Matthew and Emma’s Eco Environment

updated Dec 19, 2019
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Name: Matthew and Emma McGregor-Mento
Location: New York, NY
Size: 650 sq/ft
Years lived in: 6 months

When Matthew and Emma bought their 6th floor apartment in the East Village, they knew they wanted it to be filled with natural living things and to convey the sense that “nature was taking the apartment back, like a small plant growing from a crack in the sidewalk.” Inspired by the Japanese notion of multi-use and transforming spaces, their home is a tribute to environmentally-friendly design in every aspect, from the custom formaldehyde free, FSC-certified wood cabinets to the amazing plant wall…


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View into the main room from the kitchen (Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

AT Survey:

My/Our style: Our style is minimal modern with some Japanese influences and wabi-sabi aesthetic. We also have a strong commitment to green living.

Inspiration: Clean, green, anti-stuff, space efficient living. The vertical gardens of Patrick Blanc and the planted fish tanks of Takashi Amano. Multi use efficiency (bedroom/entertainment area/massage space) with hidden closets. Nature breaking through built form — weeds growing out of cracks in the sidewalk.

Favorite Element: The intimacy of dining in the tea room. For about 14 years we ate of TV trays in our old 350sqft apartment. To actually sit at a table (that pops out of a raised floor) feels like having a private Japanese restaurant booth at home. Moving allowed us to de-clutter and live in a more thoughtful, efficient, and organized way. The space lends itself to both work (massage space) and socializing. Living on the 6th floor of a walk up means more light, less noise, and exercise!

Biggest Challenge: Although we are both exceedingly happy with the results, we came to many deadlocks during the design phase. Emma was focused on preserving the integrity of the main space while I was focused on space saving details. In hindsight, we can see that when we were forced by our stubbornness to come up with brand new design solutions, we had some of our best ideas.

What Friends Say: “The space reflects your sensibilities.” “Great spa environment.” (Emma is a massage therapist.) “Movie night at your place!”

Biggest Embarrassment: Not realizing that the toilet should go where the sink was (changed) and the projector should be at the end of the room and not in the middle (coming soon). Naivete of first time home renovators. Estimating that we could spend 30K or less on our renovation (we didn’t know what we would dream up and how much it would cost) and have it finished in about 6 months when it took 3x as long and cost about 6x as much.

Proudest DIY: Actualizing the greenwall — from reading a New York Times article two years ago to actually living with over 400 plants on an 80sqft wall. You can see a video of the planting of the greenwall featuring myself and Leslie Baglio here. The greenwall is based on Patrick Blanc’s design. Here’s a quote from him describing his system published in Dwell Nov 2006:

“10mm thick waterproof PVC slabs covered with polyamid felt, into which holes (pockets actually) are cut for plants; a small hose, punctured every 10cm by a 2mm hole, to run the length of the top of
the wall; a timing device to ensure regular, light watering- like a trickle slowly wending its way down a mossy rock. The ensemble is then attached to a metal structure that stands out from a supporting wall, trapping a cushion of air, which acts as insulation.”

That’s basically exactly what we built. The frame is a lattice work of 1″ aluminum tubes. Sheets of expanded PVC (Sintra is the brand name I used) have been screwed on with rust resistant screws. Then moisture retention mat (synthetic felt sourced from Green Roof Solutions product number MRM14) is stapled on with rust proof (Arrow Brand “Monel”) staples. There is a submersible pump on a timer that pumps water up to a tube running under the felt across the top of the wall. There is a basin at the bottom of the wall also built from expanded 3/4″ PVC.

Our greenwall add moisture to the air, cleans the air by trapping and breaking down airborne particulates, and creates oxygen.


Biggest Indulgence: Custom cabinetry throughout the entire apartment and committing to our vision despite the time and money required to see it through.

Best advice: Research, research, research. Then layout your ideas in Google’s free 3D program Sketch-Up. Revise them many, many, many times. Find a good architect willing to work with you as a partner, like Kevin Byrne at Vanderburg Architects. Find an honest
contractor with a commitment to detail like Andrew Zalewski (Tel: 917-863-8258). Then commit to your vision and be prepared to wait a very long time before it’s done.

