Welcome to Second Nature, a Q+A series with Jute founder, Ali Davin, that explores all things healthy living, with a fond emphasis on that thing she does best—interior design.
When you think about renovating your home, are you most excited about budgeting, demolition…or selecting paint, fixtures, and materials? Don’t worry—you’re not alone.
What you choose to put in your home can affect the air quality—and your health—for years to come. That’s why we always recommend using consciously sourced materials like solid wood and natural stone. Here are the choices I’ve been making while renovating my own home.
The first floor is basically one huge space: kitchen, living, and dining, with an entry and a powder room. The kitchen layout was awkward in terms of flow so we opened up a wall and reconfigured the space with an island that you can walk all the way around. We removed the engineered wood flooring and are refinishing the concrete floors underneath. Because the home has radiant heat, it can be challenging to use with solid hardwood floor. So instead of adding a subfloor so we can have hardwood, we’re only doing that upstairs. I wanted to be conscious of not using materials that I didn’t really need, and I’m perfectly happy with a concrete floor.
We’re using solid wood cabinetry with a minimal amount of plywood—there needs to be some for the structure to hold and not warp, but since there’s formaldehyde in it, you want to use as little as possible. We’re not doing upper cabinets, so that cuts down on the amount of wood we need. We’re doing soapstone on the island and marble on the back wall behind the range—all natural stone. And we are repurposing the range and hood insert.
We kept the gas insert for the fireplace but purchased new slate stone for the surround. We’re replacing all of the interior doors with solid oak doors and casing with no stain. We’re changing the window casings and baseboard to solid wood too. We’re using a lime-based paint on the walls that has no VOCs or preservatives. Amazingly, it absorbs all the toxins and neutralizes the air. It’s even better than no-VOC paint in terms of off-gassing.
Because the home has exposed wood beams everywhere, we didn’t have the option of doing a lot of lighting changes. We are updating the lighting so we can have a monopoint track system with LED lights, which are awesome because you only need to change the bulbs once a decade. We’re replacing the recessed lights with LED bulbs as well. We will have decorative sconces in the kitchen, and a new custom fixture over the dining room table. Thankfully the home has amazing natural light, although we are replacing a few skylights and making the upstairs ones operable.
The primary bedroom had two large closets so I chose to repurpose one of those for a proper master bath with a larger shower, water closet, and free standing bathtub. We’re using marble on the shower, sink, and surfaces with a hardwood floor and a simple wood vanity with two hanging drawers made from dovetailed solid wood—there’s no glue, no stain, and only minimal cabinetry. We even sourced a floor model bathtub and in-stock plumbing—anything that’s been manufactured awhile ago has been off-gassing in a showroom, so you can start using it right away.
In general, you want minimal sheetrock, minimal taping, and use a low VOC sealant on anything that requires one, like floors, doors, cabinets, or wood trim. For the kitchen cabinets, we’re actually lighting the wood on fire—it’s a Japanese method and it’s even better than using a water-based stain and low-VOC sealant because there are no chemicals involved at all.
A freestanding tub. Having a workout area with a Pilates reformer and infrared sauna. And indoor/outdoor living!
Choose natural materials wherever possible—they’re best for your home’s air quality.