Laura Hodges, LEED AP and Green AP breaks down why sustainable design isn't a trend or a niche, it's the key to good design. Tune in for tips to begin making your interior designs more sustainable and ethical.
"One of the biggest things I learned was just to really be of value to your client, right? So we're not just out here making things beautiful and picking amazing things and all this sort of, you know, it's fun, it's beautiful, I love it, very creative. But we are here to make sure that our clients are getting really good quality furnishings, that we are doing that research and making sure that they're getting the best that they're in, that their investment is going towards the best quality."
We believe sustainability should be at the forefront of every project. The interior design industry can be dirty, with unnecessary waste, harmful toxins, and unsustainable resource harvesting. LEED AP and GREEN AP Laura Hodges walks us through her technical education in environmentally conscious interior design and how she puts it into practice in her design work.
In this episode, Laura and I discuss:
How to forge a path to sustainable design
How sustainable design impacts a home’s livability
How to encourage clients to accept ethical design
Best practices for repurposing and reusing materials
Which elements of interior design work are well recycled
Impactful sustainability practices interior designers should implement
An excerpt of my conversation with Laura Hodges:
What steps would a designer need to take to start their path to LEED or Green accreditation?
LH: I would say if you already know that you want to do this, then go ahead and just, you know, go to the USGBC website and you can download all the materials and take all the classes. It's super, it's involved but it's worth it I think if only to change your mindset on how to, you know, consider what you're doing for a living and how you're doing it. The Green AP is much more sort of easily attainable. It's a smaller program, it's much more of what we do day in and day out as designers, so it's more palatable in that way as well. It's very sad to look at all the landfills and see how awful it is, but it's important. But I would also say like if you're not really sure that you wanna go down that path, because it can be very overwhelming when you first start looking at all the stats for, you know, LEED AP and there's lots of different, you know, specifications that you can do within the LEED AP program.
You can sort of niche into different parts but I would just say, you know, for your projects for, for your day-to-day clients, just to think about small ways that you can make improvements into your design process and even into your studio space or if you're working at home, your home office. Because what I've found is that when you start just thinking about what you're doing, it will seep into your design. It will seep into your day-to-day life and more and more and more you will start to just do it naturally and it won't feel like, okay, let me list out all the things that I need to do on this project. You're just going to think about things and on, on every project maybe just have a small goal of like maybe you, you first start with vintage, you know, start looking and seeing if there's anything that you can purchase vintage.
"I always think that good design is sustainable, right? So if you are doing good design, that's not just trendy, that's not just, you know, whatever you're seeing on Pinterest and Instagram, that you're doing really good design for your client."
"You can take apart a house instead of demoing it. You know, can you deconstruct, we like to say deconstruction day versus demo day, right? Because you don't have to bash it all to pieces. Somebody could use that door, somebody can use that brick, somebody can use that toilet and that, you know, range, a lot of things can be donated and recycled."
- Laura Hodges
Your portfolio is so warm, it is so beautiful, it is so livable. And when you look at it, you aren't looking at it going, oh, she's a sustainable designer. Like you said, you hear that word and you think green office complex with, you know, walls of succulents everywhere. Upon opening your namesake studio, how much weight did you want to put into sustainable practices?
LH: I have always been very conscious of, you know, climate change and being sustainable and that sort of thing. So for me, I don't think it was necessarily like, I was like, oh, and I'm gonna be a sustainable designer, and that's gonna be my niche, and that's gonna be my thing. I did all of my design projects at school like that. I think my teachers at the time thought I was a little like over the top with it sometimes, because like, I would talk about it, it was really important and, and nobody else was, there was nobody else was doing that because it was just like making life even harder for myself. But it was important to me in school. It was important to me after school, it's important to me always. So I just kind of did it because that's the only way I wanted to do it.
I don't wanna be known necessarily as the sustainable designer. I wanna be known as a good designer who, you know, is sustainable. You know, I didn't want it to be like, because that, it, it to me was pigeonholing me as like maybe, oh, oh my gosh, all all she does is probably use cork and everything's recycled and you know, it just, it's not a design style in my opinion, sustainable design is not a design style, it's just part of designing thoughtfully and intentionally.
So do you ever have to sell your clients to sustainable choices, or do you feel at this point that everybody who comes to you is coming to you knowing that the incredibly beautiful design that they get will be sustainable?
LH: I equate it with having a really fantastic meal at a really beautiful restaurant, and the food is fantastic, the service is amazing, and at the end of the meal, the server comes over and says, you know, by the way, everything was sourced locally from this fantastic farm where the animals are like, you know, free range and everything's so lovely and happy and, and everything's organic and it's, and it's wonderful. And so it doesn't necessarily make the food taste better, it doesn't make the experience feel better, but you feel better that you've, you know, you got to have this fantastic meal and a fantastic experience and it was actually good for you too, right? And so you didn't have a negative impact on the environment by eating this meal and by having this experience. And so it's kind of the same thing with our designs where our clients aren't necessarily, some of our clients do come to us for that.
