Cover story: Going green in small ways

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If you care about the environment and want to revamp your home’s interior, you can find a variety of ways to be eco-friendly and also fulfill your design dreams.

Big projects, such as replacing windows and installing geothermal heating and air-conditioning systems or solar panels will have a bigger impact on your utility bills, but choosing sustainable materials and recycling furniture can have an equally important - and reduced - impact on the environment.

A “green attribute” that not every homeowner considers is the use of locally sourced products, said Chryssa Wolfe, president of Hanlon Design Build in the District. Anything sourced from within 500 miles of your location is considered local because of the shorter transportation requirements.

The most local place of all to find your materials is right in your own home.

“Repurposing, reusing and recycling furniture or accessories can work well for people because of the sentimental value and emotional attachment we all have to our collections,” said Marika Meyer, owner of Marika Meyer Interiors in the District. “You can improve the aesthetic value by painting or reupholstering a piece but still have the emotional value. For instance, I reupholstered my grandfather’s desk chair to use in my home.”

Ms. Meyer said finding local vintage pieces can be helpful for homes that are older and may have rooms that are smaller in scale than newer homes.

“I’m working with a client with a home near Logan Circle, and we’ve decided that from an environmental point of view, we want everything to be repurposed,” Ms. Meyer said. “We found a sofa in a store on U Street and had a local vendor reupholster it. We’ve repainted some used furniture and purchased unfinished furniture from a local vendor and had it painted with low-VOC paint.”

In her home, Ms. Meyer took a vintage hutch she found at a Baltimore auction and repurposed it as a baby-changing table. She said she will repurpose the hutch again for storage when she no longer needs a changing table.

“In another project, we took a vintage dark sideboard and painted it a lighter color and then added accents with a faux finish,” Ms. Meyer said. “We ended up lightening this piece all over, which is what a lot of people prefer today.”

In addition to using paint and fabric to update furniture, Ms. Meyer said a woodworker can shorten or lengthen table legs to switch a tea table into a coffee table. In the 2012 DC Design House, Ms. Meyer painted and reupholstered chairs and repurposed a table with a faux marble finish.

“Repurposing furniture not only is environmentally responsible, but it also results in a one-of-a-kind, custom piece,” she said. “Once you find a piece with lines that you like, you can do anything you want to end up with a custom-designed piece of furniture.”

Ms. Meyer suggested having a mirror cut to fit in an old picture frame for a custom mirror, or to use an old chest of drawers as a new bathroom vanity.

“You won’t necessarily always save money by repurposing furniture, but often the cost will be similar to a retail purchase with the added benefit of a custom design,” Ms. Meyer said. “One of my clients wanted a Duncan Phyfe sofa, but we found they were too expensive. We found a gorgeous carved sofa on Craigslist for $175 and had it reupholstered, with the total cost under $1,000.”

If you are remodeling your kitchen or bathroom or perhaps adding new flooring, you also can make decisions that will beautify your home while protecting the environment.

Richard A. Subaran, project manager and counter specialist for Aidan Design in Bethesda, said many of his clients choose reclaimed wood for an accent counter surface on a small kitchen island or for one tier of a multitiered island.

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