Let's say you're one of the lucky and striving NYC residents who's ready to invest in a piece of real estate. A loft in Greenpoint. A three bedroom on the Upper West Side. A pied-a-terre in TriBeCa.
If you're at all interested in getting your home updated in a way that is both stylish and sustainable (and really, when have you moved into an apartment that you love as is?), you might turn to the architectural firm of Campion Platt, which in the process of designing the Perfect Apartment, gently nudges its clients to a less toxic and more energy efficient living style.
"Everyone is ready to adopt this," Platt told me over the phone. "I don't get any resistance to using eco products ... as long as they look and feel correct."
That ethos--seeking out sustainable products and incorporating design in a way that still satisfies that taste of his clients--has left his picky high-end clients satisfied since the 80s. His latest large-scale project is the luxury Greenbriar Sporting Club at White Sulphur Springs in West Virgina, with all the materials coming from within 500 miles.
Lest you think otherwise, his architectural firm doesn't just do the moving around of walls. His approach is holistic, from the wiring to the love seat.
"The general consuming population of architecture/interior design/decoration/staging, generally has the assumption that the two disciplines are different. They're different in a state-licensing perspective, but--you see much more of this in high-end interiors--you have a real integration between architecture and design. The way I see the world is that there is no difference between them. When you walk into a beautiful room, you don’t say, 'I love the architecture and I love the interior design.' It's like, 'I like the room.' When you translate that to the world of eco design, it's in both parts."
However, while he says the technology for efficient architecture has been around since the late 1970s, he's still innovating and searching to find high-end interior design materials that make the grade. One project he collaborated on was with HBF textiles, in which U.S. mills were used to create all but one of the products, with materials like bamboo chenille and recycled plastic textile. "That was three or so years ago. Now there are so many products now," Platt says.
Still, NYC architectural and design projects come with challenges. "In New York City apartments, contractors pour a terrible poison inside the walls to kill anything that goes in there, but that outgases at some point," Platt says. (Wow, that makes you feel good, right?) "There's so much poison around us anyway. You just try to get away from it, and create an oasis in the home environment." Other challenges: Some of the older apartments have asbestos in them, or if you've settled on a prewar apartment, you might have to invest in some serious rewiring. "Many times I have to bring power up the building through the elevator shaft to the apartment," Platt says.
Clearly Platt serves the high-end market of bespoke apartments, but he imparted some wisdom that anyone can use. "The greatest thing anyone can do to be energy efficient is to have good insulation in the house," he says. "Because you want to trap your heat or trap the cool."
Other things he recommends: well-insulated windows, reclaimed wood for floors (which is says is actually quite affordable), specialized insulation materials, non-formaldehyde plywood, low-VOC paints, natural hemp carpets, natural dyes, non-toxic glues for the millwork and veneering, LED lights (though they don't always play nice with smart lighting systems and dimmers), and the Nest thermostat, of which he is a huge proponent. "Is the product itself made from sustainable materials? Probably not. But it's a small enough device that changes enough in your life to cause electricity to be consumed less."
He even is a proponent of wiring houses a special way, "so you don't create electrical fields of interference for people who are sensitive. Everyone is affected by it, just the degree to which they are affected by it differs." I've heard of this view before in France, where people refuse to live under large power lines. But most of the literature I found on the subject deals with how electrical interference affects devices like radios, TVs, and pacemakers, not people. It certainly can't hurt, though!
So, when looking for an apartment that you're willing to renovate, Platt suggests you ask yourself these questions:
- How much power does the apartment have?
- What kind of air conditioning is available? Is it the inefficient through-the-wall kind? (Which also leaks air)
- What are the ceilings that you can actually deal with? Many places have been renovated over time and the ceiling has been lowered. "One time we took down a wall and found four additional feet, plus a fireplace," he says.
- Look at the appliances in the apartment. Are they Energy Star and new?
- What’s the existing lighting in the apartment, and can it be easily changed for more efficiency?
- How do the kitchen cabinets look? Can you just replace the fronts instead of ripping the whole thing out? (Just make sure to get non-formaldehyde cabinets.)
Oh, and if you're looking at co-ops instead, I hope you're patient. "It’s a much tougher process," Platt says of getting approvals for your changes, eco-friendly as they may be. "There are always people who have an opinion because they can."