Monday, December 09, 2013

Keep Moving Forward! A Letter for the Future.

Dear Blogosphere,

It is now December…And I am finishing up my first semester of college!! Exams (well, a truckload of assignments for us design students) are wrapping up around here and well, so is my Sustainable Practices class. And this is going to be my last post that I'll be doing for marks, so I want to just finish with a fireworks-show-like post of ideas, feelings and final thoughts (again, I'm not going anywhere, but, you know, for the sake of wrapping up this lovely class)!

To set the record straight for my (imaginary) readers, I do try to practice what I preach! This blog was not motivated by marks (sure, that was the reason to start it, though), but it was kept going by a real passion I have for the Earth. I mean, if you have any sense of self-preservation or hope for your future or any of your descendants' futures, or perhaps you fear the wrath of God or Bambis United (not real, but could be!), then surely, surely, you must feel some sort of urge to protect the one and only planet we can live on (I love science and it's fun where we are heading, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here!). 

You never know.

Earth is home.
Your home is on Earth.
You live off the Earth.
You need the Earth.
The Earth needs you.

I really don't know how else I can drive this home, guys! I have loads of friends who get it, but I have met just as many people who straight-up dismiss this train of thought! 

Like, are you in denial? Or do you really have a death wish?

Because, news flash buddy, don't spit where you eat! (Bambi, no swearing, check and check. You can read this to your kids!) If you destroy this planet, there really, reeeeeaallly is NOWHERE ELSE you can go. This world isn't a piece of paper you can scrap and start over with. This is a complex but delicate planet.

Look, do you wanna end up like this guy???

Btw, this is from an awesome, iconic 
children's book: The Giving Tree. Read it, love it, live it!
Or watch this narrative here.

Wow, and I just found this beautiful short film:


What I am desperately trying to drive home here (on this blog, in my own life...) is that:

Being Earth-concious is not Optional.

We are all here. On this planet. We aren't going anywhere else anytime soon. What about that is so hard to understand? We are all responsible. We are all accountable. We are all to blame for whatever Earth-damaging things each of us do, each and every moment. For example, I am currently typing away on this fancy-schmancy laptop, that's currently sucking up loads of energy and is gonna needlessly end up in a landfill a few years down the road, I am sitting in an excessively lit campus while dressed head-to-toe in some totally unsustainably-sourced garb. But we can't help but have at least some kind of carbon footprint (even Bambi leaves a trail!) The biggest difference between being proactive and being a jerk, in this case, is recognizing that you are, in fact, a part of the problem. Then you have got to realize that you need to be a part of the solution. That, dearie, is called accountability. And it is, in my opinion, the biggest step we can take (individually and together) to start mending the hole we seared in our lovely Earth.

Once someone has recognized the ways in which they contribute to the bigger problem, it is my hope that they also see the many, many ways in which they can start solving it, each and every step of their day. I don't feel compelled to list these things, as a quick Google search will yield far better (and admittedly repetitive) lists than one of my own making. But, my humble list and I do have a challenge for you. Yes, You. And I mean You. Here are three simple things I insist that anybody (that can read this blog) can do to save our damn planet.

MY PERSONAL CHALLENGE TO YOU:

1. Turn off the Tap. 
If you don't already, have your tap turned off while you brush your teeth. I cry when I see people NOT do this—true story—because if you don't, you are a class-A jerk! If you do do this, congrats! Now try graduating to turning off the tap when you lather too! Whether it's your dishes, in the shower or just doing the twenty-second hand-scrub, please just do it! You don't need a soothing waterfall sound to assist you in soaping up, okay? You just don't.

Say it with me.


2. Turn off the Lights.
I literally feel pain whenever I drive by the local recreation centre and my old high
school each night. Why? Because it's always lit up like Christmas in there! Every last corner is lit up! But we can control our own houses. Personally, I've learned to use artificial light sparingly (it's not always the prettiest!) Now, I'm not advocating that you wander around the dark all night, what I suggest is using the minimum light you need, and only when/where you need it. It's simple, you leave a room, hit the light switch on the way out! The same applies to display screens too (computer screens, TV screens, etc.) Ready to graduate from that? Grab some lamps and use them as focused mood/task lighting. It's sooo much more ambient and stylish to have the right light for everything rather than having a big nasty white light in the middle of the whole space (this isn't Criminal Minds, buddy!) If you wanna go even further (further than, I must admit, I have even gone), install dimmer switches everywhere! You can go from a candle-lit dinner effect to a workstation-calibre lighting situation in no time!

