Easy and affordable eco-friendly decorating ideas


Kermit the Frog famously said, “It’s not easy being green,” and when it comes to our homes, a lot of people agree. There is a perception that for a home to be environmentally friendly, it needs to be remodeled, or built as such from the ground up, with state-of-the-art features such as solar panels, energy-efficient appliances and building materials made exclusively from sustainable sources. And for someone in an existing home, all that sounds too expensive. 

But living in a green home doesn’t have to be so out of reach. After all, eco-friendly living is not about having all the latest bells and whistles — it’s about reducing our carbon footprint to make less of a negative impact on the planet. And when you think about being eco-friendly from that point of view, you’ll find there are some easy ways to be good to the environment while decorating your home. You might even save money instead of spending it.

Buy pre-owned

Purchasing new furniture and accessories means considerable energy and materials were expended to create them. But when you choose items that were previously owned and loved by someone else, you’ve saved valuable resources — and rescued something from likely spending eternity in landfill. Beyond the obvious places like estate sales and thrift shops, Southern California has some excellent resources for used goods, including resale emporiums that sell items ranging from used hotel furniture (like Hotel Surplus Outlet) to barely used props and furnishings from movies and television shows (which you can find at Previously On and It’s A Wrap). And browsing is always fun on eBay and Craigslist. I limit eBay purchases to smaller items, like accessories, as the shipping charges for larger pieces are usually high. Also, you want to be able to see major furniture items in person before purchasing, which you can’t do with eBay. And for Craigslist, you are dealing with a stranger, so be safe and bring a friend with you when checking out the item. And remember that you can negotiate a lower price — but do so via email or phone, before you meet.

Renew or upcycle

Another eco-friendly alternative to buying something new is to refresh or repurpose something you already own. Reupholster old furniture. Refinish the wood on chairs and case goods — or paint them for a whole new look. Turn old curtains into pillow shams. Just by keeping what you have, you’re helping the earth.

Donate rather than discard

Of course, there are times you just don’t want to keep a piece of furniture. I’ve told many a design client to get rid of an outdated sofa. But instead of throwing it in the dumpster or putting it out in an alleyway, I always advocate donating. Some places, such as the Salvation Army, are notoriously picky about what they’ll take. But you know who isn’t so choosy and will take anything? Anyone who reads the “free” listings on Craigslist. I’ve given away televisions, area rugs and chairs just by listing them as free on Craigslist — and they’re picked up sometimes within mere minutes. Once I had about 50 table legs from Ikea coffee tables (don’t ask why I had all those extra legs), and I almost threw them in the trash because I didn’t think anyone would want just table legs. But within one hour of posting an ad on Craigslist offering them for free, I had more than a dozen takers. 

Rethink your wish list

If, like most homeowners and renters, you have a list of all the fun and fabulous furniture and accessories you just absolutely must have, take a step back and ask yourself if you really need them all. I’m always in the market for something: I wish I had new window treatments. I could use a new coffee table. That new waffle maker would make my life so wonderful on Sunday mornings. Before buying something new, ask yourself how often you will use it, how long it will last and what you’re going to do with it when you don’t want it anymore. They’re tough questions when you’re ready to pull out that credit card. But just being in that mindset will inform all your purchase decisions and make you more environmentally conscious. 

Buy things that will last

When purchasing something for your home, consider how well made it is and what its projected life span would be. In the long run, something cheap often isn’t good for the environment — or your pocketbook — if you’re just going to have to replace it in a few years. 

Plan a décor swap party

These may become the book clubs of the new millennium. Invite a group of friends and neighbors for a gathering at which each person brings small furniture pieces, accessories, books or any other household goods they no longer want. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, as everyone trades items. In the end, each person ends up with new things for their home. And you can donate anything unclaimed to a thrift store.

Just keep it

Here’s a tip that might blow your mind. It might be more eco-friendly to keep something you already own that wasn’t eco-friendly in the first place than to replace it with something that is eco-friendly. For example, you might have some carpeting in your home that doesn’t contain a single sustainable fiber, so is it better for the environment to tear it out and install sustainable bamboo flooring? Not necessarily, if that carpeting is going to end up in landfill. Don’t start replacing everything in your home with eco-friendly alternatives. By doing absolutely nothing, you might just be saving the environment. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Home: 10 Common decorating mistakes and how to fix them


Decorating your home is a very personal thing — we all have different tastes. There are some common design mistakes, however, that many of us make. The good news is that even if you’re guilty of one or more of these faux pas, they’re easy to fix.

