Metals such as stainless steel, brass, wrought iron and chrome are other environmental options that save on resources and avoid chemicals, while offering sturdy, long-lasting furniture. Smith and Hawken, Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn carry metal and patio furniture which can be moved inside and decorated.

Conventional mattresses contain chemically-treated plastics, foams and polyester fills which may also contain residual herbicides and pesticides. Bower says these synthetic materials are known carcinogens and may also be the cause of poor health and sleeplessness.

Crown City Mattress, however, sells mattresses and boxsprings made with cotton filling rather than poly fibers, and a pesticide-free, organic cotton mattress. Nontoxic Environments, Inc. pre-washes its cotton and wool mattress padding in baking soda or vegetable soaps to produce 100 percent organic cotton and cotton/wool mattresses. And Bright Future Futons makes organic cotton futon beds and pillows that are chemically free.

What About Style?

When it comes to upholstery, you don't have to settle for plain brown burlap fabric to be environmentally friendly. Organic cottons, hemp, recycled materials and fabrics that haven't been bleached, treated with harsh shampoos, or colored with synthetic dyes are among the many fashionable options now available.

Designtex's William McDonough Collection features five nature-inspired fabric designs, available in over 60 rich colors, that are certified organic and contain no carcinogens or toxins. Their wool material is supplied from a free-range farm in New Zealand and the ramie fiber is organic.

Hemp is a durable, natural fabric that doesn't rely on pesticides and isn't bleached. The Ohio Hempery in Guysville, Ohio offers five hemp blends and four 100-percent hemp fabrics that are suitable for window treatments and upholstery. The Hempery's Debbie Daniels says hemp fabrics dye more readily than cotton or linen, and thus eliminate the need for a chemical-laden pre-wash.

While seeking the most in environmental furniture, don't overlook construction materials. Glues, finishes, stains and waxes can also be a source of unwanted chemicals. American Formulating and Manufacturing (AFM) sells building and maintenance products that are both safe and healthy for people and the environment. Jay Watts, AFM's vice president of marketing, says its paints, stains, sealers and cleaning supplies are water-based, rather than solvent-based, eliminating invisible toxins.

Bronx 2000's Big City Forest furniture takes oak, cherry, maple and mahogany woods from reclaimed shipping pallets, and reconditions the woods into beautiful, mixed-wood tables, benches, bookcases and flooring.

For other decorating ideas, Bower suggests cushions, throw pillows and slip covers made with natural fiber stuffings that are machine washable. "You should be conscious of your decisions, not just about color and design, but also how it will make you feel. There's no need to expose yourself to chemicals."

Article originally published in E/The Environmental Magazine
By Anne Wilke