Once upon a time, there was an interior designer named Robin Wilson. In 2005, everyone called her “The Green Queen”: A title she neither liked nor wanted. “Especially now, when you see things being called ‘green,'” Robin says, “and it’s just a marketing term.” Instead, she says, “It’s got to be eco-friendly.” Today, Robin is practicing what she preaches: Still designing, and making eco-friendly homes accessible to all.
Her name has been in the news for a number of recent accomplishments, from redesigning New York Times bestselling author Heidi Durrow’s one-bedroom Manhattan condo on a $60,000 budget (photo above; feel free to close your jaw at any time), to the looming April 7 release date of her book, “Clean Design.” She’s not just an interior designer; she’s an interior designer specifically of eco-friendly homes, with a focus on wellness and healthy living from the inside-out.
Her inspiration, really, is rooted in her Austin, Texas childhood during the era of prevalent indoor smoking, outdoor allergies and, of course, shag carpet. After years of asthma and allergies that often landed her in the hospital, Robin now credits the help of of a holistic doctor who told her parents, “You can raise a strong child, or you can raise a child on strong medicine.”
“Everyone was like, ‘You have a crazy, quack doctor.’ But he was right,” she explains, detailing the doctor’s instructions to Robin’s parents to put her on a regiment of tennis and track, while also replacing their home’s shag carpet with hardwood floors or tile. “And that’s what my parents did.”
In addition to being seen as taboo, at that time, such eco-friendly home improvement came with a price of nothing less than a fortune. As with most things organic and sustainable, that impression of healthy living hasn’t exactly dissipated in modern times. If you ask Robin, though, it doesn’t have to be that way: A theory of which she has created living proof with both her designs and her branded products.
Take Heidi Durrow’s Manhattan home, for instance, and that shockingly modest $60,000 budget. There are many “simple things,” Robin says, “you can do to make something look fresh,” like install pocket doors, which are used throughout the estimated 1200-square-foot condo to maximize space (she recommends Hafele). She advises looking for the hidden gems of the Internet, too, like easyclosets.com: A New-Jersey-based company that will create custom design closet plans for customers who virtually submit the space’s measurements (those customers, it’s worth noting, are also responsible for finding their own contractors to build out the design).
Of course, affordability is just one pillar of the way Robin does her work. She operates with the environment and people in mind, using what she calls a “pay-it-forward mindset.” It can be easy as reducing the impact of new product production by recycling, cleaning, and relocating what the client might already have in his or her home, as Robin did with Durrow’s pre-existing microwave. For that, she created a no-fuss mounted alcove, conserving both construction costs and counter space. The kitchen design also incorporates the conscious, double-edge sword that is the antibacterial Cosentino quartzite material used for the countertops. Not only does that reduce wastage and chemicals from cleaning products, but also, Robin notes, it doesn’t deplete finite marble resources. The cabinets and living room carpet, too, were merely recycled and cleaned. Combined with the home’s Energy Star appliances, energy efficient front-load laundry facilities, LED lighting and touchless bathroom fixtures (toilet, faucet and soap dispenser), the condo certainly fits the “wellness with style” bill boasted by Robin’s design philosophy.
That doctrine extends from Robin’s interior design concepts to her products, like the Robin Wilson Home line of cabinets. For those, she partners with Holiday Kitchens, a Wisconsin-based company that, down to its minimal packaging, strives to be eco-friendly: No formaldehyde-laden glues, low-to-no-VOC paints and stains, and a vertically integrated trucking line, among other efforts. Her bedding and pillows are now sold at Bed Bath & Beyond.
“The beauty is,” she says, “it’s affordable.”
“My entire brand is very much from a position of authenticity,” she continues. “If I can sleep on it, or live on it, then we can have it. If I start wheezing and sneezing, we can’t have it.”
Back to that “pay-it-forward mindset”: For Robin, it’s not just about her clients and product customers. She partners with women’s shelters, too, to provide non-toxic bedding.
“[The women] leave their homes and they have nothing, sometimes. They need a pillow and some sheets,” she says. “Nobody would think about that. They give them lots of clothes, but what are they sleeping on at night?”
What a difference a decade makes. Only ten years ago, Robin says, people asked her, “What’s eco-friendly?” Her answer reflects the powerfully balanced outlook: “It’s about the global ecosystem. Who are you partnered with or working with? Are they dumping their chemicals in the waterway? It doesn’t matter if you have a clean house, if you have polluted water,” she says.
“‘Eco-friendly’ means you do what you can, and it’s not saying that you have to be perfect. … It’s that you do what you can to be a steward to the environment in which you live.”
To pre-order “Clean Design,” or find out when Robin will be at a book-signing event near you, visit cleandesignbook.com.
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Image: Scott Jones, Serbin Media