The Latest on Flame Retardants

Our recent projects in Woodside and Napa have very different styles, but share common requirements: Non-toxic finishes and no flame retardants. We continually update our eco-friendly database to track which furniture manufacturers are phasing out harmful flame retardants from their upholstery. Read on to learn which companies are headed in the right direction!

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Long-standing Green Companies
Cisco Home, Lee Industries, and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams have all been offering a greener alternative to traditional foam for years. Up until the new 2013 update to TB117 passed in California, Lee Industries and Mitchell Gold were using soy foam, which contain significantly less chemicals. Cisco Home takes it one step further by offering natural latex and organic wool options. Mitchell Gold and Lee Industries now use foam with no flame retardants.

On Board
• Crate & Barrel phased out flame retardants in early 2014 – kudos!
• DWR has phased out the use of flame retardants in their new pieces, but be sure to check if you are purchasing something from old stock which may still have chemicals.
• Room & Board stated that their manufacturers have phased out flame retardants this year.

Not Even Close
• Restoration Hardware still uses flame retardants and has no known plans to change. Boo!

When in doubt, check the label on the underside of sofas. A new Calfornia law requires that furniture made after January 1, 2015 feature an updated label that clearly states whether or not flame retardants were added to the foam.

Healthy Sofa, Healthy Home

healthy homes san francisco bay area green design

I’m excited to share the inside scoop from last week’s Healthy Homes Conference sponsored by Build it Green and PG&E. We’re huge fans of Arlene Blum, the biophysical chemist who was largely responsible for eliminating the flame retardant requirement in California’s new standard for upholstered furniture (Read more about TB117-2013 on our blog post here.) It was an honor to meet her and hear the latest on the fight to remove harmful flame retardants from our sofas.

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I learned some interesting facts about the specific chemicals used in flame retardants, all of which were very alarming. Did you know that PentaBDE is one of only 23 chemicals that is banned GLOBALLY? It’s effects on animals exposed include endocrine disruption, neurodevelopmental problems, lower IQ, and cancer.

The good news: Furniture manufacturers are starting to make the switch to foam without flame retardants. A few big box stores will be phasing in healthier foam starting July 1st. Be sure to look for the “TB117-2013” tag and to confirm with a sales rep that the foam doesn’t contain flame retardants (they are not banned from furniture, just no longer required).

eco friendly non toxic sofa san francisco

Ready to make a change? The Green Science Policy Institute has a fantastic program called the “Safer Sofa Foam Exchange”. Take your existing foam inserts which contain flame retardants (purchased anytime between 1978 and 2013) and exchange them for new, healthier foam for roughly $50 per cushion. The old foam will be used for testing and research by the Green Science Policy Institute to help determine the safest way to dispose of these chemicals, many of which have long half-lives and remain in the environment for decades. Participating locations include Foam Order in San Francisco, The Foam Store of Marin, Foam and Cushion in Concord, and Kay Chesterfield Company in Oakland.

Interested in a 100% green, non-toxic sofa? Contact us to learn more about our custom, locally made sofas fabricated from natural latex foam wrapped in organic wool.

Earth Day: 3 Ways to Make a Difference

Happy Earth Day! As interior designers we’ve been given the opportunity to play our part in helping the environment. The furnishings, materials, and finishes that we source have far-reaching impacts on the health of the local and global environment as well as the health of our clients. Here are three small choices you can make that will have a very large impact in conserving our planet’s resources.

sustainable wood flooring

1. Opt for FSC certified or reclaimed wood flooring, cabinets, and furniture. Forests create oxygen, protect biodiversity, filter pollutants, and help mitigate global warming. The Forest Stewardship Council is an international agency that tracks and certifies sustainably harvested wood. By purchasing FSC certified wood, you are supporting responsible forestry practices that help protect forest ecosystems.

contemporary armchair

2. Invest in quality furniture.  Avoid poorly constructed furniture and invest a little more in pieces that will stay with you for many years. You’ll prevent adding to our rapidly growing landfills, and will also avoid using additional resources to replace your original purchase. Don’t have a big budget? Consider vintage! Sometimes all it takes is a new fabric or wood stain to give a piece new life, for a fraction of the cost of new items. The Alameda Antiques Faire and vintage shops such as Past Perfect are fantastic places to start your search.

vintage modern dining room

3. Shop local. Ask showrooms where their furniture is made and consider the fossil fuels required to bring a large item from overseas. There are so many quality furniture companies that still manufacture right here in the United States, such as Plantation, A. Rudin, and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams to name a few.

