These stores help you lead a greener, healthier—and more stylish—life
More DIYers than ever before are seeking out earth-friendly home-improvement options. But even green consumers keen on the concept can be cagey about committing until they've laid eyes—and hands—on the products. Now, entrepreneurs across the country are addressing consumers' concerns, and reinventing the traditional home store in the process. If you're contemplating an eco-renovation, hop in your hybrid and head to one of these green showrooms.
"When I bought my house, I wanted to make it as green as possible," says Todd Ballantyne about his home, an 1876 one-room schoolhouse in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. "Back then the information wasn't readily available and getting products in was even more difficult." Out of necessity, Ballantyne embarked on his own crash course in eco-remodeling, teaching himself to distinguish between truly green and 'green-washed' products. In so doing, he identified a need in his own community—a need he decided to address.
The result was the Environmental Home Store, a part-time enterprise for Ballantyne located in the converted garage adjacent to his home. Its showroom, open by appointment, is stocked with planet-friendly products—zero-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, Earth Plaster, reclaimed wood cabinetry, and FSC-certified hardwood flooring, to name a few. The store features both residential and commercial applications, as well as providing contracting and interior design services.
Recently, Ballantyne expanded his business, opening a new location with regular business hours in Philadelphia's Mt. Airy neighborhood. “Green building,” he says, “is just a great way to put a softer footprint on the planet.”
On the other side of the country in Berkeley, California, Taja di Leonardi and Nina Boeddeker are also growing their business, Ecohome Improvement. "We just expanded our showroom to include a 1,200-additional-square-foot design studio," says di Leonardi, who holds an MBA in sustainable management. "We're looking to take not only green to the next level, but also the ways in which people create 'home.'"
The Ecohome Improvement partners have created what they call an 'interactive design bar' where customers can conceptualize their new kitchen using full-size samples of the countertops, tiles, hardware and flooring the company sells (and delivers in a biodiesel truck). They also offer showroom installations made with wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, bamboo, formaldehyde-free case goods, and water-based finishes.
Owner Rachel Maloney of Minneapolis, Minnesota, conceived of the Natural Built Home store while sitting in traffic during her daily commute in 2005. "I knew that a showroom would need to quickly follow," she recalls, "as the materials and products were something that customers wanted to see, touch and feel before purchasing." Since Earth Day in 2006, that showroom has been "our chance to let customers see that building green is beautiful," she says. "Whether you have a traditional craftsman home or a modern loft, there are environmentally friendly products available that will fit your decor."
Her merchandise ranges from cork and natural linoleum flooring to low-VOC paints and safe household cleansers. Among products shown here are Eleek recycled-metal sinks and IceStone recycled glass countertops.
Of equal importance to Maloney is the opportunity the showroom affords her to dispel what she considers a common misconception about the expense of eco-friendly construction. "A challenge of any green building supply showroom is customers' belief that green products cost more than traditional products," she says. "Green products don't cost more; just like any store, we have products in many different price categories. In fact, over the long term, utilizing green building techniques will save money that would ordinarily be spent on energy, water and health care."
The store hosts free classes on topics like carbon-footprint reduction, as well as low-cost seminars in earth-friendly skills like clay plaster application.
For fifteen years, the Environmental Home Center (soon to be renamed "ecohaus") has been helping Seattle residents find a sustainable way to build. Their showroom includes installations featuring products like Neil Kelly cabinets made from FSC-certified wood and recycled materials, American Pride solvent-free paint, and PaperStone composite surfacing made with recycled paper and non-petroleum based resins, all shown here.
Environmental Home Center's mission is realized not just through its products, but through the learning opportunities it offers. The company's website is a resource for information ranging from design advice (e.g., tips on creating a child's room) to methodology (e.g., how to oil a floor by hand) to finances (e.g., going green on a budget) to referrals (e.g., finding an eco-savvy builder)—plus a full calendar of workshops and events. "Design by design, product by product, project by project, our choices build our children's future," says founder Matt Freeman-Gleason. "Our goal is to provide the best choices possible for today and for tomorrow."
