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Your Home: Green

A room with chemistry

A family bathroom in Milton that’s environmentally conscious, down to the screws.

Photographs by Ben Gebo
OLD SCHOOL Interior designer Brenda Be hired a contractor willing to use screws and nails rather than the chemical adhesives she says have become the norm.

THE LAST TIME the main bathroom in Janet Evans and Michael Vhay’s turn-of-the-last-century home in Milton got a new look was back in the 1960s. And when they decided to update, since two of their three kids have chemical sensitivities, they needed the new room to be seriously green – from the insulation to the drywall to the paint on the wooden trim.

Interior designer Brenda Be of BeTM Design, who is based on the South Shore and works on green bathrooms all over the Boston area, embraced Evans and Vhay’s directive: Create a pretty, healthy space on a fairly modest budget.

To minimize the project’s impact on the rest of the house, the family gave over a bedroom next to the bathroom as a work space, which the construction crew sealed off with heavy plastic sheeting. That room’s windows were left open, and a fan was used for ventilation. Materials from the demolition stage were taken out through a window and trucked off-site daily. Vhay calls the methods easy and effective for managing dust and disturbance: “It wasn’t space-age technology.”

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And in the course of the work, other low-tech solutions helped keep things green. Be hired a contractor still willing to use traditional construction techniques – good old screws and nails – in place of the chemical-laden adhesives she says have become the norm.

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She chose cabinets made with formaldehyde-free plywood and scoured green supply companies for drywall with no harmful additives. She also found nontoxic grout, caulk, and stone sealer. While copper pipes are ideal, they are quite costly, so the family opted for copper for the water pipes and PVC for waste removal and ventilation. (The family members sensitive to chemicals stayed out of the house until the PVC glue cured.)

For insulation, Be specified recycled denim. For finishes, she chose tile (which doesn’t typically cause sensitivity issues), a solid-wood shutter for the window, and paint from Sherwin-Williams’s Harmony line, a formula that emits fewer chemicals.

Ultimately, Be transformed a tight, dark space into an airy, light-filled one. As for the eco-conscious component, she says: “Green is not an aesthetic. It’s a technical issue. You can have it, and in any style you want. You just have to look.”