I’m proud that Natural Home was one of the first magazines to recognize the importance of healthy homes. I’ve been in many nontoxic houses over the years, and I’ve felt—and witnessed—the difference that keeping out chemicals and fumes makes. Homeowners who moved in with serious health problems saw their symptoms clear after living without toxins such as flame-retardants and formaldehyde.
The people who built and remodeled these three houses were forced by health issues to be extreme. These are three of the most vigilantly designed and built healing places Natural Home & Garden has featured. Most of us don’t need such extremes, but we can learn a lot from these healthy, nurturing homes—and we might choose differently next time we order curtains.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
After a chemical-heavy remodel in the late 1970s made Daryl Stanton sick, she and her daughter fled Los Angeles in a travel trailer retrofitted with all-natural materials. They landed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she opened a store featuring healthy, nontoxic materials and had a chemical-free straw-clay cottage built by Econest Homes. We featured Daryl’s home in 2003, and she now runs Natura Design and Consulting in Nelson, New Zealand. Econest has moved to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.)
Earthen floors finished with linseed oil and beeswax look and feel like polished leather. Walls are covered with light mud plaster dug from nearby Galisteo, textured with mica and straw.
The sofa cushions are stuffed with down and feathers. Antique or recycled tables, chairs and cabinets have had time to shed any potentially harmful chemicals. Not having curtains eliminates a dust trap.
An organic mattress, hemp/silk sheets, organic cotton and wool blankets, a plant-dyed hemp/silk bedspread and hand-dyed hemp/silk pillows keep chemicals out of Daryl’s bed. The metal-free Samina Sleep System bed was designed by an Austrian orthopedist who studied baubiologie (building biology).
Linda and Peter Mellen stripped down and rebuilt this 18th-century 2-over-2 farmhouse south of Charlottesville, Virginia, after the stains and sealers they used to finish their newly built log home triggered Multiple Chemical Sensitivity symptoms in Linda. With the remodel, they eliminated anything made using petroleum or formaldehyde: carpet, plywood, particleboard, stains, sealers and glues. When Linda and Peter bought it, termites had eaten through bottom floor; everything sagging and falling in. They used borax and nontoxic Sentricon pest-repellent system when they replaced the home’s joists and its stone and concrete foundation. They sided it with wood from a fallen poplar tree.
In the kitchen, new cabinets were made from vintage wood and wainscoting, which was sandblasted by professionals to remove old lead paint. Found behind the wainscoting, 14-inch planks with the original saw marks were re-used for the kitchen walls. Aging red and white oak from the Mellens’ property was used to make new ground-level floors. “We had as few finishes as possible,” Peter says. “We wanted to keep a simplicity, as if the house had been built 150 years ago.”
With the renovation, Linda and Peter opened up the farmhouse to bring in passive solar heat gain. Radiant heat eliminates blowing dust, and exterior doors with screens allow for summer cross ventilation. Fans frequently exchange air when the windows are closed.
This simple shed houses the home’s mechanical heart—keeping fumes and allergens out of the house. Heat is pumped to the house through underground water pipes. The building also houses a VACUFLO 460 central vacuum system that doesn’t recirculate dust and dirt because the suction takes place outside.
Shaker It Up
Columbia County, New York
Cathy Grier was suffering from hepatitis C and needed a place to heal when she built this modern saltbox with her partner, Michele Steckler. She specked nontoxic materials, from untreated lumber to glue, grout, spackle and sealers—and she watched carefully to make sure the builders used them. Decorated with family heirlooms and natural materials, Cathy and Michele’s bright, airy home has the warm feel of a house that’s been around for centuries and has provided the healing space that Cathy needed.
The kitchen’s wood countertops are made from a maple on the property and finished with tung oil, and the wood floors are finished with tung oil and citrus based solvents.
The bedroom has non-VOC paint and organic bedding. Concerned about electromagnetic fields, Cathy installed a “kill” switch, which turns off electricity to the room when she and Michele sleep.
Sunlight streams through the great room’s insulated, double-glazed windows and French doors in winter, providing passive solar heat. This room is Michele’s favorite. “It’s the center of the house—a place for hearth, home, food and gathering together,” she says. “t’s where we begin and end our day; it’s where we nap, relax and connect.”
This is where I would nap. This shot always brings to mind the Navajo Blessingway Prayer: “May our home be sacred and beautiful, and may our days be beautiful and plenty.”