  I got an email from them earlier this week announcing the SWAP — seeking talents and odd collections in return for furniture.

Despite the immediacy of electronic communications — it still takes a while to put the brain in gear.

California Antes Up — $1.2 billion . . . Energy Upgrade California

Yesterday, I got an email to enter a $100,000 home makeover contest. (I wonder if we’re eligible . . . )  Los Angeles is launching a major energy efficiency campaign. To get publicity, there’s a contest (click here to enter) offering a $50,000 first prize with another $50,000 for runner-ups. But this isn’t the big news; this is:  Los Angeles County is offering up to $4,000 in rebates and incentives to home owners — all of which totals $1.2 billion. New construction is not eligible; neither are renters. Multi-family housing is supposed to be added to the program later.

But for now, it’s open to owners of existing single family homes. And during 2011, LA County hopes to fund 30,000 projects.

Joan and I were facilitators at an ACI energy upgrade conference in January where this program was the cornerstone of the conference. I can’t tell you how frightening what’s behind our walls is. I dearly want an infrared camera to photograph all the things we don’t really want to know about but affect both the energy efficiency of and the quality of the air in our homes. You would not believe how unhealthy some of our homes are. (Click on this to see infrared photo from Balance Point Home Performance.)

The day after the conference ended, I took the cover off the air intake vent not more than four feet from where I sleep. Here are photos. See the lovely bedroom.  

See the dirty air vent. Breathe deeply. (I’m applying as I write.)

(changing) bad behaviors

Still thinking about US Airlines’ attribution of the lack of on-board recycling to recalcitrant flight attendants . . . especially since recycling is one of the basic things most of us do most of the time.   One of the more interesting pieces of information I came across as Joan and I were preparing to launch LIVING WORKING GREEN was a study by Rachel James for UC Berkeley Office of Sustainability.

Rachel’s recap to changing behaviors about sustainability is:  attract attention, use persuasive messages and strategies, and  target your audience.  A lot of this information is basic marketing and promotion stuff but she applies it to sustainable issues by using examples, and citing economic and psychological studies.

So, we can attract attention by using surprise (talking trash cans), images (relate abstract to concrete visuals), emotions (judiciously), or telling stories (David and Goliath redux).   How do you think the air marshals would react to grass roots on-board recycling collection (passenger(s) volunteer to collect/dispose of recyclables)?

Rachel identifies 9 strategies:  association (with fun/pleasure), reciprocation (a sustainable goody), scarcity (limited time/offer), situational change, haggling, commitment, prompts (moms), feedback, and modeling (role models).  The Wall Street Journal echoes the latter in How to Nudge Consumers to Be Environmentally Friendly – WSJ.com.  Basically, peer pressure works.

Now what do any of this have to do with building design?  Our work involves developing ways to engage clients in sustainable behaviors.  I’m a LEED AP BD+C and I’ve talked to a number of LEED APs.  LEED is doing what was intentioned:  creating leadership standards and role models.   Yes, LEED (not green) is expensive and that affects its adoption.  The implementation of CAL Green which incorporates a lot of LEED precepts sets a new standard (ahh – situational change).   I’m interested in migrating LEED downward and extending the reach of green building design.  More later on this.

Oh, and one last caution from Rachel:  timing is key and be nice.