CONNECT WITH LAURA
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
Thanks for reading an excerpt from Season 2 Episode 10 of The Interior Collective: Leaning Into Sustainable and Ethical Design. You can listen to our episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or access the full episode transcription below.
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Anastasia Casey 00:00:07
Hi, and welcome to today's episode of the Interior Collective. I'm your host, Anastasia Casey. We believe sustainability should be at the forefront of every project. The interior design industry can be dirty with unnecessary waste, harmful toxins, and unsustainable resource harvesting. LEED AP and Green AP Laura Hodges walks us through her technical education in environmentally conscious interior design and how she puts it into practice in her design work.
Hello and welcome, Laura. I am so excited to have you here today and I'm really, really passionate about today's topic. So thank you so much for joining us.
Laura Hodges 00:00:47
Oh, I'm so excited to be here. Thank you so much for asking me.
As such an expert in sustainable design and really making it a core part of your personal practice, I'm really excited to answer a lot of the questions that I know our listeners have asked in the past about how to make it more tangible and like more applicable for their clients. So let's go ahead and dig in.
We have had a mix of designers with both formal education and designers without, here on the show, your LEED and Green accreditations required extensive continuing education beyond your degree in interior design. Can you walk us through your formal education and path to sustainable design?
Sure. So I had a windy path into design in the first place. I actually got my first degree in business and then I went back to school to the New York School of Interior Design, which is fantastic, to study interior design. And while I was there, I actually pursued my LEED accreditation. So buildings are certified, people are accredited. I always have to, I always <laugh> anyway to get my LEED accreditation. And it was probably a couple of years ago now, probably two or three years ago that I, then I became a brand ambassador for the Sustainable Furnishings Council and then did all my testing and studying for the Green LEED Green AP. So there's LEED AP, I'm a LEED AP, which is the USGBC, and then the, uh, Green AP is with the Sustainable Furnishings Council.
Amazing. So after completing your education, what was your next move from there?
Well, I did, so originally I interned while I was at school with Jamie Drake at the same time. And then I worked briefly for Thomas Jayne Studio while I was in New York. And then I actually took about five years off to raise my two young boys. And then I went out on my own, started my own firm in 2016.
Well, those are very impressive architects to be studying under when you were both in school and then right after. Can you share what key lessons you feel you learned during that time with Jamie and Thomas?
Yeah, so they were, they're both so amazingly, you know, successful and so good at what they do. They're fantastic with talking to clients and understanding their clients and running a successful business. I would say that one of the biggest things I learned was just to really be of value to your client, right? So we're not just, um, we're not just out here making things beautiful and picking amazing things and all this sort of, you know, it's fun, it's beautiful, I love it, very creative. But we are here to make sure that our clients are getting really good quality furnishings, that we are doing that research and making sure that they're getting the best that they're in, that their investment is going towards the best quality.
I love hearing that you had such a focus on just like the success of their business. I feel like when you're in design school, learning how to run the business side of things is not something that's really taught. So I'd love to dig in a little bit more, especially as you were interning while still in school, um, as an intern, what access to understanding the business side of things were you given at that stage?
So I have a mindset of just, you know, if you're polite, if you're kind, if you are a good person that, you know, things kind of open up for you a little bit, right? So I think that in that environment where I was, I was, yes, I was an intern, but I, I just tried to talk to everybody. And so yeah, you could just sit there and sort paint samples and not really learn anything, or you could go and hang out with the accountant and you could go and talk to the business manager and you could go and talk to, you know, the executive assistant to Jamie and see, you know, what he's working on and to, you know, so it, it all kind of just depends on your own experience there. But for me, I was just all over the place.
I was talking to everybody and I was trying to see how to run a business, you know, and I was looking at how they, you know, ran their accounting and how they ran their client interface and that sort of thing, which you can all see just, you know, on, on their, you know, on their computer, you know, on the, on the day-to-day workings and the day-to-day calendar and everything that's going on. You can, you can, you can do very little as an intern, technically speaking, you're really only there to do like very small tasks, but you know, what you could absorb through osmosis is really, the sky's the limit. You know, ask to go everywhere. Like if I ever, if I ever saw any, whenever we have interns here, I'm always like, look, I'm going out in a site visit, ask to come with me, I'm going shopping for samples, ask, I mean, I'll say no if I don't really need you, or if it's not, you know, an appropriate thing, but you may as well ask, you may as well just try and expose yourself to every single part of the company.
So at that time when you were in school, had you always known you wanted to have your own practice?
I suppose, yes, I definitely did. I think it was a little naive on my part to just assume that one could do that, but I also was just, you know, very optimistic that that would just be my path <laugh> at some point.
Well, and with your business degree, you already had a business mindset, so I can definitely see that even though you wanted to focus your field of study and interior design, that you've always had that business mind.
So with your technical training, I'd love to know in your own words what sustainable design means for interior designers with real clients who have real families that are living in their projects.
