Seemingly everywhere we look, “green” – of the environmental variety — is the new black. While it is trendy and uber-relevant in 2010, back in 2000 the term green only really referred to money, and not eco-friendly design. Enter entrepreneur Robin Wilson, who by 2000 had already built her company, Robin Wilson Home, on the principle of having her clients make choices about their environment that moved them closer to a positive state of well being.
Through the years her renovation, project management, and design firm has detoxified homes for cancer patients, sold eco-friendly home décor at www.neststore.com –her online marketplace–and eco-renovated former President Bill Clinton’s office in Harlem.
So, it was no surprise that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. chose Wilson as the interior designer for his re-built LEED certified home in Mount Kisco, New York. After a flood, black mold grew in his 1920s clapboard home, causing his children to develop pneumonia, asthma, and allergies. He demolished the house because no matter how hard the family cleaned the mold always came back.
Wilson, who is in her late 30s, was empathetic to the family’s plight. As a young girl she had been hospitalized multiple times because of asthma. So, while designing for the Kennedys she wanted to reduce their home’s energy output and conserve water, but also eliminate substances that could trigger the family’s allergies. She incorporated renewable linens and textiles, recycled furniture and countertops, energy star appliances, sustainable bath fixtures, and from her own collection, non-toxic kitchen cabinetry by Robin Wilson Home.
Designing the Kennedy home was a welcome distraction because like most designers, the recession hit Wilson hard. She had to lay off an employee and move to a smaller showroom. Although she declines to say by how much her revenues fell in 2009, she credits her survival to a licensing agreement with Holiday Kitchens to sell Robin Wilson Home Kitchen Cabinetry through 500 dealers nationwide.
Wilson, the 2008 Black Enterprise Business Innovator of the Year, is also excited about two new endeavors: the May debut of her line of bamboo cotton towels at www.BedBathandBeyond.com and the April publication of her first book “Kennedy Green House: Designing an Eco-Healthy Home from the Foundation to the Furniture,” (Greenleaf Book Group Press, $30) which chronicles the Kennedy home gut renovation and redesign.
Wilson sat down with Black Enterprise in her New York showroom to discuss the book, the benefits of eco-friendly interior design, and affordable ways to go green.
BlackEnterprise.com: How do you feel having worked with such a prestigious family like the Kennedys?
Robin Wilson: I am thrilled that the Kennedy family gave Robin Wilson Home an opportunity to showcase our platform and to educate consumers [that green design] from the foundation to the furniture can be beautiful. I’m excited…Bobby is an environmentalist with Water Keeper Alliance and Riverkeeper, [two organizations that advocate for clean water]. Now he is walking the walk and the talk in his own life.
You design homes and you also bring in the eco-friendly element. How did you get started in both of those areas and decide to make them one?
I have asthma and allergies. I grew up blowing my nose all of the time, wheezing and sneezing. My belief is your home is your ecosystem. Your ecosystem starts with what you put inside of you, where you are living, where you are working, and all of the things that you bring into those spaces. When you talk about design, I don’t think I should just focus on the foundation or the furniture. Because I have [this] health condition, everything I do has to be geared towards how I live [and] how my clients with children that have asthma and allergies will live.