Looking for more guidance? Contact us to learn more about our green interior design services!

Flame Retardants: Going, Going, Gone?

After 39 years of living with toxic sofas, we finally have cause for celebration! The new 2013 update to the California TB 117 flammability law just went into effect last month. Furniture manufacturers are no longer required to add flame retardants to the foam in upholstered furniture. That is AMAZING news – one big step in the right direction towards creating greener, healthier homes!

eco non toxic sofa san francisco

Eco-friendly sofa designed by Niche Interiors and built locally in San Francisco The chemicals found in flame retardants have been shown to cause a number of health problems including cancer, reproductive issues, and impaired IQ. Sadly, the use of these chemicals has not proven to be effective in slowing ignition or preventing fires. The new HBO documentary “Toxic Hot Seat” does an excellent job of examining the history of this law, and the forces that big tobacco has had on it’s creation.
eco friendly custom sofa bay area

Eco-friendly sofa with latex foam and organic wool

How does the new law affect your furniture options? While the new law is a huge step forward, it still doesn’t ban flame retardants from being added to foam, it simply doesn’t require them. We are hopeful that manufacturers will start making the switch soon, but we’ve been told that foam companies are planning to unload all of their current inventory before investing in new technology.

What should I look for when shopping for a non-toxic sofa? First, be sure it has the TB 117-2013 tag. Second, ask the sales associate if the foam has been treated with flame-retardant chemicals. If they don’t know or can’t provide concrete information it’s best to look elsewhere. Companies such as Cisco Home already offer better alternatives that are made with soy foam.

Ready to go 100% green? An essential part of Niche Interiors’ eco-friendly design services are our custom non-toxic sofas made of natural latex foam wrapped in organic wool, which has natural flame resistant qualities. Contact us today for more information.

The Reclaimed Wood Process: Giving Old Wood New Life

We are excited to share a guest post from Viridian Reclaimed Wood – a reclaimed wood flooring, paneling and furniture salvaging company based and operated in Portland, Oregon.

Reclaimed wood is hot in the green building industry and more people are using it in their homes and offices. You can use reclaimed wood for upgrades, remodels and new building projects.

reclaimed wood

What is Reclaimed Wood? Simply put, reclaimed wood is lumber that’s given a new life. Think of it as salvaged or recycled wood. The amazing thing about reclaimed wood is that it’s generally harder and more durable than virgin wood from newly cut trees. By choosing this material, you can help divert perfectly usable material from the nation’s landfills. Plus, making an item from salvaged lumber, like reclaimed wood flooring, uses less energy than making the same item out of virgin wood.

The Top Sources of Reclaimed Wood

Deconstructed buildings. Remember that old barn overgrown with foliage you saw during a drive through the country? It has the potential to become reclaimed wood along with other buildings that are no longer used, like old houses, warehouses and even water tanks.

Discarded shipping and crating material. It’s common for shipping companies to discard crating and shipping materials made from beautiful European and Asian hardwood species that are ultra-durable. By choosing to use salvaged lumber, you can have exotic wood in your home or office without the eco-guilt.

reclaimed shipping palettes

Old-growth stumps. Modern manufacturers have figured out how to remove large, pioneer-era stumps (often referred to as buckskins) to turn them into beautiful reclaimed wood flooring.

Wine casks. When vintners no longer need their redwood wine casks, the life of the lumber doesn’t have to end. Instead, incorporate the rosy-toned timber into your project.

School gyms. Schools often use hardwoods like glulam and Douglas fir for their floors and bleachers. When the gym gets a facelift, the possibilities for the hundreds of feet of salvaged wood are endless.

Reclaimed Wood’s Lifecycle. Typically, after a company sources high-quality timber that’s no longer needed, it salvages the wood and separates it into different piles: high-grade, mid-grade and low-grade lumber. The low-grade lumber becomes firewood or bio-fuel, while the mid-grade wood is made into utility-grade products, like shipping pallets. During the sorting process, workers take the time to make sure that everything that’s recyclable—metal, plastic and nylon—ends up in the recycling bin and not the dumpster.