Well, I think first and foremost, I always think that good design is sustainable, right? So if number one, you are doing good design, that's not just trendy, that's not just, you know, whatever you're seeing on Pinterest and Instagram, that you're doing really good design for your client. Like, and that means, you know, classic forms studied, you know, lines and proportions and everything that makes sense. Like if you know what you're doing and you, and you are doing your best for your client and you're shopping with really fantastic, you know, vendors and you're working with amazing craftsmen and all this sort of stuff, you're going to come out with hopefully a good project, which means that that furniture is not going to, you know, fall apart in a few months and you're not going to be, you know, changing it in six months or a year when it becomes dated and you're kind of tired of that pattern or that fabric or that color, you know? So I think that sustainable design starts with timeless design. It starts with doing good work for your clients that they're not gonna wanna change and that's not going to break or not hold up, you know?
Yeah. I'm hearing longevity and that's such a brilliant way to approach it because I think when you hear sustainable design immediately, you're like, okay, I have to like change all of the fixturing I'm using and I need to make sure that everything is toxin free. But I think the first step, as you mentioned, is just making sure that that design is going to last a long time so that those things don't need to be replaced. Upon opening your namesake studio, how much weight did you want to put into sustainable practices?
So I will say that for me, I have always been very conscious of, you know, climate change and being sustainable and that sort of thing. So for me, I don't think it was necessarily like, I was like, oh, and I'm gonna be a sustainable designer, and that's gonna be my niche, and that's gonna be my thing. I did all of my design projects at school like that. I think my teachers at the time thought I was a little like over the top with it sometimes, because like, I would talk about it, it was really important and, and nobody else was, there was nobody else was doing that because it was just like making life even harder for myself. But it was important to me in school. It was important to me after school, it's important to me always. So I just kind of did it because that's the only way I wanted to do it.
It wasn't like, okay, you know, here's how I'm gonna make money, or here's what's gonna be important to my clients. It's just something that I was gonna do anyway. And so when it comes to, when it came to, you know, branding myself, if you will, I actually worked with a branding coach at one point, and she said to me, make this part of your brand. And I was like, no, <laugh>, because I don't want it to be, I don't wanna be known necessarily as the sustainable designer. I wanna be known as a good designer who, you know, is sustainable. You know, I didn't want it to be like, because that, it, it to me was pigeonholing me as like maybe, oh, oh my gosh, all all she does is probably use cork and everything's recycled and you know, it just, it's not a design style in my opinion, sustainable design is not a design style, it's just part of designing thoughtfully and intentionally.
And so I didn't want it to be, I didn't want it to be seen as a design style, like this person does French country, Laura does sustainable, you know, it's <laugh>. So anyway, it took a while for me to wrap my head around it. She was absolutely right. She's fantastic. And once I kind of wrap my head around how to integrate it into my brand, it has worked out really well. And so now I kind of embrace it and just say, yeah, what we do is sustainable, but everybody can be. So it's not just me and I encourage everybody to be, so I'm not like, oh, I'm the only one out there and you can only choose me. I think everyone do a little bit more, you know.
I think that's such a good point to direct our listeners towards, because if you haven't viewed Laura's portfolio, it is so warm, it is so beautiful, it is so livable. And when you look at it, you aren't looking at it going, oh, she's a sustainable designer. Like you said, you hear that word and you think green office complex with, you know, walls of succulents everywhere, <laugh>, something along those lines. And you're just really the antithesis of that. I mean, you're just like the most comfortable luxury in a sustainable way. So I'm curious, you mentioned earlier in the show that you are accredited, but buildings are certified.
Do you have any projects in your portfolio that were certified as buildings, either LEED or Green?
No, <laugh> because we mostly work on residential projects, which are like very, very rarely certified. It's extremely expensive. It's extremely time consuming. And honestly, the payoff comes from being able to say and put a little plaque on your wall that says, this is a LEED platinum, this is a LEED gold, whatever it is. And homeowners don't have that interest to put a plaque on their wall, but companies do, right? So if you are a Patagonia or like one of these companies that's really known for, you know, looking after the environment that it makes sense for your buildings to also be LEED certified. And so they will go through that process. They will hire a LEED certified architect and designer and a whole team of people to make sure that all their docs are, you know, all their, i’s are dotted and t's are crossed and all this kind of stuff. For a homeowner, it's, it's really, really extensive. I've had one or two clients that were interested in it, but not necessarily to get the certification, but just to be as like, top notch sustainable as possible all the way through to every element of the building process. It's very difficult.
So that leads me to my next question, Laura. I'm curious if you could put a metric on it for an average project of yours, how many furnishings, materials, et cetera, would you say fall under the LEED or Green certifications, even though not the entire project is technically certified?
LEED is for the building. So the Green AP was for more furnishings, right? So that's why I pursued being a Green AP because I was very interested, more so in the furnishing side of things, because I as a designer don't have an awful lot of control about how the building is built, right? And so interior designers, our focus is more on the inside of the space. So we might be interested in the operations, you know, the internal air, you know, circulation and that sort of thing. And also in furnishings and materials, finishes and that sort of thing. So the Green AP is fantastic because that really teaches you a lot more about the actual furnishings themselves. And then, you know, you can have a, you can, obviously we'd have complete control over that sort of thing, but there again, there's not necessarily certifications that go along with that. So the Green AP, it does certify the person, but it doesn't certify a project. So there's not really like true certifications for a project to be like sustainable outside of the LEED certification, which is really more about the building.
