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Urban living benefits from recycled designs and renewable materials

September 11, 2009|By CHRISTINE BRUN / Creators Syndicate

Urban homes that are carved out of grand old buildings offer irreplaceable design traits along with a few challenges.

Often, older urban structures contain brilliant architectural characteristics that are part and parcel of a bygone building standard: soaring ceilings, hardwood floors, lots of windows, and rich finish materials generally used in lobbies or elevators.

You'll find gorgeous front doors, patterned lobby floors and complex ceiling designs fabricated in mosaics, carved wood and natural stone. Most folks who choose such an abode adore the exposed brick walls, concrete floors, and vintage timber beams.

The hallmark buildings in downtown areas of major cities were conceived in a time when solidity and complexity of detail was paramount. There was never a doubt about which street entrance was the main entry because it was signaled unmistakably by important design features.

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Recently, I walked through The Art Institute of Chicago to peek at architectural details saved from razed buildings. It lifted my soul to see the level of intricacy and craftsmanship in hand-forged and cast-iron, ornamentation, mosaic tile work and plaster design motifs. Each piece was a work of art, and no building part was too mundane to be given masterful design attention.

There are heat-register grills or exterior corbels that are stunning little jewels that can stand alone as works of art. The surviving buildings famously stand tall in Chicago, drawing flocks of admirers to architectural tours.

Of course, there are other notable cities. Boston, New York, and San Francisco have admirably refurbished notable structures that were once designed for commerce and now offer striking living environments.

One of the more desirable qualities of an urban home is achieved by the long, tall windows that not only define a room, but also increase the sense of space with panoramic views. The sight of rivers, boulevards, fountains, bays and bustling streets provide an excitement reserved for city living.

Inside, however, urban space begs to be softened in a variety of practical ways. In the photo, we see a private Boston residence with a large, continuous space typical of urban design.

Unity of living, dining and kitchen function is established by use of one continuous floor material. This is a good trick to remember. You can use natural stone, hardwood, or stain the concrete to achieve this effect.

In the photo, the designer has used a Capri Cork product that comes in a 2-foot-by-2-foot tiles. Cork flooring installs just like hardwood, and this particular product is finished with a durable water-based matte polyurethane. This finish is suitable for commercial installations as well as residential.

Cork is a green material, and this particular product was featured on a segment of the "National Environmental Report" series aired on television by the Public Broadcasting Corp. People with serious allergies benefit from living in a home without carpeting. No harmful chemicals are used in the processing of cork and it provides a natural anti-allergenic and anti-static surface.

Winner of Interior Design Magazine's Best of Year Product Award in 2008, this floor is part of the Mediterra Cork Collection. Cork flooring is best cleaned by vacuuming, sweeping and washing with light wood cleaners.

Other types of solid surface floors you might consider: Bamboo, which is another sustainable material, rubber resilient flooring, hardwood and ceramic tile.

Contemporary designs are often complemented by a sleek, hard surface. Another popular material is terrazzo, and new products are available that are composites of recycled goods and cement. One is Icestone, a terrazzo-like composite that is made from 100 percent recycled glass and a cement matrix.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at christinebrun@sbcglobal.net.

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