Nomita Joshi-Gupta is an architect, urban planner, sustainable furniture enthusiast and the woman behind the beautiful interior design you’ll see in the Greenbuild LivingHome next week.
We visited Nomita’s gorgeous New Orleans shop and design center, Spruce, to talk about trends in sustainable interior design, what inspired her work on the show home and her tips for going green on a budget.
Nomita, your store is so beautiful! Let’s skip the interview and you can show me what would work in my house.
Okay, maybe not. We’re on the clock here. Back to you: Can you tell us about your background and how you came to open Spruce?
I was an architect and and urban planner doing commercial and residential projects in New Orleans.
Then Katrina happened. My house was flooded. I didn’t have a job. So I decided to be my own contractor in rebuilding my home. As I started looking for sustainable materials, they were very hard to find.
It wasn’t just the material that was hard to source. It was also very hard to find craftspeople to do the work. I had contractors on my house who were questioning why I was using water-based finishes or why I was using no-VOC paint.
Yeah, because they were not used to that. And they said, “But this is more expensive!” Yes, it is more expensive – but in the long-term this is about health. And not paying a little more is at the expense of my children’s health. So it was a lot of education. Bringing people up to speed. Finding contractors who were willing to work with these materials.
So after you sourced all your own materials and found the right craftsmen, you decided to share all this with everyone else.
Right. We started as a design center and now we’ve grown into retail space. We carry work from a lot of artisans and craftspeople locally and around the country.
Wallpaper, fabric, furniture and household items that are not mass-produced. We also carry a lot of local designers and furniture that can be custom-made. And we have ceramic artists who are nationally known.
Everything we carry in the store, I personally research where it comes from, who makes it. Is it fair trade? How do they ship their items? We look at all these factors before we put it out on the floor.
People don’t really question green anymore. People are demanding it.
Do you think the contractor situation in New Orleans is better now?
Absolutely. It’s amazing how in five years the landscape has changed. People are really in tune with solar energy and green materials. They ask about it. Things have definitely changed in New Orleans. It had changed a long time ago in other parts of the country – but in New Orleans it was a little difficult to catch up.
With Make It Right, with the Green Project, with the Preservation Resource Center – all of these organizations are doing their part to educate people. And finally we’re seeing some fruition. People don’t really question green anymore. People are demanding it. They see the benefit.
Our concept for the show house interior is New Orleans Modern.
Let’s talk about the Greenbuild LivingHome. What inspired your color scheme for the show house?
We really wanted to show people how modern New Orleanians live and what kind of ambiance they like. Our concept for the show house interior is New Orleans Modern. I choose a palette that recalls the surrounding fauna and the flora. It brings in the colors of the swamp and the mud and the clouds. So it’s just everything that you see in the general landscape here have been brought into the color scheme. I wanted to bring the outside in – but in a modern way, without being so literal about it.
What’s your favorite room in the house?
I love all the rooms in the house! I think we put our hearts into every room in the house. I particularly love the living room and the bedroom because we were able to bring in a lot of great artists who make sustainable furniture. The dining room set is made by Kalon Studios in LA.
The bedroom was designed to be a very dark, very calming room. We used bedding from Les Indiennes, which is a smaller company that does completely organic bedding. They don’t use any electricity in the production of their bedding. It’s completely hand-crafted.
Wow. Is that expensive?
I’d say it’s as expensive as any luxury line. It’s attainable.
They do all of their dyes with vegetables. There’s only one family in India who does this and they employ their whole village making these beautiful products.
So I felt so happy to be able to show some of these great talents that are out there. They’re really doing the right thing the right way.
Everywhere you go in New Orleans people have this amazing piece of furniture or wonderful piece of art.
Favorite piece of furniture you chose for the Greenbuild LivingHome?
Oh, I can’t pick one. They’re all my favorites. But one of the things I felt it was really important to show as a part of our New Orleans Modern concept is that people here are very artistic. They love color, they love art. They like to show artistic things. That’s why I felt like having the furniture as art is very important. Because everywhere you go in New Orleans people have this amazing piece of furniture or wonderful piece of art. So that’s important to show about the place where we live.
Was there anything particularly challenging about this project?
Well, it was a different kind of project because I had to choose everything ahead of time without actually seeing the space. Most of the time in interior design you can walk through the space and get a feeling for it. In this project we had to imagine the space before it was built. It’s harder to imagine color when you cannot see the light or the orientation in the room.
Are you seeing any trends in eco-friendly interior design for 2015?
I do see eco-friendly designs moving towards being more mainstream. The green industry has now come to the point where you can find pretty much anything in a sustainable choice.
When people think of green they think of something they might see in Dwell magazine – something wood and very plain. But I think now interiors have moved on…toward something much more luxurious – furnishings, fabrics, everything.
Larger manufacturers are embracing it. So now you’re seeing things you would not imagine as green furniture that is actually sustainable.
I face this challenge with my own clients. Is it realistic for them to spend $2,000 on a mattress?
What about affordable options in eco-friendly design? Are there any and if not what do we have to do to get there?
I face this challenge with my own clients. They embrace the lifestyle but is it realistic for them to spend $2,000 on a mattress? I think that is the industry challenge – we have to bring the cost down.
Because at the end of the day, the economic equation really makes a trend. Look at historic preservation in architecture. Until we had tax credits for that, people didn’t do it as much. It would be great if sustainable furnishings came with a price point break or tax credit – like we have for solar energy. We could expand the market if we had something that would help people bring the prices down.
So until that happens, what would your advice be to people who want to decorate sustainably but don’t have the money?
I tell people that one eco-route you can take is buy vintage furniture. You can recover a sofa, a chair – you can tweak some of these pieces to make them new again.
Don’t be scared of the word “custom.”
You have a range of prices in your store. So maybe to move in this direction, people could start with one piece when they needed to replace furniture.
Exactly. The other thing is to prioritize. What do you want to prioritize in your room? What items do you plan to keep for the long-term. That’s one way to decide what you’re going to pay for them.
Also – really important – “custom” is an expensive word for a lot of people. But they don’t realize that there’s a lot of young artists in New Orleans that are willing to make custom pieces for an affordable price. So it doesn’t hurt to ask how much will this cost. Don’t be scared of the word “custom.” You can get an artist to make something affordable for you that you’re going to love for a long time.
In New Orleans we have an abundance of talent. That’s one of the great things about the show house. Someone might come in and say, “Oh I love that dining table. Can you make a coffee table like it?” And we can actually do it.
Do you think that’s more true here?
For sure. I don’t think its as true in other places.
Not in New York.
No, not in New York!
Visit Spruce while you’re in New Orleans for Greenbuild! And see Nomita’s beautiful work at the Greenbuild LivingHome in the Expo Center on Wednesday and Thursday. If you can’t make it to Greenbuild, check out Nomita’s list of all the craftspeople and artists featured in the show home.
See all of our photos from Spruce: