Discover how to build an eco-friendly sustainable home.
By Renée Soucy
Design fans of a certain age will remember the first wave of organic foods, tofu, and early attempts at “going green” from their childhoods in the 1970’s and 80’s. And until recently, those memories of macrame-laden yurts and disappointing carob treats might have given many the feeling that doing the right thing inherently means sacrificing comfort, style, and flavor. Or that you must spend extravagantly to do what’s right, especially if you’re building a new home or renovating an old one.
Meet Eco-Friendly Los Angeles-Based Showroom CarbonShack
Thankfully, Los Angeles-based showroom CarbonShack and their team of architects, interior designers and tradespeople are blasting through these and other misconceptions about how environmental stewardship can guide decisions and create stunning, sustainable spaces. Their showroom, which opened in October 2022, offers textiles, furniture, decorative tiles, lighting, cabinetry, and accessories (woodwork and metalwork) that highlight how ingenuity, aesthetics, and environmental consciousness can work seamlessly together. The showroom, located at 717 Cypress Avenue, L.A. 90065, is open by appointment only Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.
Decades of Collective Experience in Sustainable Interior Design
Using locally sourced materials and products, while important, is just the beginning of what makes their approach unique. With decades of collective experience in sustainable design, CarbonShack brings deep knowledge and understanding of the materials and practices every homeowner can embrace. Beyond that, embedded, sometimes literally, into their products is a heightened awareness of our planet's deep networks of interconnectedness from the micro to the macro. One incredible example: textiles and lighting inspired by the microbiome, the microorganisms that live on and within the human body. From microscopic life forms to the entire planet, CarbonShack has a rare, increasingly important perspective on sustainable design.
CarbonShack Founding Designer Steve Pallrand Shares His Expertise
We sat down with Steve Pallrand, CarbonShack’s founding designer, to get his expert take on what it means to be green and how we can all do a better job of bringing environmental consciousness into our minds and into our homes.
Design on Tap: Terms like 'green', 'sustainable' and 'environmentally/eco-friendly' have become part of everyday design language. What term or terms do you prefer when describing what you do?
CarbonShack: The term ‘green’ seems to be so ubiquitous these days as to have lost significance. When we talk about sustainability and low-carbon footprints, we are really talking about caring for the earth and its resources. The goal of our work, of our designs, construction practices and home furnishings, is to foster increased connection between homeowners (and for that matter, anyone who occupies spaces we’ve created, or uses a product we’ve designed and fabricated) and the environment. For us the question comes down to increasing awareness of our interdependence with the natural world, so as to bring about a sense of individual responsibility, of taking part in the stewardship of the environment. We do use terms like sustainability, eco-friendly and low-carbon footprint—and what we are really underscoring is: environmental stewardship.
DoT: What is the biggest misconception right now about green design?
CS: The greatest misconception about green design is that you will be sacrificing comfort and beauty. Green design is not living in a yurt and using an outhouse. Far from it. Is driving a Tesla Model X sacrificing either design or performance? Not in the least. And, oh, by the way, it’s an EV that eliminates the use of fossil fuels and costs pennies per mile to drive! The point is that green design typically involves the latest technology and latest design innovations and, as a matter of course, also saves energy, money, and eliminates fossil fuels.
DoT: Are there any red flags regarding materials etc. that shout 'unsustainable' to you?
CS: The biggest problem we currently have as a consumer society is plastics. Plastics are derived from fossil fuels and permeate our everyday life. They are not only a cause of pollution in their manufacturing but are a massive problem when they become waste. Plastic waste permeates our environment at every level, in ways we are only beginning to assess and understand, and presents health dangers as it deteriorates into microplastics. Microplastics can be found in our air, water and food and are so prevalent that they can even be found in the Arctic and Antarctic. Reducing the use of plastics, especially single use plastics, is one of our greatest challenges, as the problem will only continue to grow.
DoT: What are the top three benefits of building an environmentally-friendly home?
CS: Comfort. Wellness. Pride.
Comfort: As most car companies are moving towards all-electric fleets, most other manufacturers of consumer goods are designing for an all-electric future. Consequently, the research and development in these areas is where we will see the greatest innovations in the years ahead.
