The Insider:

Eco-Conscious Design

While all tile has inherently sustainable attributes, Ann Sacks’ most sustainable products—from recycled glass to LEED-certified porcelain—go above and beyond. We spoke with three influential designers who are passionate about green design and making timeless choices for their clients and the planet.

Written by Juno DeMelo



Who can resist the breathlessly gossipy world of trend hunting? There’s the sparkling excitement of watching a color, a feeling, or a point of view gather stamina and then finally be deigned queen—at least for a moment. Then: The communal sigh of relief when an aesthetic gone awry is given a thoughtful burial. White bouclé: You were loved by many.

Without fail, you can’t go a season or two without encountering the debate between whether we’re in a maximalist or a minimalist moment. The question it asks is much bigger than, how do we decorate? It’s: how should we live? How do we make meaning in our spaces? Is it an hour for refinement, clarity, and space (also austerity and asceticism) or indulgence, comfort, and expression (along with abundance and ostentatiousness)? Friends, we’re making the call and it’s both. Minimal Maximalism isn’t exactly having it both ways. It’s not gilding in the powder room and a plinth of a sofa in the parlor, but more like cherry-picking the plumb aspects of each. Maximalism thrives in its richness and emotion. It’s noticeable, memorable and often rife with meaning. Minimalism appeals to the human need for simplicity and peace. Our appreciation of form over ornamentation. Our deep craving to chillllll outttt. On any given Tuesday, there’s utility in both.

When the air quality outdoors hits unhealthy levels, many of us opt to stay inside as much as we can. The problem is, a growing body of evidence suggests that the air inside our homes can be more polluted than the outdoor air in even the biggest, most industrialized cities.

“The inside of our homes can be more toxic than downtown L.A.,” says Ami McKay, the president and principal designer of Pure Design, in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Ami is one of an increasing number of designers who are creating spaces that that not only improve indoor air quality, they also reduce environmental impact. This means using natural fibers and nontoxic upholstery, zero-VOC paints, and FSC-certified or sustainably harvested wood furniture. And, of course, tile.

“Tile is my paint palette,” says McKay, who says she loves using it in unexpected places. “And it’s completely inert, so it doesn’t off-gas.” Off-gassing is the release of airborne chemicals from building materials, furniture, and more—sometimes for years after they’re installed. These chemicals are largely comprised of volatile organic compounds, or the “VOC” in “zero-VOC paint,” though they’re also found in carpet, vinyl flooring, upholstery, foam, and composite wood. Tile, meanwhile, doesn’t release VOCs, and it doesn’t absorb them either.

Additionally, because tile is incredibly durable, it rarely needs to be replaced—especially if it’s chosen with an eye toward timeless design. “Part of making sustainable decisions is choosing high-quality materials with lasting physical and aesthetic properties, whether that’s natural stone that ages gracefully or factory-made ceramics with a palette of glazes that complement the overall feeling of the home rather than following finite trends,” says Jenny Guggenheim, the principal designer and design director at the Guggenheim Architecture + Design Studio, in Portland, Oregon. “When a home is designed to reflect the setting, architecture, or neighborhood, material choices are so much more likely to feel right for the long run.”

For Jennifer Jones, the principal designer at the California-based Niche Interiors, “durability is definitely a top consideration when choosing countertops and tile. The longer a product lasts, the less materials end up in a landfill prematurely,” she says. “We like to specify natural stone or porcelain for bathroom floors with heavy use for this reason, and we’ll typically use ceramic tile for walls. Ideally, we use tiles that contain recycled content and are manufactured in a low- or zero-waste facility.”

At the Ann Sacks Portland, Oregon factory—where the signature MADE by Ann Sacks collection is manufactured—they use an energy-efficient fast-firing kiln design. All excess raw clay used in MADE by Ann Sacks tile is recycled, and all manufacturing wastewater is filtered prior to leaving the facility. They use only lead-free glazes, their finished goods seconds are donated to a local nonprofit, and their products ship in recycled and recyclable packaging.

While all tile has inherently sustainable attributes, Ann Sacks’ most sustainable products—from recycled glass to energy-efficient concrete—go above and beyond. Labeled with the Eco-Thinking icon for easy identification, the collection includes Terrazzo Renata (a favorite of McKay’s), which contains 28% pre-consumer recycled content and is LEED v4 certified.

Inspired by mid-century modern design elements, the Mod Moda collection by Martyn Lawrence Bullard takes terrazzo to new proportions. Using time-honored techniques, the geometric patterned tiles are comprised of various sized flakes, grains and chips of precious marbles skillfully blended with cement. The collection contains 50% pre-consumer recycled content.

The Kodra collection is created from 98% pre-consumer recycled content. Glass from bottles, windows, car windshields and other sources, is crushed, blended and melted together and then hand-assembled into beautiful mosaic designs suitable for interior and exterior installations, including pools.

Context, one of Ann Sacks’ signature ceramic lines, is made from a combination of reclaimed clay, bisque, and sand. A go-to in Guggenheim’s office, the collection is offered in a variety of field and mosaic formats and rich palette of artisanal glazes.

Alo micro-mosaics are made from the recycled glass of discarded TV and PC screens which are hand applied to a mesh backing. Due to the nature of the recycled glass and the production cycle, every tiny chip is different from the others resulting in a dynamic surface that is soft to the touch.

Hailing from Italy, the exclusive Salluto collection, combines textural charm with the ease of porcelain. Made from 70% pre-consumer recycled content, the collection carries a LEED V4 certification and is available in four versatile color-ways.

“Now more than ever, it’s crucial that we combat climate change,” says Jones. The good news: “Typically what’s best for the environment is also beneficial for us.” What’s more, green design isn’t just the right thing to do for the health of our planet and ourselves, “it’s also fun to play with amazing, thoughtful products,” says McKay. “Every time I go to Ann Sacks for anything from their full unique range of tiles, I’m like a little kid in a candy store.”

April 24, 2024

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