A cozy den vs. fluorescent office? A dramatic example, yes. But it still illustrates the 
difference between effective lighting and icky slap-'em-up-and-we're-done lighting!


3. Get a reusable water bottle. 
Good for your health, good for the environment, good for your wallet, good for your reputation—a real win-win-win-win!
Here's a little (big) tip about reusable water bottles: 
I really love water. Like, I'm addicted. I literally need to have some water (and lip balm...and a cardigan...) with me at all times to keep me comforted. And there is no way I would EVER carry a flimsy little disposable water bottle with me (a. makes me look obnoxious and ignorant to the global predicament! b. hello, bad side effects of that nasty plastic. c. spring water tastes disgusting to me, like it was used to boil broccoli). But I can also attest to the expense and irritation that is carrying a fancy-schmancy reusable water bottle with me. I have shattered them, cracked them, broken their caps/handles/whatever or even just hated the germ-carrying nooks and crannies they possess. 
Look, if you are carrying your water bottle everywhere, you don't want a dainty little daisy princess like this, do you?

Tempting aren't they, though?

Well, I knew that would never work for me, so when my last Proper Water Bottle broke a couple years ago and I was left with nothing at the last minute, I scooped up a Thermos! Yup, the mighty Thermos! These things are brilliant! I have dropped mine from all sorts of heights, have left it out in all sorts of temperatures and have taken it with me wherever, but this thing is still perfection. Sure it has a bunch of scratches and a few dents, but I love it! It's narrow and portable, it's so easy-going and super versatile. I  can easily keep water at any temperature I want (to suit any season) and I never have to watch out for the bottle. It's just brilliant.

Okay, I just realized my little side-track convo turned into a total sermon on the virtues of Thermoses but, my point is, you don't need to decode complicated water bottle types (BPA-free, squeeze bottle, little sippy-spout-thing, etc.) Just grab a good, trusty old Thermos and you can't go wrong! And Thermoses can be really pretty too! I mean, I have a simple, plain old silver one because…well, I think I developed an emotional attachment with it (wasn't kidding about loving water!) but you can buy coloured Thermoses or ones with elegant scrolling patterns on it, if that's your thing!

A Thermos for you, a Thermos for me, a Thermos for everybody!

The whole gist of this lecture is that you CAN use a reusable water-bottle because it CAN be simple as a Thermos and you can fill it with whatever kind of water you enjoy (filtered, flavoured…tap?). Please, please just don't be the insensitive jerk who still ends his/her day by crushing yet another flimsy disposable water bottle in their hand (feel that crunch? that's the Earth you're crushing!)

You. Have. No. Excuse.

On that note, I'd like to reaffirm my own goals for sustainability and how I imagine it playing out in my own future. As an interior designer, I believe it will be my duty to incorporate sustainability into my work. For me, it really is the only way to go! This can come in the form of choosing/recommending sustainable finishes and furniture to keeping up with all the new developments in the world of eco-friendly goodness.

As Frank Lloyd Wright declared:
"I believe in God, only I spell it Nature."

So, here's to trying new things and keeping an open mind! Stay Green and Keep Moving Forward!

—Sabbie

Monday, December 02, 2013

Pick a Green, any Green!

There are just so many different things that can be sustainable! No, really, soooo many things!

Why am I bringing this up now? Well, our class did various presentations today (by various, I mean that each group had their own subject to deal with) but all of them had to do with sustainability (surprise!). Some of the subjects addressed were water recycling, living walls, sustainable finishes and... a LOT more.

Of course, during almost three hours of presentations, it gets hard to absorb all the information being presented, however, when something does stick into my head after all that, I have to mention it on here!

So are the top three things that really stood out to me today and my thoughts, ideas and blahs around them...

1) Living Walls:

Isn't that gorgeous?

Wow, these are so beautiful! Basically these are free-standing (or mounted onto existing walls) and they hold living, growing plants! For real! 

