A Warm, Organic Brooklyn Apartment Was Designed With Zero Waste in Mind

updated Apr 29, 2019

A Warm, Organic Brooklyn Apartment Was Designed With Zero Waste in Mind

updated Apr 29, 2019
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Name: Stevie Van Horn
Location: Fort Greene — Brooklyn, New York
Size: 950 square feet
Years lived in: 2 months, renting

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Stevie Van Horn recently began renting this apartment in Brooklyn’s Fort Green neighborhood—employing “zero-waste” philosophies when decorating the interior. “The most common misconception is that zero waste has to be perfect, when it really just pertains to this concept of creating as little trash as you can in an economy that needs to change,” says the sustainability activist, who has been living a zero-waste lifestyle for years.

More than just recycling, practicing a zero-waste mindset is focusing your efforts on not buying wasteful, single-use products, and finding ways to lower your environmental impact. “We live in a linear economy where things are built to be thrown away, so adjusting and believing in a circular economy where everything that is invited into your life has a purpose is key,” explains Van Horn.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Stevie worked with Laura Baross, a New York-based sustainability blogger and interior designer, who crafts interiors that are both elegant and environmentally friendly. “I first started playing with the idea of low impact interiors about five years ago,” Baross says. “As a young architecture graduate I was walking down the streets of Williamsburg surrounded by folded cardboard boxes waiting to get picked up. The wasteful visuals made me wonder if there’s something I could do about it. My initial thought was to start making recycled furniture.”

“But as I started to do my research learning about waste-related issues, ocean plastic, and deforestation, I simply didn’t feel like adding another product to this planet,” Baross says. “One day I came across the zero-waste philosophy, which provided many answers as well as solutions. My mission was to become a low-impact designer. But first, before launching Design w Care, I wanted to practice what I preach and started exploring living zero waste myself.”

The crux of designing with low impact and zero waste in mind is to be extra aware of what you bring into a space—and to incorporate secondhand items whenever possible.

“I always encourage my clients to include pre-loved items in their spaces, sourced from local vintage stores or online second-hand platforms,” Baross says. “It is one of the most sustainable ways to shop for furniture—the number one least recycled household item. Shopping secondhand reduces the amount of furniture waste in our landfills, doesn’t exhaust new resources needed for production, and since it’s mostly locally-sourced it cuts down the CO2 emissions that come with shipping.”

For Van Horn’s new apartment, everything brought in that wasn’t something she previously owned was sourced from either vintage stores or found secondhand online. Baross does recommend that mattresses and bedding be purchased new from environmentally-conscious brands rather than pre-loved (she suggests Avocado or Coyuchi).

“Thank god I already had my mattress before moving in—however I would have definitely bought that new but responsibly-sourced,” explains Van Horn. “Every single thing other than that is secondhand and vintage. There are so many items that are headed for the waste stream and one person trash is truly another person’s treasure. If our society just bought secondhand from now on, we would still have plenty for everyone.”

Baross advises casting a wide net when looking to decorate a space with secondhand items, and asking for help. “The more creative eyes are involved in a project, looking for vintage finds, the better the overall outcome of a zero-waste space. Same happened when designing Stevie’s home when her friend @rachel_baree directed her to many lovely furniture items we included in the design,” Baross says.

With a color palette derived from nature, simple furnishings, and a variety of textures, Van Horn’s home is as beautiful as it is environmentally ambitious, and is a lovely sanctuary for this entrepreneur (she also sells an earth-friendly face lotion). But while her tour is full of zero-waste lifestyle and decor inspiration, remember to go easy on yourself:

“A lot of people try to be perfect, fail immediately, and then get discouraged and if I was to do that too, I would quit immediately,” Van Horn says. “The key is going at it from a positive, self-loving angle where we try our best and do what we can—forgive ourselves for mistakes and fight for the change.”

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Simplistic, classic, and bohemian

Inspiration: My inspiration is always nature. Nature breathes life, colors, and effortless beauty—I am obsessed with the natural system and the intricacies of decomposition and the return of vibrant life thereafter with the help of every living species. Everything in my home can decompose or supports a circular economy, which can be created into something else.

Favorite Element: Earth element all the way. There is a white thread-like network in the soil called mycelium which, to say the least, acts as a communicator and recycling system for all the natural earth. This entity can actually transfer nutrients and information from tree to tree and plant to plant. If one tree is not getting enough vitamin D, this mycelial network can take Vitamin D from one tree and transfer it into another so they balance out. Moreover it acts as the main recycling system on our planet and without it, we would be neck deep in dead plant and animal matter and probably would be alive today. The energy that is in our soils and the ground is so powerful and important that even taking my shoes off and touching the natural Earth, I feel full and complete.

Biggest Challenge: My biggest challenge is currently not buying things I don’t need for my home. Since I only shop secondhand and vintage, I have seen the coolest and most ancient of items ready for a loving home and I tend to want to buy all of it. Honestly, the way I overcome it is to make myself some herbal tea, sit down on my couch, take a big deep breath, and look at what’s around me. It doesn’t take long to be filled with gratitude and I realize I have everything I need, but I do lose sight of it initially though so that’s always one I have to tackle.

Proudest DIY: The proudest DIY is the most simple one. I have these set of shelves on my wall and I found them as old slabs in a lumber yard in Bushwick called M Fine Lumber. Repurposing these slabs, sanding them down, and leaving them for the most part—as they were without any chemical paint or anything on them—just feels really nice.

Best Advice: Get into nature—whether it’s a walk, sitting in the grass, a hike by the beach, or hanging out next to a tree. Sit, listen and just be—and it will provide you with all the answers.


Original finishes

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)


Gray Sofa — Secondhand West Elm [Update: Stevie says it was bought at 75% off the original value of $2,500]
Bamboo Coffee Table with Glass — Dobbin Street Vintage Co-op in Brooklyn
Mirrors — Vintage stores
Vintage Moroccan Wool Rug — Etsy
>> Find: Moroccan Wool Rugs in the BAZAAR

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Desk — Reclaimed wood from Brooklyn Woodwork
Curtains — Apt. Deco
Vintage Rug — Etsy
Hanging Planter — Dream Fishing Tackle
Low Cabinet — Chairish
Chair — Dobbin St. Coop
>> Find: Perfect Desk Chairs in the BAZAAR

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Counter — Hudson Antique Warehouse Bar Stool — Street find
Jars Full of Goodies — The Wally Shop
Vintage Shelving Unit — Secondhand ABC Carpet & Home
>> Find: Vintage Shelving in the BAZAAR

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Bed — Reclaimed wood, forgot source
Mattress — Casper
Down Blanket — Secondhand
Sand Snow Linen Sheets — Etsy
Rug — Lost & Found pop-up
Chair — Reuse America
Chest of Drawers — Chairish
>> Find: Vintage Dressers in the BAZAAR

Bird of Paradise, Snake Plant, Monstera — The Sill

Thanks, Stevie and Laura!

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