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Green By Design Episode 205: Celebrity Interior Designer Lori Dennis

Celebrity interior designer, Lori Dennis, ASID, LEED AP, leads a Los Angeles-based interior design firm and has written two books on the topic of green design. Listen as she shares tips on sourcing ethical furniture, introducing air filtration to the home, and more.

Lori Dennis, ASID, LEED AP, Celebrity Interior Designer

Erica Reiner (00:06):

Hi, Lori. Thank you so much for joining me here for everyone. Listening, you have tuned into green by design podcast, which as you may know, from listening to season one is a podcast for home pros and designers who are interested in learning a little bit more about how to go green in your designs and projects, and as a whole helping to clean and green the industry. So I am Erica Reiner from eco method interiors, and I have with me here today, Lori Dennis, thank you for being here now, Lori has a bio full of accolades and very cool things. What you should know about or is that she has one of the leading interior design firms here in Los Angeles. She is what we all desire to be an HGTV design celebrity. She has so many media appearances and cool things that she's shared over the years. And she's also recognized by industry Titans of many along lists as someone who is an expert in wellness and balanced living. She also speaks publicly at corporate university and trade events around the world. If you have one, you want her at for your own and like me, she lives in Los Angeles and with her husband, daughter two chickens and a cat. And I really want to know more about the chickens, but I won't take up too much.

Erica Reiner (01:43):

Thanks Lori, for being here, we actually met as I mentioned in my email a couple of years ago, I can't recall if it was 2018 or 19 west edge design fair in Santa Monica. Yeah. Been a few years. And then I am anxiously awaiting the new publication of your new book, which is all about green design as well. That's right. Yes.

Lori Dennis (02:10):

So we're very excited about that. It's our second edition. We did really well. We wrote the first one in 2010 and with what's going on in the world right now with people being so concerned about carbon capture and I think green is just the household world now where, before it was a little bit of a struggle to get people to pay attention. Now, I think it's really for front and center in the conversation and people are very interested in making their homes healthy, their workplaces healthy and taking care of the planet at the same time. Yeah,

Erica Reiner (02:46):

I certainly hope so. Now tell us a little bit about your journey and what you're doing now. So I see that you do interior architecture as well, interior design and yeah, let us know a little bit about the design journey and then how you started getting into the green or environmental aspect.

Lori Dennis (03:09):

It's like, okay. So I have a master's degree from the UCLA interior architecture program and really what that means is that you're able to move things around on the inside of a property and you're still gonna need an architect to go there and move the walls around. So no way do I want to imply that I'm an architect, but interior architect is a little more intense than just straight interior decoration, which is also really important. And when I first started on my journey, I noticed in 1998, I was graduating from school and I noticed that there were probably like 26,000 interior designers in Los Angeles. And I wanted a way to separate myself from the pack and something that I have always embraced my entire life was being a person who was very conservative in their energy use and aware of the environmental impact that the things that I was purchasing were having as well as a human impact who, when people work in factories or when people are, are producing goods in third world environments that don't maybe have the same strict environmental or employee safety protections in place that we have in Western countries, it's impacting their health, it's impacting their livelihoods.

Lori Dennis (04:31):

So those were all things I was really passionate about. There wasn't really any kind of niche at that time. So I just started to set myself apart as a green designer and someone who would go out and specify those types of materials and be an advocate for people who maybe had health sensitivities and, and didn't really know why they were getting so many allergies or asthma. And a lot of times it's the off gassing of things in your home. And so it was tricky back then to get materials and suppliers, to tell you about those things, because there, there wasn't this desire to know about them and it was tricky to locate them and source those type of materials. But now, you know, many of the major retailers out there and, and so, so, so many of the wholesalers use it as a talking point and use it as a sales position when they have those items. And it's, it's a lot easier to find them in. It's a lot easier to make an environment for yourself. And for other studies really healthy and environmentally conscious. Yes.

Erica Reiner (05:38):

Now I have bill only, even though I had a career in the environmental field before design and a little bit of overlap there, I've only been doing this for six years and you've been doing it longer. So what in, in terms of having like looking back and having that longevity view, what can you say we've come really far in, in the interior design industry in terms of cleaning and greening and what ha what are the not so good areas, the sticking points that you still wish you saw more options for still wish you saw more improvements for?

