This week, our spotlight is focused on someone from outside of the lending world, but whose knowledge and opinions are invaluable to both the residential and commercial real estate industries. We are happy to share this interview with New York-based Robin Wilson, the prominent eco-friendly and healthy space interior designer.
Q: Ten years ago, your company started its commercial design division in 2004 with a renovation of President Bill Clinton’s Harlem office space. In your professional opinion, what are the key elements for a successful commercial office design?
Robin Wilson: Every client that inquires about commercial space design wants to improve employee productivity, energy efficiency and to create a statement to visitors to their space upon entry. When employees come to a space that they love, they will enjoy coming to work – and especially if the space allows them to have a bit of creative license about their workspace.
Instead of the ubiquitous cubicle being the only space, we have enjoyed making internal office space a series of meeting rooms, while the exterior (windows!) houses the cubicle area. That allows teams to move into a meeting room, while enjoying the natural light from their workspace. Many older offices were designed in just the opposite way, which lowers energy efficiency.
Imagine all the internal offices on timers or sensors, which means that if they are not being used, they are dark. The best companies focus on their employees/consultants so that they generate the most focus during the work day or when telecommuting, and that means conference space with wireless, speakerphone, dimmable lighting and heat/motion sensors to manage various meeting needs.
And ensuring that any cubicle areas have natural light, more efficient ballasts for lighting, will create energy efficiency as fewer watts are needed. The final area of focus is the lobby, foyer or reception area – making a statement is key for some companies, and for others, they want that area to be nondescript while the work area makes the statement. It depends on the client, but overall, the rules have changed in the workplace.
Q: What is your professional opinion of the green building movement? And do you believe that LEED certification carries value in today’s commercial and residential real estate markets?
Robin Wilson: Our firm has used the term “eco-friendly” for the past decade, as the “green” movement has sometimes become a marketing vehicle for companies that were green-washing. There are countless products on the market that are toxic, use more energy or come from polluting factories, but they call themselves “green” products.
We have done at least half a dozen projects that meet LEED certification requirements, but the fees were not paid to get them officially certified. It was a great set of courses for people to take, and many people obtained their credential, but I never had time to take the test…and, some of my clients could not afford the added cost to pay for the official designation.
So, although I believe there is a huge amount of value for projects to meet the criteria of LEED, there are some projects and developers who exceed the requirements, but they do not have a budget to pay for the designation. The key point is: LEED criteria is beneficial, and anyone who does what it takes to meet the criteria, is taking a step toward helping the global environment with an eco-friendly project.
Q: You have enjoyed high visibility as an Ambassador for The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. In this role, what have you found most surprising in terms of the health hazards that arise in home design and maintenance?
Robin Wilson: The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America is a leading consumer education network, which guides people toward information that is necessary to help their families manage allergic and asthmatic triggers. The most shocking fact is that 60 million Americans suffer from asthma or allergies, or both – that means one-in-five people – and my firm believes that the home is where wellness begins.
For example, most people do not change their air filters every three months, which lead to dust/pollen buildup and lowered efficiencies for their units. And the worst issue is the lack of awareness about the fact that we spend one-third of our lives sleeping, which means that your bedding and bedroom must be a focus for your cleaning efforts.
Consider this: If you asked most people when they replaced their pillow, the average answer is: six years ago! That means your pillow weighs more now than when you bought it, and you wonder why you have trouble breathing at night – use the rule of threes: wash zippered pillow cover every three weeks, wash pillow every three months and replace pillow every three years!
Q: Many people are under the impression that “eco-friendly” is synonymous with “expensive.” How can people overcome this view?
Robin Wilson: A few years ago, there were few options in the marketplace – and they were often bland and expensive, but the demand has changed as more clients want hypoallergenic and non-toxic products in their home.
For example, I tell people to go to Bed Bath & Beyond, and look at our Robin Wilson Home line of hypoallergenic bedding products – pillows, comforters, mattress pads, etc. for an affordable option. And, a great product is the Panasonic JetForce HEPA vacuum, which is less than $200 – but it is a top-rated brand and has centrifuge technology that ensures that dust/dirt does not blow back into the air.
We also recommend a visit to the website of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, which certifies furniture companies that have eco-friendly manufacturing standards, and many of them are affordable. Or visit www.RobinWilsonHome.com for more information.
Phil Hall has been (among other things) a United Nations-based radio journalist, the president of a public relations and marketing agency, a financial magazine editor, the author of six books and a horror movie actor. Also, as you will discover, he is not shy about stating his views.