Thoughtful Holiday Reading

Three books plus the normal contingent of magazines including the New Yorker were the core of my cerebral stimulation for the holidays.  Reading books when one can sleep-in is an even more wonderful experience than usual, and magazines make airports and flight delays more tolerable.

I started with the 10th ANNIVERSARY EDITION of ECOLOGICAL DESIGN by Sim Van Der Ryn & Stuart Cowan which I purchased at GreenBuild 2012, San Francisco.  This is a seminal text for the ecodesign industry which is the focus of my work.  Often getting back to basic principles is one of the most important things that we can do.  The next book that came into sharp focus for me was WALKABLE CITY – How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time by my friend JEFF SPECK, the coauthor of SUBURBAN NATION.  This brilliant and well researched text outlines principles for a liveable, ecological and sustainable urban model and he describes the successes that are already leading the way to a revitalized urban context in North America’s best and most liveable cities.  Finally a totally different book came to me as a Christmas gift and this book took over virtually all my reading time until it was read cover to cover, THOMAS KING’s, THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN, A Curious Account of Native People in North America.

Ecodesign is one of the greatest hopes for saving the planet.  Buildings, their construction and their daily use are the largest single consumer of energy and natural resources.  Ecodesign is changing this with some new ‘living’ buildings actually being modelled like plants to be a net benefit to their environment.  This development and response to the greatest challenge of our time, namely climate change means that today is an inspirational time to be on the forefront of a new architectural era.  A relevant paragraph worth consideration in comparison to traditional buildings which degrade their surroundings and consume excessive energy follows;

“Ecological design is simply the effective adaptation to and integration with nature’s processes.  It proceeds from consideration of health and wholeness, and tests its solutions with a careful accounting of their full environmental impacts.  It compels us to ask new questions of each design: Does it enhance and heal the living world, or does it diminish it?  Does it preserve relevant ecological structure and process, or does it degrade it?” page 14 Ecological Design

Designers today are challenged to make show people new ways to live.  My goals this year include both the creation of a model eco house and publishing a book on greening the restaurant industry which I feel is a good forum for influencing style and through style – lifestyle because we all need to adapt our lifestyle to a better ecological balance.


Walkability is the key to great urbanism.  Imagine the benefits and pleasure of walking in Paris, London, Venice, New York, Quebec City and even where I live in Victoria, BC.  There are three primary benefits that result from walkable cities:

  1. When people can walk easily, they use their cars less, they utilize public transit more often and the result is less pollution, healthier environments and improved downtowns.
  2. Walkable downtowns have better economies, higher property values and stable tax bases.
  3. Walkable urban areas attract ‘millenials’ the new creative class that is driving the next economic wave in North America.  Young people today are more likely to have neither a drivers licence nor a car that at any time since the 1950’s.  Cities that attract these people have the most successful businesses in high tech, entertainment and other cutting edge industries.

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King  is a perfectly timed read for anyone who cares about First Nations or Native Americans , because as 2013 has begun with Idol No More protests, intensified oil pipeline controversy, hunger strikes and native rights all in the forefront of the public eye.  This book is a massive historical survey yet it is brought to us by a highly accessible and humorous writer as a gift to our social knowledge bases as well as a ‘throw-down’ challenge for us all to increase our awareness of ‘Indians’ in North America.  For anyone who has respect for the natural world, the history of indigenous peoples who were able to live in balance with their environment for thousands of years, contrasts sharply with our society which has virtually imperilled the entire continent and planet in centuries or arguably and actually mere decades of wanton waste and environmental destruction.  A learning of respect for and harmony with our environment is something that many like me feel could be learned from the original native North Americans.If any of these topics interest you too and you know ways that I can learn more and do more, please feel free to contact me and encourage me in these areas.  The eco house will need financial, technical and social support, my green restaurant book will be a forum for the leading edge of the hospitality industry and we all need to apply pressure on our governments to start to value indigenous societies that can show us how to live as if both past and future generations matter today.  Happy, healthy, abundant and fulfilling new year to everyone.

To Shop or Not To Shop? That is The QUESTION

Locally made from sustainable materials, available through WestCoast eco Home

Locally made from sustainable materials, available through WestCoast ECO Home

… Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to …? Anyway you get the point, we are moving into the height of the consumer season and the question around sustainable society vs consumerism promoted incessantly by the corporatocrasy, the consumerism that according to our government “Drives The Economy” is worth some consideration.