Pushing all the furniture against the wall

People seem to think that if you push everything to the four walls, there will be more room in the middle. What are they making room for — a dance floor? 

The fix: Move furniture away from the walls, and arrange the pieces together to encourage conversations. If as a result, say, a sofa or chair seems to float in the middle of the room, anchor it with a console or side table.

Poor lighting

Even a well-appointed room can look dreary when there’s not enough light. Just as bad is a room lit by one super-bright overhead lamp that reveals every fine line on our faces. 

The fix: Try to have three sources of light in each room at different heights and diffuse each with shades so that the light is soft and flattering. Also, use dimmer switches so you can vary the mood.

Not planning ahead

Don’t fall into the trap of falling in love with a piece of furniture in the store, but finding that it’s too big for the room when it’s delivered. 

The fix: The next time you consider new furniture, take measurements of your room first, and draw a diagram of your room layout on graph paper, with each square representing a square foot. Use the graph paper to help you plan how different furniture pieces will fit — before you buy them

Being too matchy-matchy

Don’t buy sofas, loveseats and armchairs in matching sets. Ditto for bedroom sets with matching dressers and nightstands. Your home is not a Sears showroom. 

The fix: Incorporate pieces that coordinate with each other, rather than match exactly. Also, feel free to mix up wood finishes in the same room. They don’t all need to be the same shade of brown.

Looking like a catalog

Some rooms are almost too perfect, like they’re straight out of a catalog. The result is a sterile environment that doesn’t reflect your own personality.

The fix: Go ahead and order from catalogs. Just be sure to include furniture pieces and/or accessories that have a backstory and special meaning to you.

An over-reliance on white walls

Unless your home is a sleek, modern work of architecture that looks like a gallery, white walls are boring. Colored walls add warmth and provide a more pleasing backdrop for your furniture and accessories.

The fix: If you’re afraid of colors, go with neutrals. Even a light tan is preferable to white. My secret weapon for color-phobic clients is the Restoration Hardware paint fan deck. Every color is a soothing neutral.

Over-accessorizing

If you’ve ever sat on a sofa or gotten into a bed with too many throw pillows, you know there can be such a thing as too many accessories. The same goes for too many picture frames, candles and other tchotchkes, which make your home look cluttered. 

The fix: Remove half of your accessories and see how the room breathes. Put the extras in storage, and rotate your accessories every few months so it always feels like there’s something new.

Hanging art too high

In almost every home, there is at least one picture that is hung too high. Artwork that is higher than eye level feels disconnected from the rest of the room. 

The fix: Position your framed art so that the center of it, measured vertically, is between 57 and 60 inches from the floor. That’s eye level for the average person who’s not a basketball player.

Hanging curtains too low

The tendency for most people is to hang curtain rods right above the window frame. Doing so makes the windows look shorter and the ceilings lower. 

The fix: Install the curtain rod as high as you can, right below the ceiling level, assuming you have a standard 8-foot ceiling. (Vaulted ceilings are a whole other discussion.) Higher curtains draw the eye up, making the room look more expansive.

Forgetting about the ceiling

Poor ceilings. They are typically an afterthought, or worse, just ignored. Having a white, unadorned ceiling can be jarring, especially when the rest of the room is drenched in color. 

The fix: Consider painting the ceiling a shade lighter than the wall color. This way, it makes visual sense with the surrounding walls and furnishings.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Couch Quest — Path to Past and Future


Furniture, vital in everyday life, hardly ever plays a large role in art. Henry James’ "The Spoils of Poynton" comes to mind, in which the characters’ inner lives are manifested in their dreadful fight over inherited furnishings, as do stories by Anzia Yezierska, in which the meager possessions of immigrant Jews on the Lower East Side come to symbolize both their survival and their salvation. But for the most part, as in much of our lives, tables, chairs, sofas, bureaus, cabinets and the like are taken for granted in art, imbued with little meaning.

In "Divan," a lovely, funny and terrifically moving documentary by Pearl Gluck, the eponymous piece of furniture — a couch upon which several famous 19th- and 20th-century Hungarian rabbis slept — becomes not just a connection to a historical past, but an ironic, and at times contentious, symbol of family fealty and difference. In its 71 minutes, Gluck gives us not just a tale of high family drama, but a serious meditation on the nature of history, memory, betrayal and the significance and insignificance of furniture.