Lori Dennis (06:13):

I think when it's easy and it's inexpensive, people are all the way on board and it's only the real diehards that care that are real environmental in-store that really care about their home health or their, their work health that are tremendously interested in the more expensive route that it could or could not be, or the time that you need to weigh right now, COVID has made everybody slow down. So, you know, it's, it's kind of a blessing for us that people can't get things immediately anymore. So we all have to just take a minute. And I think the, the inexpensive and the quick turnaround, getting things on Amazon overnight and getting things from Wayfair in two days is a challenge because those things usually are inexpensive and come to you quickly because they're not green and they're not healthy for the environment or the people touching them. And they're surely not healthy for you. And they probably don't last very long either, but they're cheap and they're fast. So they're enticing. So that's the struggle. But I think that the fence that's so many retailers and resources are readily available and attractive and affordable is a plus that we've really come a long way.

Erica Reiner (07:33):

Yeah. I know. I have seen, even in everyday, like home products, not beyond interior design, when I started studying environmental science in 2004, I'd have to even then explain like people would be like, what are you studying? What does that mean? Recycling?

Lori Dennis (07:54):

Yeah, like recycling a little

Erica Reiner (07:55):

Bit more. And to now we were seeing even more options in our specific industry, which is amazing. But I can, I think you hit the nail on the head with the time, as well as funds or, you know, cost of goods being something that is the two, either barriers or perceived barriers to entry into the greener products that are out there right now. I can say for sure that I relate to the time one, I have definitely been in that mindset where I'm like, oh, I gotta get to that. Or I could just get this right now. And it's really, really tough

Lori Dennis (08:33):

To kind of combine, I can't even train yourself, how can you expect the clients to follow? So that's just something that, you know, there's that company with the AI that shows up the next day and they don't really treat their employees very well. And a lot of the things that are being sourced are very good. So we've had that break be a habit in my house. And I said, yeah, I know it's the first one that pops up. It's the least expensive. And it's the easiest, but no. And so, you know, slowly but surely those eight packages stopped showing up. And there's so many things out there. West Elm is a great one. Ikea has always been really environmentally sound that they come pretty quickly and they have some very attractive things. They flat pack them, they treat their employees, right. They really try to source from eco-friendly factories and, and use renewable resources as well as working with artisans locally.

Lori Dennis (09:30):

So there are some major ones out there and he thinks probably the most important areas where you really want to have the cleanest environment and the most eco-friendly environment would be your bedroom because that's where you're resting and rejuvenating eight hours every day, and to have good clean air in there and great sheets and great bedding is easier now than ever because so many companies offer organic bang and organic fabric. If you know, you're doing window treatments or headboards and things like that, sustainable woods. So we've come a long way. And it's really easy. That would be always the room that said, if you didn't have the money or the time or the inclination to do anything else, let's just focus on that first. Yeah. And surely the nurseries and the kids' rooms and elderly people's rooms. Let's do that first. And if you can tell, and you know, you're, if your tolerance is, you know, can slowly go up to, to do the rest of home, we can move in that direction, but it's easier than ever now to do that. So no excuses to have bad health in your bedroom anymore. Yeah.

Erica Reiner (10:33):

And I always like joke that the mattress is the gateway drug to the rest of the green home, because a most people are aware now that there's a difference between like a healthier mattress and a standard mattress through goodness gracious, a lot of years and a lot of education, a lot of other things. So I definitely agree on that. And back to Ikea, I think there are also just to give them one more little gold star. I think they're also one of the first big box stores to phase out flame retardants in their phones and things like that. So I do have a love, hate relationship with Ikea, but we have to give credit where credit is due. So yeah, I think we've seen a lot of progress. And I think we're also seeing some costs of certain kinds of products be brought down, which I was just talking about earlier today. I talk about it all the time. I'm obsessed with economics and the environment. And so it's so important that we're buying as much as we can with the cleaner and greener products and materials, because over time it will just reduce the more demand we have, the greater, the cost reduction we're gonna see. And I think we've already seen

Lori Dennis (11:52):

That a little. Yeah. But

Erica Reiner (11:55):

It's like, that's exactly it, but when their dollars

Lori Dennis (11:58):

Oh, one thing I want to point out about that, that's really interesting as we have something that's called shop at home first, and if you're a designer who's getting paid for your time versus getting permission on what you're selling, you can be an advocate for this, where you'll go through the client's home and try to repurpose or reuse things that in the old days, the old designer who got paid on commission had no inclination to want to do that. They want to rip it all out and start over. But the greenest thing that you can do is just keep using what you have. So if you can find a way to incorporate those things, and we always do, it could be a 20 million to a hundred million dollar home, and we're shopping at home first. And I think that people are really kind of very excited about that because they save money, they save resources and to not have it go into a landfill is the number one greenest then you can do and or selling it or buying use, you know, gently used.

