Zem Joaquin, Founder of Ecofabulous.com (Podcast)



Even if the label of "maven" is painfully over-applied, there are people who still deserve it. Zem Joaquin, the stylish polymath behind Ecofabulous.com, is one of those few. Zem has been on the editorial side of mags like House and Garden, Domino, and Architectural Digest, is part of eBay's Green Team, and often appears on-screen (you may know her as the eco-luxury specialist on Planet Green's Alter Eco). She talks to us about the fabulously small house she designed for this year's Dwell on Design Expo, the meaning of Cradle to Cradle thinking, the green revitalization of Youngstown, Ohio, and plenty else.

Full text after the jump.
TreeHugger: For the Dwell on Design Expo you helped put together a super eco-friendly and very small house. We covered it on TreeHugger and we really liked what we saw. Can you tell us what the project was all about?

Zem Joaquin: It was an inspirational project; I had so much fun with it. This is actually my third year designing a Dwell on Design showhouse, and it's just an incredibly opportunity to give everybody a contextual experience with these products that they see on Ecofabulous. Especially for people who are embarking upon a remodel or a new build, this can give them ideas that are much more sustainable and very innovative.

I love the process of seeking out these products and I usually collaborate with other designers and also other manufacturers. In putting together this really beautiful house this year, I had the opportunity to work with Jonathan Davis, an architect and the founder of pieceHomes. I've never actually worked with an architect on one of these houses, and it was just such a unique and fulfilling experience because I could express my aesthetics and he could interpret them in such an architecturally interesting way. It was one of the most rewarding projects I have ever done.

TH: And the whole thing was sort of plunked down right in the middle of the expo. Does that make it a prefab project?

Joaquin: It is prefab; it meets all of those requirements. But it's totally custom. So, yes, it had to be able to fit on a flatbed truck, so that constrained the dimensions. It was 520 square feet, which is pretty amazing. And this house had a lot of unique features. First of all, it was built on a concrete slab with radiant heat built right in. So what you have is this very clean, evenly dispensed heat that is great if you have asthma or any kind of ailments.

Then it had everything from Eco-Clad on the outside-which is this rapidly renewable material that's highly durable and also really architecturally interesting and very modern. We wrapped that around the inside as well. We did that with a lot of the different elements. I used some of those elements to inspire the rest of the design. I picked up these lights from Cisco Home that I found at HD Buttercup, and they're 100-percent recycled glass, just beautiful pendants that really set the tone for the kitchen.

But yes, it had to be able to be moved. For the third year, they stick it right in the middle of the LA Convention Center, and people are just blown away by the fact that it's right there in the middle of the show. It's really fun.
TH: And then you guys auctioned it off to raise money for Global Green. Did somebody scoop it up and take it with them?

TH: You said it's 520 square feet?

Joaquin: Yes.

TH: That's small, but it's realistic. Do you think Americans are really willing to live in smaller spaces and have a smaller footprint?

Joaquin: Well, there's a whole movement. I was a judge on Graham Hill's project, LifeEdited, and I love his project. I think LifeEdited is a beautiful concept. It's about living smarter and loving everything that you have. Graham actually did a presentation at TED (and you can still check it out at Ted.com) which I thought was brilliant, on boxing up the things that you have and figuring out what do you really miss, what do you love. And that was part of this project: really figuring out what are the necessities, and using space wisely.

I mean, we build these rooms that are just kind of these squares. They're thoughtless, large spaces. But it's amazing what you can do with a small space. My whole family, my two kids and my husband and I, all lived in a small apartment for quite a while, and the kids were actually happier. They were the happiest when we all lived together because we were very close and they knew exactly where we were; they don't have to yell across the room.

I think people are recognizing the beauty in small spaces. There have been a lot of books on it. There are a lot of people and groups that are trying to reinterpret the small space, but I think we just need to do it smarter. I do believe there is a place for that. It's just like everything else. Food needs to get smaller. We don't need to super-size it, we need to super-small it.

Tags: Apartments | Architects | Cradle To Cradle | Decorating | Designers | Green Building | TreeHugger Radio

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