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An elegant, environmentally safe home

Trudy Dujardin, interior designer and author of “Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior,” joined Washington Post staff writer Jura Koncius recently on an online chat with readers. Here is an edited excerpt:

Q: Are any paints really “no-VOC”? Which brands do you recommend?

A: Yes, there are several brands that have no VOCs (volatile organic compounds). I prefer EnviroSafe zero-VOC paints. They are water-based, latex-free and have no chemical preservatives, mildewcides or fungicides. It is available online but shipped from Texas, so that expense could be an issue. Benjamin Moore has Natura, which is also a wonderful paint with no odor. It is easy to be around while applying.

Q: I have seen information about LEED-certified homes in cold and temperate climates, but very little about them in hot climates such as Florida where I hope to live. Can you recommend some resources? I am also interested in PassivHaus and zero-energy houses.

A: I’m very happy to see your interest in LEED houses. What’s different in hot climates usually has to do with the glazing of the windows, to keep the homes cooler when the sun is at its height in that space. Energy conservation is just as important in hot climates as in cold climates. I would recommend contacting the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington for recommendations. By the way, I think PassivHaus in Germany is at the pinnacle.

Q: My daughter has asthma, and her pediatrician recommended we remove all of our carpeting. Our hardwood floors are OK, but I like softer surfaces, especially in bedrooms. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Your pediatrician is absolutely right. The reason doctors ask you to remove carpeting, especially wall-to-wall, is that there is an accumulation of a lot of dust, dust mites and debris between the carpet and padding that is not removed with normal vacuuming. Most asthmatics have a strong reaction to dust mites, which proliferate in wall-to-wall carpeting. Spaces need to be kept dust-free. I suggest damp-mopping hardwood floors at least twice a week. You can use small area rugs to soften rooms, but they would need to be sent out to be steam-cleaned with no chemicals at least twice a year.

Q: I am updating a small, windowless family bathroom and would love a bit of advice. I’m removing a wall-mounted toothbrush and cup holder. But what do I replace it with to serve this function? The pedestal sink has very limited counter space and I have a large medicine cabinet, so adding a shelf seems like a lot. Do people just put this stuff inside the medicine cabinet now? Also, any new trends that could inform my paint color choice? It will be white tile floors, white subway tile bath, so very much a blank slate. No natural light at all.

A: You are so right. Space is always limited in a small bathroom. I like to have spaces devoid of the look of clutter, so I store toothbrushes and the like in my medicine cabinet. New trends for color: Lavender is coming on strong, and it would look good with your white tile floors and subway tile bath.

Q: What is an eco-elegant interior?

A: I’m glad you asked! Our favorite saying at Dujardin Design is “A healthy home is the ultimate luxury.” All of us spend most of our time in containers – a house, office, school, bus, car, museum, restaurant. We feel strongly that all of these spaces/containers should support one’s health and well-being. They can be beautifully designed, but if they are not also “eco,” meaning having excellent indoor air quality, to me it’s a contradiction in terms. With every project we do, we strive to show that you can have a beautiful home that is also healthful for you, your family and the planet.

Q: My home is probably the opposite of eco-friendly, but I want to change that. What are some easy things I can do and where should I start?

A: Here are my top five suggestions to make your home eco-friendly: First, try to eliminate as many chemicals, insecticides, pesticides, etc., as possible. When chemicals are used on your lawn, they are tracked into your living space. Second is energy conservation. We can all begin to switch to LED lights over time. Caution: If you are using compact fluorescent bulbs, which is what we have all been told to do for energy conservation, dispose of them with extreme care. They need to be separated and sent to the dump as hazardous waste. Third, use water-based, latex-free, no-VOC paints and floor finishes, such as Benjamin Moore’s Natura and Basic Coatings’ StreetShoes floor finish. Even though it’s water-based it’s highly durable and is used on basketball courts. Fourth, recycle. Fifth, check on your insulation, to reduce fuel consumption in the winter months.

Q: I will be redoing the insulation in part of my home soon and want something that is energy-efficient and also healthful for my family. Do you recommend a particular product?

A: We always recommend Bonded Logic, which is made of recycled shredded blue jeans, with a borate solution to protect against insects and microbial growth. Fiberglass is the new asbestos.

Q: If you had to give one piece of advice, what would you say?

A: My pet peeve is chemicals, insecticides and pesticides – keep these out of your homes, away from your family, children and pets and off your property.

Q: I have redecorated my living room to make it look nearly Architectural Digest-perfect. But my friends aren’t comfortable sitting there because the colors are very light and the fabrics are very delicate. I’ve spent a lot of money to get this look, so I can’t start over. How can I make it less stuffy and more inviting?

A: Have you considered adding some beautiful throw pillows in various colors and textures and possibly antique brocade pillows, which might soften the look? Also, I find that accessories, such as wonderful framed family photographs, can make a room feel more personal.

Q: You mentioned Basic Coatings’ StreetShoes floor finish. Is it for hardwood floors? Do you use it instead of polyurethane?

A: Yes, Basic Coatings’ StreetShoes is a waterborne urethane, and I use it for hardwood floors as well as finishing cabinets and furniture.

Q: Our house has no insulation in the walls. Is this normal? The house was built in the ’50s. How expensive would it be to have this installed? Would it really make a difference?

A: Do you have a general contractor that you like to work with? Without seeing the house, it’s difficult to answer, but generally, it makes a difference because you use less energy.

Q: Any ideas on how to keep the crickets out of my basement without using pesticides? I’d love to not use them, but I’d love no crickets even more.

A: I understand! I have one chirping away in my basement right now. I use a paper towel and scoop them up and put them outside, because the deleterious effects of chemicals on our bodies over time is a much more serious issue to me.

Q: Any suggestions for candles? I feel like the market is awash with vanilla and lavender scents, but not much else. What scents and brands do you like?

A: I have multiple chemical sensitivity, which means that I am highly sensitized to fragrances and odors, so scented products are out for me. I still use candles for the ambience, but they are unscented. Pottery Barn has a wonderful selection.

Q: I am allergic to many things, including chemicals, dust and grass. What are some things I can do to help my allergies?

A: Are you working with a good allergist? It would be good to know what specific things you are reacting to. It could be dust, but it could also be dust mites. And have you been tested for food allergies? For most allergic people, reducing clutter reduces the amount of dust. Make your bedroom like a bell jar — remove all clutter, no stacks of books or magazines in the corner, do a thorough dusting at least once a week, mop the floors at least twice a week, and there should be no carpeting. If possible, use organic bedding. Your mattress and sleeping pillows should be wrapped in a barrier cloth sack, which reduces the amount of dust mites. The reason I focus on the bedroom so much is that during your sleep, your liver and kidneys detox your body. Your bedroom needs to be as pristine as possible so that you’re not overloading your system and your body can do its job.