"I'm like the recycling guru," says Sasha Harrison, a Pikes Peak Community College interior design student.
"That water bottle you're drinking out of will take 12 generations to decompose when it can be recycled so easily," she says. "So many things can be remade into purposeful, useful things."
Beyond lecturing peers on environmental stewardship, PPCC students are learning a lesson in the real world and have a rare opportunity to execute their green-minded designs. Forty-two students, broken into 10 teams, recently began conceiving rooms for Design for Hope 2009, an eco-design awareness campaign conceived by Tara Gray, director of PPCC's interior design department.
In June, the groups will have one week to transform their respective rooms from blank white walls to sustainably furnished, warm spaces, using only donated materials and funds (to total around $20,000, they hope) and unique found objects. Each team will implement its vision in a life-size, three-sided room, which local builder Tola Custom Homes will construct as a donation.
The finished rooms will be revealed at a June 19 gala. Alongside festivities, guests can tour the rooms, vote for favorites and ultimately take home design pieces. Every square inch of the rooms — down to a 5-foot, contemporary stained-glass light-box and a 12-by-12-foot panel of bamboo flooring — will be sold by silent auction at night's end. (Unsold items will be donated to Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity.) Proceeds will benefit CASA of the Pikes Peak Region, which provides a voice in court for young victims of abuse, neglect and domestic conflict.
If the sustainability and charity factors don't do it for you, the celebrity might. Colorado Springs' own Matt Locke, now an L.A.-based designer who made it to the final cut in season three of HGTV's reality competition Design Star, will be in town to support the event. (From the silent auction, you can win a two-hour design consultation with Locke at your home.)
A lot of people "get scared of modern design, they think it's too clean or cold, and I try to warm it up," Locke says. "There's a way to use natural materials — woods, warm colors and finishes, mixes of things — to make it look inviting and comfortable but still have really good design and clean elements."
Locke's unique style is tied tightly to his upbringing. His father, a local architect, pioneered green building design in the '70s; his mother is an artist.
Growing up, his house had a full woodshop: "I got to make my own furniture as a kid," he says.
Days into planning when I meet with them in a PPCC common area, students Stefenie Franck, Ria Hurst and Becky Cook already have gone on a thrift-store shopping spree searching for items to fill their room.
The group is designing a children's space, a theme they feel supports CASA's mission. "It's a good idea for bringing attention to families," says Cook, who believes that parents aren't concerned enough about using environmentally friendly products in their homes.
Another group member, Brandon Heald, says he thinks "Colorado Springs, in general, is years behind in getting with the green movement, so bringing it to the forefront and showing people it's possible is great."
Greening your home doesn't mean that you have to go dumpster diving, but it does take a little creativity. "I think we're going to bring a lot of themes and ambiances that people wouldn't think to put in their house," Heald's teammate Sasha Harrison says. And "to be able to say 80 percent of the stuff is reused and that it wasn't that expensive" is certainly an education for the rest of us.
Ultimately, Design for Hope aims to give people the ideas, inspiration and resources to feel confident about doing green projects themselves at home. A free flier displayed at each room will tell guests where each item or material came from and provide vendors' contact information.
Use what you have
The nature of eco-design allows people to create low-budget projects that look just as good as, if not better than, extravagant endeavors. Any designer will tell you that the most cost-efficient way to reinvent an area is to repaint.
"It's the cheapest way to transform an entire space," says Gray, who owns a local environmental interior design company called Envi Design. Choosing environmentally friendly paint, she says, is simply buying paint that is labeled low- to no-VOC (volatile organic compound).
Locke says that tips like this are more readily available to people now because of technology. "One thing I love about networks like HGTV is that I think it brings up everybody's awareness about good design practices," he says, "and I do think that homes across the country are better as a result."
Locke also believes the economic downturn actually helped all of us focus on crafty recycling, because with less money to spend, people tend to become more creative.
"That's the challenge for any designer," he says. "To make it look the best you can with what you've got. There's a lot of recycling in my work that you may not know is recycling."
One material Locke salvaged recently: oak blocks, stained deep purple from sitting in wine barrels. He intends to use them in an entertainment center's soffit.
"One of my clients loves wine," he says, "and I think it's a cool way to use a material that otherwise would have been thrown away ... there are so many things already in the world that we can use with just a little bit of creativity."