November 3, 2008 at 6:44AM
by Alexandra Zissu
I have long dreaded moving my daughter into a twin bed, and not for the regular reasons parents dread this inevitable transfer. I wasn't worried she wouldn't sleep as well as she did in a crib because, truth be told, she never slept in one but rather with us in our "family" bed. Instead, I was concerned about the piece of furniture itself. What sort of wood would it be made of? What about its stain or varnish? Would there be some unavoidable join glue or otherwise hidden part of formaldehyde-filled particleboard? What kind of chemicals would it release into her air as she dozed?
So, for many months, her twin (all cotton) futon stayed on the floor. Yes, it was partially because it was safer there - no way to fall out of bed if you're already on the ground. But it was also because I spend so much time researching kid-related items to make sure they're the safest versions possible that I can get exhausted to the point of stuck when it comes to my own items. When you know as much as I do about potential environmental and environmental health toxins, it's hard to be willing to bring any old thing -- from furniture to toothpaste -- into the home. I'm exaggerating, of course, to make a point. But going green has really slowed down my capacity to make purchases. As frustrating as this is, it's a good thing.
Whenever I eventually get unstuck and settle on a furniture item, I tend to wind up with an antique. They're made from hardwood, have clearly had a long time to offgas whatever they might have needed to offgas over the years, and no new trees were cut down to create the pieces. There are potential issues with antiques, certainly. Sometimes it's a good idea, for example, to seal them - especially with flaking items - with something like SafeCoat's POLYURESEAL.
Often going with an antique means I don't even have to purchase anything. When I finally got around to moving my daughter's futon off the floor and onto a bed, for example, I did so onto what was my twin bed growing up. This bed was originally my mother's twin bed when she was growing up. It's a hardwood spool number, and it matches other spool pieces that were my mother's when she was a child, as well as several pieces she found at antique stores during the years it was my bed - a spool lamp, a spool rocking chair, a dresser with spool inset. I get a real kick out of my daughter being in this bed, even if, for now anyway, she really only begins her night in the bed before climbing into ours later on.
That said, the move from floor to family heirloom hasn't happened without some serious pitfalls. Again, this has very little to do with her climbing out of a twin or not being willing to sleep on something without sides. Instead, it's because I've had a lot of trouble figuring out what to put in between its loud and creaky hardwood slats and her natural cotton futon. It's bizarrely difficult to source a natural or "organic" boxspring, especially one that will fit in an antique frame, and one that doesn't come with an outlandishly expensive "organic' twin mattress; they all seem to be sold as sets. This is just the sort of shopping experience that makes me very, very jealous of my non-organic mom counterparts. Would that I could just go out and buy whatever I want, and at competitive prices! Whenever I'm having too much trouble finding a green version of what should be a pretty basic item by all accounts, in a regular price point, I'm alarmed. I'm on one end of the extreme. I co-wrote the book! I know that most parents won't research for months, holding off on what they're looking for, until they hit on the correct item. I find this so intensely frustrating, as it means most parents have to compromise in ways they're not comfortable with. My only reassurance is that demand has lead to increased supply - including of "organic" mattresses, if not box springs -- and its getting easier and easier. And, even better, there are impassioned, devoted-to-green small business owners willing to go the extra mile to get you - and me -- what we're looking for.
John at The Organic Mattress in Sudbury, Massachusetts falls into this category. We got turned onto him by the babe's maternal grandmother, who lives near his store. He sourced us a nontoxic, handcrafted twin foundation - just hard wood covered in organic cotton, no need for a boxspring apparently, and when it turned out our antique frame needed a special size, he got it made to order from WJ Southard in Syracuse, N.Y., and for several hundred dollars less than a New York City-based store was willing to do it for. This involved a lot of phone back and forth and he was very responsive, understanding, and helpful. We'll pick the finished product up ourselves when we're up there for Thanksgiving.
Molly Worth at Chairloom also falls into this category. Rather than buy a new armchair to replace a grandmother hand-me-down with crumbling foam arms I'd like to put near this twin bed project, I hired Molly to redo it. She'll work with Jin Oh of Oh & Son Upholstery in Havertown, Pennsylvania (pretty close to where I live, as these things go, so I'd count this as a local project) to breathe new life into the piece using jute webbing, cotton, down feathers, hay, and durable (I have a cat), beautiful, affordable MBDC Cradle to Cradle certified fabric made of post consumer and post industrial recycled polyester colored with non-toxic and heavy metal free dyes from Q Collection. When all is done, I will have reused a chair I wanted to toss, and reinvented it with natural materials for less than the cost of a new foam-filled, flame retardant and stain resistant doused chair. I'm beyond excited about Molly and what she's doing.
Now if only I could locate a seriously handy person who knows green building materials inside and out, who isn't going to roll their eyes at me when I ask for better paint, caulk, glue, and more, and someone who is willing to take on a few small projects. I'm in the market for a front hall closet and a little home sprucing. I'm exhausted by contractors unwilling to take on projects (vastly) under $100,000 (ah, New York - even in this economy!?), and people who charge an arm and a leg because they assume someone willing to pay extra for safer, healthier materials - for our families and for the earth - means they're rich and gullible. I'm neither, and I have a lot of readers just like me.