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Feature: Going Green

Photo by Gary Payne

When you think “green,” do you think of hiking boots and granola bars? It’s not always easy being green, but it can be beautiful.

When thinking about the environment wasn’t in vogue or Vogue, as recently as a decade ago, Laura Birns saw how designers could do their share to promote sustainability by using renewable products such as low-energy lighting and nontoxic paints. She began researching materials that qualify as environmentally green. New design criteria and products had to be learned and sourced.

“Green design is here to stay,” says Birns, who has based her solo practice in Solana Beach since 1989. “I no longer go into a project without a green plan.”

“Green design” has become the interior-design industry mantra. Eco-friendly materials are in.

“All designers have a wonderful opportunity for growth,” she says, “in creativity, as well as in planning and design.”

It’s challenging work, she concedes. The environmentally friendly residences and furnishings on these pages reflect some of her best techniques and solutions.

Designers must take the lead, be willing to discover if products conform to green standards and know what those standards are; they continually evolve as more information and resources become available. Keeping current is critical. A designer can make the difference by showing homeowners how to maximize energy efficiencies in new or remodeled homes.

But preaching green doesn’t mean a homeowner will buy into the plan; they’ve got to like the look.

“Ultimately, it is up to the interior-design community to redefine the design standards,” Birns says. “The designer must demonstrate how sustainable design creates elegance, beauty and function.”

She notes that the majority of the professional design community looks to the standards developed by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), of the U.S. Green Building Council, to define green design. It is the goal of green design to balance environmental responsibility with occupant comfort and sensitivity to the community. Green design considers the long-term effects of material selections, energy usage, water availability and indoor and outdoor air quality. An interior designer can make a significant impact by incorporating knowledge of lighting alternatives—such as planning with natural light and choice of materials.

Our government is giving green-consciousness a big push. Building codes are changing to meet the green challenge. This is most evident in the energy sector—that is, lighting and water conservation. Showers have low-flow valves. Window manufacturers have changed their standards to incorporate low-E, dual-glazed windows for greater energy efficiency. And manufacturers are producing Energy Star appliances that use less fuel to operate.

Green products are more in demand, changing the market. In the new millennium, good design includes environmental responsibility.

Laura Birns is one designer who’s seen the green light.

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