I definitely want to use these in my own designs, one day, because...well, why not! Sure they can be costly (about $120 per square foot!), but there are so many cool benefits and here are just a few:

-Air quality is improved (natural filters!)
-Energy is saved (natural insulation and temperature control!)
-You can grow food plants! (in Canada, fresh tomatoes in the middle of winter? Miraculous!)
-The sheer beauty of a living wall! Just looking at the wall in the picture above is like a quick shot of an energizing force (it is!), just imagine coming home or waking up to one each day...

So, yup, of course Living Walls would be the first thing I remember. I definitely recommend checking out Green Apple Pie's page here for a quick FAQ guide about living walls! (Bonus, at least for me, it's a Toronto based company!)

2) Green Roofs:


Basically, these are like living walls except horizontal, and they are located on the top of a building (and you can stand on them). I don't really have to much to point out about these except that:

-The image of the green roof shown above is getting on my nerves...for some inexplicable reason...perhaps I'm bothered by the idea of a cold, ugly steel-and-glass "drone" building in a grid-locked city pretending to be more natural than it is? I know, I know. That's a GOOD thing, but I guess I can't help what I feel.

-These are even more expensive than a living wall and are actually way more complicated than I previously thought (ok, all I thought was that you could just plop some grass and stuff on any decent roof and that was real green roof). But there are layers upon layers of materials that are needed (especially to avoid leakage into the building) and the building has to be able to withstand the weight of this feature.

-Apparently a lot of people have built these, even here in Toronto:


Ugh, why are these green roofs (in the middle of cities) still getting on my nerves?! Ok, well, I prefer this aesthetic way (way) more:

A church in Norway

Now that is a green roof I not only love, but would actually live under very happily! I just adore all that greenery in the background! The church looks like it belongs there. Like it is supposed to have a green roof, it's just so lovely and unassuming in it's environment! 

...And that reminds me of what my professor mentioned today, in between presentations; that some people just don't appreciate the sight of nature (or obvious sustainable elements) locked into a cityscape. I never realized that I was one of those people! (Disclaimer: I don't usually react this strongly to new environmental designs and I have seen many natural applications in the middle of cities that I have loved! It's important to keep an open mind, people!)

3) Windmills:

Hardly the most modern of windmills but too beautiful to resist!

We have a great big wind turbine/mill/whatever in Toronto. Perhaps you have heard of it? Or seen it firsthand? (Kinda hard to miss once you're near the lake)



I can totally see where Nicholas Montgomery is coming from when he points out exactly what I have been thinking since I was seven: 

"In Toronto we have one very prominently placed windmill near the CNE and Lake Ontario. Placed as no more than a political statement on how Toronto is tackling climate change, I do not see a use for this turbine. I have a huge problem with this wind turbine and think it should be abandoned" (Source).

You and me both, buddy!!

I can't believe this was even put up there. Ok, maybe I can, but to keep it up there? To expect Torontonians to be proud of it? It's just so GLARINGLY obvious. Obvious in the skyline. And obvious in it's political statement. Windmills are not supposed to be trophy wives.

But apparently, according to one of my peers, windmills can be for private use as well. Some farmers in Ontario actually have small wind mills/turbines (often in the form of short towers) right on their land and they harvest that wind energy to use around the farm (ex. heating of barns!). That sounds fun! And useful, unlike certain windmills around here...

Anyways, those were the top three things I learnt today...actually I learned one other tidbit:

Apparently if you collect "grey water" (reusable water) from your home, you should use it within a couple of days because it morphs into "black water" (evil, bacteria laden, disease causing water). I think that's really important! And now I'm scared of recycling water.

All in all, the big lesson learned today in class (and somewhat illustrated in this post) is that there are just so many different kinds of Green (a.k.a. sustainable practices) out there to choose from. They range from tiny day-to-day choices such as reusable water bottles to giant honking windmills in the middle of a city.

Just pick one and start! You really have no excuse...

—Sabbie

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fumigating Your Home!

I was reading one of my all time favourite blogs today (Something Ivory) and the writer, Kate Harvey, was talking about choosing natural scents instead of synthetic sprays, gels and blahhhs. And that made me want to explore this subject more.

I have hated, yes, HATED synthetic scents for years now. Of course, since I've only lived so long, it wasn't too, too long ago that I actually had fun waltzing around bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, foyers, you name it, leaving behind a trail of aerosol spray behind me. At least I think I loved it for two valid reasons! One, because it smelled cool. Two, because the sprays made cool whooshing sounds and the gels were fun to squish!!

