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Welcome home, Mother Nature

Tuning in to the environment is the latest architectural and interior- design trend.

By Shira J. BossSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 10, 2000


Every day the Cedarquist family lives out on a limb. Several limbs, actually. In the woods of Vermont, their two-story house is suspended in the trees.

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During winter winds, the home creaks and sways. When buds burst in spring, branches inside the house grow green too, because the black-cherry and maple trees that hold up the house also grow through it.

"We're very outdoor people, and wanted to raise the kids close

Not many families have befriended nature as closely as the Cedarquists have, but others, too, are finding ways to blur the boundary between inside and outside.

Both architecture and interior design are developing more in tune with the natural environment. People are becoming less rigid about what they consider indoor vs. outdoor furniture and materials, and gardening is becoming a domestic art.

"People are becoming more attuned to bringing the outdoors in and the indoors out, so there's more of a flow," says Mara Seibert, co-owner of Seibert & Rice, a New Jersey company that imports fine terra-cotta pots that customers are cozying up to inside their homes as well as out.

As soon as John Danzer, founder of outdoor furniture company Munder-Skiles in New York, started making wooden garden furniture based on updated historical designs, people started putting the pieces indoors. "It gives you a sense of calm," Mr. Danzer says. "I think everyone has memories of running around outside in summer, and this reminds them of that, so they bring it inside."

Plants and color schemes are being used to blend a den or a bedroom out into a garden or onto a deck. "I'm getting more requests for things like outdoor showers, transition rooms such as a covered patio with removable canvas walls, and private rooms where people can do their living outdoors," says Jacqueline Leeba, an interior designer in La Jolla, Calif. Floor coverings made of rough woven fibers like coconut roll right from inside to out. "People feel comfortable enough to kick off their shoes and go in or out," Ms. Leeba says.

Even before eco-architecture was in vogue, architects Frank Lloyd Wright and the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (see story below) tried to harmonize their designs with the environment. A striking example is the house Falling Water, built by Wright in 1936 over a waterfall in Pennsylvania. "Frank Lloyd Wright used a lot of wood and was close to nature," Leeba says. "He would go walk in the field where he was going to build and would pick up dirt and plants and flowers from the property and incorporate those colors and textures into his designs."

Eli Goldstein and his wife, Risa Perlmutter, both of whom are architects, designed their house to drape between existing trees on a steep hillside in New Jersey. Glass walls on one side of the house give the illusion of teetering in the treetops while letting in plenty of light for houseplants.

"At different times of the year, we feel like we live in a completely different house," Mr. Goldstein says, since the interior is affected by the change of seasons. "It's an inspirational setting; it doesn't let us forget about the importance of nature and the environment to our work."

For other residences he has designed, Goldstein has constructed windows to frame the view of a tree or a distant mountain and has integrated planters into the interior, such as along staircases.