Lori Dennis (12:55):

Yeah. Yeah. It's great. So I'm a, I'm a big Craigslist, or, and it doesn't matter how rich and famous I get, I still buy and sell on Craigslist all the time and let go. And you know, the neighborhood stores and I encourage my clients to do the same. So I think that, that, there's a, there's a lot to it. Then you don't have the packaging, you don't have the transportation, you don't have the disposal of it. You don't have the manufacturing of a new item. So whenever you can reuse those items do it, give me one second.

Erica Reiner (13:26):

Oh my gosh. I'm so sorry. I had to stop the noise out there. Oh,

Lori Dennis (13:29):

That's okay. It happens with many times.

Erica Reiner (13:33):

Okay. So yes, you were pointing out all of the reasons why buying things pre-lab secondhand, gently used is so eco-friendly, we've touched on that before here, but for the sake of recapping, you mentioned the transportation costs. So CO2 there, you mentioned the packaging costs and savings on Virgin resources there. And then the landfill. And a lot of people know that things going into the landfill is not so great, but what they maybe don't know are clear on is why, yes, it's a land use issue. And we've seen photos of above ground dumps and the birds pecking at it and things like that. But also in our underground land fills, it also produces methane, which is a really strong greenhouse gas. Something like 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide. And every landfill has like these little pipes where it's just being burned off into the atmosphere, has things digest under there.

Erica Reiner (14:30):

So like the particle board from the crappy furniture that we throw in or whatever, some things number I'm quite degraded properly, obviously, as we know, like plastics and such, which is a host of other problems, but the reasons why we don't like landfills is one for the land use and two for that methane gas, which isn't so great. So and then last but not least, if you have something lasting you much longer, it reduces your need to buy new and again, use more Virgin resources. So it is like this whole ecosystem of problems or solutions, depending on how you approach it. When you're shopping at home, are you seeing if you can use things in different rooms or if you seeing, if you can read a pollster or paint, or is it all of the above

Lori Dennis (15:17):

Free, upholstering usually winds up being just about as much as getting a new item because new items are so affordable. So it's, that's a, that's a tough one, unless something's a really, really great condition antique or, well, well-made, that's going to go the distance. I don't usually go that route because it doesn't make economic sense or unless they really love it. But I'll find myself taking a chair from here side table from there, or a lamp from here and, and just kind of massaging things a little bit with a new shade or just putting things into a different organization in a different space, makes them feel entirely new to the client. And I think it's exciting and it's kind of like a puzzle for me. So after doing this for over two decades, you need to keep yourself intellectually stimulated. So sometimes, you know, creating these different puzzles of how to, how to make things work. And it's funny because new designers will say to me, I could have this, they'll ask me questions about how should my pricing be. I priced it this way and I'll say, my gosh, that's so low. You know, you're making $30 an hour. Like, you know why? Well, I thought because they had their own stuff, it would be easier, but it actually printed much more difficult, so, oh, wow.

Erica Reiner (16:39):

Yeah. So this leads perfectly into my next question, which I think I have two answers for already, but you can reprioritize if you want. And my question is what does eco-friendly interior design work look like in your world? And, or you can choose what are your top three favorite ways to go green and designing a space? And I think the two you said were the bedding and the mattress and then the shopping at home, but you can give me new ones if you want.

Lori Dennis (17:08):

I think one of the things that a lot of people overlook is the toxins that you bring into your environment to clean it on a weekly or daily basis. If you have really easy to clean surfaces and durable surfaces that are, you know, more of a, just a quick wipe, kind of a situation, you can clean them with less toxic things and a little elbow grease instead of these harsh chemicals. And if those things are not introduced into your environment, without buying a thing, without changing a thing other than your cleaning products, it's a huge way to go green and be eco-friendly. So when we design spaces, we really try to think about the cleanliness and then installing either smaller HEPA filters for if they can't or larger ones, if they can afford it, that's going to be a bigger budget house. Some houses have a whole closet dedicated to a filtration, a filtration system, or just simply swapping out all of the vents in your existing HVAC system.