The high-grade salvaged wood gets dried in a kiln, which stabilizes the lumber and also assures there are not bugs or fungi. After the drying process, the wood is milled to reveal its inner beauty and original characteristics. The milled lumber then gets packaged and shipped to home and business owners who seek a green solution to their décor needs.

reclaimed wood table

How to Incorporate Reclaimed Wood into Your Home or Office. For the most part, if you can make something with virgin wood, you can also build it with reclaimed wood. Here are some ideas about how to incorporate salvaged lumber in your home: Reclaimed wood flooring, veneer paneling on walls, desks or cabinets, decking, tabletops, countertops, shelves, casework, doors.

Using reclaimed wood is a unique and creative way to bring beauty and function into your home or office. Talk to a remodeler or reclaimed lumber retailer to learn more about its benefits and uses.

Made in San Francisco: Non-toxic Upholstery

We designed a number of custom, eco-friendly upholstered items for our Virginia project that turned out beautifully. It’s inspired me to continue our mission of creating non-toxic, flame retardant-free sofas and armchairs.

non-toxic upholstery san francisco

Eco-friendly lounge sofa designed for a media room

In 1975, California implemented Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117)—which requires furniture to be resistant to an open flame for 12 seconds. To meet this unique flammability standard, manufacturers largely relied on flame retardants. The chemicals used in flame retardants, largely PBDEs, have been linked to a wide range of health problems such as impaired fertility and IQ, and developmental problems in children.

In March California passed a new, updated version of TB117, which does not require the filling (typically polyurethane foam) to meet any open flame test. Foam manufacturers will no longer be required to add flame-retardant chemicals. This will go into effect in July of 2014, and we are hopeful that furniture manufacturers will immediately phase out these harmful chemicals.

In the meantime, we are busy designing furniture with NO toxic chemicals, built right here in San Francisco. Natural latex foam wrapped in organic wool replaces cushions filled with chemicals. Not only are they eco-friendly and non-toxic, they are beautiful and comfortable. I just had a sectional built for our living room – it’s the coziest spot in the house. And, the best part: It doesn’t smell like chemicals!

Sustainable Countertops

Selecting a kitchen countertop material can be a daunting task – even for professionals! Check out three of our favorite sustainable and durable options that are sure to give your kitchen a fresh, updated look.

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Quartz Countertops
Quartz is a common waste product of mining industries – companies like Caesarstone have turned it into a premium, sustainable product. Adhesives used in Caesarstone Quartz contain polyester and acrylic epoxies that have either low or no VOC emissions.  Naturally nonporous, it prevents the growth of surface molds without being treated with harmful chemicals.

Stainless Steel
Often used in commercial kitchens, stainless steel is making it’s way into more and more homes.  Stainless steel contains at least 60 percent recycled content and is 100 percent recyclable. It creates a sleek contemporary look and it’s resistance to rust and heat make it a low maintenance option.  Stainless steel is non-porous therefore will not harbor germs; it requires non-toxic, mild soap for clean up.

paperstone

Recycled Composite Paper
Paper composite countertops are made from recycled post-consumer paper waste, bamboo fibers and salvaged wood fibers/cellulose compressed with petroleum-free resins. Although prone to mild scuffing and scratches, it is heat resistant and easy to maintain.  Similar to natural wood, paper composite countertops will naturally patina over time intensifying in depth and color. PaperStone is FSC-certified and comes in a variety of colors.

 

What is “Eco-friendly” Interior Design?

Most people have heard the term “eco-friendly” or “green” interior design. But, not everyone understands exactly what it means. That’s why we created a brand new page on our website devoted just to this topic.

custom eco-friendly upholstery in san francisco

This green project in San Francisco featured zero-VOC paints, natural fabrics, and a custom eco-friendly, non-toxic sofa.

Green or eco-friendly interior design focuses on improving indoor air quality as well as reducing the impact that furniture purchases have on the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that most Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants are often two to five times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.

