A luscious new book celebrates good, eco-conscious living.
Before I started writing for Bluedot Living, I’d sometimes feel like a stalker when I’d call up fellow folks obsessed with climate mitigation to talk to them about their work, and they’d be like (in kinder words), “I’m sorry. Who are you?” Now I have a reason to call, and I exercise it regularly. It is the best — particularly when I get to call someone who wrote a book that excites me.
Recently, I had the pleasure of talking to Margot Guralnick and Fan Winston, authors of Remodelista: The Low-Impact Home. Many may be familiar with Remodelista.com, which was founded in 2007 by current editor-in-chief Julie Carlson, along with Francesca Connolly, Janet Hall, and Sarah Lonsdale. Remodelista.com and the Remodelista books all espouse an intensely pared down aesthetic. Their “About Us” page commands, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” This sums up their approach perfectly, but I must note that the homes and rooms Remodelista celebrates feel like occupied spaces where humans sleep, shower, read, watch movies, cook and debate over dinner. They contain neutrals, textures, pops of color, and high low design – a beautiful vase from the flea market paired with a vintage Scandanavian coffee table – they are clean, functional, and best of all, liveable.
What excites me most about this new Remodelista book and the kind of home it proposes is the way Margot and Fan thread the idea of low-impact living into a design framework: there are beautiful home decor choices one can make that will not negatively impact the planet or, at least will have a lower impact on it than other choices might have. They write, “We like to think of it as the new normal: a personalized (if admittedly not perfect) future-minded approach to domestic life, with an emphasis on conscientious consumerism and responsible choices.” I also appreciate the fact that Margot and Fan make it clear that while some low impact choices for the home are investments (like a new heating system or a better roof), they do not always need to result in a high impact on your bank account.
One of my favorite sections of the book describes the “Remodelista 75: Favorite Objects for Everyday Use.” Here, Margot and Fan highlight investing in previously owned everyday tools such as whisks, measuring cups, scissors, and tableware. One can find them all at antique shops, flea markets, and estate sales, on eBay or Craigslist. Often, these vintage items are of better quality than newer versions. I am a particular fan of the glass refrigerator storage containers (with glass lids) that Margot and Fan showcase; produced from the 1930s through the 1970s, they are far superior to modern day Pyrex models because they are fashioned out of thicker, more substantial glass and they do not have plastic lids that wear out. Margot shared that the 75 is also one of her favorite parts of the book, “I hate to see useful things thrown out. I have always looked to vintage first and thought about what an object’s possible applications are.”
The book opens with examples of different versions of low impact homes. Some are old while some are net zero new. I flagged pages and ideas from every one of them. The point is that there is not just one way to be low impact.
Next, the authors take readers through a typical home room by room, offering up key areas where people can make impactful low impact changes. For instance, a vintage basket can serve as a more aesthetically pleasing hamper for the bath. Or even a well-designed paper towel holder can upgrade your counter. Along the way, they also have experts weigh in to give their two cents on gardens, kitchens, bathrooms, etc.
Margot and Fan understand that our technologies and materials are constantly evolving. So instead of offering readers a prescriptive this-is-the-way map, they give us parameters, pathways, and suggestions. They also point out that new technology does not always mean greener and cleaner, even if that was its intention. As an example, Fan says, “When we started thinking about paints, at first it was like, oh, great there are VOC* free paints. But as we dug deeper, we found that these paints are basically liquid plastic. So we asked and looked around for what might be better. We found lime washes, chalk and plaster to be much better, healthier solutions.”
But perhaps my favorite thing about the book is that it feels like an invitation. The authors don’t engage in dogma or diatribes about why you should or shouldn’t do something. Instead, there are gorgeous photos that I want to step into and ideas that I want to incorporate into my life. It’s a house party I want to attend.
*Volatile Organic Compounds may cause damage to the liver, kidney, or central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).