Which economy do you wish to drive and which one does your family and circle of friends support with their gift buying; the economy on your Main Street or the bigger one from Wall Street? In other words do you shop local or or do you shop big box?

Seeing people shopping at Target, Walmart, Costco or any international chain store is like watching container ships full of money leaving our communities, never to return. This shopping pattern is the norm for many consumers ‘driving the economy’, but just where are we driving to?

We also should consider when gift buying, what is the lifecycle of this product? Will it become a family heirloom or is it more likely to soon become the newest form of toxic waste; namely discarded electronic gadgets, phones and games?

ONLY .. DAYS to XMAS! coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge while he still worked for Marshall Fields in the USA before creating his eponymous Oxford Street Selfridges emporium in London, still sets the tone of a critical consumer chronology for this season of the year.

If you could slow down, take one of those few precious days left before the pinnacle events of Christmas and Boxing Day when the real shopping frenzy actually starts, and then consider these few things, it might make for a better feeling when the party dies down.

You might have bought something of lasting value, perhaps supported a local artisan, selected the more sustainable option, or simply chosen not to buy so many things after all. Perhaps you will take the time to make a hand-made card, or to bake something, or to cook a special meal for friends that may create memories with more inherent value than any seasonal trinket.

These multi-purpose modern furnishings roll into use or out of the way as needed. Available though

These multi-purpose modern furnishings roll into use or out of the way as needed.
Available though

Even though we own a retail store, my partner and I hope that we can support responsible consumption and gift buying at this time of the year. We encourage our customers to shop, and only when they chose to do so, for goods that are free of toxins for a healthy home. Please try and find items that are mainly local and look for gifts that are inherently beautiful that will last and then if they are discarded, that they will biodegrade.

This is your stage, your “To Shop or not To Shop” moment. You get to drive your economy, so I ask you to shut off the seasonally induced autopilot and think carefully about the destination you want to arrive at after this drive ends.

Eco Lux Continued

I was lucky enough this week to be given a tour of Dunmora by my friend, the listing realtor, Leslee Farrell.  The tour reminded me that heritage homes, once renovated, may be both one of the best forms of eco design and of eco lux.  Nothing like them can, will, or possibly even should be built today, if only because of the type and amount of material that was used.  The embedded carbon footprint of heritage architecture makes replacement / teardown-rebuild, a thirty year or more payback.  So please think about this fact before you agree to teardown any home just to replace it, even with a model eco home.  I am a strong proponent of eco renovations for many reasons.

Dunmora ..An Incomparable Ocean Front Estate!

At Dunmora, all the granite was from the area and all the wood came from the property.  We either can’t or we simply don’t do that kind of local material sourcing as a habit today.  However local building and design material sourcing is what I have been proposing at my design studio for over three years with my 100 Mile Design principles at the eco Design Gallery and at our retail store WestCoast eco Home (see blog).

But these are early days in local material sourcing for construction.  We are barely out of ther ground in North America on local food production which is the catalytic and dominant factor in restarting the local source movement.  Remember that two or three generations ago, virtually everything we used and everything that we ate was local, but that was a full generation of corporatocracy ago, before the dominance of Walmart, Costco and China.

Originally at Dunmora, the estate grounds were so large that today after subdivision, an entire 10 home enclave has been created, allowing other families to enjoy this spectacular site.


On the same day that we toured Dunmora, I was photographed for an article on how I am proposing a better future, at another eco lux property, The Point, an all glass house which I designed for the father of Victoria’s Old Town, the publican and eventual philanthropist, Michael Williams.

10MilePoint copy

This house is a model of traditional design intelligence, but neither Michael’s intelligence nor mine, but architectural wisdom based on respect for traditional architectural forms.  We employed Roman and Victorian design principles, much to the disappointment of the mechanical engineerrs who said we needed air conditioning, that the house would be too hot, too cold, too drafty, too damp etc.  This very comfortable and energy efficient home is a virtual atrium house with its natural air conditioning created by a small fountain at the centre, with falling water and plants cooling the air, regenerating oxygen and creating natural convection.

