Living the Green Life
A lot goes into a truly healthy home
by Brittany Conley
photos by Ryan Theede Photography
The concept of sustainable architecture, sometimes referred to as building green, is not a new one, though a western North Carolina businessman is on a mission to challenge what we think we know about healthy environments in order to help us all live cleaner, greener lives. What exactly is a home built on green principles? There are some rather obvious answers, such as the roofing choice, type of insulation and energy-efficient windows and doors. To others, it may be obvious to consider the construction process itself to minimize the impact on the environment surrounding the home in terms of runoff into waterways or needlessly cutting back too many trees. A lot of time and planning go into the building of a sustainable, eco-friendly home. But building the home is far from the final step in the process. Someone has to live in the home...what happens then?
This is exactly the question asked by Sean Sullivan, owner of forward-thinking companies Atelier Maison & Co. and Living Stone Design + Build. Sullivan’s wife Laura owns ID.ology Interiors & Design, and all are based in Asheville, NC. This question came up for Sullivan after purchasing an Energy Star home built by his own company. After living in this impeccably designed home with his family for seven years, it was time to sell. The prospective buyers asked Sullivan for a radon test, something he had not done at the time. Much to Sullivan’s surprise, the home his family lived in, the home he had built, tested positive for radon, and he was determined to discover why.
The revelation of his own home’s pollution shook up Sullivan’s approach to his businesses, whose standards had always been incredibly high. It’s always been Living Stone’s practice to go above and beyond. As part of their green initiative to reduce their carbon footprint, Living Stone sources as many materials as feasible within 200 miles of the build site, when the certification requirements are a more lenient 500 miles- which is but one example of how Sullivan and his team of professionals go the extra mile to go extra green. It also illustrates why the Sullivan family was shocked and dismayed to learn their home had radon pollution. “We were mortified about what we didn’t know about indoor air quality,” says Sullivan. While every home built by Living Stone Design + Build is Energy Star and North Carolina Greenbuilt certified, Sullivan and his wife knew they had to do even more for the people who would live inside those homes. “We were designing green homes and building green homes, but what we realized was we are creating these really tight boxes because we want to be energy efficient. The clients are then trapped inside with pollutants,” says Sullivan. Thus, their furniture store, Atelier Maison & Co., was born, as well as Sullivan’s overarching principle that is the driving force behind everything he does. He calls it the Whole Living concept: Design Green. Build Green. Live Green.
When most people think of a furniture store, typically one imagines picking out pretty patterns or complementary colors, which is a wonderful and important step for creating beautiful interior spaces. The thought process behind Atelier Maison & Co., however, goes a step or two beyond just aesthetics, though aesthetics are in no way sacrificed at all. “We felt like clients weren’t being educated for afterward, for when they begin to move in their own stuff. We saw toxic furniture. We weren’t doing a good enough job of teaching our clients to live green,” says Sullivan.
We think of our homes as private sanctuaries, but there are many ways our furniture may present invisible dangers in the form of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. In fact, Sullivan cites six different ways our sofa may be causing us harm, everything from the kind of wood used for the frame to the material used for cushioning- even the flame retardant chemicals which sound like they’re keeping us safe, could be wreaking havoc on the air we breathe. “We have testimonials from customers who have told us [they can’t use] their existing sofa because it gives them headaches,” says Sullivan. The majority of furniture offered at Atelier Maison & Co. must meet Sullivan’s high expectations for low or, even better, no VOCs, so he partners with many vendors who share his discerning vision and even employs a furniture maker in-house. “Think of how much time you spend on your bed,” says Sullivan, noting that it can take anywhere from two weeks to seven years for some furniture, like mattresses, to de-gas any present VOCs, so at Atelier Maison & Co. they offer a selection of lush organic mattresses and linens.
Lessening time spent around pollutants is paramount. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, we spend about 90% of our time inside our homes. That is a lot of time spent with our belongings, many of which we may not have considered might be causing a toxic indoor environment. Of all the different categories for building and living green, indoor air quality isn’t a topic often broached, but Atelier Maison & Co. wants to change that. “We talk about recycling, renewables and buying local. But most don’t talk about air quality. We started teaching about indoor air quality. It is the most important category,” says Sullivan, who also notes that the pandemic has increased the conversation about the need for healthy indoor air but says that it still isn’t enough to fully educate people on the importance of making smarter decisions about what we put inside our homes.
Educating people on the many ways their home and lifestyle can impact their overall health is something Sullivan and his team takes very seriously. They started green lifestyle classes in Atelier Maison’s Asheville showroom, and they aren’t just educating their clients, but even those who might be considered their competitors. “This is such an important topic; we couldn’t keep it to ourselves. We knew so many people from architects to designers and builders to real estate that are touching so many homes,” says Sullivan. These classes are taught by experts, such as cardiologists and chiropractors, about how our lifestyle and even furniture choices can have profound impacts on every aspect of our overall health.
This level of care, expertise and dedication is truly remarkable in any industry but especially uncommon in construction and home furnishings. The scope of products and services offered by Atelier Maison & Co. is incredible, and they can’t wait to help you improve the look, and more importantly, the overall health of your home as they settle into their new home in Cashiers. “We want to be Cashiers’ elevated furniture experience. We want everyone to feel like a celebrated guest,” says Sullivan, whose passion for the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau is already unmistakable. If you are interested in a new build or an interior remodel, Living Stone Design + Build and ID.ology Interiors & Design are also standing ready to guide you through your personalized consultation. The collective portfolio of Sullivan’s work is proof that form can marry function and sustainability can marry style. You can get more information on any of these amazing companies by visiting them online and following them across their social media platforms.
Atelier Maison & Co.
ID.ology Interiors & Design
Living Stone Design + Build