Designers Bring Nature Indoors

Press, San Diego Business Journal

By Andrea Siedsma

As a law firm that represents the clean technology and clean energy industries, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo thought it was appropriate to design the interior of its new Carmel Mountain office with as many eco-friendly materials as possible.

The firm's new 40,000-square-foot office at the Gateway at Torrey Hills includes floors made of recycled teak, countertops made with recycled glass and concrete, as well as cabinets made with recycled sunflower seeds. San Diego-based Howard-Sneed Architecture and Design helped Mintz come up with sustainable materials for the interior of the office, which also includes carpet made with recycled materials and furniture that has water-based wood stains and recycled steel.

"Moving into a new office space gave us the opportunity to pick out the materials we wanted to use. So we sat down very early in the process with our designer and went through some of the themes we wanted to use," said Craig Hunsaker, manager of Mintz's San Diego office. "We are true believers in clean technologies so we needed a space that reflected the concerns and goals of a lot of our clients."

Hunsaker said the availability of eco-friendly products made it easier for the firm to use the materials it wanted.

"It's an important trend right now so we were able to find a lot of the materials at a price point that was affordable to us," he said.

Hunsaker declined to reveal how much the interior project cost. The target date for Mintz to move its 50 employees into the new "green" office is mid-May or soon afterward.

The use of such eco-friendly materials is becoming more popular these days for businesses and homeowners alike. One company that has seen an increasing demand for sustainable interiors is La Jolla-based GDC Construction Inc. The firm has incorporated environmentally friendly interior materials for dozens of local custom homes. Recently, GDC was awarded a $500,000 contract to "green" the "Davidson residence," including using water-based paint, fluorescent light fixtures and energy efficient appliances.

Energy Efficiency

One of the most energy efficient interior designs is the use of fluorescent lights because they last longer and use less energy, said GDC.

"The savings on your energy bill will help pay for a dinner out each month. So it's a trade-off," GDC said.

GDC said GDC also uses water-based paints for its projects versus oil-based paints, which are harmful to the environment. GDC also encourages clients to install dual-pane windows to save energy in addition to using solar power. Another growing trend, according to GDC, is using organic materials such as cotton or recycled cardboard for installation, as well as stud framing made with recycled metal. More homeowners are also moving toward tankless water heaters.

"Not only are they more efficient, but they take up less space," GDC said. "They are the size of a backpack and they are made of metal and plastic. You don't have to have a large water heater taking up a whole closet. You can put a tankless water heater outside of your house."

Although the "green" movement has begun to make its way into the home, GDC said the general population needs continuous education on eco-friendly interior products.

"People want to be green but they need to start spending the money to do it," GDC said.

There are indicators that more money will be spent on such materials. The U.S. green building materials market is expected to reach $27.9 billion by 2011, according to BCC Research, a Massachusetts-based market research firm. The National Association of Home Builders predicts that between 5 percent and 10 percent of new homes will be eco-friendly by 2010.

As homebuilders, homeowners and commercial real estate builders look for more ways to incorporate sustainable materials, business is expected to grow forfirms such as San Diego-based Design Line Interiors. As one of the region's emerging green design firms, Design Line Interiors helps clients, ranging from luxury and urban homebuilders to resort hotel spa developers, incorporate attractive, affordable and readily available materials and installation techniques.

"Where green designers bring real value to a project is showing clients how they can create more eco-friendly environments, find nontoxic and renewable materials and still see a return on investment," said Dawn Davidson, founder and president of Design Line Interiors.

Green Ranch House

One of the firm's most recent "green" projects was the Ranch House at Del Sur, the information center for the newly opened master-planned community by Black Mountain Ranch LLC located in north San Diego, west of Interstate 15 and near Rancho Penasquitos. The Ranch House is the first building in San Diego to earn the highest designation offered by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, rating system for green building. By selecting interior materials such as reclaimed wood beams and floors, green-approved floor coverings and paints, countertops made ofcompressed sunflower seeds and renewable cork flooring, Design Line helped the 3,000-square-foot Ranch House at Del Sur achieve Platinum LEED status in the category of private enterprise, new construction.

The amount of Design Line Interiors' contract for the project was not available.

Wheat waste was also used in the Ranch House's cabinets and ceilings, while salvaged timbers were used in its flooring and ceiling trusses.

"Our desire, like most of us, is to be considerate of our environment and the more we can do the more we feel we are contributing to a better world," said Suzie Anderson, Design Line's lead designer for the Ranch House project. "The biggest hindrance in this movement is the affordability. But the more important we make it as designers the more important it will be to customers and to manufacturers. It's our responsibility to use green materials. We're at the onset of this movement."

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