The home ’breathes’ under greenhouse or ‘wintergarden’ principles established by the brilliant Victorian gardener Sir Joseph Paxton.  Vents open and close throughout every day by digitally controlled monitors unlike the manpower to do the same tasks which I have seen being used at Kew Gardens or which was employed so that hundreds of thousands of people could enjoy The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London, 1851 but the principles are the same: drawn in cool air from moist shaded areas in or around the building, and then by natural convection, make that air travel as far as possible before it is released as warm air at the top of the building.

Eco is possible, eco lux is not an oxymoron, what is needed is a new way of thinking about buildings, about energy and about materials.  This is my mission.





IMG_7738 - CopyI Love Nature

It’s true, I do.  This simplest of facts is the basis for most of what I do in my life including much of my social and business activity.  The fact that it is summer and that I have been out in nature much more recently because we are having a fabulous summer simply adds to the feeling, but this love affair goes on all year every year, and in fact grows stronger with each passing season.  You could say that we all love nature, and who doesn’t?  And maybe you’d be right, but does everyone truly act as if they really love nature?

Do you hike in it, bike in it, camp in it, romp in it?  Do you swim in lakes and rivers, even if the water is cool or cold?  Would you go hundreds of miles (or kilometers) just to walk on beaches and collect driftwood?  This is what I do whenever I get a chance to play with nature.

So let’s say that you’ve said yes to all this, that like me you do all these things, you love, celebrate and play with nature.  Then do you act ecologically as if you love nature?  Do you own oil stocks; is your investment portfolio ecologically ethical, and how far past recycling does your carbon footprint stretch?

It’s time for those of us who truly love nature to show her that we care, that we understand, that we are listening, and that we are going to change.  Because this relationship of loving nature is at a critical juncture.   A little self help and counselling can go a long way, think about the effects on nature of everything you do and you might find yourself doing some things differently.  If we all start to do things differently with love for nature in our hearts and actions, we might keep the positive change we need really moving.  Do you love nature like I do?


ZahaOne of the inspirations for me as a designer is the work of my heros, remember heros, those people who show us the way forward even when it seems very beak just before the dawn?  Well I have three or four or five living heros, Santiago Calatrava, Phillip Stark, Marcel Wanders, Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid.

I made a pilgrimage to NYC just to see the sculptures of the architect Santiago Calatrava at the Metroploitan Museum a few years ago. The one room exhibit was worth the trip from the west coast of Canada.  He is an architect / artist / designer who I feel, rewrote the rulebook for architecture for the 21st century.  Then on a bounce back trip to New York with my partner Anita to show her art work around the galleries we were thrilled to find a sculpture exhibition in an avant garde gallery by the fabulous architect / artist Zaha Hadid.

I’ve met Phillip Stark in London, who like me is a hospitality industry type and I love all of his work, and my partner and I have been to the store in Amsterdam that first showed the work of Marcel Wanders.  It is satisfying to have something to appreciate in this world of sameness and conformity.  As an antidote to the sameness of things, try a walk about of the LA Philharmonic building by Frank Gehry and then think about the other buildings you experience daily.

Anyway the point of this article is that this image is not a Ridley Scott movie blue screen computer generated fantasy, it is a real building complex in China by the ever creative Zaha Hadid.  Those are people.  The future is actually here today.  Enjoy it.

Who is Going to Pay for This?

The big question in Alberta now is; “Who is Going to Pay for This?” and of course no one in their beloved Alberta petrochemical industry wants to take responsibility for climate change and the costs of flooding.  The rational is that the massive flooding was entirely caused by Mother Nature and late spring runoff, not in any way by Big Oil.  One ironic quote was “Fortunately the oil sands were not hit with this flooding.”  At some point we as consumers need to start forcing government to make the polluters and climate change initiators pay the real social and environmental costs of carbon fuel or we as a society will simply go broke on top of dealing with 200 year flooding every few years.  Because the answer to “who is going to pay for all this?” is,…. and get ready, you already know the answer……..yes, it is you and me.

We get the bill, we get to pay for all this as taxpayers, we get to pay for all this as insurance buyers, we pay for all this as small business owners and we do this while the people who are causing the climate change continue to get development grants and government assistance to ‘build the economy!’   Whose economy is being built and at what cost?  Who is Going to Pay for This?

Natural, Green, Local – What’s in a word?