It’s crucial that we pay close attention to the products that we bring into our homes. Paint, cabinets, rugs, and upholstery all have a big impact on indoor air quality. One of the biggest obstacles faced right now is the California Technical Bulletin 117 that requires upholstered furniture to be made with harmful flame retardant chemicals. This NRDC video does a great job of illustrating the urgency of updating this law, which will be coming up for review shortly.

Check out our green interior design page for detailed tips on improving the health of your home, or contact us for professional eco-friendly interior design services in the San Francisco Bay Area. Go green!

 

San Francisco Interior Designer Picks

Want to take a peek at our source list? Now is your chance! Check out a few of our favorite San Francisco sources for the most crucial design elements that go into creating a stylish and unique home. Enjoy!

DeSousaHughesVignette

Contemporary Lighting: DE SOUSA HUGHES, 2 Henry Adams Street Suite 220, San Francisco (To the Trade). The lighting collection at De Sousa Hughes is inspiring and of extremely high quality. Look no further for hand-crafted, customizable statement lighting.

Lee Jofa Fabrics

Luxurious Fabrics: LEE JOFA, 101 Henry Adams Street Suite 490, San Francisco (To the Trade). Lee Jofa has thrived in the textiles industry for over two and a half centuries. It’s the place to head for sumptuous fabrics and classic prints.

stuff

Vintage Furniture: STUFF, 150 Valencia Street, San Francisco (Open to the Public). Stuff offers a range of vintage furniture, art, and home accessories, with an emphasis on mid-century pieces.  Their newly expanded showroom has doubled in size!

Cisco Home

Eco-Friendly Upholstery: CISCO HOME, 580 Hayes Street, San Francisco (Open to the Public). Cisco Home makes stylish, environmentally conscious upholstered items made with natural latex foam, organic wool, down, and FSC-certified woods.

hundley hardware

Furniture & Cabinetry Hardware: E.M. HUNDLEY HARDWARE, 617 Bryant Street, San Francisco (Open to the Public). Hardware is the finishing touch on furniture, kitchen cabinets, and doors.  Why scour the web when you can see hundreds of options in person at E.M. Hundley Hardware in SOMA?

The Scoop on Indoor Air Quality

Do you know how many breaths you take in one day? The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that most Americans spend 90% of their time indoors. By paying closer attention to the products you bring into the home, you can improve your indoor air quality and the health of your family.

1.  Wool Rugs vs. Synthetic Rugs.  The initial cost for wool rugs is greater than synthetics, but is a long-term investment in your health.  Wool is naturally fire retardant unlike its artificial counterparts, which are prone to igniting more easily.  Wool absorbs moisture and captures dust or pollen, thus reducing humidity and allergens in the air.  The fibers in wool are also extremely resilient and can retain their form over longer periods of time.

Synthetic rugs are often made from nylon, acetate, or polyester. These man-made fibers are highly flammable and are often treated with synthetic chemicals to reduce flammability.  The trade-off for reducing flammability is the increased potency of toxins off-gassing into your home.  If you’re sensitive to chemicals or odors, off-gassing from newly installed synthetic rugs and carpets may cause headaches, dizziness, or nausea.

 

2. Solid Wood Casegoods.  Opt for furniture made from solid wood such as walnut, teak, oak or maple. Wood furniture is typically held together by basic wood joinery techniques, ensuring a stronger bond and requiring less adhesives, which are the main culprits in harmful VOC emissions.

Avoid furniture composed of MDF or particle board, which is made from compressed wood shavings, chips or sawdust held together by synthetic resins, binders and glues. These materials are not as long lasting or strong as wood, and the resins used will off-gas harmful toxins into your home.

3. Organic Upholstery.  Standard upholstered goods are made from polyurethane foam (poly-foam) wrapped in dacron. Both materials are man-made and petroleum-based.  They contain isocyanates and polyols that are highly flammable and are treated with flame-retardant chemicals to reduce combustibility. The chemicals in these flame retardants have been linked to a wide range of health problems. (See this article in the New York Times for more info).

At Niche Interiors, we prefer custom upholstered goods made with natural latex foam wrapped in organic, untreated wool.  Natural latex foam is made from collected sap or serum from rubber trees — it’s an organic byproduct that does not off-gas harmful toxins.

*Contact us today to learn more about our Green Interior Design Services!*