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.
There’s something about the start of a new year that makes people take stock of their lives and resolve to improve them. And that often extends to their homes. While summer may be high season for remodeling, winter is actually a smart time to do it, especially if it’s mostly interior work.
Having just wrapped up the renovation of my own home, I’ve learned a lot in terms of construction materials and techniques. Here’s what I discovered.
Thank you. We are just about done. It’s been a journey for sure. We are so excited to share all of the nontoxic building tips we used in our upcoming book.
Learning to be ok with the slow pace. Because of labor issues and permitting, construction takes longer than it used to. My renovation was 10 months, when it would have been 5 in the past. You have to accept that everything is slower nowadays, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to change anytime soon.
Yes, silicone is my new best friend. We used it everywhere we could, and it’s great as an epoxy alternative or adhesive. It’s temperature-resistant, long-lasting, fully waterproof, fast-drying, and most importantly, the most nontoxic option available. AFM products are great too—they make chemical-lite paints, polyurethanes, grout sealants, and caulking material.
Yes! Labels and more labels. We are so conditioned to believe if something says food grade, or non toxic or VOC free- it is. Not the case!! The biggest surprise was the “food-grade” sealant we used on the kitchen cabinetry. We used solid wood and lit them on fire to open up the wood grain. We then added a water based stain + soot mixture and finished with a sealant. The sealant was marketed for butcher-block countertops to be food grade. Turns out it’s the most toxic thing in my entire home, a 2 on a toxicity scale of 0–4.
There are a few things that are 1s in terms of toxicity. We could not find an alternative adhesive for stone on a vertical surface, like shower walls and backsplashes. You can use silicone on a countertop, but unfortunately we had to compromise on the verticals. The silver lining is that a surface like stone—which is between ¾ and 1 ¼ inches thick—helps contain the off-gassing.
Exterior paint is also tricky. My home has shingles that were previously painted, so the easiest option was to stick with more paint. But, there aren’t really great exterior paints on the market in darker hues. If you have raw wood, however, there are fantastic treatments and water based stains. And for lighter hues- limewashing is an option.
This is really specific, but I love the water filtration system that I bought. It is life changing. My sauna is a close second. It’s the little things.
Be mindful of every material being used in your home. Always test, never trust labels.