Yippee, holiday scents to make your home smell like Grandma's!

But now, ugh! Don't you dare bring that stuff near me. Why?

Well, there is the simple reason that artificial (and something real, too!) scents irritate my throat and eyes and make me sneeze (good bye favourite perfumes)! But it's also about how dangerous these sprays really are! And I'm not just talking about the flammability factor here.

But...before I get into all of that, I'd love to share some Febreze ads with you!

Here is one I find extremely creepy (like, nightmare-inducing creepy!):


And here is one that makes me cringe and wanna run away, each and every time:


(The uploader's comment was scary too:
"If Febreze can block out the smell of stinky hockey gear in the backseat of a car in the middle of the Texas heat, then there's nothing it can't do." ...Yeah...nothing beats having your esophagus being burnt out!!

I'm sure I sound like I'm overreacting a bit but...come on! One does not even need to do research to realize that it is soooo NOT natural for a little bit of spray to mask, no, overpower the heavy, nasty odour of fish and garbage and hockey gear and whatever else Febreze likes to throw into their commercials.

But, I like to be thorough. So, I researched a little bit...

-I found this lovely little report card (from the EPA!) evaluating the toxicity of Febreze and guess what? It got an "F"! 


-Also thanks to the EPA, here are the lovely ingredients of Febreze: 
  • Silicon compounds (step away from the baby!)
  • Ethanol amine (goodbye nervous system!)
  • Benzisothiazolinone (*itch-itch*)
  • And, naturally (haha!), the inexplicable "Febreze Propriety Odour Eliminator" (the mystery meat of fragrances!)
-Oh, right! I don't wanna just pick on Febreze (the only reason I focused on them is because they tout themselves as the best spray ever and that it, supposedly, masks any scent you throw at it!) so, thanks some nice doctors, here's a lovely chart of hazardous sprays you may be harbouring in your closet:


-Did you notice the baby in the first Febreze commercial? Well, mommy dearest is presumed to have happily sprayed her Febreze right around her baby. Sadly, she may not be aware of just how damaging that little bout of house-keeping could be for her family, especially the baby! I found an article warning mothers about cleaning products (yes, this includes air fresheners): 

"In 2008, researchers at Bristol University found that children whose pregnant mothers used lots of cleaning products...were 41 per cent more likely to suffer wheezing and asthma by the age of seven."

Oh, I hope I didn't scare you...Actually, I really, really hope I did and I hope that we'll all stop using air fresheners! But, hey, that doesn't mean we have to have our cars and homes stink, either! Here are some happy alternatives and tips to keep your environment smelling divine:

-Use delicious and totally non-toxic essential oils (which, by the way, can be used in a bazillion different ways!) to impress all your guests and to unwind after long days! Here are some of Kate Harvey's tempting ideas:

Making your own spray by mixing water and some drops of lavender oil (classic air freshener, minus the evil fumes). The best part? It is TOTALLY safe to spray right onto sheets, pillows and towels! Mmm, heavenly...

Freshen an entire room by dropping a little essential oil into a small bowl of boiling water.

Liven up your dresser drawers by dropping some of your favourite oil on a cotton ball before tucking it into the drawers.

Make a simple lemon air freshener (another classic!) by mixing water and a few drops of lemon oil in a spray bottle.

Add a bit of lemon oil to your dishwasher during the wash cycle for a little scent-boost! (Hello holidays!)

A popular method I've read about a lot of times is to just add a couple drops of your favourite essential oil to help you relax at the end of your day (DIY aromatherapy!)

And an interesting one is to put a cotton ball (with a few drops of essential oil on it) in your vacuum bag so that the scent will release as you do the chore! 


-If all else fails, I guess desperate times call for desperate measures (come on, this blog is based on honesty!) and you can break out that one, secret, spray you keep for emergencies (which can be no less than a boss dropping into your office or a dinner with the in-laws, right??). But do try and use a low-phatalate spray please!



So, have fun ditching toxic sprays and gels and what-not, and exploring the amazing range of essential oils out there! 

Happy Sniffing,

Sabbie :)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Building Castles in the Air...