So on the Green certification, as you're sourcing furniture for a project, there is just criteria that you know you were looking for in the products you source. And it's not that those individual products are necessarily certified green.
Yeah, it's a very, it's, that's why greenwashing is so easy for big companies to, and it's very frustrating. We are, unfortunately, as the consumer left to fend for ourselves and figure it out and read between the lines and, you know, all this kind of stuff. So the Sustainable Furnishings Council does have a listing of member organizations and member designers and architects. Membership basically means that they have vetted these companies and have found them to be within different statuses of qualifications. So there's like green and, sorry, not green, there's gold, silver, bronze, I think, and then qualifying. And then, so then, then they also have this thing called the, the wood scorecard, which determines how they're using the wood is being sourced and, you know, their, their practices in fabrication and that sort of thing. So there's different ways that you can sort of analyze somebody's sustainability, but there are companies who aren't even members of the Sustainable Furnishings Council.
So that's why, if you're an interior designer, I would say go to High Point and just harass everybody, asking them like I do, you know, about their fabrication. Ask to tour their factory. Ask them where things are coming from. Ask them where they're sourcing their wood from. And honestly, usually when they are really doing the work, they're proud of it and they're happy to tell you. And they're not like, oh yes, we, we make our furniture from our offshoots of, you know, sand that have come from sanding the wood. It's like, well, yeah, but that's not gonna make a good product, right? So <laugh>, that's just MDF and that's not <laugh>, that's not a good product. So you can read between the lines yourself as a designer to say, okay, this person is really making a fantastic product, and look, they're going to tell me how it's made and they're gonna tell me about the finishes, and they're gonna tell me about, you know, and they're gonna show me the people who are making it too, right? So, sorry, this is going on a bit, but I do think it's really important to think about the people who are making the furniture, not just the furniture itself in terms of sustainability of nature. Like we're part of nature, right? So people are important in the making of furniture too, and making sure that people are, you know, paid properly and in good working conditions. If the working conditions of the factory are not that great, your piece of furniture is probably not going to be that great either.
I think sustainability is so in line with ethically sourcing as well. And I think that that's so, um, powerful for you to remind us of. I know everyone is furiously taking notes right now. Don't worry, everything Laura just said will be in the show notes. I will get a couple extra links for her too so that, you know, just where to go look to look at these different accreditations. But let's go ahead and dig a little bit more into how you essentially sell this to your clients. So do you ever have to sell or push your clients to sustainable choices, or do you feel like at this point because your branding expert was correct, and that should be a part of your brand, that everybody who comes to you is coming to you knowing that the incredibly beautiful design that they get will be sustainable?
Well, you know, it's kind of like, I equate it with having a really fantastic meal at a really beautiful restaurant, and the food is fantastic, the service is amazing, and at the end of the meal, the server comes over and says, you know, by the way, everything was sourced locally from this fantastic farm where the animals are like, you know, free range and everything's so lovely and happy and, and everything's organic and it's, and it's wonderful. And so it doesn't necessarily make the food taste better, it doesn't make the experience feel better, but you feel better that you've, you know, you got to have this fantastic meal and a fantastic experience and it was actually good for you too, right? And so you didn't have a negative impact on the environment by eating this meal and by having this experience. And so it's kind of the same thing with our designs where our clients aren't necessarily, some of our clients do come to us for that.
And certainly a lot of our clients will say, we, you know, follow you on Instagram. We love what you do, we love your portfolio and everything, and we're so excited that you, you know, make every attempt to be sustainable, right? So it's sort of like, like the icing on the cake and it's sort of, we try not to make it to like eat your vegetables because it can get a little dry. And so when we talk to our clients about it, and that's why I put a lot of it on the website, honestly. It's like, read it, read it, don't read it, you know, whatever. But it's out there. It can get a little dry if the, if the person's not terribly into it. And we try to make it, we try to make it palatable for our clients by relating it to them. Everybody cares about themselves, right?
We're all, you know, thoughtful about how we treat our bodies and how we treat our families bodies, especially children. And so, you know, if we're talking about sustainability, we're more than likely also talking about low VOCs, right? So low VOCs means that not only is it good for the environment, but it's good for your kids who are burying their face in that pillow that doesn't have any off-gassing, right? And that the, your, you know, your newborn is sleeping in a crib that doesn't have any toxic fumes coming off it, right? So if we can relate it to our clients in a very personal way, they, you know, they start to realize that they're part of this whole sustainability effort because our own human health relates to all of it. If something is sustainable, it's probably also healthy for you as a person too.
Sustainable or green products often are more costly. And you touched on really good verbiage to share with your clients as you start to prep them for the potential additional investment for a designer who's listening who hasn't built sustainability into their business yet. Do you have any advice on how to better prepare your clients when you're presenting a product with VOCs or not? If they even get to that conversation?