Lori Dennis (18:13):

One will make wonders per year for your indoor air quality. So those are kind of non-glamorous things, you know, people don't really think about that makes such a huge impact on what's having happening in this space. And then we really liked to put plants all over, which helped to clean the air. And they also feel great if you don't kill them. No they're green, they move they're alive. And one of the things I like people to know is that plants release oxygen during the night and they take in oxygen and they take in carbon dioxide during the day. So if you don't want to compete with your plants in your bedroom, you know, I see a lot of these Instagrammers involve these plants in their bedrooms, what I have in there as a mother-in-law tongue, because that's that cause it in reverse and it releases oxygen. So, oh, the jungle out of your bedroom, any other parts of the house and put the mother-in-law tongues all over the bedroom, mother-in-law tongues, you know, those sneaky looking ones, Queenie tall ones. Yeah. They have a reverse in input and output of the carbon dioxide and the oxygen. That's amazing.

Erica Reiner (19:24):

I didn't know that there's also a list I can share with everyone. I think NASA created it when they were looking at how to regenerate air well in their rocket ships and what happened. So there's a list out there that NASA made of ones that are great for that purpose as well though. Not yet. Okay. I think left in our books. So now it's a book on Amazon and anywhere near you. Okay. So yes plants and cleaning surfaces. Now, how do you can, how do you balance the idea of surfaces that are super easy to clean and require less topical chemical components with, let's say fabrics that have been pretreated with not great chemicals that's which sounds like a tricky balance.

Lori Dennis (20:19):

So some things that you're going to buy it is what it is, and you're just going to need to open the windows when you get something new and it smells new when you smell, that means your brain cells are melting. You might as well drink wine. If you want to do that, then prevent toxic fabric. So I encourage people when they get something new, especially if it's going to go in a child's room or an elderly person's room who might have developing or compromised immuno systems or breathing, you know, lung tissue is to open up either, put it outside. If it's quiet, if the climate agrees with you and let it do its thing for a couple of days for open the windows and the fan in that room, and just mentally it off cash for maybe three or four days before you live with those types of pieces. So that helps. And then they do have, if you want to get not treated items, they do have companies. Now you can just look them up on the internet that can come treat your stuff with non-toxic stain protector and stain repellent and a company that I really, really love using. Oh my gosh, I'm going blank on the name right now. It'll come back to me. Holy moly.

Erica Reiner (21:32):

If you can't remember, you'll just email me and we'll pop it in the show. Hold on. It's script on home Krypton home. Oh, yes. I've heard of that. Yeah.

Lori Dennis (21:46):

So sometimes home has a lot of really great fabrics that are non-toxic and indestructible. So

Erica Reiner (21:53):

They're oh, tech certified

Lori Dennis (21:54):

Too. Yes. So you can cry on, catch up. Wine comes right off. So it's like a funder, like leave it for about three minutes, like forgetting your spouse's name. That's okay. Gives them all the time and a lot of different vendors. So that's like the supplier of the fabric and then a lot of different vendors like Durelli or Calico home crabbing. They they'll have the Krypton home fabric in their lines and their different styles.

Erica Reiner (22:25):

Wonderful. Thank you for that hot tip. Okay. So what is one thing that we haven't covered that you would like to share either about how you do work at your firm or the industry as a whole?

Lori Dennis (22:42):

Well, I think one of the things that I really felt that was so important, there's, there's three things in green design that, that are key is the environment, your health, your personal health, and then just the way that employees are treated. Yeah. So one of the things that I always made sure to do with all the people that worked with me was to be equitable with them when it comes to payment and benefits and vacations, and really allowing people to participate in the success and, and have an environment that is really as low stress. So all of our immune systems day happy. So th those are some things also that seemed like a little bit touchy, feely, but they're all, it's all, it's all part of it. It's all intertwined. So it's not just what you're selecting, but it's the energy that the people who are selecting those things and making those things, the animals that, that are involved in this process, the earth that's involved in this process, it's all part of this cosmic energy that I think makes or breaks your space and makes or breaks your spirit. So I liked that. Yeah. I like to think what we do is more than just, you know, people showing up, but it's really helping people to be their best self, so they can go out into the world and take care of other people because they feel nurtured and safe and healthy at home or at work. Yeah. I

