Inhabitat: Your new SoHo location has some very cool green materials and features. Can you tell me about them?
ML: The build-out started with diverting demolition waste from the landfill to a recycling waste center, which saved an estimated 3.3 tons of carbon. Store build and design materials included FSC timber, Low E windows, lighting controls, recycled denim insulation, eco lights, Energy Star equipment, low-flow aerators, recycling and composting stations, and an 18-Sear HVAC unit. The store is also powered by Green E Solutions Wind Power. We use non-toxic cleaning solutions and biodegradable, corn-based utensils and packaging. Ultimately though, there are only so many light bulbs we can change. We can probably have more impact by educating people about the green economy.
Inhabitat: I love the “nuovo colonial” (as Bowery Boogie put it) look and feel of the space! What was the inspiration behind it?
ML: Our design process was part anthropological study. The design honored the history of the neighborhood, while looking to the future and incorporating green design elements. To start, we retrieved from official New York City archived images of the space 70 years ago. We also met with local elder statespeople, like the former store owner, which was a donut shop 60 years ago. These conversations gave us a deeper sense of the local spirit; kids playing in the street, bustling merchant activity on Mott Street, and a strong sense of community togetherness and transparency where “the doors were never locked.”
Inheriting a 100+ year-old cast iron column at the front of the store was like striking design gold before we planted the first shovel in the ground! The store front takes advantage of natural lighting, big (Low E) windows on Prince & Mott Street overlook the historic Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Manhattan’s only Basilica. Our kitchen is at ground level with huge windows allowing customers to see everything for themselves. We could we have built the kitchen in the lower level or at another location, off-site but it would have stripped the project of an important symbolic element and compromised taste. Inside the space, the décor celebrates classic American design, taking influence from architecture in colonial America. Checkerboard floors, ceramic marble counter tops, wooden book shelves and a soft palette give the place a warm and cozy feel. Decor features cultural artifacts, including first edition copies of Henry Thoreau’s Walden and Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring. My favorite item on display is a “Nixon for the Environment” campaign ad. Most people don’t realize he started the EPA; Silent Spring was a precursor. We’re very fortunate the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve even gotten inquires from local neighbors asking us to help them with design projects.