So I try to think about it as like, you know, for me there's not an option, right? So it's not one or the other. If this is the best one for you, this is what I would suggest for you. And I don't necessarily say, by the way, it's 10% more expensive because it's sustainable. So there is a metric for that. Most people will only spend up to 10% more on a product for it being sustainable. If you say, you know, it's 20% more, they're like, eh, maybe it's not as important to me. 10%. And they're like, okay, you know, that I, I would like it to be sustainable and I feel better about that purchase. So I don't even bring that up. I don't bring up cost, I don't bring up, you know, whether or not they want to do it. It's more like, this is part of your design plan and they know going into it that that's what we're gonna do.
And then I don't harp on it at all because I don't want them to think that I'm making any decisions that are in any way a compromise to this beautiful design vision that they would want me to come up with. So it's not a case of like, well we're doing this because of this and oh, well if we, if we weren't sustainable, it would be like this. We just present the best design plan that we can come up with and it's as sustainable as we can make it for them under the circumstances. And I'm not gonna say that every design choice is the most designable, most sustainable thing, because honestly we'd source the same three chairs all day long. We have to venture out, you know, outside of the, you know, few companies that truly, truly are absolutely sustainable. We have to support those who are attempting to be sustainable.
You know, so it's like, you know, you know, in the back of like the Kashi cereal box and they say, we're trying to support farms that are transitioning to be sustainable, right? So I mean is that thought process of like not everybody is a hundred percent there yet, you know, so do we just say no, we're not gonna shop with you at all? No, we still support
people who are making the effort. Those who just don't care <laugh> are not even trying then no, we're not gonna support them. But we do support people, companies all along the way because we want to encourage everybody to go down that path. So when we're talking to our clients about it, it doesn't really come up as to whether something is sustainable or not. It's you know, the design is the best that we can come up with for you.
Absolutely. So those listening, you can spend more time upfront doing the research to make sure that you are presenting the best of the best product. And one thing, I love that transitioning to sustainable practice, you mentioned in companies, because I think something you can be discerning of right at the beginning is, are they still ethical? How are they treating their workers? And that is something that a company should be able to make a change of immediately, even if they're still transitioning their practices for the production of the materiality.
Right. And can I interrupt you before you ask me the next question and just say that it does not have to be more expensive if you think, because you don't have to necessarily be like, okay, I'm gonna change and start buying all these different products. You can change the way that you do your business, right? You could, you know, start by looking at all of your client's existing pieces. Can something be refinished or reupholstered? Can you go and buy something vintage? Can you, you know, get something from their grandmother's house or their, or you know, somebody else's, like a family member who has some amazing heirloom from you know, her mother's house or something like that. Can you buy vintage pieces, antique pieces that are less expensive? Can they be refinished, reupholstered? So it doesn't necessarily have to be that you are buying these more expensive products, it's also just in the way that you're doing things. Can you donate all of the furniture and all of the pieces that are being demoed out of a house? Can you take apart a house instead of demoing it? You know, can you deconstruct, we like to say deconstruction day versus demo day, right? Because you don't have to bash it all to pieces. Somebody could use that door, somebody can use that brick, somebody can use that toilet and that, you know, range, a lot of things can be donated and recycled. They don't have to all be smashed to pieces. <laugh>
I love all of those ideas and I'm currently redoing our new house and I repurposed everything from counters to cabinets I possibly could into different rooms in the house. So I just, it's, it's amazing to hear your passion for this. I'm so grateful that you're here with us.
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You touched on this a little bit, but I'm interested to know if you could suggest three simple changes designers listening can make to their projects for a more sustainable practice. You talked about deconstruction instead of demolition. Sourcing vintage, reupholstering or refinishing. Do you have ideas for what someone could take, the steps that someone could take if they are sourcing something new? What could they do to be more sustainable in that practice?
Well, there's a few things. They could start with looking at vendors that are listed with a sustainable furnishings council. You can, I mean, you keep your mind open to other brands as well because you can, when you, when you're on somebody's website, you can, I always scroll to the bottom and look for their sustainability message if they have one. If it's not necessarily right there, maybe it's in like about us, you know, or our story kind of thing. And if it's a part of what they do, usually they talk about it. They don't always though. And I've found that they don't always, and it's really funny to me when they don't. And I think it's kind of like how I didn't at first, it's the same kind of mindset of like, well I'm just doing it. I don't necessarily need to yell it from the rooftops.
But I have found with a lot of companies who have been, who just do the right thing, they don't necessarily tell everybody about it, right? So you might have to investigate a little bit more. But certainly a lot of smaller brands tend to be more thoughtful about these things. You can look on their Instagram, you can see where they source things from, and then just asking all those questions like where does everything come from? I really highly encourage people when they're at High Point to ask, because those are the people that are gonna know, you know, your customer service person on the phone may not know, but your salesperson on the sales floor or even the owner of the company because oftentimes the owners are there at High Point are gonna know. So you can just ask them, you know, they'll, they'll know. And, and if they're, if they're really doing it, they will talk your ear off all day long. I love that. It's great. <laugh>.
