Green Dream Home
By Hillary Geronemus - Body + Soul, June 2007
When Craig Reingold and Jeannette Kearney first started house-hunting in 2004 after relocating from San Francisco to Boston, their initial goal was simple: find something comfortable and spacious in a family-friendly neighborhood. They fell in love with a spot in Lexington, a posh suburb 11 miles from downtown -- but since the house had unrepairable damage, they would have to tear it down and rebuild. Up for the challenge, the couple and their two daughters, Kaya, 9, and Madison, 10, settled into a rental house across the street and prepared for the long haul of construction.
Not long after they broke ground, though, Jeannette started feeling off. Her memory failed her, she had trouble sleeping, and she coughed all the time. The original diagnosis was early-onset Alzheimer's, but her doctor eventually named a much different illness: multiple chemical sensitivity, a chronic disease caused by an inability to tolerate environmental chemicals. Holing up in a sealed house for a long, frigid New England winter only exacerbated her symptoms.
With that diagnosis, everything changed. Normal standards of building would no longer do. From lumber to furniture, they started looking for less toxic alternatives. Needless to say, this put a kink in their plans. But it also brought an unexpected new outlook. "Originally, we had selfish goals," Kearney admits. "It was all about taking care of me and the family. But once we opened the door to environmental awareness, we realized we could do something to make a difference. Then there was no going back."
The result? A traditional New England home with a modern flair.
To celebrate the completion of the finishing touches three years later, the couple invited 100 friends to examine the bamboo flooring, wheatboard cabinets, low-VOC paint, recycled glass tiling, and toxin-free furniture. The reception was beyond supportive -- a far cry from when Kearney and Reingold embarked on the project. "When we first told people we were building a green house, they thought it involved a lot of plants," Kearney says, laughing. "It was like we were from outer space." Now, instead of being the couple from another planet, they're known as the ones trying to save this one.
"We felt that, if we were going to spend more than two hours at a time on a piece of furniture, it had to be organic," Kearney explains. So for the living room, she custom-designed the chocolate brown organic sofas from Furnature, which have a velvety suede feel to them. The living room's many eco-accents include wheatboard shelving, the hand-carved Root of the Earth Bowl and Blackbirds of Happiness from VivaTerra, a ficus plant for purifying the air, and a nylon-free wool rug.
The couple bought their organic mattress from Furnature, a Massachusetts-based company that uses no chemicals, dyes, vinyl, or formaldehyde, and ensures that each of its upholstered pieces is recyclable and biodegradable. Everything from the sheets to the curtains were "safe washed" (a combination of baking soda and white vinegar devised by Kearney) in an effort to remove some of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Hidden behind the low-VOC-painted walls is Icynene, a soft foam insulation and air-barrier system that can reduce energy consumption by up to 50 percent compared to conventional counterparts. It also emits no harmful emissions and minimizes moisture, which encourages mold and mildew growth.
Instead of the traditional hardwood floors found in many New England homes, Kearney decided on bamboo finished with a water-based stain for its sustainability and style. "I've lived with oak for 20 years, so these floors are refreshing," she says. To keep warm in the winter, they use radiant heating.