When building their home in Lexington, a posh suburb 11 miles from downtown Boston, Craig and Jeannette decided that normal standards of building would no longer do after Jeannette was diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity, a chronic disease caused by an inability to tolerate environmental chemicals. From lumber to furniture, they started looking for less toxic alternatives. The result? A traditional New England home with a modern flair that included bamboo flooring, wheatboard cabinets, low-VOC paint, recycled glass tiling, and toxin-free furniture.
Kearney coveted a Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams couch and set of chairs (left), which use sustainable woods for the backing and carcinogen-free foam. The pieces blend perfectly with the Flokati shag rug made from 100 percent New Zealand wool, a renewable and biodegradable resource.
The couple bought their organic mattress from Furnature, a Massachusetts-based company that uses no chemicals, dyes, vinyl, or formaldehyde, and ensures that each of its upholstered pieces is recyclable and biodegradable. Everything from the sheets to the curtains were "safe washed" (a combination of baking soda and white vinegar devised by Kearney) in an effort to remove some of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Inspired by a design they saw at a friend's home, the couple created an inlaid, underlit, recycled-glass-tile mosaic "rug" for the front entryway. "The most ironic part about the whole experience was finding out halfway through the project that the designer was color-blind," Kearney says.
The custom-made credenza features wheatboard, a naturally occurring straw waste product binded with formaldehyde-free resin. "We have very few items in the house made entirely of wood," says Kearney. "Instead we opted for wheatboard and veneers, which cuts wood consumption down by a great deal."
Kaya loves to play in the craft room. Her art supplies are stored in cabinets made by Ikea, a company that curbs its environmental impact by not using wood from "intact natural forests or from forests with a clearly defined high conservation value." Ikea also has strict standards for using formaldehyde.
For the household appliances, Kearney took to Miele's environmental philosophy. The company's energy-saving dishwasher cuts down on the amount of water and detergents used. It's also mostly made with metal for easy recycling -- although that won't be necessary for a while. Each of Miele's appliances, including the family's oven and food warmer, is designed to last at least 20 years.
All of the wheatboard cabinets with wood veneers were custom-designed to keep clutter (and the recycling bins) out of sight, a principal concept in feng shui.
Kearney couldn't find nontoxic fabric shades. In the kitchen, she opted for ones made of bamboo, reed, and grass from Hunter Douglas.
"We felt that, if we were going to spend more than two hours at a time on a piece of furniture, it had to be organic," Kearney explains. So for the living room, she custom-designed the chocolate brown organic sofas from Furnature, which have a velvety suede feel to them.
The living room's many eco-accents include wheatboard shelving, the hand-carved Root of the Earth Bowl and Blackbirds of Happiness from VivaTerra, a ficus plant for purifying the air, and a nylon-free wool rug.
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