Interview with Kari Whitman

August 5, 2011 in Interview

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.

PlybooSquared makes a Cameo on TakePart.com

July 21, 2011 in Installations, Uncategorized

As you know, PlybooSquared was featured in the EcoFabulous Modern Living House in the Dwell on Design Show in Los Angeles last month. It was a wildly successful showing, and the media center made with Plyboosquared bamboo plywood and bamboo veneer got lots of attention; it even makes a cameo in this video featured on TakePart.com.

Inside Ecofabulous’ Modern Living Showhouse from TakePart on Vimeo.

The house was recently sold on Ebay to a lucky individual.

Contact sales@plyboo.com if you’re interested in purchasing PlybooSquared plywood or veneers. For flooring visit: www.plyboo.com/plyboodirect .

Bamboo Flooring in Action

July 7, 2011 in Installations, Uncategorized

This video was posted by Kaiser Permanente and it is of their recently opened Center for Total Health – User Experience Tour. Not only is this an incredible effort at improving the health of individuals and encouraging walking, it’s also truly incredible to see what effort went into the design and how strand bamboo flooring is incorporated so effortlessly. It’s great how they’ve incorporated the touchscreen video into the user experience of the tour. Be sure to check it out if you’re in the D.C. area.

Thank you Kaiser Permanente for sharing such an informative video!

For more info about the Center for Total Health in Washington D.C. visit the website at: http://www.centerfortotalhealth.org/ .

Spring in the Bamboo Forest

April 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

There’s such magic at this time of year that cannot be ignored. The days grow longer, life springs up all around us at lightning speed, and undeniably, we feel more connected to each other and everything around us. Very recently, Dan Smith, of Smith&Fong, spent a few weeks enjoying the awe-inspiring splendor of the bamboo forrest. The following account is from Dan’s experience of the sights and sounds in China:

Spring is a very special time all over the world and no less so then in a timber bamboo forest in China. Spring expresses itself most profoundly with the shooting of the bamboo in late March. Shooting is one of the most miraculous aspects of a bamboo forest. This is the period when bamboo does its most rapid growing. A shoot can come out of the grown at 6” to 7” in diameter and reach full height in 50 to 60 days. At top speed, bamboo has been clocked at an inch an hour over a 24 hour period. This is also a time when bamboo culm harvesting is limited as well as entry into the forest itself creating a temporary shortage in supply. To get through this period manufacturer’s typically stock up before the Chinese new year and this allows them to keep production flowing through this time of shortage. Here are a few shots from my recent trip to the forest.

Maozhu (moso bamboo) shooting in spring.

Bamboo forest in spring. The yellow bamboo is the new growth that shoots in the spring from late march to late June.

Freshly cut crown section remains from culm harvest. A culm can be taken down with as few as 3 to five swings of a bamboo forester’s machete. Typically the diaphragm, the inner seal of the bamboo culm is tapped with the machete or bamboo knife to create a puncture that allows the decomposition process to progress more rapidly, nourishing the bamboo rhizome system to support next years’ growth.

A year old crown section working its way to full decomposition in the bamboo forest.

A shoot just breaking the surface. This one was later harvested for our lunch. Shoot harvesting is pretty much over by mid-March and so this lunch shoot, constituted a late harvest. A week later there would be no further harvesting of shoots until the fall season.

Maozhu, or moso bamboo forest in spring. Bamboo forests in Hunan, Fujian, Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces take up vast areas of mountainous lands providing both a food source as well as a raw material source to fuel many different bamboo industries including our own, bamboo plywood and flooring.

Wear marks in the stone pathway from many years of dragging Maozhu culms down the mountain to the weigh station for sale.

Mountain path in bamboo forest in spring

Bamboo forest in spring.

Weather shelter for bamboo foresters during both monsoon summer months and cold winter days when temps can drop into the 20s (Fahrenheit).

Lao Tu, is an old friend whom I have know for more than an 15 years. He is a retired bamboo weigh man for this forest. Everyone here knows him, as he has been a fixture for more than 60 years. We have climbed these mountains, cut culms, hunting for shoots together and in previous years have done some famous drinking of the locally distilled baijiu or Chinese vodka.

There are many facets and subtleties of the bamboo forest. The seasons, harvesting techniques, working a living from the land, even the people of these mountains have their secrets shared only over time, plied with much good local food, spirit and friendship.

Dan

Bamboo gets Mainstream

April 13, 2011 in Admin

I was flipping through the March issue of Psychology Today a couple of weeks ago and happened upon an article about environmentalism making its way into our daily lives. It’s not only socially acceptable — it’s chic. I was absolutely beaming to see the words “bamboo floor” in print. Not as a fad, but a new direction that should be embraced. People are proudly sharing that they’ve got a bamboo floor just as they’re glad to admit participation in community supported agriculture. Bamboo isn’t the future, it’s the present. It’s happening now and it’s a part of our daily lives.


Bamboo’s significance has surpassed being merely food for pandas. A shining example: I was speaking with Dan, our company president, just yesterday. He was telling me about an episode of The Cat In the Hat Knows A Lot About That that took place in the bamboo forest. Imagine that! An episode of a popular children’s program explaining the many uses of bamboo and its role in its natural environment. The characters visited the bamboo forest and met a panda named Zhu Zhu who explained all the things bamboo could do in addition to being her favorite food. Dan’s daughter along with so many other children are learning about the versatility of bamboo beyond a sturdy grass from China. It’s very clear that people accept bamboo as a material that can be made into clothing, furniture, flooring, and homes.

You can find bamboo cutting surfaces and bowls at your local grocer, bamboo handled knives and specialty cutting boards cut into the shapes of states on Etsy. Bamboo’s popularity as a building material is growing as fast as, well, BAMBOO!

~nicole~