Do you recall the first time you heard someone promoting something with use of the word natural?  If you’re old enough it would probably have been in the 1970′s maybe in a health food or ‘natural’ food store.

Within a few years it seemed almost everything being sold was ‘natural’, even soft drinks full of preservatives and colorants were touting their ‘natural’ ingredients.  Natural got so over-used as a word by marketers that eventually the word ‘natural’ was replaced with the word organic and soon after that as much as three times more organic labelled or marketed food was sold than was grown for many years.  So your chance of getting the natural organic food you were trying to buy, and even at premium prices, was one in three!

all natural

Finally after consumer complaints, the US government finally acted creating the USDA Organic program and certified and labelled organics brought some order and credibility back to the natural food movement.


Decades later the movement toward healthy and wholesome living turned to the word green.  Green was about architects, designers, and planners on the leading edge who were talking green with eco conscious ways of building, living and being globally aware.  Green was GreenPeace with anti-nuclear and pro-environment initiatives.  The recycling movement, energy efficiency and words like ‘green power’ from sources like windfarms came to the forefront.

Within what seemed like nano-moments, the construction world of builders and developers, automakers and public utilities were selling us green.Go Green

There has been a recent growth spurt in ‘green’ awareness partly based on climate change, and globally the eco and green movement continues to grow.  However the market reality is that ‘greenwashing’ statistically outnumbers true green by factors that make the three to one organics metrics look very, very good in comparison. How about less than one in a hundred green marketed or green labelled products actually passing reasonable green standards?  This 1 in 100 green label statistic is actually considered conservative by some testing organizations so … consumers beware!

Today, partly in response to the vagaries of Wall Street, in reaction to corporatocracy and big-box / fast-food culture, the new word for the forward thinking utopians is ‘local’.

local yellow

I’m part of my local movement, promoting 100 Mile Design and sitting on the board of my Shop Local / Think Local organization.  Our group, very much like other groups and movements growing up all over the world today, was founded as a grass roots group, off the side of the desk of some very committed local business owners.  We are now facing our first big dilemma, because some big, non-locally owned companies with a strong local presence and a mandate to “be local” want in to our membership.

Soon we are going to have to decide if our local group will be going certified organic or Pepsi ‘Natural’, green or greenwashed.  Note the Yellow Pages symbol discretly placed in the local label above.  Who is more local than Yellow Pages you may ask?  But is a company that is everywhere actually local or do they simply have their fingers in every local pie?

keep it local

As for me, I’m for certified organic, and I look for eco certified green products and methods.  Therefore for me, like no means no, local means local.   This is because of the benefits in the label above, namely jobs, community and business.  Many local movements have been based on founders’ quality principles and idealistic goals like these which value Main Street community based principles over Wall Street goals of profit at any cost.

However the numbers used by big business will favour a movement which will use market speak to  be ‘as natural as possible,’ that will be ‘green’ only when we can really afford it and they may support a local definition which means a local sales office , store, franchise, branch or business.  Some of these do get to make some of their own local decisions and are always encouraged to maximize local accounts. (leaving national accounts to head office)

So who owns the meaning of words like natural, green and local?   Is it the people who start movements for positive change around important words like natural, green and local, or the marketers who learn how to make these words into tools to simply sell more of their products?

Watch this space to see what happens , because I’m hoping the word local will be clear enough in its meaning that market forces will ‘let it be’ as John Lennon would say but the fact that a bank and a newspaper, both owned out of town, are determined to be included in our local membership shows that local may simply be the next big buzz word on Madison Avenue, which by the way, is close to Wall Street in New York City.

TOP TEN eco HOME Innovations:

The last ten years has seen a sharp increase in people who are interested in conserving energy and preserving the environment by living “green” or “eco.” There are many things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and help make the earth a better place for future generations. Here are ten ‘eco’logical suggestions.


1. Going Solar Adding solar panels to your home is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. All energy has to come from somewhere, and the sun is the safest and most sustainable energy source that we have. Converting to solar electric power or solar hot water may seem expensive, but government incentives have led many installation companies to offer payment plans that are roughly equal to your monthly electric bill. After you’ve paid off your solar panels, you can “harvest” the extra energy you produce and actually watch your electric meter run in reverse.

