Newsletter | May/Jun 2004

Shades of Green

by Tracy Fox

In its infinite number of shades, green symbolizes growth, money, healing, and peace. It is the most restful color for the human eye and suggests stability and endurance. Because green is directly related to nature, it has been endowed with the omnipotent role of saving our planet in the 21st century - The "Green Movement" also referred to as "eco-design" and "sustainable design," is based in awareness and concern about the well being of the environment and the economic, ethical and social impact of design. Like any discipline there is a learning curve, and being "green" isn't always black and white.

At the San Francisco Mart several showrooms carry products that are made in part from renewable resources such as bamboo, water hyacinth, banana leaves and rattan--all of which edify sustainable design principles because they are harvested then grow back quickly. "If it is made by Mother Nature to survive, exposed to the elements, it can survive in western homes," says Uve Korak founder of Sweet Smiling Home, speaking of these natural and sustainable materials. Korak grew up in Vienna and Austria and began his career in architecture before he began designing and importing products from Indonesia. While several showrooms at the mart carry accessories and furniture made from sustainable materials, hardwoods are also needed to produce case goods and this is where being true to green design practices becomes grey. "Reclaimed" teak in a 3rd world country such as Indonesia, presents a moral dilemma; a few hundred dollars given to the right person will grant any type of certification desired. At this time, there are not reliable governing bodies to make assurances of the authenticity or safety of woods and other resources.

In the mid 17th century, the Dutch started to colonize Indonesia to secure their monopoly of the spice islands in East Indonesia. Their architecture was transplanted with many other things that did not take into consideration the climate, environment, or culture. Those buildings are falling down now and in them can be found very dry teak that is then reclaimed. It becomes a commodity because of people like Korak, who are dedicated to the environment, present and future. Natural reclaimed teak is expensive. So in it's place and where aesthetically appropriate, fruitwoods are used. Durian and mango fruit trees have a limited life span and as they get older their fruit yield decreases making use of woods that would otherwise be discarded. Dovetail Furniture, also on the second floor, procured enough one- hundred- year- old railroad ties from India to create their Heritage Line of furnishings, which offers a unique product and story for buyers.

The South Cone Trading Company, located on the second floor, is the green movement leader in the furnishings industry. The South Cone team works with The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which certifies case goods, manufacturers, mills and forests. "Furniture manufactures add the most value to wood. If all of us were to require FSC certified wood from our suppliers, we would ensure the preservation of the world's forests for generations to come," says Gerry Cooklin, Founder and CEO. South Cone projects that 90% of their case goods will be FSC certified by the end of 2005. While there are over 2,000 species of wood, consumers often desire the endangered species such as mahogany, which appears on the endangered species list. The good news is that that there are alternatives to this and many other at risk woods. Mohena is most similar in strength to mahogany and is fragrant like cedar. Cachimbo is most similar to Rosewood. Ironwood indigenous to Argentina and also known as algarroba, is a dense hardwood and very heavy. It is a visually interesting wood that takes on characteristics of walnut when stained dark and when stained lighter is comparable to pecan. "Once designers and their clients learn we are FSC certified and what this means, it often helps them make their decision," says Gina Harmon, Showroom Manager at The San Francisco Mart. Harmon compares the exotic woods and finishes to more commonly known woods to help buyers identify the right product. The partnerships and alliances that South Cone has made with the FSC and Amazonian communities guarantee the authenticity of their sustainable woods. In 2001 South Cone founded Partnerships and Technology for Sustainability,, which serves to support Amazon communities for generations to come. Now is the time to visit to the San Francisco Mart and discover the field of growing green design. Whether light, medium or Amazonian, green in any shade is a beautiful color.

Ms. Fox is the principle of Foxline Design, which specializes in green design and freelance writing. She is a member of the SFMart, IDS and the USGBC. You may reach her at

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