Wouldn't you love a green house? Like, a Green House?

Personally, I dream of a home running totally on solar power (or something like that!), loads of plants and loads of windows (all ├╝ber insulated)! But a lot of this Green stuff is expensive. Like, really, reeeally expensive. And many people are debating whether "Greening" your home actually pays off all it costs you, too!

But, times are changing! It is getting easier to find green versions of your favourite things without sacrificing all that made them your faves in the first place. And it is getting cheaper as well.

So, as a future designer, I think it's important to keep abreast of sustainable developments. After all, they are going to become the ways of the future! You have gotta:



Okay, sorry about the crazy GIF... it's that it's just one of my favourite movies AND favourite quotes!

Anyways, (I realize how scatterbrained this post is, believe me!) we had an in-class activity today where each person was to compile a summary of a certain sustainable interior design product. Well, I picked paint because, hey! We all use paint all the time, it's supposedly the cheapest and simplest way to freshen up a room (though, this clearly overlooks the sheer mental anguish that can come with painting a house by one's own hand! Exhausting stuff).

So, I've heard of stuff like "low VOC paint" and "think about the baby!" (this, of course, being said to already anxious expectant parents that are creating a nursery for their precious little one) being related to paint but I must admit, it all sounded kind of technical and boring, so I totally ignored it.

But, being an interior design student and all that, you can't avoid things like paint so...here's what I learned in class today:


This post was to be about sustainable choices in finishing up your home

Monday, November 04, 2013

Ye Old Toronto Brick Works

Today, I am here to share with you some further proof of the sheer weirdness that is Arts kids:







We had a trip into the city today! To the old Evergreen Brick Works (shown above). I'm still trying to warm up my bones after wandering around some big, old warehouses but believe it or not, A LOT of brides come here for wedding shoots and people have big fancy corporate parties here too! Gorgeous! (but freezing c-c-cold!!)


Being a sentimental history junkie AND a beauty-seeking fiend, I was beyond impressed with this place! Like, really, really impressed.

But it is far from being just a pretty face or a pretty story. The Don Valley Brick Works (a.k.a. Evergreen Brick Works) are (is?) also the very picture of sustainability! Who knew? Really, who? Because I didn't even know this place existed, let alone contained almost thirty acres of nature-preserving land. All smack-dab, right in the middle of the big bad city! Like I said, impressive!

Starting right from the outside, a lot of the original structures have been kept standing but just updated to be more efficient (energy-wise). Our tour guide pointed out that the oldest buildings started from the left and got progressively newer travelling out to the right.

Also outside, was a wealth of educational areas for the community. From these, the ones I liked best were the sustainable playground for children (to teach them about getting down and dirty with the Earth) and the gigantic parkland where the quarry used to be. 

What really stood out to me was the fact that the organization running the attraction makes a point of maintaining the three distinct, natural ecosystems featured on the land.

 Above: Forest Ecosystem

Above: Meadow Ecosystem


Above: Wetland Ecosystem


Venturing inside, the sheer character of the building is astounding! I just loved, loved, LOVED it (have I mentioned that?)

Above: The gorgeous Welcome Centre


Above: The undeniably cool brick-making machine used originally in the factory.


Above: A cistern (one of many) and pipes that collect rainwater from the rooftop!

Here are just some of the ways in which Evergreen Brick Works runs an efficient building:

-The cisterns collect and store water (from rain and snow) off the roof to provide a significant amount of water for watering plants (something found in abundance in the area) and flushing toilets. I love that! The biggest obstacle, though, was that the cisterns had to be located above ground (because of contamination issues in the earth that date back to the quarry days) and that renders the water frozen and useless during the cold months. Oh well, that's still a lot of water being saved!

-The windows, not that there were too many (just some well-placed ones to keep the areas well-lit), contain heat mirrors (a film) to keep temperatures stable within the building. Also, a simple but often-overlooked step, the company sends out emails to all workers to let them know what days are window-opening days so that no one has windows open when the heat or air conditioning is on. Such a simple concept but completely ignored in all the workplaces and schools I've been to!

-The insulation in the buildings is so amazing that the tour guide declared conventional architecture as being a t-shirt while the Brick Works is a parka. That's sounds so snug and warm right now!

