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Exclusive Interview With Eco–Friendly Living Expert Zem Joaquin

Think you must choose between being fabulous and being green? Not anymore–and Zem Joaquin is here to prove it. As the founder and editor–in–chief of, Joaquin brings readers a daily dose of the best and brightest in the world of "sexy, sustainable, stuff." The San Francisco Bay Area resident is the contributing eco–editor at Domino magazine, the host of a monthly radio show, and, as a certified green building professional, a consultant on eco–design projects for both individuals and corporations. Here she divulges secrets to fashionable green living, including the surprising way she cured her children's asthma, five easy habits you can start right now, and why you might want to think twice about buying everyday T–shirts.

What attracted you to a career in eco–fabulousness?
I went to the TED conference to share information about my extensive green home remodel with that community. When I realized that everyone needed a resource for eco–friendly products that did not sacrifice their sense of style nor efficacy, I started Simultaneously, Dominique Browning, the editor–in–chief of House & Garden magazine, had the forward thought to make me the magazine's eco–editor so that readers would have access to the burgeoning green home movement. Now at Domino magazine I have the opportunity to reach a different audience that is really interested in beautiful but practical instructional things that they can do–and of course that includes how to incorporate green practices into their individual lifestyles.

What's the biggest misconception about green living?
That you have to give up glamour or that it's just too much to think about. Another misconception is that it's very difficult to find. Ecofabulous covers all categories to make going green simple and seductive!

Most underrated green initiative?
Buying organic clothing. People really don't think about how much of an impact clothing makes. It takes one–third of a pound of pesticides and herbicides to grow a single cotton T–shirt. Cotton is the most sprayed crop in the world. Additionally, the bleach used to whiten those shirts, which is also used on colored clothing before dying to achieve vivid hues, creates dioxin, a highly toxic chemical that can change the PH level of waterways. There are now amazing eco–options across all price points, from Barneys to Wal–Mart. Look for organic cotton or an alternative, such as bamboo or recycled polyester.

Are there five habits people can change right now to become more eco–friendly without much effort?

  1. Turn out lights when not in the room. It shocks me that people still don't do this easy one!
  2. Eat less meat, and when you do eat it, make sure it's ecologically raised.
  3. Buy organic whenever possible.
  4. Bring your own reusable receptacles, like travel mugs and shopping bags, with you every day.
  5. Stop and think about how and where the things you buy were made and what will happen to them when they no longer serve a purpose for you–simply become more eco–wise.

What's your favorite space in your own house and why?
My window seat in my sunken living room. Aaron Mutscheller designed it for me. It is a beautiful seat, FSC–certified–that's the Forest Stewardship Council–seat with a natural rubber cushion, covered in linen. The pillows are hemp filled with flax, but it all just looks glam. The view is of my very green backyard. The whole experience is just so zen.

What's always in your refrigerator?
Local organic fruits and veggies from the farmers' market for my kids to snack on. Organic milk for my daughter, oat milk for my son, and almond milk for my husband–too much milk, really! Pure, organic maple syrup, Vegenaise mayo alternative, which tastes like real mayo, Heinz organic ketchup and Whole Kids yellow mustard are always on hand for condiments.

What's your house wine?
I keep Iron Horse and Frog's Leap on hand for guests, but my husband and I don't really drink wine. We prefer Veev organic acai or Square One organic vodka and soda, with a squeeze of lime.

What's something you should never skimp on when decorating your home?
I would never buy a non–eco–friendly mattress. We spend so much of our time in bed–hopefully not always sleeping–and should not be exposed to all the chemicals in conventional mattresses, including fire retardants and VOCs. Children are even more sensitive to these toxins, so never skimp when it comes to kids. My children had asthma that I cured by creating a healthy home.

Favorite new interior–design find?
Ortolan makes the first raw 100–percent organic napkins chic enough to display at an elegant dinner party.

Favorite online design shop?
It's There are so many magnificent shops associated with 1stdibs. It makes vintage shopping simple. For more modern pieces, is great. is an affordable accessories essential.

The ultimate example of chic?
My dear friend and founder of, Gina Pell. She is a brilliant woman who always looks beautiful and pulled together, even in sweats. She combines vintage clothing and furniture with modern pieces effortlessly. And she finally gave up her Jaguar for a hybrid–now that is chic!

Favorite shop for cool cheap furnishings?
It isn't a shop, but the Bay Area's Alameda Antiques Fair is an amazing resource. There are similar flea markets in most cities. I love Trout Farm in Berkeley because the owner gets really outrageous pieces that he can redo to be as green as possible. I love Artists and Farmers in Healdsburg because they have unique design details that are all made by small producers, the majority of which are obsessed with sustainability. For even more affordable items, Target has organic sheets now, and West Elm has great organic floor mats.

Most cherished possession?
A vintage Alberto Pinto game table that I got at San Francisco's Coup d'Etat. I searched for a beautifully shaped table with backgammon–not chess/checkers–as well as cup holders. This is it. I also worship my GreenSleep bed that is natural latex, organic wool, and cotton. It's the best sleep I have ever had!

Best last–minute decor trick?
Flowers. I get them out of my garden, but you can get organic blooms from or your local farmers' market. Another quick fix is to put out elegant soaps and lovely bowls full of fruit. I like colorful bamboo bowls or vintage ceramics. I got a stunning water carafe at Artists and Farmers that I love to put out when guests are over.

Do you have a favorite source for eco–conscious design or a favorite solution or item?
I spend a lot of time at Green Fusion Design Center in San Anselmo for all of my building materials and go to Spring on Polk Street in San Francisco for eco household accessories and necessities. ABC Home in New York has an enormous and exciting collection of reclaimed and FSC–certified woods, formaldehyde–free furniture, and organic bedding.

Best piece of decorating advice?
You can now achieve any style using eco–friendly criteria. Mix vintage pieces–if they must be redone, use low–VOC finishes and fill with formaldehyde–free foams–with new, environmentally conscious lines. Create a space that feels comfortable and beautiful to you–don't try to simply copy a look.

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