Restaurants and Retail Stores Need to Start Creating Healthier Spaces

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The last nine years of my interior design business has been devoted to green and sustainable interior design for workplaces and fine homes with the intention of helping people to work and live in more healthier, efficient and inspiring environments. At least workplaces and homes are now on the right path to becoming healthier places for employees and families, but I have to say that I’m stunned how many restaurants and retail stores are still behind in making their interior spaces healthier.

Last month, I went to a restaurant to meet some friends for brunch. Upon entering, it was obvious this restaurant had been recently painted, new wall-to-wall carpet had been installed and some new furniture pieces had been added to freshen up the existing space. It all looked lovely, but after fifteen minutes of sitting in this restaurant, one of my girlfriends began to have an asthma attack, my other girlfriend sitting across the table and I developed slight headaches.  We quickly finished our food and scrambled outside for fresh air.

Again, last month while driving around my neighborhood in Southern Connecticut, I discovered a new organic women’s clothing store. I decided to park my car, go in, and check it out.  I was in the store for less than five minutes when I got an awful headache and was having a difficult time breathing. A few more minutes later, I had all I could do to get out of the store before passing out onto the floor. I was stunned that a store selling organic clothing would use highly toxic finishes in their space.

It is sad to learn that most restaurants and retail store owners don’t consider their employee’s and clientele’s health before planning new interior renovations. I guess they just aren’t aware of the importance of good indoor air quality and how it affects people’s health.

Restaurant and retail store owners should consider not using carpet whenever possible, particularly wall-to-wall carpet. The majority of inexpensive carpets are made from nylon olefin which are toxic petrochemicals derived from petroleum.  These carpets contain formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene, which are toxic to the nervous system.  They off-gas fumes for many years. When they are disposed of, they usually end up in the landfills along with the padding and leach chemicals into the earth. If they must use wall-to-wall carpet, they should check with The Carpet Rug Institute (CRI) before purchasing new carpets and rugs to learn about healthier carpets that are available and to make sure the manufacture has a recycling program.

Restaurants and retails store should also consider their selection of paints more seriously. Paints release trace amounts of gases for months after application, even though they appear to be fully dried and the smell is gone. These gases are called VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, and can include highly toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.

Always use low-VOC or no-VOC paints, varnishes, and waxes when painting walls and refinishing floors indoors.  Open all windows, doors, and use exhaust fans to help remove gases.

As a sustainable interior designer, I could go on and on about more ways to create healthy interior spaces. If a restaurant or retail store has only enough funds for new carpet and paint to refresh their interiors, at least they should invest in healthy products that would contribute to a healthier indoor air quality for their employees and customers.

Lynn Hoffman

203.984.4695 | lynn@lynnhoffmandesign.com