-When the lights are at fifty-percent (often), they are actually at fifty-percent. Meaning, not only is the light received at fifty percent, so is the energy expended.

And really, the list goes on and on. After all, Evergreen Brick Works is planning on getting LEED certified! (Remember my last post? Well, I did say "something like LEED is better than nothing like LEED"! Besides, Evergreen just seems like one of those feel-good, do-good companies and I love that!)

All in all, this place is a must-visit! There is just SO MUCH to see there and I haven't even begun to cover it. Needless to say, I plan on revisiting that place again and again in the future. It's THAT brilliant!

And to end this post on a pretty note, here are some pictures of my favourite area of the Brick Works!

Above: The old kilns and brick-storage (with preserved graffiti!)


 Above: A closed kiln (well, they are all closed now...)
Above: More gorgeous graffiti!!!


--Sabbie

All photos from this post were taken by me and my numb fingers!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

A Little Too Much LEED...

So, last week, in Sustainable Practices, the class had our midterm exam. The subject of this trouble?

A little something called LEED...


You know, I'm all for anything that helps the environment but it's pretty annoying how so many companies and people are trying to cash in on our collective guilt for crushing the environment. Maybe it's just me, maybe it's not just me, but I tend to look at everything "Green" with a very suspicious eye these days (perhaps you remember my first post?).

LEED, in theory, is very helpful and revolutionary in the world of construction and design. It is supposed to encourage and reward those who build or renovate properties to be as Green as possible. It can be effective in the commercial industry, especially. Which customer could criticize a company for trying to be kinder to Mother Earth?

Well, I still can't help but be skeptical of such things. And, after completing this exam (a mark which I hope won't haunt me), I felt a bit...disillusioned (again) about big Green promotors like LEED. Obviously, something like LEED is better than nothing like LEED (or so I hope!) but LEED is so not as earth-shattering (or earth-preserving) as some have made it out to be. In fact, it kind of gets on my nerves. Why am I so harsh? Let me explain.

The exam we did last week required us to write up a report on a hypothetical LEED makeover of our school building. Before the exam, we had been asked to read up on the CaGBC (the Canadian Green Building Council--mother of LEED). I definitely did and it seemed that the more I read, the more complicated and unhelpful LEED certification became. Then, when the test came around, we had to sort through a ninety-page document outlining ways to get LEED points.

That's right. LEED points. Guess what they are used for? Hint: It's really not so different from collecting tokens in a video game!

Well, the number of LEED points a building collects determines if it receives LEED certification. And at what level.

Ta-da!! LEED certification!

Hmph. Sounds pretty juvenile to me. And I have to say, going through that big checklist made me feel kind of silly. Ok, a lot of silly. Like a sugar-crazed kid zipping through an arcade trying to rack up as many points as she can so that she can win the shiny new ___ (insert trivial prize to be soon forgotten once attained).

What you see above is a page out of that ninety page document and yes, that is a 
checklist you can use to tally up those points I was talking about.


Since when is Green building about collecting points? It's just so ridiculous! Why? Because:

A) It's inaccurate (a cookie-cutter method of evaluating buildings isn't evaluation! What makes sense for one building can't always make sense for another! Location, purpose, original structure, etc. These things all matter and should be taken into account to decide how Green a building really is!)

B) What are you encouraging? This isn't a scavenger hunt, so why are you sending everyone on a weird chase to scoop up as many points as they can. Putting aside effectiveness (or lack of), all this point-racking seems to lose sight of what the actual point is. It seems impersonal, yes, but also turns "green-ness" into a commodity. And, come on, whenever something even starts to seem like a commodity, people exploit the heck out of it!

All together, I have to say, LEED may or may not prove to be effective in the future (it's still a relatively new system) but the way they go about promoting green buildings is certainly strange enough to make me wary of them.

And apparently, I am am not the only one! Here's an excerpt from an article written by an American woman:

"...what makes me see red in these kinds of "green" stories is the fact that all across our nation, all the way down to the local village level, the people who lead our cities and states have bought the so-called "sustainable" agenda hook, line and sinker. Either they are ignorant of what it represents, or they agree with the tyrannical scheme". Read on here.

So, on that delightful note, I hope that LEED does find a way to make a difference in the Green Building world and that they'll prove me wrong. In the meantime, I continue to recycle and use curlicue lightbulbs!

