NKBA Feature: Healthy, Sustainable, and Wise

For Sarah Barnard, AKBD, sustainable design is common sense: "Do we want to fill our homes with toxic materials? Do we want to hurt the earth while pleasing ourselves?" the Santa Monica, Calif-based designer asks theoretically.

Barnard has formal training in eco-friendliness. And whether it-s a sustainable harvested wood lounge for the Teen Choice Awards or outfitting the National Immigration Law Center in L.A. with recycled furniture, she brings a high degree of environmental awareness to all her projects.

She's a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) and an International Institute for Bau-Biologie & Ecology Building Biology Practitioner (BBP), a European framework for creating healthy environments. While there is considerable overlap between the two programs, together they've provided Barnard with a comprehensive approach for creating sustainable spaces. For example, while LEED emphasizes the use of recycled, locally sourced materials, Building Biology stresses non-toxic finishes, Barnard references both when evaluating materials and products. 

 Such knowledge is ket to accommodating clients with chemical sensitivities. For one such project, in the Pacific Palisades, Calif., Barnard created a minimalist version of a farmhouse kitchen. The clean-lined cabinetry was made from formaldehyde- free wheatboard and finished with zero-VOC paint. The countertops and backsplash are a composite quartz containing pieces of mother-of -pearl, a pleasing connection to the home's costal locale.

Still, Barnard approaches sustainability with pragmatism, recognizing that there are some trade-off's. For a lavish kitchen in Redondo Beach, Calif., she relied on local businesses and suppliers to get the best results. She started with moldings from a Southern California company Enkebell and supplemented them with elaborate custom columns by a local woodcarver and locally made cabinetry with solid maple doors. "We've tried sources cabinet doors made from official FSC Certified wood, but they had to be shipped from an out-of-town mill." Barnard recalls. "For this kind of intensely detailed design work, I rely on my local cabinet shop and their suppliers."

It's standard practice for Barnard to specify Energy Star-rated appliances and low-flow faucets. She also uses energy efficient LED lighting and includes activity sensors so that the lights will turn themselves off if people forget. In bathrooms, she recommends dual-flush toilets as an easy way to reduce water use and heated floors as a more effective and luxurious alternative to forced air. In the Pacific Palisades project, a Moroccan-influenced powder room has a radiant heated pebble floor. She also designed the bath with a neutral contemporary backdrop for great design longevity: Should the homeowners decide to take it in a different direction, they can switch out the showpiece mirror for something else.

"Sustainability is a modern word for being resourceful: You don't throw things away and make unnecessary waste," says Barnard, whose parents restored antique furniture for a living. "The basic ideology isn't new: it's how we apply it to our lives in every category."