Milpas on the Move column by Sharon Byrne, as featured in the Santa Barbara Sentinel
The building trades are a major industry in the Milpas-Eastside area, a mecca for architects, builders, stone and marble yards, lumberyards, tile showrooms, and hardware stores plying everything from basic bolts to high-end fixtures guaranteed to produce spontaneous drool in the aspiring remodeler. A relatively new breed is springing up of green builders, designers and materials providers striving for sustainability and reuse. One of these, Livingreen, has a unique formula.
I’d long been attracted to Livingreen from dropping in periodically with the intent of enlisting them into joining our latest community endeavor. I’d peruse the merchandise while waiting to speak to owner Ellen Strickland, and discover unusual finds, attractive wares, and great gift ideas. Livingreen offers environmentally-safe products, but you can forget gnarled gray hemp mats, lint tablecloths, weak cleaners, and ugly, utilitarian ‘stools’ hewn out of old railroad ties (ideal for a former-Soviet Union work camp, maybe) with astronomical price tags.
The merchandise at Livingreen is hip, stylish, and affordable. Who knew environmentalism could be so sexy?
I popped in to see Ellen after her showroom had been demolished by a van careening in reverse out of the parking lot of Superica, late at night. The damage was devastating:
The police found the van up at the Bowl, but the driver had vanished, and nobody seems to know who he was. The investigation appears stalled, and the insurance company isn’t exactly leaping to settle the claim, leaving Ellen with large repairs, inventory to replace, and a lot of unexpected expense. It’s a disappointing turn of events for a business that’s worked hard to be a great community member.
When I visited Ellen, the demolished windows had been boarded over, and the showroom put back together. Gone was one of my favorite displays – the seaglass collection of dinnerware made entirely out of recycled glass, in beautiful, delicate hues.
Despite this disaster, Ellen surprised everyone on Milpas St when she enthusiastically stepped up to help us get the holiday lights back up this year. While some of us might turn into a Grinch on the spot, Ellen was determined to support the neighborhood, despite her terrible loss. We were stunned at her generosity, and deeply moved by her community spirit. Her story inspired neighboring merchants to similarly step up to help get the holiday lights back up on Milpas. Neighbors like this are priceless in our community.
She was upbeat on my visit, and related a fantastic story of how she came to be in this business. She’d had the usual start in environmentalism – active in the anti-nuclear proliferation movement of the 70’s, working tables at environmental state fairs, and so on. But it was her own desperate health struggles that moved her in a new direction.
Ellen has multiple sclerosis, and was in a wheelchair 25 years ago! She made the connection that toxins in the environment can contribute to serious health issues. Cleaning up the exterior and interior environment in which we dwell can ease health problems. “How much is your health worth to you?” she asked herself. She started living it, and it worked. As she showed me around the store, I couldn’t believe this same lively lady was once wheelchair-bound.
As a designer, Ellen saw that a lot of products used in the design and building trades are quite toxic, and repeated exposure over time puts tradesmen at elevated risk. Livingreen carries paints, cleaners, building materials, furniture – even beds – that are top quality, non-toxic, and don’t aggravate chemical sensitivities or immune disorders. Being environmentally-friendly doesn’t have to equate to being overly restrictive, or a constant downer. Environmentalism can be achieved if products are cost-effective, convenient, and attractive. Health and environmental benefits are an added bonus.
In Ellen’s vision, living green just becomes easier overall for the consumer, a vision very evident in Livingreen’s offerings.
I picked up great gifts for friends on my visit, including reclaimed-glass holiday lights. A very modern ceiling lamp, shaped into a twisting fish, was crafted from reclaimed wine barrel clamps from Arroyo Grande. She had a floor lamp, locally made from an old clothing rod, bike and computer parts, and a handmade lampshade. Non-toxic child finger-paints, dog beds filled with recycled polyfill, and recycled materials made into ornaments make convenient holiday gifts for friends.
Livingreen is a must-see if you’re remodeling, decorating, trying to reduce health issues from environmental stressors, or looking for a unique gift for a friend this holiday. Livingreen’s always got a smile ready for you, and gorgeous goodies to peruse.
From all of us on Milpas to Ellen… Happy Holidays, you community angel!