Kimberly first had to go through her L.A. house and, as she puts it, "get rid of everything that could be dangerous to Isabella." So out went most of the food in the house; out went Mr. Clean and in came Mrs. Green; out went Isabella's stuffed animals and Kimberly's shampoos and cosmetics. "So many things contain almond oil or shea butter, which is hazelnut. You really have to read the fine print."
Today, the L.A. house—with its limestone floors, nontoxic paint, and new furniture made of untreated wood and organic cotton—is a perfect hypoallergenic haven, until someone comes in wearing shea butter lotion and sits on the sofa, causing Isabella to have an allergic reaction when she sits there later. Even Isabella's weekly gymnastics class can leave her "red and itchy and needing a Benadryl," so she is homeschooled for now.
Nine years ago, Kimberly's parents bought a two-acre lakeside plot in Ontario, Canada, where the family has vacationed for generations, and built a 900-square-foot log cabin for Isabella. The logs are untreated lumber, as is all the wood in the house. "The world is full of land mines—I see peanut butter around every corner," Kimberly says. "That's why the cottage in Canada is such a godsend."
The fabrics in the home are either organic cotton—which Kimberly washes "a million times" in Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds—or vintage linens that she trusts have already shed their original chemicals but that she washes and rewashes anyway. Ancient quilts are reborn as pillows; 1940s tablecloths make colorful curtains; old coffee tins hold clusters of low pollen flowers, such as cosmos.
The whole cabin is gently retro, right down to the way the family spends one long, luxurious month there every summer. "We don't have a TV," Kimberly says. "We don't have a radio. We have lights, but they're solar-powered, so at a certain point they turn off. Up here, we play games. We talk. We read. We do needlepoint."
The family uses the cabin's second-floor porch for dining and playing board games. "It's like being in a treehouse," Kimberly says.
A couple of years into Project Isabella, Kimberly realized that a lot of people would be able to use the information she'd gathered, so she started Non-Toxic Interiors, an offshoot of her decorating business, and set up a website full of useful links and carefully vetted products. "In the beginning," she says, "people gave me the eye-roll, but now I get e-mails thanking me."
The living room seating consists of a vintage-looking metal porch set from Restoration Hardware. Kimberly chose it because it doesn't collect dust. The pillows are 100 percent cotton. The blue-striped pillows and floral pillow were upholstered by Levair's Upholstery and Woodworking. The painting, Tea Lake Dam by Joyce Burkholder was obtained through the Wilno Garden Gallery.
Kimberly's determination has proved beneficial for Isabella, whose health has improved greatly. "She used to have constant itching and eczema, and she hasn't had that in four or five years. She's a different child."
Isabella's bed, with an organic cotton mattress and pillow inserts from Obasan, is draped with cotton mosquito netting. Her grandmother made the stuffed horses with organic yarn. The pillow cover in front is from Ikea. The butterflies were purchased on eBay.
No Harm Done
There's no harm done with these items. Kimberly picks her top five nontoxic home goods for cleaner, healthier living:
- Woven hemp wall covering combines texture with rich color. Try the Hawaiian Hemp wall covering, sold to the trade at Phillip Jeffries Ltd. Contact them at 800-576-5455 or phillipjeffries.com. For an Earth-friendly, starch-based adhesive, try Golden Harvest TEKNAbond Dry Adhesive ($3.98 for 8 ounces) at Lowe's. Call 800-890-5932 or visit lowes.com.
- Mild, detergent-free soap cleans clothing and surfaces. Try Liquid Sunshine, available at Vermont Soap for between $8 and $13. Call 866-762-7482 or visit vermontsoap.com.
- Mix and match floral-print and solid-colored sheets made with low-eco-impact dyes. Try the premium organic cotton Gold Fiore print and sateen flat sheets sold at Gaiam. Prices range from $50 to $239. Call 800-869-3446 or visit gaiam.com.
- You might miss the new-house smell—but not the chemicals that cause it—when you use low-odor, zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint such as Olympic Premium interior zero-VOC latex satin, which runs $17 and up per gallon. Call 800-441-9695 or visit www.olympic.com).
- Hand-printed textiles make sprightly upholstery and curtains (shown above). Find organic cotton fabrics, $98 to $105 per yard, at Mod Green Pod. Call 617-670-2000 or visit modgreenpod.com.
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