So we are really big on client education here at IDCO. I'm curious, do you have a welcome packet or investment guide that goes over your design process and kind of what clients can expect? And if so, do you incorporate any language about sustainability in that or do you reserve it all for your website? Like you had mentioned earlier in the show?
We do have a welcome packet. We have an onboarding packet for all of our new clients and we go through what to expect because, you know, it's all, it's always good to have everything up front cause it's all fun and games at first, but then it gets real. So you gotta tell 'em <laugh> upfront is gonna get real. And we definitely do include all of that stuff too because we tell them upfront, okay, we can donate all of your furniture for you if you're okay with it. We will talk to the contractor about, you know, donating everything. We'll facilitate all the donations for you. We take all the pictures, make sure that, you know, if something has value, that it's being appraised so they can take the tax write off, you know, so we definitely, that's part of just what we do. It hurts my heart to think about furniture being thrown away.
I've actually been back and forth with a client over the past like two weeks trying to figure out what to do with her furniture because I, you know, I think it has some value. So I'm like, you know, we should probably try to sell it. We can't just throw it away. You know, not, I don't think she would've thrown it away, but just, just figuring out what to do with it, right? And so ultimately she ended up keeping a couple of them and then the rest of it we're going to donate. But just, you know, we will do that for them. And I don't want anybody to ever be like, well we, you know, we just threw it away cause we didn't know what to do. You know? So I would rather that we take care of that. So we, we list all that out and we just say like, let us know how you wanna handle any of that sort of thing and recycling. And we worked on a law office once and had a lot of things to give away. We donated all of the furniture to a local children's home and we took all of the filing cabinets and got them to a recycling center. And literally the only thing we weren't really able to donate was carpet and that's just because in, in our area, unfortunately, they don't, don't, they don't recycle carpet, which sucks a lot. <laugh>.
Have you ever been in a situation where you have had to draw a hard line in the sand with a client when you presented your favorite selection and that was not their favorite selection and in turn you ended up having to get something that was less sustainable or of lower quality? In your opinion? How do you manage that? Or are your clients always “yes” people and you don't have rounds of revisions like that?
I would say that earlier on, maybe I would've done a couple more revisions than we do now if we do revisions now, it's not to go to a lesser product, it's going to go to something that is equally valuable product. We're not gonna downgrade anything. And, and if a client doesn't like something for some reason, it's usually an emotional connection to something that we couldn't possibly have anticipated. Like, you know, this chair reminds me of my grandmother's chair from her basement. You know, like, it's like how would I have known that, right? And so it's not usually like, this is too expensive, therefore buy something less expensive that isn't very good quality. If they feel that it's too expensive, then they're just not seeing the value in that piece for them. And that's fine and we will find something else that's less expensive for that piece. That's so that is more valuable to them. But it's not going to be a lesser piece, it's just going, I mean the, the cost of it. Maybe because it's from some fabulous designer or it's a million years old or something like that. And so we'll just find another way to bring the cost down without reducing the value of the piece. Right.
I am super interested in the logistics of your practice of recycling, donating, selling your client's existing furnishings. And to those listening who are maybe still a one person show or even someone who has a team and the logistics of who finds the time to actually do this. Can you talk us through how you actually establish that in your practice so that it's routine with every project?
Right. So for us it's important to us, right? And so it's part of what we expect to do as a full service to our client. So, you know, we have to factor that time into your project. At the same time, if you know in the bottom of your heart that your client absolutely would not do this if you weren't a part of the project. You know, there's some part of that that I think, okay, well, you know, I find value in this. I think it's really important. It's important to us as a company. Let's just look at this as a little bit of pro bono, good for the environment, good for the world, you know, work, right? So there, there are certain portions of this that I think you just should do. And that's a personal thing for me. I just think that it's the right thing to do.
This is the price of doing this amazing work, right? Like we are contributing so much to landfills by the work that we do. That I think is the responsible thing to some extent to, to make every effort to do it responsibly, right? So time-wise though, I mean, okay, so I do have a small team and I work with my husband. My husband is on the sort of project management side, if you will, and the finances and that sort of thing. So it falls within his realm to get that all figured out. And so, but at the same time, the places that we donate to will come and pick it up. So you know, what we're doing is we're taking pictures of all the furniture, which honestly we would do anyway because it's sort of part of the documentation of the project. So that's not additional time.
We do have to send over an email to them and say, Hey, you know, here's all the stuff that we're donating to the place that we're donating to and say, you know, and schedule them to come and pick it up. It's not that time consuming, to be honest with you. Anything that is being recycled or you know, from the building itself from the deconstruction is gonna be done by the contractor. They may not love doing that, but some contractors just do it anyway. Like we are lucky enough to work with contractors who are like, yeah, sure, we'll drop it off, you know, we'll take, there's a few places near us that will take pretty much anything. And so we'll just say, okay, you know, can you drop off the old HVAC, you know, units, can you drop off, you know, the toilets and the appliances and whatever else. And they'll, they'll do that, you know, it's not that big of a deal. So we just have to ask.