Gluck, who began making "Divan" in 1998 at the age of 27, was born to a Chasidic family in Brooklyn’s Borough Park. Her parents divorced when a she was in her early teens. While most of the women in her father’s community were married by the time they turned 18 and never pursued higher education, Gluck went to Brandeis University, got her bachelor’s degree, became a filmmaker and stayed single. When her father voiced a desire for her to marry and move back to the insular world of Borough Park, Gluck searched for a compromise that would repair family schisms but allow her to continue the life she had been leading. In 1996 she was awarded a Fulbright to collect oral histories of Yiddish-speakers in Hungary, where her parents still had many relatives and, before she left, her father gave her a video camera. He asked her, in lieu of returning to Brooklyn, to bring back from Hungary a family heirloom: the divan upon which the famous Kossonye rebbes rested.

While the narrative backbone of "Divan" is Gluck’s quest for the couch — a large, high-backed, cushioned, wooden structure closer to what we today might more likely call an upholstered bench — her story is actually a journey to the past to find a way to live in the future. Gluck has structured the film around two trips to Hungary: The first is her search for the divan and her quest to meet, for the first time, her parents’ relatives who survived the Holocaust; the second is a pilgrimage she takes with her father a year later to visit the burial sites of the founders of chasidism ("20 grave sites, thousands of miles, seven days"). It is on this frame (to stretch the metaphor thin) that Gluck adds the cloth textures and the cushions of interviews with friends — women and men who left chasidic communities and are now in the process of creating lives that fuse aspects of their past with interests that sustain their current spiritual and psychic growth.

This is a lot of complicated and emotionally charged material for just over an hour, and Gluck’s intelligence and subtlety as a filmmaker allow her to pull it off without either condescending toward her father or compromising her own vision, feelings and opinions. There are moving moments here — including a scene in which Gluck visits a memorial commemorating many of her relatives who were murdered at Auschwitz — but she often keeps the tone on the light side. At first this feels odd, and you wonder if she doesn’t understand the somber complexity of her own material. But as the film progresses, this contrasting tonality becomes increasingly powerful. Halfway through the film, when Gluck realizes that she may not be able to retrieve the divan because her more Orthodox relatives don’t approve of her secularism, we viscerally feel her sense of betrayal. Later, in various scenes — when she is asked by chasidic men to cover her arms in a public place while speaking to them, tie back her unruly hair in their presence and not use the video camera — Gluck’s sorrow in attempting to bring together two divergent pieces of her heritage and life become palpable. In many ways, "Divan" is intended as a peace offering to her father, yet he will not allow himself to be shown in the film.

The genius of "Divan" is that Gluck has managed, in both her life and the film, to find creative ways to bridge her past and present. Watching it inevitably brings to mind Sandi Simcha DuBowski’s recent documentary "Trembling Before G-d," in which his subjects are in spiritual and psychological agony over what they feel is their expulsion from their communities. The power of DuBowski’s film stems from the raw, unhealed and apparently irreconcilable pain of spiritual and sexual difference. (Interestingly, while none of the friends interviewed in "Divan" are identified on film as lesbian or gay, many of the issues they speak of as being problematic for their families — remaining unmarried, not having children — are resonant of the subjects in "Trembling" as well.)

While the excruciation of watching "Trembling Before G-d" was unrelieved, Gluck struggles to find common ground and a sense of solace that do not involve compromise. She never really gets her father to accept her completely, and she remains angry at all of the attempts to deprive her of her past, but at the film’s conclusion her father travels from Borough Park to her Manhattan apartment to work with her on editing this film. It is a bittersweet, semi-comfortable coda to complicated lives and complicated journeys. While her original plan to deliver the family’s venerable divan to her father becomes increasingly problematic and entangled, she does deliver this exquisite, often disturbing, but touching film to both him and us.

"Divan" opens May 21 at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre in Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869 and at the Town Center 5 in Encino, (818) 981-9811.

A Helping Hand


“Where’s the jelly? I need five jellies.”

“Hand me 18 fruit rolls, will you?”

“I love your skirt, where did you get it?”

