As a mom and business owner, topics like green design and eco-conscious living are constantly on my mind and close to my heart. And with the 50th anniversary Earth Day coming up on April 22, I felt that now was the perfect time to shine a light here on the Kuotes Blog about how it’s actually easier than you might think to bring eco-friendly design into your home. So I called up some of my fave experts on green living: My old friend Carter Oosterhouse (you may remember when the two of us starred on “Rowhouse Showdown” back in the day) and his wife, the brilliant actress Amy Smart.
Aside from his glamorous turn as my co-star (ha-ha), Carter is known for his many successful home and lifestyle shows–including “Trading Spaces,” “Million Dollar Rooms,” “Celebrity Motor Homes,” and “Red, Hot & Green”–and he’s long been an expert voice on eco-living especially when it comes to carpentry, home design, and easy eco-minded lifestyle tips. And while Amy is famous as an actress (you surely loved her in movies like “Just Friends” and “The Butterfly Effect,” as well as popular shows like “Scrubs” and “Shameless”), she too has a long history in the sustainability world. She’s a certified Kundalini Yoga teacher, a certified Health Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, and sits on the board of directors for the Environmental Media Association (EMA).
Together, Carter and Amy, and their 3-year-old daughter Flora, split their time between Malibu, and a home in Traverse City, Michigan (Carter’s home state) where they also help run Bonobo Winery, which promotes biodynamic and sustainable farming and wine-making. Right now, they’re staying busy and helping the planet with their latest project called SmartHouse Collections–a “purpose-driven home goods company dedicated to helping people create stylish, comfortable, and eco-friendly spaces.” The brand currently sells mattresses crafted from GOTS-certified organic cotton, Joma wool, and natural latex, as well as organic cotton bedding.
I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Carter Oosterhouse and Amy Smart about their passion for eco-friendly living, parenting, and, most importantly, easy tips they swear by for making their home sustainable!
To learn more about SmartHouse Collection, visit smarthousecollections.com!
Tell us a bit about what you both have going on professionally right now!
Amy Smart: I have a TV show coming out on the CW–premiering May 19–called “Stargirl.” I play Stargirl’s mom. It’s based on a comic book and it’s really a cool series…Luke Wilson’s in it, Brec Bassinger plays Stargirl, and she’s great. There are so many great superheroes and supervillains. It’s very family friendly–it definitely has darkness in it because there are supervillains, but it doesn’t cross the line too much so that kids can’t watch it. It’s geared towards families.
I’m also developing a natural skincare line right now. It was supposed to launch in the fall, but I think it will be pushed until early next year. I’m really looking forward to that.
Carter Oosterhouse: Amy’s not doing the skincare line justice, so I have to chime in here a little bit! She’s been formulating this for almost 5 years… Working in TV and what we do, and Amy with movies–it’s easy to license your name and stuff like that. But we’ve found that we have to make sure [anything we put our name on] really works within our world and our brand, and it’s on point and on message.
AS: Really, it’s all about partnership and who your team is. I went through a couple different teams and I finally found this amazing formulator who’s been in the natural beauty world for 25 years. She was one of the founders of Juice Beauty. She’s incredible–she’s worked with a lot of different brands, and she just launched her own brand. I’m so happy that we’re working together because what I realized is that, when you’re working with a formulator, you can say: “I want this,” but you don’t always have that relationship and that trust in what their skillset is and what their values are. Finally, I feel like I found somebody who is so in alignment with what we wanted to bring out into the world. We want to have skincare that works and is good for your skin and your body. I feel very responsible–if I’m going to put something out there, it better not affect anyone in a negative way. It’ll have eco-friendly packaging–using a lot of glass and recyclable materials.
You also have an eco-friendly mattress brand together called SmartHouse Collections. Tell us a bit about that project–how did it come about and what’s the mission?
AS: You spend a third of your life on your bed. That’s a lot of time on your bed. And as we were diving into the whole mattress world we just [learned so much]. Nobody comes and cuts open a mattress to see what’s inside–and even if you did that, you’d be like: “What’s that?” So, we started to look into all the components that are in mattresses. A really controversial ingredient is foam. A lot of companies will say “but, it’s eco-certified foam”…but that’s an ingredient where, even though you can get it certified, the real eco-warriors still say “no” to it. We decided that we don’t need it. There are components to fill a mattress with–like latex and wool and micro-coils–that are really comfortable. Our mattresses are handmade by this really awesome, family-run factory in Michigan. We stand behind it, we sleep on that, our child sleeps on that, our family sleeps on that–so, it feels like a product that has a lot of integrity.