Okay. Technical questions. Um, are you charging hourly or flat rate comprehensively on the project?
We charge for the design fee, we charge a flat rate and then we charge an hourly fee for our project management.
So this portion of donating, organizing that, getting picked up, is that part of your design fee flat rate or is that part of project management that would be billed hourly?
We do not bill our clients hourly for it. We try to make sure that like, there's a little bit of time, it's almost sort of, you can think about it as like onboarding, right? Onboarding a project, right? Like you have to take, do your floor plans, you have to document the space and all this sort of thing. And if we know that we're gonna be donating these things, we take pictures of every individual piece of furniture and you send it over to the local recycling place and tell them that. So it's just part of the process of starting the project. We have to get rid of the furniture in some way. And so that's how we're getting rid of the furniture. The furniture's gonna have to leave at some point, right? Whether it goes to a, a reuse place or it's donated to somewhere else, like it has to go somewhere. And so it's not like it's just gonna disappear, right? <laugh>, somebody's gotta get rid of it, we're gonna have to get rid of it in some way. We're just not throwing it away. Which, you know, probably would be easier I suppose, but horrific in my opinion, we would never do that. So we just, we just consider it part of the onboarding process.
Thank you so much for sharing that. What elements of a project do you feel are most well recycled? I know that with recycling in particular, traditional recycling, most of it, a lot of it is not actually being repurposed, reconstructed and put into something else. So what elements have you found recycle really well?
So yeah, recycling is a murky, murky area which we have no control over. So honestly we try to avoid recycling or try to avoid. It's like the last ditch effort is for something to be recycled. What, no, I guess the very last ditch is for it to go into the landfill. But right before that is recycling. We really, really try to just have things be reused right in the same form that they're currently in. There's no point in melting it down and making something else if it's still in a functional state as it is. So if it's, if it's wood floors or if you know, I don't know anything like countertop cabinets, like somebody else can reuse that in the form that it is. It's only things that really are, maybe they're dated and old, you know, old appliances probably. In some states they do recycle carpet because they make that into rug pads and filling for all kinds of things. You can recycle a lot in other states, I always get jealous about that. But you can recycle mattresses in our state. You can't recycle these things so it's a bummer. But anything made of steel is, you have to be careful with metals because they don't like them to be like, you know, too, too many different types of metals mixed together cuz then they, you know, they don't perform as well. Same thing with plastics, but steel and aluminum I believe are both easily recycled.
So if a project has existing materials in it that have potential toxins or aren't the most energy efficient in your expertise, is it better to tear those out and replace them with a more efficient, clean option or leave them in and keep them out of a landfill if, if it is of course aesthetically appropriate to your project?
Right. Well see this is a problem with sustainability. There's no yes and no right and wrong way of doing things. It all depends, right? So if you have asbestos tiles in your basement and you wanna put new floors in, they do say that it's best to encapsulate them, right? Because then you're just cover them with a carpet, cover them with other tiles or some sort of a wood. As long as it's encapsulated then the asbestos dust is not harmful, right? So if it still stays as a solid tile, it's not airborne, you're okay. It's when you start chipping it up and trying to take it out. Or if you're not sure if the tiles are broken, that those need to come out, in which case you gotta hire somebody to come in and do it properly. If they're halfway broken and for whatever reason you can't encapsulate it, then yes, taking it all out is the most healthy thing to do.
It's not sustainable because you're throwing it away. But it is healthy for you and your family because asbestos is dangerous, right? So it all depends on the circumstances. And so if you're talking about like, okay I have an old fridge that is still working and it's like 20 years old, it may be using way more electricity than a new fridge would, but you know, throwing it away seems a bit silly because you're now then contributing to a landfill, right? So I would say in a situation like that you'd use it until it's not functional anymore because making a new fridge, shipping a new fridge to you, I mean there's energy being used in all that as well, right? And then the energy that it takes to then transport this to its final, you know, cemetery at the landfill. So I don't know, it's, it's hard. <laugh>
That brings up a great question that I thought of actually last night thinking about our chat today that I didn't get a chance to send you ahead of time. I have thought a lot about the receiving warehouse process and just how much packaging and styrofoam and cardboard goes into that. And I know logistically I've had a really difficult time finding receiving warehouses really anywhere that are like we recycle all the cardboard, we take the styrofoam, take it to be recycled. Do you have any advice or experience in navigating that portion of the waste of things being shipped and received?
So our receiving warehouse does recycle. I don't know anybody that can really recycle styrofoam, so that just goes in the trash anyway. But that's really more of a manufacturing issue than it is the receiving warehouse issue because there are some places that do recycle styrofoam, but it's such a crazy pants thing to try to figure it out that it's just not really feasible for most people to do. Recycling cardboard is obviously the easiest thing in the world, so everybody should be doing that. If we have any inclination that a place is not going to do that, we'll take it with us <laugh> much to the chagrin of our employees I'm sure. But I will fill up the cars with recycling and I'll be like, okay, I'll take it to my house or to our company. We also have a small shop so we will take small boxes and any packing materials and always reuse them.