With branches in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York and, soon, New Jersey, as well as distribution hubs from Maine to Virginia, Green Depot bills itself as the largest supplier of environmentally friendly building materials on the East Coast. "Our one central goal," says company president Carmen Arguelles, "is to make green building products and services readily accessible and cost competitive, so that green living can be easy, worthwhile, and gratifying."
"By no means should you consider 'going green' an all or nothing endeavor. It can just as well be baby steps," says Arguelles. "A place to start is cleaning supplies. Just once, set aside your highly toxic traditional cleaning supplies and replace them, for just a few pennies more, with natural cleansers. The first thing you'll notice is that they clean just as well." Along with a range of cleaning supplies, Green Depot sells anti-allergen dust spray and home test kits (shown here in their Brooklyn store) for potential in-home toxins like mold, radon, and lead. The company's building supplies include the popular Ultra Touch Insulation, made from recycled cotton denim.
Of course, large green companies are still the exception; the rule remains smaller grass-roots organizations—in the case of Straw Sticks & Bricks in Kansas City, Missouri, and Lincoln, Nebraska, literally grassroots. Owner Jen Carlson formed the company in 2001, soon after she and partner Josh Shear completed construction of their straw-bale home. "We realized that there were no local or regional sources for sustainable materials in the Midwest," she recalls, "so we set out to bring these options to our community. Green building materials won't be used if they are hard to find."
Among the products pictured here in their Kansas City store are bamboo tambour wall paneling, Kirei Board made of sorghum-stalk agricultural waste, reclaimed barn wood used for trim, natural linoleum Marmoleum Click flooring, and particle-board stand-in Dakota Burl, which is made from sunflower seed hulls.
In both of her small showrooms, Carlson takes a soft-sell approach. "We don't try to push green on our customers," she says. "Rather, we see any small change or substitution to be beneficial. Some of our customers come in because they like the look of the materials, and green is a secondary benefit. But we also love to educate our clients, because once you know about the toxicity in your environment, and what's used in everyday conventional materials, it's hard to ignore."
Shown here, atop the cork parquet of the Kansas City showroom, are Interface Flor carpet tiles made from a corn-based plastic. The counter in the background is finished in American Clay. The Pulp Stools, made from recycled cardboard, have, unfortunately, been discontinued.
Education is also a key concern at Eco Design Resources of Santa Cruz and Redwood City, California. "The availability of green building products is at an all-time high," says general manager Scott Farmer. "But no matter how many seminars and workshops we hold, it always seems like there are additional audiences who are unaware of their choices. So we're here to make sure that the public is aware of the many ecologically sensitive choices they have when it comes time to select materials."
Among products shown here are Flor modular carpet tiles made with recycled materials, AFM Safecoat low- and no-VOC paints, FSC-certified EcoTimber flooring products, TerraMai salvaged hardwood, and Eco Cork flooring. "Cork is great because it doesn't require felling a tree," says Eco Design Resources' Linda Tim. "It can be sustainably harvested every ten to eleven years by peeling the bark from the cork tree. Some great benefits of it are: it's acoustically and thermally insulating, fire resistant, softer on the joints, and you never have to worry about termites!"
Originate Natural Building Materials Showroom in Tucson, Arizona, specializes in residential and commercial interior finishes that are non-toxic, durable, and made from natural and renewable resources. But it offers some one-of-a-kind merchandise, as well. "We also feature salvaged items," says founder Natasha Winnik, "including historic panel doors, brass door hardware, sinks, windows—even recycled 55-gallon jojoba-oil barrels for rainwater harvesting."
Winnik is also a booster of other green businesses—in her region and beyond. "Based on my own research," she says, "I compiled a list of about 75 showrooms across the U.S. and Canada." Check out Winnik's green showrooms list. There's bound to be a green showroom in your area.