Dream source: AF Dot Interior Adam Rzeplinski (Tel: 718-218-9055). They made literally everything in the apartment; closets, cupboards, desks, book shelves, couch, murphy bed, raised tea room floor. Everything. If it’s wood and in our apartment, they made it.

Resources: The Very Small Home and Small Spaces by Azby Brown.Space by Michael Freeman. Japan Modern by Michiko Rico Nosé, Michael Freeman Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren. Nature Aquarium World by Takashi Amano. The Vertical Garden: From Nature to the City by Patrick Blanc.

Appliances: New York City’s own Summit appliances. They had the smallest best ENERGY STAR rated fridge (with freezer on the bottom) and they are committed to designing and manufacturing in the USA.

Furniture: See Dream Source. Only thing we added were two Eames management chairs with Cygnus fabric purchased from Stardust. We also added foam cushions for the couch and window seat from Dixie Foam. The fabric is 100% wool “Palette 209-301” by Designtex. The futons are from Miya Shoji.

Accessories: Hunter Douglas Architella top down bottom up blinds. Great energy-efficiency rating and claims to also cut down on outside noise. Books, plants, meaningful items collected on our travels, and 100yr+ banjo.


Lighting: Various CFLs and LEDs. Hera CFL under cab puck lights (can be temperamental).

Rugs and Carpets: None.

Tiles and Stone: The kitchen countertop is locally sourced bluestone. The bathroom tiles are Interstyle Glass Hues tile in the Eames pattern, Brilliant Aqua color, Matte and Glossy 50/50 mix random. The bathroom floor tiles are Island Stone King Pebble in Medan Gray color. The big slate stone in front of tea room is from Plantworks along with Mexican river stone in the greenwall catchment.

Beds: Our old queen mattress on a Sico Eurobed murphy bed mechanism. Bed cabinet is custom made by AF Dot Interior. The bedding is Anna Sova organic cotton from ABC Home. The pillow feathers are from geese “raised on beautiful farms in Hungary, fed an organic diet, and nurtured to live a full healthy life. Clusters of down are hand-gathered with care.” Awww…

Artwork:“Central Park: The Pond” by Joergen Gerds; “I Can Do It” by Yoshi Sodeoka; “First Encounter” print by Marc Chagall.

Paints and Coatings: All paints and coatings no or lowest VOC available. The wall paint is Benjamin Moore Aura AF-20 and AF-25. The Steel Door Clear Coat is Rustoleum Sierra Beyond Acrylic Enamel, a no-VOC, no-odor clear coat that won’t rust raw steel. (Great product and hard to find!). The stone and floor tile sealer is Ecoprocote Acri-Soy Masonry Stone Tile and Grout sealer. The wood and floor clear coat is Safecoat Acrylacq Satin, and the wood stain is Safecoat Durostain.

Flooring: Existing flooring (oak and green slate) except bathroom.

Other: All the doors are 3form Varia Ecoresin Organics (Hydrangea Thatch in the bedroom, Birch Grove in the tea room, Seaweed in the bathroom) made of recycled PET. The cabinet wood is FSC Appleply Formaldehyde Free by States Industries from their Elemental line and FSC Oriented Strand Board Formaldehyde-Free. The soaking tub is Wet Style BC 0906. Our toilet is the smallest toilet that you can buy (I searched for weeks). It’s the Laufen Compact Pro (19.5″ long X 14.5″ wide) with Geberit in wall carrier (dual flush to save water).

The Greenwall System and Concept is by Patrick Blanc. Our Greenwall Consultant was Tina Dituri at Blondie’s Treehouse, and our Greenwall Plant Installation was done by Leslie Baglio.

We are also available for design consultation on Greenwalls and small space living. Contact us here.

Thanks Matthew and Emma!

See archives of past Green Tours here!

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(Images: Cambria Bold. Originally published 2009-05-14)