2. Heating and Cooling Heating and cooling expenses account for the largest portion of most homeowner’s energy bills. Replacing old or outdated furnaces and air conditioning units can increase energy efficiency and lower costs. Geothermal heating and heat pumps employ cutting-edge technology to use temperature differentials within the earth, air or water to heat your home. Although expensive, it is undoubtedly the wave of the future and is already very common throughout Europe.

3. LED Lighting While replacing standard incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs with LED lamps will initially cost more, these long-lasting lamps will eventually pay for themselves through life cycle energy savings. LED’s can now also produce a cleaner, more natural light than fluorescent light bulbs.

4. Water Recycling Water is a hot topic, especially as climate change becomes more prevalent. Water filters are available to clean and reuse water from showers and baths, dishes and laundry. These ‘Gray Water’ systems redirect the used water from these various types of washing to toilets, lawns or gardens.

5. eco Insulation Replacing wall and attic insulation in older homes is another way to cut energy usage and costs. Choose eco-certified batt insulation like Roxul or loose fill cellulose insulation. No ‘safe’ spray foam insulations exist at this time.

6. Low VOC Stains and Paints Paints and stains with high levels of volatile organic compounds create pollution when they are manufactured, and they can release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere and the air within your home on hot, humid days. Whenever possible, use low VOC or VOC-free paints and stains inside your home.

7. Portability, Size and Location Modular and prefabricated homes manufactured with eco materials are one way to ensure your house is environmentally friendly. In addition, many people are choosing to buy, build or rent smaller homes, condos or apartments in walkable districts to reduce their environmental impact.

8. Alternative Materials Using non-traditional materials like pumice cloth or fibreglass to manufacture homes is becoming increasingly popular. Working with materials like these can reduce our reliance on natural resources and energy.

9. Rainwater Collection Another way to reduce water use is to utilize a cistern or holding tank to collect rainwater. Once gathered, the water can be purified for home use, or more commonly, used to irrigate gardens, landscaping and lawns.

10. Air Purification In recent years indoor air pollution has gotten a lot of attention. Building materials and embellishments like paint and carpets can off-gas chemical compounds into the atmosphere, and because a home is an enclosed space, those compounds can sometimes accumulate to dangerous levels. Installing a whole-house air purification system is one way to keep indoor air clean and circulating. Indoor plants act aseffective natural air filters.

11. Sustainable Wood (Oops there’s 11 good tips!) When beginning any new construction project, it’s important to look for lumber that is sustainable. That is, it is harvested from trees that are grown specifically for timber, and not logged from old-growth forests. For wooden floors or paneling, consider using an inexpensive, fast-growing, beautiful and sustainable wood like bamboo or cork.

Going “eco” doesn’t have to be a challenge. A home is a long-term investment. You don’t have to start over from scratch. Make small changes. Choose environmentally friendly paint or LED bulbs. Chances are your home will need improvements eventually. Whenever possible, choose upgrades that will reduce your carbon footprint. It’s good for the planet, and it’s good for you.

With thanks for the original idea to Douglas Elliman Realtors, New York City Luxury Real Estate


eco bathing anyone?

The New York Times today is worth noting, this sober publication is warning that we have crossed the 400ppm threshold of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.  So what is an eco concious person to do?  How about some lifestyle changes, less driving and more bathing, less enegy consumption, and more plants in our lives.  An excellent example of eco luxury with a long term benefit to the owners is the beautiful tub side, green wall featured recently in Houzz.  Check out:

I have a green wall in my studio but never thought to put it by my tub until I saw this inspirational image.  I’m looking for clients who want an interior designer who wants to help them feel better about building and renovation by selecting eco responsible and beautiful solutions like this.  By simply being aware, thinking about what we do and what we value, how we do what we do and what impacts and preferably benefits we create, we can save the planet and feel good about doing it. Imagine yourself in this tub, then let me help you create one for yourself.  Or if you’re a true DIY’er go for it and Do It Yourself!

If you’re wondering why I’m promoting more bathing, and isn’t that an energy hog, then you’re not thinking solar hot water, because with the fastest green payback and the simplest technology, this is a great change for the better for your home that is often grant worthy in most regions.  Let the sun warm your bath water for the tub and then feel good about pampering yourself.

PS, Nice Mother’s Day or Birthday Gift too if you’re the generous sort!  Show your favourite person this image and say, do you like this? Do you want one?