Incorporating Safer Air Solutions Through Design

Published: August 31, 2023

Two of the leading influences in design today are biophilia, an innate human desire to connect with nature, and promoting wellness. Minimalist, spa-like atmospheres are nearly ubiquitous in today’s kitchen and bath trends. Designers may consider many elements to create a space that promotes wellness, but often we might forego consideration of one intangible constant – the air we breathe. How can we incorporate safer air solutions by design?

What Lurks in the Home

My first introduction to the harms of household air pollution was in an effort to create a pure environment for my first-born baby. I found that many activities that enhance our modern lives also contribute to household air pollution, such as indoor stovetop cooking, scented candles, incense, cleaning agents that emit volatile organic compounds, beauty products and everything else that is either scented or sprayed.

These harmful yet invisible particles floating in the air we breathe can cause serious health issues, especially for children and family members who spend more time at home. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 3.2 million people die every year due to complications from household pollutants. The most common and dangerous air pollutants found in homes worldwide are a result of cooking indoors. Maladies from particles produced on a cooktop can cause cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases that may take years or decades to develop.

Freshening the Air

In kitchen design, adequate venting systems are essential. A range hood with an external venting system is ideal but must be thoughtfully considered if there is not a previously installed duct. Adding a soffit can help provide a ductwork solution for an externally vented hood. Designers should have current market knowledge of the most suitable ventilation appliances for their projects, as technology and manufacturing constantly evolve.

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Cross ventilation is another practical approach to improve air flow and quality. When designing for a new construction project, encourage clients to always place a window in the bathrooms when possible.

Also consider ventilation when choosing window treatments in kitchen and bath designs. Find a solution that allows for easy access to open the window freely without having to maneuver too many layers or mechanisms. Depending on the window design and size, it may be a roller shade or drape that can easily be opened to access the window and closed for privacy when necessary.

Its Healthy to Go Green

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to improve home air quality is to incorporate atmospheric cleansing plants. In 1989, NASA published a widely noted (and often misquoted) study that tested common houseplants and their ability to remove toxins from the air, specifically formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. These substances are present in almost every indoor setting, and prolonged exposure to them is linked to a variety of health concerns. The plants used in the study included bamboo palm, snake plant (aka the mother-in-law’s tongue), warneckei and marginata, among others, all of which were successful at removing harmful toxins from the controlled environment.

Living walls and other plant features are suitable applications for the natural humidity present in bathrooms. By leaning into today’s trends of biophilic design and calm spa-like spaces, incorporating low-maintenance plants can dually offer aesthetic benefits as well as air-purifying solutions.

Kitchen and bath designers cannot influence the habits of our clients once they occupy the spaces we help create, but we can mitigate health risks through product selection and best-practice solutions. By considering air quality, purification and ventilation strategies, we add even more value to the services we provide. After all, today’s focus on wellness is likely much more than a passing trend but a new standard for interior design.

By Wendy Greenwald, founder and co-owner of Jacó Kitchen and Bath, a full-service interior design firm located in Costa Rica and the Florida Keys

Photo credit: Francesco Scatena/Adobe Stock

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