CO: When we started it, we didn’t aspire to get into the mattress sales world. It was not our real intent. But I had another project where I was remodeling people’s homes and I was working with a number of different vendors and suppliers, and one of them said: “Maybe you and Amy could do a mattress and it could be eco-friendly.” I trusted this guy, and his company and mission.
We wanted to know exactly what was in the mattress, and be comfortable resting our heads at night knowing that other people sleeping on the mattress, and pillows and sheets that we offer, are in a very safe place. That was our intent in the first place–to offer a product that is eco-friendly, and that we know it’s sustainably certified and fair-trade. We’re making sure that we’re checking these boxes. And the manufacturer randomly happened to be in Michigan–which is my home state–so I appreciated that.
Also, mattresses have become disposable for a lot of people, and the reality is that’s all foam–so that’s all petroleum that’s going into a landfill. It’s a dirty secret and no one really discusses it. So we made something that’s eco-friendly, healthy for your body when you sleep on it, sustainable, and that’s going to last. We put a 20 year warranty on our product. We believe in our product so much–it’s hand-tufted! We have those details. I also wanted a mattress that’s pretty and looks decent. I want you to say: “Damn, I want to sleep on that with no sheets because those tufts on the top are so cute!”
Speaking of “disposable” furnishings, many people get caught in a trap of deal hunting and prioritizing price over quality–obviously budget is important, but can you speak to why investing in higher quality furnishings actually is more cost effective in the long run, as well as more environmentally friendly?
CO: One of my buddies who’s a painter would always say: “if you buy a $2 paintbrush, you’re going to get a $2 paint job.” I have always been running with that mantra, when it comes to the things that I surround myself with. Whether it’s products that we have, furniture that we bring into our home–the sustainability factor, and not just the production aspect of it, but also the sustainability of that piece of furniture. Is it going to last in your house? That’s a biggie because, and I think this has happened to everybody, you bring in furniture and end up saying: “Damn, that only lasted for, a year, and I spent so much money on it!” Or: “I could have spent a little bit more and gotten something much better!” Trust, me, I deal with this all the time! I’m going through it with our garage right now. Our garage door–I went for the cheap one and right now this cheap one, which has only been up for three years and it’s creaky. I should have paid more money to get the better garage door.
Another thing is looking at energy consumption when you’re buying appliances. Sometimes those bigger ticket items are going to save you on energy costs if they have a better energy star rating. We just put this little unit on our house called Wiser Energy. It’s a unit that literally straps on to your electricity panel and tells you when things are running and when they’re not, and tells you how much energy each of them uses. So if your dryer is a newer dryer, it’ll tell you that you’re doing a good job because your newer dryer is more efficient. We have two heaters and HVAC systems within our home–one that’s really old and one that’s new–when they go on, you can tell the difference in price point. On your phone it’ll tell you: “The older one is on–you just spent a lot of money; and now the new heater’s on, and you’re saving money.” With technology, we’ve come so far in finding how we can reduce our energy consumption.
It makes you more conscious of what you’re using. In terms of sustainability and the furniture you’re bringing in–it is important. Being eco-conscious doesn’t mean you have to go to a big store on Park Avenue and buy things that will break your budget. We have plenty of vintage and second-hand pieces in our home that have lasted for 40+ years, and now somehow has made it into our space, and they’re great pieces that we picked up on eBay. Second-hand stores, man–you can find quality, quality stuff!
Carter, as a home and design professional, what are some of your favorite eco-friendly design tips that everyday people can put into practice?
CO: First of all, you don’t have to have such a big footprint. It’s clearly a trend in the market that people are getting more hip to that–we don’t need these big, big mansions. People are interested in that–especially millennials, which is awesome to see. We don’t need to have so many things. And with what we do have, we should try to maximize it.
There’s also the obvious [areas you can go greener with]–paint and lights. Lights have come a long way from where they were a few years ago. In California, you can’t start adding incandescent lights into your home–I don’t know where that is nationwide, and California tends to be a little more progressive in that sense. Five years ago, some of those LED lights didn’t have a good look to them and they were cold. But I feel like now that’s one of the fastest changing markets where we’re seeing a lot of headway.
