Diary Of An Eco-Builder

It has been liberating for us to turn our backs on the arbitrary colours in synthetic products
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The Independent Online

Exactly a month ago Ford and I brought in the New Year watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in the company of some rather overexcited friends. No doubt there are livelier ways of celebrating the occasion, but why go clubbing when a little hard-core Technicolor does such a good job of dispelling the midwinter blues?

Colour has been one of my quiet obsessions for Tree House, so the recent emergence of the full palette of the building, after months of labouring in black and white, has been very exciting.

A key moment last week was laying and sealing the richly patterned Kirkstone slate on our ground floor ( www.kirkstone.com, 01539 433296). This striking Cumbrian stone has a subtle blue-green hue, one of the two core colours in our palette. The other is the warm orange of the reclaimed teak that is waiting to go down on our upper floors ( www.lassco.co.uk, 020-7394 2100). The exposed timbers elsewhere in the building - Douglas fir, cedar and beech - share this underlying orange hue, though not always to the same saturation.

From the start of the project we wanted to ground our colour palette in the materials of the house, rather than treating colour as something to be slapped on after the macho part of the build was finished.

In the era of synthetic floor coverings, vinyl paints and Changing Rooms, it is commonplace to ignore the colours of the materials, setting and landscape that define a house and instead treat colour as an unconstrained personal choice, easily replaced as fashions change.

But, like early film-makers thrilled by the possibilities of Technicolor, we all too easily create effects with this limitless, synthetic palette that are as artificial as they are lurid. Such rapid-turnover interiors also consume a stream of resources and discourage durable finishes in favour of cheaper - and usually nastier - products.

Our stone and reclaimed hardwood floors combine very low ecological costs with the character and durability necessary to ensure a long life. We have deliberately chosen hard floors because they age beautifully, last forever and provide no comfort for dust-mites and other unhealthy domestic squatters. If you're looking for a cheaper alternative for a hard floor, your best bet is lino, made from linseed oil. Cork and natural latex are also good options.

There is, however, one place where we did specify a soft floor covering: the staircase, as wooden staircases have a habit of turning a house into a drum-kit. The staircase is being built around two Douglas fir tree trunks and the first flight is supported by a magnificent solid piece of cedar, all sourced from a well managed wood in Sussex ( www. timberresources.co.uk). The colour of these timbers dominates, so we have chosen a wool carpet with a very neutral colour that will not compete with the wood: black.

Wool carpets are far preferable to all the synthetic alternatives, but most still come with a good soaking of artificial dyes, fire retardants and insecticides. We have managed to avoid these altogether by choosing a carpet made with exceptionally robust wool shorn from Icelandic sheep and cleaned in steam from geysers. The Geysira range is available in a range of neutrals (ie Icelandic sheep colours) and is available through Construction Resources ( www.constructionresources.com, 020-7450 2211).

It has been liberating for us to turn our backs on the arbitrary mass of colours offered by synthetic products and to focus instead on the richer colours of natural materials. The pleasures of Technicolor are short-lived, so the next time you set off on a DIY shopping trip and find yourself in Munchkinland, don't step on to the yellow brick road. Click your ruby slippers and return home, not to black-and-white Kansas but to the subtle colours of the brick, stone, wood, foliage, earth and sky that surround you every day.

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