Happy recycling,
Sabbie

Saturday, October 05, 2013

The Smaller The Better!

Hey, I live in North America. I know the drill. The bigger the better. The bigger the better.

The bigger the better.

The bigger the better.


The bigger the better.



But this post is not going to argue whether bigger is better or not. Nope, today I'm talking about making smaller better instead.

One of the things that really bug me every day is: wasted space. Like, it really, really BUGS me!

Okay, confession time...I too live in a build-a-box! The second picture up there? Yeah, that's my neighbourhood. Well, not my exact neighbourhood (not even my exact continent...) but what difference does it make? They all LOOK THE SAME!

And since all these "homes" are mass produced, they are far from suiting the individuals who inhabit them and therefore, each and every one of these shells are shells, not homes. Because homes FIT the people who live within them. A home is an extension of one's self. Your home tells stories about your past. Your future. Your lifestyle.

A house simply doesn't. Of course, I'm sure there are happy examples of people who have transformed cookie cutter houses into homes that actually fit their lives and make them happy and stuff...I'm sure they are out there...somewhere... (this is coming after a futile google search) but in the meantime, I must  content myself with educating myself on how to make my own home smaller and better.

So, as I sai before, my home is a classic build-a-box in the suburbs. Very typical, very impersonal, very annoying. Of course, my parents have bought into the Canadian/American dream of having these kinds of houses so, yeah, here we are now. And it's really freaky how I can probably walk into any house on any street within a 10 kilometre radius and find my way through the house as if it is my own....because it certainly looks like mine! Look:

     


Fab, aren't they? And here's a typical floor plan too. There's often a living room, a family room (or den...), a kitchen, a linen closet, a pantry (if you're lucky), a couple of bedrooms, an ensuite for the master bedroom, a powder room, a laundry room, a dining room, a breakfast room, blah, blah, blahhhhh!


Did you catch that? There is a dining room AND a breakfast room. Now, I'm not sure about you but in my home and all the other homes that I've been to, everyone uses the breakfast room for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The dining room? Yeah....I can count on one hand the number of times that is used in a year (Christmas, birthdays, the odd dinner party). 

So why do we still insist on buying into these McMansion schemes? Surely, someone must have realized that buying all that House is not a one-time cost either. First you pay for the house, probably taking out a mortgage that'll keep you slaving for the next thirty, fifty, ninety odd years trying to pay it off, then you spend hours of your time cleaning all that extraneous space and to top it all off, you even pay taxes for every square inch you "own"--whether you use it or not! Point is, never, ever, EVER fool yourself thinking that space not used isn't continuously costing you.

So, if like me, you are sick and tired of all the SPACE people are wasting, let's celebrate a future where (hopefully) we can all ditch the more is more and bigger is better mentality and we can all make the most of every inch we have.

A story I find really inspiring is called The Mayonnaise Jar. It's about a professor that defies conventional modes of thinking to demonstrate to his students that there is always so much more you can fit into something that seems small at first sight. Along this mentality, IKEA (my lifelong love <3)
created the following Small Spaces, Small Ideas advertisement. In fact, I find IKEA truly motivating as they are always defying conventions to fit more and more into spaces the rest of us would overlook...plus it's all so pretty and fun!

IKEA Small Spaces, Small Ideas:


By the way, I think loft beds are the most amazing things in the world! Perfect for creating a specific sleeping zone in an area otherwise cluttered with life and work!

Another video I find amazing is a tour of Graham Hill's 420 square foot SoHo apartment (he's the founder of TreeHugger.com!) It's amazing to the point of ridiculousness that he fit soooo much into his tiny little apartment...if you can call it that:

Graham Hill's Amaaazing Home!


My heart failed when he pulled out that ginormous dining table! And that guest room--love the beds! Both of these videos definitely show small spaces at a bit of an extreme so I'm definitely not advocating that it's for everyone (especially not if you're claustrophobic) but why not apply some of that amazing small-space thinking to your home so that you don't have a dining room you use twice a year but also a library/study you use everyday. Or how about ditching that stuffy second living room for a highly functional space where everyone can be comfortable.