Wellness: Removing the burning of fossil fuels in the home has enormous benefits to indoor air quality but it doesn’t stop there—the more one uses natural materials, such as mineral plaster, wood and natural fibers, the healthier the interior environment is for our families.
Pride: The knowledge that the way you live is not impacting the environment negatively, that you are in fact part of the solution, not the problem.
DoT: What would you say to someone who thinks adhering to the state building code is enough?
CS: In California, our minimum standard is pretty good compared with other states. While it is a good start, more can be done. Part of the issue is being conscious of your choices. For example, even though gas burning appliances are allowed in your home doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Picking a fossil fuel-burning device, whether it is to cook, heat your home or heat your water, locks you into burning fossil fuels many decades into the future.
DoT: Please share a little about how the natural world informs your aesthetic choices (biomimicry etc).
CS: We think of nature as “out there”, in a national forest or park, or outdoors—but in reality, nature surrounds us in our built environments, and indeed is even within us. Fully 50% of the DNA in our own bodies belongs to alien species, bacteria, without whom we would not have co-evolved and without whom we would not be alive. Our houses, our yards are full of microscopic nature, decomposing, regenerating, creating oxygen, etc. Once we realize that the natural world is inside us, a part of us, and surrounding us, we see that we are not removed from nature, but an integral part of it. We can then see how our choices impact our health, our bodies, our world. Many of our designs are inspired by the microscopic organisms we share our homes with. By making plainly visible these ordinarily unseen creatures, we bring visual reminders of our interconnectedness into our daily lives.
DoT: There’s a lot of talk here around induction cooking, with many suggesting that induction cooktops are the wave of the future when it comes to kitchen appliances. Even though induction cooktops have been popular in other areas of the world for many years, are you seeing more clients adopt induction here in the Los Angeles area? What are your thoughts on tougher restrictions around gas cooking, especially here in the Los Angeles area?
CS: One of the main reasons we find clients switching from gas to induction cooktops is to reduce indoor air pollution. It is actually the information on the toxicity of burning gas indoors that is the most effective vehicle for creating change.
DoT: What would you advise someone considering 'going green' in their renovation or construction plans this year? Are there guilds or organizations to look to?
CS: The better known standards of LEED For Homes and Passive House are quite stringent, and too costly for most people. The problem with those approaches is a “my way or the highway” orthodoxy that turns people away. Our approach is to not insist on orthodoxy but meet our clients where their budget and possibilities are. If our clients can become 25% more green, or 60%, that is a significant improvement, and just because they can’t be 100% perfect doesn’t mean we reject them as clients!
DoT: Who are your design heroes?
CS: Giulio Romano, the 16th century Italian Renaissance Architect. One of my most formative design experiences was visiting the Villa Madama in Rome, completed for Pope Clement VII in the early 1520’s, which was designed to revive ancient Roman villa design. The building was designed around a central courtyard and garden, but the villa itself was merely a wall which was used to define the space between. As soon as you walk in the front door, you are outside, in an open air experience complete with an al fresco theater. The Italian Renaissance saw renewed interest in reviving the glory of ancient Rome, but what was known about the past in the 16th century was what remained—the ruins. As the experience of the ruins was primarily exterior, open air and subterranean, the designs of architects like Romano featured grottos and exterior architectural experiences. This linkage of the built environment to the natural world, as experienced through the nostalgia for the past, has inspired me ever since.
Villa Madama, Rome, Italy
DoT: What's next for Carbonshack? What does 2023 look like for you?
CS: We are really excited about our new showroom, which just opened this Fall, and the incredible line up of home furnishing products that we are featuring—from furniture to fabrics, tile to lighting. Our home furnishings are designed here in L.A., and fabricated nearly entirely locally, of salvaged, reclaimed, earth-friendly and recyclable materials. Wood for our live-edge furniture is harvested from trees that grew within the city of L.A.; our fabrics are all made from hemp, the most earth-friendly fiber available; our microbiome-inspired decorative tiles are glazed and fired locally, in solar-powered electric kilns; and our light fixtures, featuring an array of biophilic motifs, are crafted from natural wood veneers and biodegradable 3D-printed nylon. So we have an amazing array of beautiful home furnishings available that are good for the home, as well as the planet!