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When architect David Schneider’s daughter was 10, one of his clients was disposing of a beautiful set of children’s furniture. All it needed was repainting. So Schneider had it sprayed with a solvent-based lacquer and put it in his daughter’s room.

Within four days, she went from being a gifted child with an IQ of 148 to a girl who couldn’t tell him what her address was. Schneider went into a tailspin, consulting pediatric neurologists across the country. It turned out that, unbeknown to him, the fumes from the lacquer were toxic and had caused a neurological impairment in his daughter.

She has made a full recovery. But that hasn’t stopped Schneider from feeling guilty: “I felt I’d failed as a father and out of ignorance caused harm to my child,” he says. “I was overwhelmed by these feelings and had to find a way forward.”

Schneider’s “way forward” was to devote himself to the study of green design. “I re-educated myself in a driven and almost religious fashion,” he says. “I’ve learned everything I could, and what I do now with all my clients is to make sure I offer access to information about health and safety considerations before they make decisions.”

One of those clients was a family in Oak Park, California: nurse mom, engineer dad, toddler son, and baby on the way. When they hired Schneider to design their kitchen renovation, he made suggestions about what was green, healthy, and sustainable—and the parents embraced them. “They both really value doing things in a way that is protective of their family and the earth,” Schneider says. Among their eco-friendly decisions:

  • FLOORING Instead of replacing the entire floor, they found identical flooring and patched it in. “Anytime you rip out that amount of flooring, it’s a lot of waste and a lot of new material,” he says. “We didn’t do that, and that was huge in terms of being eco-conscious.”
  • CABINETS They were made by a local cabinet maker, which cut down on the energy required to transport them. All the materials exceeded California clean air standards.
  • LIGHTING The entire house features LED lighting, which burns about one third the energy of standard bulbs.
  • APPLIANCES “Every appliance has an energy- or resource-saving component to it,” Schneider says—from the energy-efficient washer and dryer to the exhaust system above the stove that keeps indoor air clean.
  • COUNTERTOPS They’re made of quartz, which never has to be sealed. “So you never have to use a chemical on them after the fact,” he says. “They’re also the hardest, most durable surface, so they last longer and there’s less likelihood of replacement.”
  • INSULATION It’s formaldehyde-free. As the project proceeded, Schneider and his clients had no shortage of earth-friendly options to choose from in the marketplace. “The choices are expanding rapidly because there’s a recognition and a fast-growing requirement that things be healthy for the user,” he says. His passion for green design began with a tragedy in his own family, but he’s now a part of a huge movement. “Human health and safety is the most driving force in design,” he says, “and within a handful of years it’s going to be a tidal wave.”

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