We put little labels on all of our boxes when we ship 'em out and say, hey, this is all reused recycled packing material. We don't really buy very much new packing material at all. We tried to always recycle it. In fact, I bought a pair of boots recently and realized that all the stuff that you, that they stuff into your shoes, like the, the, that's tissue paper, right? So that's completely usable for packing. And so I brought it in today <laugh>, I was just like, you guys think I'm crazy but I think we can use this to pack up orders. And she's like, yeah, we could. <laugh>
That's fantastic. Okay, as we get ready to wrap up for those listening, what steps would a designer need to take to start their path to LEED or Green accreditation?
Okay, so I would say if you already know that you want to do this, then go ahead and just, you know, go to the USGBC website and you can download all the materials and take all the classes. It's super, it's involved but it's worth it I think if only to change your mindset on how to, you know, consider what you're doing for a living and how you're doing it. The Green AP is much more sort of easily attainable. It's a smaller program, it's much more of what we do day in and day out as designers, so it's more palatable in that way as well. It's very sad to look at all the landfills and see how awful it is, but it's important. But I would also say like if you're not really sure that you wanna go down that path, because it can be very overwhelming when you first start looking at all the stats for, you know, LEED AP and there's lots of different, you know, specifications that you can do within the LEED AP program.
So it's, you can like, you can sort of niche into different parts but I would just say, you know, for your projects for, for your day-to-day clients, just to think about small ways that you can make improvements into your design process and even into your studio space or if you're working at home, your home office. Because what I've found is that when you start just thinking about what you're doing, it will seep into your design. It will seep into your day-to-day life and more and more and more you will start to just do it naturally and it won't feel like, okay, let me list out all the things that I need to do on this project. You're just going to think about things and on, on every project maybe just have a small goal of like maybe you, you first start with vintage, you know, start looking and seeing if there's anything that you can purchase vintage.
Maybe one thing per room could be vintage, right? Or, and you can look at the VOC count in the paint and just be like, okay, can we get a really great quality paint that's still, you know, low VOCs and can I just go to high point and when I'm at high point just ask those questions where you are, you know, it's all just the small baby steps. You don't have to like, you know, go gung ho into getting your LEED AP and all this kind of stuff. And because it can be very overwhelming and then turn people off. So say a little bit, but lifestyle changes, you know, use like a deodorant cream instead of plastic deodorant sticks and you know, there's lots of things that you can do to kind of work it into your day-to-day life.
So before we sign off, you have a diverse background that pulls from regions all around the world. Can you share a little bit about where you grew up and how that has influenced your design?
Sure. So I was originally born in England. We moved to America when I was a kid, but we went back every summer and my grandparents lived in the house that was next door to where we lived in this little tiny town in northern England. And so it had a big impact I think for me because not only did we travel around England a lot, looking at castles and churches and that sort of thing. So I was always interested in architecture and design and we would go to friends’ sometimes and, and, and it was just a very, lovely childhood of seeing and appreciating design and architecture. But also honestly the sustainability side of it I think was in there too because, you know, my grandparents, you know, did all this stuff. They composted and they had the tiniest trash can in the world and they only had a washing machine.
I think they didn't even dry their clothes, they just hung up everything to dry and washed everything by hand. They never had a dishwasher. Well, not actually it turns out dishwashers are more and energy efficient and use less water than washing by hand. But anyway, my point is they did it for thriftiness, they didn't do it for sustainability, they weren't trying to save the planet. So I always tell people it doesn't have to be more expensive to be sustainable, like just being thrifty, <laugh> in and of itself is more sustainable because you're using less, right? Do more with less and then therefore you will be, you know, consuming less and more, you know, less has to be made, less energy is gonna go into, um, you know, your carbon footprint, right? Uh, you're not, you're not, if you're not consuming as much than you are not using as much and contributing more waste. Right.
Laura, at the end of every episode, I always like to ask for a little secret that you can share about anything exciting you have coming up in 2023. Is there anything you are willing to let our listeners in on?
So we are working on a show house and we are working on a couple of licensed collections. So it will be announced shortly. Yes. <laugh>
Well, as soon as it is announced, I will update those exciting announcements in the show notes. For now, we're gonna leave you hanging. Laura, this was so informative, so inspirational, and so incredibly practical and I hope everyone who is listening in can make small pivots in their design practices to have more sustainable ethical homes for their clients.
Thank you so much.
This is so good. Thanks so much.
Laura's clear passion for sustainable and ethical design literally sent chills through my body. I feel like this is a perfect example of the more you know, the more you care. Make sure to check today's show notes for links to a ton of resources to either start your Green AP or just learn more about incorporating better practices into your studio. You can follow along with Laura on Instagram @laurahodgesstudio or visit her website at laurahodgesstudio.com. If you've been enjoying this season of the Interior Collective, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or give us a five star rating on Spotify. We are so grateful for your support and excited to continue to produce this free resource. Until next week, I'm Anastasia Casey and this is The Interior Collective, a podcast for the business of beautiful living.