Healthy Design for a Healthier Lifestyle

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As I write these words, a no-holds-barred debate about health issues is raging on the Internet amidst new research that shows that children are increasingly overweight.

The study cites the usual culprits: Commercials for sugary snacks aimed at kids; an increase in frozen and processed foods in the home that are high in fat, sodium and preservatives, and low in nutritional value; and a culture of two-career couples and working single parents for whom time is at a premium and cooking often gets low priority.

As one parent interviewed explained, “It’s very hard to make healthful, low-fat meals when you get home from work at seven, and still have to help the kids with their homework, do chores around the house and take care of everything else.”

Of course, the fact that the vast majority of adults are overweight is also part of the problem, since children tend to mimic the habits of their parents, both good and bad. Fast food, processed foods and too many meals out all contribute to an increasingly overweight population, as does our increasingly sedentary lifestyle that’s enhanced by such technological breakthroughs as the Internet, TiVO, DVRs, video games and Blockbuster nights at home.

But it’s not just our weight we’re worrying about these days. We’re worried about the quality of the water we drink and the air that we breathe. We’re worried about bacteria on our countertops, and E-coli in our spinach. We’re worried about toxins in our environment, and how to keep them out of our homes. We’re worried about toxins in our homes, from mold and by-products from high-powered cooking appliances to gases and vapors emitted by chemicals used in the manufacture of cabinetry, flooring and countertops.

And then we worry about the environment as a whole – the thinning ozone layer, energy and water shortages, repopulating depleted forests.
So what does all of this have to do with you, the kitchen and bath designer?

Perhaps famed children’s author Dr. Seuss said it best in The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, it’s never going to get better. It’s not!”

We’ve all heard about the trend toward “Green Design.” It’s one of the hottest new buzzwords in the industry, and was the recent subject of a National Kitchen & Bath Association Master Class in Montreal (see related story, Breathing Easy).

It seems like everyone is talking about it: Manufacturers tout energy-saving appliances and water-saving showerheads, or lyptus wood cabinets and countertops made of recycled materials. Designers wonder whether green design is going to be the “wave of the future,” and what that might mean for design and product trends. Legislators discuss possible laws to regulate the use of natural resources, and environmentalists talk about moral imperatives.

But despite all of the talking going on, many kitchen and bath designers still maintain that they’re not getting involved in this area “because our clients don’t ask for it.”

This is, I believe, a very short-sighted way of looking at things.

Our clients, like the rest of the population, worry about cooking healthy meals, drinking healthy water and breathing healthy air. They worry about protecting themselves and their families from germs and bacteria. And many of them worry about keeping the earth healthy and preserving natural resources for future generations.

Despite the fact that many don’t know the difference between “green design” and a ham sandwich, it’s clear that the issues behind green design are paramount in consumers’ lives.

Unfortunately, many designers still don’t realize that a number of consumers’ most pressing lifestyle concerns can be addressed through home design geared for healthier living.

That might include high-speed cooking appliances with such healthful options as grilling and steam cooking. Or better quality air and water purification systems. Or bacteria-resistant surfaces that are easy to clean. Or products made of recycled materials.

Or perhaps all of the above.

Like the words of Dr Seuss’ mythical Lorax, who “speaks for the trees,” there are plenty of good global reasons to explore environmentally friendly design. But the number one reason is your clients. Help them achieve healthier lifestyles and you truly are giving them design that’s not just green, but also great.