Smith & Fong Co. did an exclusive interview with celebrity interior designer, Kari Whitman. In the interview, she outlines tips, tricks, and inspiration to incorporate her design aesthetic into you daily life. To learn more about Kari, visit her website at: www.kariwhitmaninteriors.com.
Smith & Fong Co.: I read that you were an early adapter to environmentally focused interior design. What got you interested in this? When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
Kari Whitman: I’m from Bolder Colorado, a Tree Hugger Hippie, there’s no other way to be. I’ve never NOT been green. To recycle and reuse, even for a modern sleek home, I find pieces to redo, mix old with new, to find more personality in diversity. Older products are typically made with better ethics and better quality materials. I bring things down to the wood frame and re cover them.
SF: I first became acquainted with your work after seeing what you did with the home of Jessica Alba. Was she initially interested in green design or is it something you were able to explore together?
KW: She hired me because of my green knowledge. She understands sustainability and she will do everything she can to be non toxic. Jessica knows the value of creating a healthy home and worked with me to promote her standards through a designer’s aesthetic.
SF: What were the aims in the Alba home? Indoor Air Quality? Using rapidly renewable materials. What were the two of you going after when you collaborated on her home?
KW: Mold testing is a standard for about 65% of the homes, especially for a baby’s room. There are many issues about vocs (volatile organic compounds). So everything down to cleaning supplies was an issue. No quick fixes using chemicals. For maintenance, we used a combination of hemp oil, vegetable oil, and a splash of tea tree — wipe and clean everything, even on wood floors, they look great.
SF: I read in an interview not too long ago where you mentioned our Durapalm product (thanks by the way!) What drew you to it initially and what made you feel it was a product worthy of recommending by name?
KW: Plyboo is easy to work with as a company, has the most variation with different dimensions, and a large variety of products. I’m obsessed with Durapalm and it’s many ways of being used, along with coconut palm products having so many textures and tones. I love all the different grains. It is a sleek, yet gives an organic feel, but it can also look modern. Because it has a sleek look, I love to add metals to create a balance and harmony.
SF: Which projects did you use our products in? Do any come to mind? I am currently working on an estate, in Texas. We are creating furniture pieces with Plyboo, and possibly incorporating flooring. We might even use some of the materials to create an indoor and an outdoor look. In Aspen, with Tony Banderas’ house, I am using Plyboo to modernize a very rustic cabin to have a better balanced feeling.
KW: What challenges do you face when suggesting ecologically friendly building materials to homeowners? Challenges with manufacturers are finding those who are actually green and meet high sustainable standards. I want to use smaller companies, who are passionate. I do a background check to make certain they live up to what they say. Also getting a client to understand that green products can be sleek and modern.
SF: I see that you have a pretty large influence in green design, and you’re covered quite heavily in popular magazines. What advice would you have for a homeowner interested in making more environmentally sound design decisions — improving indoor air quality for instance? What advice do you have for renters?
KW: Find pieces of furniture, which are timeless. Also refurbish, reuse and give another life to a product. Take a chair and gut it. Perhaps use a beautiful royal blue fabric with cream piping. You can after five years take that same chair and use a silver grey fabric with nail heads and create an entirely different look. There are fantastic green no voc paints. I like AFM Safecoat. Take a few of their vibrant colors, add some lighting at lamps plus (a store known for green products, kooky and funky with a bit of hollywood glam). Find a few pieces of lighting, add some timeless pieces of furniture, use a Plyboo woven palm panel in a key place, and you have great design. It does not have to put you into debt to make your space sleek and well designed.
SF: Which eco-focused media do you follow? Any blogs in particular?
KW: I read the Bolder Magazine, Bolder Daily Camera, my home town is so profound they seem to be one step in front of everyone else. They even started their own sustainable place, Boulder Sustainability Network. CU has an education center which is tremendous. Dwell is great for ideas. Also Solar Row, reading from my roots, listen to lectures from CU sustainability project.
SF: Do you feel it’s difficult to transition into running a sustainable household?
KW: Not at all. Once you take steps, starting with cleaning solutions, fabrics, carpets — they all add up to a better organic aesthetic. You can feel the healthy environment. it becomes evident!
SF: I noticed that you’ve also done commercial design, and even have extended your brand to designing pet spaces. Is there any one area you feel people should really reconsider impact on their immediate environment when making their design to-do lists?
KW: Design with Paws in Mind, my book, is in the works. Pets and children, should use durable, non-toxic products. Chemicals and petroleum based products interact with pets and kids. I recommend when working with Don Henley when they were expecting their child, to look at all household cleaners. We also made certain that no carpet or other materials on the floors were going to be toxic. As we researched chemicals used in carpet I became more ware of how unhealthy carpet can be with all the added chemicals for stain resistance and simple binders they use for backing. Kids and pets are so interactive with materials that we focused on natural organic flooring and coverings. Also, take a look at Greener Pup Dog Beds. Remember use natural products, meaning few chemically developed fragrances and harsh solutions. The more simple it is the better.
SF: What would you like to see happen with the future of interior design?
KW: I’d like to see mandatory laws to really guide. I’d also like for sustainability not be a trend but a reality, from fad to a way of life. We should figure out a way for really green companies to be noticed and validated and be successful.
The views expressed are those of the interviewee and may not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Smith & Fong Co.