(I don't know about you, but when I think of second living rooms--"for guests only"--I think:
)

In general, I think people think they need way more space than they actually do. I remember Candice Olson (interior designer) once visited a food truck to see how a small team of chefs could work so efficiently in such a small space. It was quite enlightening as these people are able to whip up gourmet dishes in minutes for a line of customers without interfering with each other's work!


And there are so many other places to take inspiration from:

airplane bathrooms...
airplane galleys...
spaceships...
car interiors...

Overall, the benefits of smaller (or smarter) living just seem to make more sense:
-less space to pay for
-less space to clean after
-less harm to the environment
-more space to live in
-more money in your pocket
-and, oh yeah, you get the coolest home on the block!

So, all this is why I find that small spaces are so much more interesting than big ol' draughty, impersonal build-a-boxes. There is no need to toss out the build-a-box you may already have though! Just take a look around your home and note the places you haven't actually sat and enjoyed yourself in days, maybe weeks. Ask yourself why? Do you really need that room? Can't it serve multiple purposes? My one piece of advice to myself and everyone else is to just think outside of the box (outside the build-a-box!). Don't be trapped by the idea that you have to have a room solely dedicated to eating or doing laundry. See what else you could use a room for. Maybe you can have a laundry/crafting/sewing room whereas someone else might have a bathroom/laundry room and yet another person might have a dressing/laundry/bill-paying room. 

There really is no limit and no template because if it works for you, that's all that matter. Really. Just take charge of your home and make it work for you (not the other way around, please!) because smaller can be really, really much better!

--Sabbie






Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A Guide to Surviving a Fiery Apocalypse



Ok, so I'm pretty sure that that is, like, impossible but...

Come on! Is this what I have to look forward to in my old age? (like I said, it's impossible, sure, but something like it could potentially, maybe, perhaps happen!)

Obviously the exact fate of our planet is debatable but it doesn't hurt to be prepared, right?
I certainly try to be!

So, once a upon a time, over two whole years ago (!), while aimlessly browsing through a Chapters bookstore, I came across this lovely:


After somewhat sheepishly taking it to cash, smuggling it home and reading it in the dark hours of the night (I'm surrounded by vicious cynics! Ah!), I ended up LOVING this book!

It isn't another one of those dull-as-nails textbooks that just preach all these annoying ideas that you "must" go along with if you don't wish to suffer a most agonizing demise. No, this is a very accessible and easy-to-read and easy-to-understand dialogue, and you can actually have a lot of fun reading it!



Its a cute little pocketbook sort of sized thing, in full colour and fully illustrated (always a win!). You certainly don't have to read front-to-back, page-to-page either! There is a total of 77 skills (the author, David de Rothschild, insists these are skills you can learn and not just some ideals) and you can just flip around going along with whichever ones interest you. 

Here are some excerpts from the book:



And, of course, there is my favourite section:




Above:
"With a well-managed mutation program and a little luck from Mother Nature, you might be able to kickstart your personal genetic mutation. The results won't be perfect--you'll have to take the adaptations you get--but on an aggressive regimen of morning irradiation and afternoon mutagen shakes, you're sure to sprout something useful sooner or later." (The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook) 

Of course, some of Rothschild's ideas (all from the "If All Else Fails" section) are not actually meant as real advice but the rest of the skills he suggests you learn are, indeed, important and realistic steps to take in saving the planet. 

Yes, the "Put on a Sweater" part may seem silly but really, how many people do you know that are determined to blast the heat in their house (in Canada!) in the middle of January just so they can dress like they are living in Bermuda? Because I can give you a list!

So, yes, its a humorous, somewhat satirical read but I found that The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook was actually inspiring. In fact, I think it was the most climate-change relatedly inspiring thing to happen since Al Gore (...). Maybe it is the author's way of NOT talking in riddles and not talking down to the reader or maybe its that the book is like "polluters anonymous"--an accepting club for all of us earth sinners. A welcoming place to confess, learn, fix and move on.

Point is, books like these and people like this are what I think we need to get the masses moving towards actually protecting the earth. It's not about how much you do being compared with how much your neighbour does, nor is it about being hopeless in the face of "inevitable" self-destruction. 

Nope. It's about doing whatever you can, whenever you can and doing it at your own pace...but certainly doing it! Because if we don't, and all else fails...we might just have to grovel later and scramble to find other ways to survive.

May the best person win....kidding!

--Sabbie