Q&A With Nick Cope of Green Painting

Photos courtesy of Nick Cope/Green Painting.

I’m a pretty lucky guy to live where I live. Over the past several years, Red Hook has emerged as a hotbed of green activity with organic farms, sustainable furniture firms like Uhuru and 4Korners, a bamboo bike studio, mini-CSAs in the back of truck beds, eco-cottages, garden centers galore, fashion editors with backyard chicken coops, urban beekeepers, zero-energy buildings (well, that one’s on hold), and more all setting up shop in this sleepy waterfront section of Brooklyn.

Today, I’m proud to introduce another eco-enterprise that calls Red Hook home: Green Painting, an “eco-responsible" housepainting company. Founded by Nick Cope, a native of Providence, R.I., in 2006, Green Painting offers interior painting services throughout the New York metro area with an eco-emphasis on not only the use of health- and planet-friendly zero-VOC paints and finishes but on all aspects of the job from cleaning products to contracting waste to carbon neutrality. Even the paper used to protect surfaces during paint jobs is recycled.

I had the pleasure of recently visiting Cope — a man who truly knows his swatches — at his live/work space in Red Hook’s historic Fairway building to chat about Green Painting’s philosophy, the state of green design, and even his own beautiful home which was featured in July over at Re-Nest. Cope was kind enough to answer a few follow-up questions I had about his business, non-acrylic paints, and his involvement with Gimme Shelter, Leslie Hoffman of Earth Pledge’s green building project on Shelter Island, N.Y. (click here for my Q&A; with Hoffman from last spring).

Here's what Cope had to say:

MNN: Tell me a bit about how Green Painting came to be. And which came first for you? The green or the painting?

Nick Cope: The painting definitely came first, as I believe it should. I think that it is important to learn to master the craft before delivering on promises of an eco-friendly and health-conscious service. As we move forward, hopefully these forces will work more in tandem, with conventional acrylic paints being gradually phased out and substituted by plant-based alternatives.

For my company, it was primarily through the consistent exposure, which made both myself and other staffers feeling dizzy and congested at the end of a long day, that spurned me to research progressive coatings. I also had an exposure to a European crafts-based approach to the trade, which lends itself to focusing on the trades from a more holistic perspective.

You use non-acrylic paints from companies like Farrow & Ball in your projects. What makes it stand apart from other low/zero-VOC paints?

The difference is significant in that Farrow & Ball and other forward-thinking manufacturers use a non-latex formulation. Many consumers (and contractors) still believe that the term latex indicates a ‘water-based’ formulation and that they are safe to use though this is only partially true. Though latex paints are largely comprised of water, they contain many petroleum-based chemical solvents. While using even a leading zero-VOC paint, one is essentially applying a thin membrane of impenetrable petroleum, in other words, plastic.

Non-acrylic paints, such as Farrow & Ball’s Emulsions, allow wall surface and woodwork to breath. Furthermore, they use mineral pigments in lieu of synthetic pigments which provide richer colors and they fade much more slowly allowing more time between re-painting. All bases are made in their small facility in Dorset, England. It’s terrific stuff.

The eco- and health-friendly paint industry has exploded over the past couple of years. Since starting off asthe green housepainting service in NYC, have you gained any friendly competition?

There have been many changes in the industry since we opened our doors. Initially, only boutique brands like AFM Safecoat offered low-VOC and low odor coatings and they were targeted mostly to the chemically sensitive. Nowadays, it is hard to find a brand of any kind that does not have a line of eco-paints, which is a good thing.

As far Green Painting is concerned, when I launched my company in 2006, the concept was truly unique. When we went online, the website was one of two or three nationwide and now there are at least that many in every major city in America, which has indeed led to a fair amount of ‘friendly’ competition. We are now working on going national, with satellite operations set to launch in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area this year.

Have any housepainting horror stories that you'd care to share?

Painting a room the wrong color. It happens.

Tell me about your work with Leslie Hoffman's Gimme Shelter project. How did you and Leslie meet?

Leslie and I met through a client. I was initially supporting her in establishing a web portal for her amazing project, which is a showcase for eco-responsible building practices as well as the power of collaboration in the realm of construction. I am now also the master painter for the project. The project has allowed me to test out some of the most innovative products, materials and techniques in a very supportive environment. There really is a remarkable synergy in the group associated with this project, from architect, sponsors and all of the craftspeople who set foot on site.

Have to ask ... is there one particular swatch that you're particularly fond of?

Fresh from Dorset, England, Farrow & Ball is launching their nine new colors today. I’m particularly drawn to Cabbage White (no.269), named after the butterfly. It's a versatile white with lovely hints of blue.

Aside from eco-friendly paints, are there any environmental issues that you're particularly passionate about? What gets you fired up?

Lately I've been very inspired by David de Rothschild’s Plastiki Voyage to raise awareness about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s truly stunning that our excessive use and improper disposal of plastics has created a floating pile of debris that is, by some estimates, larger than the United States.

Have any pointers for folks looking to take on their own interior painting projects?

For starters, buy yourself a high-quality brush. By paying a few extra dollars, you not only support progressive companies like Purdy or Anza but you'll have the proper tool for the job. A high-quality brush has significantly more (and stiffer) bristles than its conventional counterparts and will 'drop' more paint in an even fashion, in turn speeding up the project and leaving you with a better finish. Also, take care of it by cleaning the bristles with warm water and a wire brush. This way, it should last for many years.

Any new ventures in the works that you can tell us about?

In fact there is something big in the works for 2011! Leslie Hoffman and I have decided to address interiors with much more than just eco-paint. We have aligned our respective talents to launch a design/build firm that will exceed the rigors of Green Painting’s approach and couple it with a premium crafts-based approach ... more to come on that soon.