The scene: A typical Thursday evening at Tomchei Shabbos’ warehouse, at 353 1/2 N. La Brea Ave., where a team of fast-working, quick-talking volunteers gathers to pack overflowing food boxes for needy families in Los Angeles.

The small warehouse, lined with shelves filled with staples such as rice, oil, matzos, gefilte fish, mayonnaise, peanut butter, jam, rice, noodles and Shabbat candles, is bustling. Volunteers step over neat rows of crates of packaged salad greens, bags of produce, challas, noodle kugels and apple pies, as they stock their boxes.

Tomchei Shabbos, meaning “supporters of the Sabbath,” was founded 22 years ago to help six needy families put food on their tables for Shabbat. Today the organization sponsors a clothing gemach (charity), distributes used furniture and appliances to the needy, and on a budget of no more than $10,000 per week, sends food to as many as 200 families on a weekly basis. More than 300 families receive food supplies for holidays.

High Holiday food deliveries include extra fare, such as meat and ingredients for stew. Passover packages include kosher spices, aluminum foil, detergent and seder foods “from soup to nuts.”

Rabbi Yonah Landau, the director of Tomchei Shabbos for the past 19 years, walks briskly throughout the warehouse, supervising incoming deliveries of frozen chickens and gallons of milk. He, like everyone else with the organization, is a volunteer. When not working long hours for Tomchei Shabbos, he runs an insurance agency.

Michelle Lehrer manages a medical office. Steve Berger trades Israeli bonds. They team up together on Thursday evenings as the Tomchei Shabbos warehouse managers. Lehrer and Berger make sure that each family receives its allotment, determined by the number of children and any special needs. Their lists and the boxes marked for each family are all in code. For example, the box marked “MAR” is slated to go to a family that has not one of those letters in its name. The recipient families’ identities are guarded jealously.

Although some families welcome the delivery crew with greetings and thank yous, most deliveries are left at the door. Some are left with a neighbor, or another third party, such as relatives or friends. Some families, despite dire straits, are too embarrassed to take food, Landau says. In these cases Tomchei Shabbos arranges for a credit at the local market.

“These are working families,” Landau explains. “They’ve run into trouble.” He recalls stories of lost jobs, illness and large families who just don’t earn enough to make ends meet. “Here’s a father of four, who works in the flower business,” Landau says. “He had surgery and was laid up for a month. He didn’t have food for the children.”

“Here’s a contractor with three kids, who didn’t have enough work,” Landau continues. “He got a three-day [eviction] notice. I told him that in 15 minutes someone would deliver a check to pay for three months rent.”

Landau relates story after story of families who fall on hard times, and elderly recipients whose social security payments are only slightly more than their rent. He notes that Tomchei Shabbos volunteers try to help families get out of difficult situations. “I know of a man who made $250,000,” Landau says. “He lost his job, depleted his savings, had no money for food. No one knew he had no money. Then he lost his house. We helped with rent money many times. Then we found his wife a job.”

Tomchei Shabbos’ network stretches throughout the city and into the Valley. One volunteer who came to the warehouse Thursday with her five children says, “I see a lot of local businessmen here. They give of their money and their time.”

The businessmen work side-by-side with the high school students, yeshiva boys and assorted younger and older adults. Tsvi and Betty Ryzman have sponsored this week’s entire shipment in honor of their son Elie’s marriage to his wife, Adina, and a number of the extended Ryzman clan, including the bride and groom, came to pack food.

“It’s a wonderful thing for young people who are raised with everything to see this,” says Betty Ryzman, whose family also sponsored the week’s Tomchei Shabbos shipment after her daughter’s wedding. “There’s a big flamboyant wedding, then this (packing food for the needy).” She notes that her family’s post-wedding custom is a variation on the theme of an old custom from Europe. The day before a wedding the families would sponsor a seudat ani’im, a meal for the poor.

A UCLA student crosses Ryzman’s path with a box of cans. “Give everyone a can of tomato sauce,” she instructs a team of two yeshiva students and a lawyer. Tomato sauce in place, the boxes begin their exodus out of the warehouse as a line of mostly elderly recipients begins to form outside.

Next week the scene will be repeated. And the next week. And the next holiday. Although Tomchei Shabbos organizers and volunteers hope for the day that there will be no need for their services, they recognize the biblical statement (Deuteronomy 15:11), “For the poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command you saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy in your land.'”