Erica Reiner (24:09):

Love that. That was so well said. And you're bringing it, the topic to everywhere from the global industry and employees on the whole, as well as the ones you can impact in your, your world on a daily basis. And just to expand back out again, to that global point of view, which you mentioned earlier on in the interview is when things are being made, it's not just like, okay, are we taking from this resource or using this energy or blah, blah, blah, to the earth, there are also human beings doing manual labor and the production of things that are well, whether they're low quality, high quality, how like, you know, environmentally made or not. But what we want to think about are things that might impact those people's health. So like if they have to be exposed to certain chemicals in dye stuffs or treatments on fabric, or if they have to, like, if they're cutting a countertop and they're getting silicosis, cause they're not provided safety equipment from cutting your Gorts or whatever it might be. So it's, it is first and foremost, a human health issue when we talk about cleaner and greener design in your home and your client's home and in here in America, but also worldwide because there's human beings that are being impacted globally. So I think it's such an important point that you made. And I just wanted to highlight that again. So I think we can,

Lori Dennis (25:42):

One thing, so sorry to interrupt. One thing that people also don't think about is our children making your products, or are they in school where they should be you know, the rug industry is horrendous in, in and employing, employing enslaving children. Hand-Make those beautiful knots in the Bronx because their fingers are little. And so if you can just, you know, take it one more step and make sure that the rug that you're sourcing doesn't have kids making it, you know, those are things that you just don't really think about and sure,

Erica Reiner (26:20):

Let's shout out. Goodweave certified. Who would, that's the certification that we look for to ensure that there's no unfair labor practices. And again, it takes a little bit more money for the company to get that certification. And maybe some of that is passed on, but the more we can can ask our vendors if they have or tell them we're interested in that. And by that the cheaper, it would be the more ubiquitous it'll be. And it's it's we can collectively have such a big impact.

Lori Dennis (26:56):

Companies are really coming to the forefront and Jake, whereas when we work with a lot and they're helping women in these collectives, they're making sure that the people who are waving should be of weaving aged. And so, and the rugs are the same as, as something, you know, that's made inexpensively in a factory in China. So the prices are becoming more equitable from a mainstream products to eco-friendly products. And, and I think my, my dream was 10 years ago, 11 years ago, that one day we wouldn't be differentiating and we're really getting close or to, to a time when things are just made that way. And now with the advent of blockchain technology where you have companies like a company called track is there somebody, I don't remember what their name is, but they can do supply chain notifications of every single place where a product has been. And I think as we get more sophisticated in implementing that blockchain technology and you can companies are using it, it's just going to become like my dream 11 years ago that we wouldn't be calling it eco-friendly anymore. It just would be. So,

Erica Reiner (28:08):

Yeah. Yes. And one more quick point on, on weaving is there's also a bit of a cultural element in there too, if we're able to return this artisinal work back to the artisans and these communities that are of weaving age and have fair trade agreements. I've spoken with a couple of people working on that, in that field. And I think that that is yet another layer to this onion to consider as well. So so well said everything was exactly on point. And let me know where one place is that our listeners can go to find

Lori Dennis (28:51):

You can come check us out. We have a blog there, we do it once a week. It's our link. That's our green blog. It's not always green information, but it's always great information. And we're just all about being positive and really trying to make everyone's life better. And, you know, just smiling along the way. Beautiful.

Erica Reiner (29:08):

Thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your expertise and taking your time out and tell us one more time what your book is called and where people can buy it. Yeah.

Lori Dennis (29:19):

It's green interior design and you know, you can get it at Amazon. You can get everything at Amazon, but if you don't like shopping there, there are definitely other places where you can go like once a novel. And if you just look up green interior design Lori Dennis, there'll be a wealth of information for your homeowner. It's a great gift for them or for any trade professional. The first book was really more geared toward trade professionals and we made this one prettier with bigger Glossier pictures and easier to read understandable material. So it's a fun read Courtney Porter, and I read it together and read interior design part two addition too. I think they'll love it. Amazing.

Erica Reiner (29:56):

Thank you again so much for your time and your expertise. And we will talk soon. Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure.

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