Twenty years ago, sick building syndrome, a catch phrase characterizing homes and offices with a range of issues from poor air quality to black mold, was the buzz in housing. The latest today is wellness, and the focus isn’t just potential health hazards, but rather indoor environments that promote physical and emotional well-being. “It’s about creating a space to help your body rejuvenate,” says L.A. designer Sarah Barnard, who is LEED AP and recognized as a Building Biology Practitioner.
Not just another feel-good fad, wellness has been codified with a Well Building Standard, which addresses air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Researchers and physicians from leading medical institutions, along with construction experts and architects, spent six years developing the standard. Pilot projects range from offices, restaurants, student housing, schools and healthcare to wellness-themed rooms at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
The standard was developed by Delos Living, founded by Phil Scialla, whose interest was sparked by a renovation of his own loft in New York’s meatpacking district. “I discovered there was no one offering this type of holistic wellness solution for homes,” he says. “I started to think about the different types of features we could add to architecture, design and construction that could lead to preventative intentions for people within their home.”
There is a natural synergy between wellness and green building. The U.S. Green Building Council will certify the WELL standard, as well as streamline how its green certification program, LEED, and the WELL Standard will work together. A current pilot project, the William Jefferson Clinton Children’s Center in Haiti, will receive both certifications. Another recent collaboration between the two is CBRE Group’s world headquarters in Los Angeles, which is the first office space to be both LEED Gold and WELL certified.
Delos’ first wellness residential properties — five upscale residences with 15-foot ceilings and huge windows (highly rated for both efficiency and noise attenuation) in a turn-of-the-century building in New York’s Greenwich Village — hit the market last fall. Some of the first residents include Deepak Chopra and Leonardo DiCaprio. Both are members of Delos’ powerful Advisory Board, which includes Dick Gephardt; Nicholas LaRusso, medical director of Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation; and Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic. Although not on the board, Bill Clinton is another supporter.
Wellness in homes begins with air quality. “We can live without food and water for seven days, but we can only live without air for about seven minutes. Air is the foundation for total wellness,” shares Tony Abate, a certified Indoor Environmentalist who is vice president of operations at AtmosAir Solutions in Fairfield, Connecticut. The best purification systems do more than remove dust and contaminants. They also balance the level of positive and negative ions in a home. The result, Abate says, is raising air quality to the same level as the Alps.
Trends become movements when they are adopted by a wide range of individuals, and indications are wellness is rapidly gaining momentum. “Everybody understands the immediate benefit to their own person and to their family of having a healthy environment,” says Barnard. For wellness, the motivation and impetus is coming from multiple constituencies — consumers suffering from environmental allergies, green and sustainable evangelists, the medical community and legions of moms. Although the World Health Organization identified poor indoor air quality as a health issue as early as 1984, the tipping point in the public’s awareness came with a 2011 study showing that most pregnant woman in the U.S. have toxic chemicals in their body. The study ignited the movement against BPAs and heightened women’s interest in healthier homes, according to Charlie Elverson, insights strategist at Wray Ward, a creative marketing community firm that specializes in elevating the American home. Mothers of children affected by allergies and asthma are particularly ardent advocates, according to Elverson. Other outliers promoting wellness include the percentage, although small, of the population who suffers from MCS or Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, which is a chronic condition related to low-level chemical exposure.
Also driving innovations to improve built environments are manufacturers, actively pursuing ways to remove substances, such as formaldehyde, that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from building products, flooring, paints, fabrics and glues into the air. Other manufacturers are developing products that scrub the air. Floors that clean the air might sound improbable, but one company, Lauzon, has a line of hardwood that does just that, using a titanium dioxide finish that, when activated by natural or artificial light, breaks down toxic contaminants in the environment into harmless molecules. It sounds too good to be true, but independent research backs up the claim. Sherwin Williams introduced a line of zero-VOC interior paint that reduces or eliminates indoor odors caused by pets, cooking and smoke. It also contains new technology, which reduces VOC levels in the air and improves air quality, and it also inhibits the growth of mildew and mold on the paint surface.
Water has become as critical as air quality for many. Interest in filtration systems that remove chlorine, heavy metals, even trace pharmaceuticals, as well as systems that balance the pH in the water is on the rise. In the Delos residences, shower water is infused with vitamin C to promote healthy hair and skin.
Chances are this is just the beginning for wellness. “I see more of my clients seeking the best holistic products, looking for benefits extending beyond aesthetics and mere function to aiding in a better way of life,” says designer Kara Smith with Smith/Firestone Associte in Los Angeles.