AS: I also always say plants! Plants just bring so much life into your house. And they’re natural air filters–they’re cleaning the air, keeping you healthy, bringing us joy from their green little leaves. And plants are not that expensive, and it’s fun to have something you have to take care of.
I live in a pre-war building in Manhattan, so everything creaks and nothing is high-tech. Tell us how you’re looking at building technology when you’re building new homes?
CO: The first building block is building a home that is airtight and sealed. So insulation is important; what your R-factor is, is important. Those are constants that you always see in the building world. The R-factor is how much your insulation will retain your heat and your air in your home–if you have a high R-factor, like an R30, that means you have a lot of insulation and that’s a good thing. In Michigan, we have an R30, in California we have an R0–we don’t need so much insulation because we don’t have the weather. But also, make sure that your home is sealed up–weather stripping across the bottom of your door. If there’s an ⅛ of an inch gap at the door, it’s equivalent to a 3-inch hole on the side of your house. Sealing your home up is No. 1.
But also, technology that has started to come such a long way–like the Wiser Energy that we were able to put on our home. Energy consumption is one of these areas that we’re so wasteful in. We weren’t as efficient a long time ago in buildings and homes. We have capabilities now to track energy consumption. We are also very conscious of how much our WiFi is on at home. We are very conscious of this–because there’s so much technology, there’s the other side of the coin and that’s the pollution in the air from the signals.
AS: I feel like I’m pretty sensitive to all the RF waves, even to the point, where, in our last house, we had decided to put a security system in and the minute we installed it, later that night my skin was super-prickly, and I could feel all of it in my body. I feel really sensitive to it–but through that, I have learned a lot when it comes to EMFs, and phones and all that. And not that we shouldn’t use [smartphones and other WiFi devices], but we should be very smart in how we use them and have limits. Because that’s something that builds in the body over time and can harm you.
For us, we have our WiFi on a timer so it automatically shuts off at a certain time at night and it comes back on in the morning. Also, if you sleep with your phone by your bed, try putting your phone on airplane mode.
CO: We just think that it’s important to have as few frequencies in your home as possible–especially when you’re sleeping, especially for children. It comes from cell phones, WiFi. We never had–and this is our personal choice–a baby monitor that used WiFi in our child’s room. Also you want to make sure that your power panel isn’t near your bedroom because it’s producing massive amounts of power and EMFs. This isn’t to be alarmist or scare people–it’s just about learning to work within the space that you have and what you can do to make it look good, but also can make you feel good, too.
As parents, why is it important to you to have eco-friendly products in your child’s space? Are there any nursery and kids’ items you love that are eco-minded?
AS: Get a really clean crib mattress….and they offer so many green-certified cribs now that aren’t using toxin paints and things like that. So there’s a lot to choose from. Now there is so much on the market for kids that is eco-friendly. Be careful of what you’re putting your kids into in terms of pajamas–because there are so many fire retardants in pajamas, which is kind of crazy.
CO: As far as nursery furniture–sometimes less is more. We just got our daughter a big girl bed–she’s 3 so she graduated to a big girl bed–but we didn’t get a big wooden bed frame, because, for a child, you know they’re only going to have it for so long.
AS: We didn’t want to spend $3,000 on the bed frame–so for about $300 we got a really sweet little metal frame.
CO: It’s going back to the basics–a metal frame is inexpensive, you know that it’s not going to off-gas the way that some wood and adhesives would.
What do you do about drapery and rugs?
CO: The natural fabrics are consistently the better ones. For drapery, and with rugs, look for ones that don’t use synthetic materials. Look for natural materials, like a jute backing is something that can still be antimicrobial and antibacterial and still do the job and you won’t get the off-gassing when it comes into your space.
AS: Wool is so good to–wool is naturally antimicrobial. And for kids: Little wool pillows and blankets help regulate body temperature and helps keep dust mites out.
In honor of Earth Day, are there any environmental charitable organizations that are close to your heart that you’d like to share?
AS: I’ve been a part of the Environmental Media Association for a long time because it’s pretty far-reaching as far as giving out tips.
And for me, honestly, farming is the most important, and making sure we support local farmers. We do things like ordering a CSA box. Because the land is where we are growing all our food, and [we’ve been] learning about regenerative agriculture–it’s a no-till form of agriculture. Now that we can’t go to farmer’s markets right now, we have CSA boxes and different ways of getting good foods and keeping the farmers going. Our land needs a lot of love right now. Also, the Amazon is in dire need right now–there’s the Amazon Watch, which is a really powerful non-profit.