Elle Magazine: Green House Effect
Kerry Washington and Eco-stylist Danny Seo
A PIONEER OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT BEFORE HE COULD VOTE, DANNY SEO NOW HELPS FRIENDS LIKE ACTRESS KERRY WASHINGTON FIND STYLE WITH A CONSCIENCE
When actresses hit it big, who can blame them if the first item on their agenda is a shopping spree: Think platinum card, Fred Segal, a wait-listed croc megabag. But Kerry Washington has a different vision for her world. In 2004, after her role as the long-suffering wife in Ray catapulted her into the limelight—leading to covetable roles in The Last King of Scotland, I Think I Love My Wife, and Fantastic Four (whose latest installment, Rise of the Silver Surfer, will be released this June)—she picked up the phone and called eco-stylist Danny Seo.
"I stalked him," she says with a laugh. "I'd seen his book Conscious Style Home, and I said, 'This person and I should be friends.' As my life and career were expanding, I wanted to do everything in as conscious a way as possible." Raised to be environmentally sensitive by her parents—"I spent my summers in upstate New York chasing salamanders and frogs and fireflies"—Washington was an early Prius driver; next, she wanted to take a hard look at her wardrobe and house. "I wanted my environment to match who I am, and who I am is someone who values honoring and protecting the planet."
She called the right person. Ever since founding the organization Earth 2000 at 12—when most kids his age were still obsessed with Nintendo—29-year-old Seo has become the go-to person for organic-lifestyle advice. "Whenever someone has a question about how to make their lives environmentally sound, I send them to Danny," Washington says.
"I'm the green version of a Scientologist," Seo quips.
He's dressed Eva Longoria and Rosario Dawson in green fashions by Ralph Lauren and Koi; thrown eco-parties for his pal Stella McCartney's stores; and decorated the homes and gardens of stars such as Kelly Rowan. His Simply Green book series (Collins) and weekly Sirius satellite radio show are primers for making over your life in a way that's both elegant and environmentally sound. "A decade ago, green design was pretty much an oxymoron," Seo explains. "Today, it's a different game: Everything from furniture to candles is being made using sustainable materials in the most beautiful colors and scents and designs."
Washington's home—a two-year work in progress—is a case in point. Her walls have been painted with Benjamin Moore eco-friendly colors, her television is an energy-efficient Sharp plasma, her furniture is made from organic and recycled materials—including a rocking chair crafted from factory-reject seat belts and an armchair covered with baby blue hemp linen—and even her blinds are sustainable bamboo.
Today, at Los Angeles' Rolling Greens Nursery, the friends are hunting down decorative finishes. Washington picks up an orchid potted with cacti and recycled sea glass. "Any plant in your home will help clean up the air," Seo points out—15 or 20 can cleanse an entire house, according to Rolling Greens. "Electric air purifiers can be unhealthy—some emit ozone," Seo says. For Washington, whom Seo calls a "brown thumb" and whose travel schedule precludes gardening, he selects the fantastically named dracaena massangeana and golden pothos, "plants that thrive on neglect."
Then it's on to H.D. Buttercup, a sprawling interior-design mecca that features 10 green lines, in order to pick out organic linens. The first stop is Anna Sova, where the friends load up on organic-cotton towels—noting that they were made without pesticides or bleaches—sniff a tub of food-grade aromatherapy paint in brilliant turquoise, and then head off to examine a lamp made from driftwood. "I've always felt that respecting the planet doesn't have to come from a place of denying yourself your pleasures," Washington says, as she fondles the edge of an eco-silk pillowcase.
That said, living a purist's life is challenging. There was the matter of the recyclable Interface Flor carpet tiles, which the neighbor's dogs mistook for a patch of grass, and the wobbly handmade table of recycled wood strips. But to Washington—now well schooled by Seo—it's worth the effort. "I feel much more at peace waking up in a home when I know that my sheets and my mattress don't contribute to the destruction of forests, the air is healthy because I didn't use toxic paint, and my clothes didn't destroy the lives of children in Central America," she says. "And while Danny's compassion for the environment is impeccable, he's also a total style snob, so he somehow makes sure that the ethics of your life are fantastic while you look even better."—JANELLE BROWN