What they do, and when you might need one
Was your kitchen in its prime in 1971, when orange laminate countertops and avocado refrigerators were all the rage? When you open the dishwasher, does it block access to the cabinets? Is the lighting so dim you can't tell if a recipe calls for potatoes or tomatoes?
It may be time for an overhaul. But where do you begin? Whether you do it green or not, remodeling can be a daunting process.
Assuming the changes you're dreaming of don't require major structural changes that require an architect's services, you might consider turning to an interior designer. Interior designers don't just suggest fabrics and colors. They're professional problem solvers, resolving awkward layouts, figuring out what goes where, assessing what's possible within your budget, and coming up with creative solutions to problems like inadequate daylight and lack of storage space. Designers can also recommend or buy products including furniture, appliances, accessories, and art.
If you wish, they can even orchestrate the entire remodeling process, managing construction and installation and overseeing the comings and goings of the builder and other tradespeople.
Although growing numbers of interior designers have the know-how to create homes that are healthy and don't squander energy and natural resources, green design is not yet a standard practice, so you may need to do some extra legwork to find the right person for your job.
- Go green. Green design isn't rocket science, but the choices and tradeoffs can be complex, so having a savvy eco-designer on your side can be a huge help. While designers aren't the people to turn to for recommendations on insulation or new furnaces, they do make many decisions that affect energy efficiency, like choosing appliances, kitchen and bath plumbing fixtures, lighting products, and window coverings. Green designers also need to be familiar with a wide range of environmentally preferable products and materials for interior spaces, from flooring to furniture to cabinets. Moreover, a good green designer should serve as your first line of defense against choosing furniture, paints, and other products that might emit high levels of unhealthy VOCs into your home.
- Communicate. Good design requires good two-way communication. Choose a designer who listens to you and shows a good grasp of your goals and desires. By the same token, you need to communicate clearly about what you do and don't want, especially when it comes to green techniques and products that may not be standard practice.
- Trust your taste. If you reluctantly agree to aqua-hued tiles that your designer insists are perfect for your bathroom, they may grow on you. Then again, you may grow to hate them, and decide to replace them as soon as your bank account rebounds from the initial expense. Trashing stuff because you don't love it is no way to show your love for Mother Earth, so don't let yourself get talked into a style or product that you really don't like.
- Set limits. Many designers make money by taking a mark-up on products they buy for their clients, so they have a financial incentive to entice you to accumulate more stuff, be it a larger sofa, a new dining set, or another bank of kitchen cabinets. All this stuff takes its toll on the environment. It's up to you to declare when enough is enough.
- Buy the best. Chair legs that snap, bookshelves that sag, and cabinet doors that become unhinged mean another load for the landfill. When choosing new items for your home, look for quality workmanship and materials. That doesn't have to mean a higher price tag. Many moderately priced items are well crafted, while some high-end products are shabbily put together.
- A decorator isn't the same as an interior designer, although there is overlap between the fields. Decorators choose furniture, colors, fabrics, light fixtures, wall coverings, and other surface decoration. They are primarily concerned with the esthetics of a space. Interior designers also select furniture, materials, and colors, but they also restructure and reorganize rooms, and they often manage the construction and installation process.
- If you're planning to remodel a kitchen or bathroom, you may want to hire a designer who specializes in those rooms and can make savvy decisions related to plumbing, appliances, and layouts. NKBA, a trade association for the kitchen and bath industry, certifies designers who have met the association's criteria for education and experience.
...to you and your health
A good, green interior designer will arrange your space for comfort and convenience, and will choose materials that keep your indoor air clean.
...to the Earth
Green design also means creating spaces that don't squander natural resources and are energy- and water-efficient. This can radically reduce your emissions of climate-changing global warming gases.
Falling for the greenwash. Anything related to green homes is big business these days, so some designers will drop words like "sustainable," "green," and "eco-friendly" into their sales pitches without having the knowledge and experience to back it up. The more educated you are about what makes a home healthier and kinder to the environment, the easier it will be for you know real green when you see it.
Pick a qualified professional. Before hiring, check the designer's credentials. Some states require interior designers to be licensed. In addition, some designers receive professional accreditation from trade associations like the National Kitchen and Bath Association and the American Society of Interior Designers. Besides certification from trade associations, look for designers with accreditation from a local or national green building organization, such as LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) status from the U.S. Green Building Council. While accreditation doesn't guarantee that they'll do good work, it does show an investment of interest, time, and money in green design education.