The Green Guru
by Paula Balzer
How organic living expert and NYC mom Alexandra Zissu keeps her loft clean, cozy and eco-friendly
Eco expert and author AlexandraZissu's West Village loft that sheshares with her 6-year-old daughterAili and her partner Olli Chanoff lets off acozy air amidst its über-green ambitions.
The walls are painted in soothing, mutedshades, a mix of vintage and modern furnitureis perfectly arranged for engagingadult conversation and piles of welcomingbooks are always within reach. Butrather than pointing out the collection ofretro prints and eclectic furnishings thatshe's gathered from her childhood home,Zissu is most excited about the perfectamaryllis that's in full bloom on her dinnertable.
"Can you believe I planted that?" shesaid. "It was just a bulbwith a tiny bit of greensticking out of the top."The flower is avibrant poppy red andis, unquestionably, acheerful touch on a coldwinter day inside thisgreen guru's abode.Without a doubt,Zissu has foreverbeen a nature-mindedManhattanite. "I hadalways eaten superorganically becauseI was raised eatingwhole foods," shesaid. "I joined a CSACommunity SupportedAgriculture] in the late1990s and turned veryorganic, learning a littlebit more about the wayfood was raised."
But it wasn't untilshe started consideringpregnancy thatZissu really jumped onthe eco-friendly bandwagon."I was talkingto a friend who wasalso thinking about gettingpregnant," she recalled. "I startedresearching everything from paint to nailpolish to cleaning products, which canaffect growing children."
As Zissu dove deep into the world ofeco-conscious parenting, she reacted likemost moms-to-be. "I started freaking out.It's a house of horrors. What am I sittingon? What kind of foam is in here? Is it offgassing?What am I breathing? You get inthe shower... there's bleach residue gettingup in your feet. The nail polish you'veloved for years has hormone destructors!It's going to do something unbelievablyhorrible!" she remembered with humor.
After methodically going througheach aspect of her home and work lifein an effort to make things greener, Zissustarted to become fluent in the organicand natural lifestyle. Her next step, naturally,was writing The Complete OrganicPregnancy with Deirdre Dolan, the friendwith whom she had shared that initialconversation.
And that was the beginning of hercareer. Six years and three more bookslater, Zissu fully embodies the environmentallyresponsible way of living andwrites about it regularly on her blog atalexandrazissu.com. One of her biggestmust-dos? Shared meals at the familytable and purchasing food locally. "Wespend Saturday afternoon at the farmer'smarket at Abingdon Square. We can getapples, bread, fish, meat, eggs-everything.Then we usually head home for afarmer's market lunch."Back at the apartment, Zissu describesher living space as a "wholesome urbanhome setting." While the loft is a goodexample of conscious design choices,like the sleek yet rustic dinner table,Zissu feels strongly that "it's more aboutwhat's green."
The layout of the family's living spaceis a testament to her commitment to cleanand responsible living. The first floorfeatures a central lounging area, includingan antique table paired with newhardwood chairs. The office furniture ishand-me-downs-solid wood and classicin design-while Aili sleeps on her mother'schildhood bed frame, topped with anew organic mattress, of course. Toysare neatly stacked in non-plastic bins andrugs are made from natural fibers withoutbacking.But Zissu is especially proud of herkitchen, most notably herglass container collection.
An entire cabinet filledwith jars of all shapes andsizes provides an attractiveand safe alternative forstoring food. "Look?noplastic!" Zissu exclaimed.Aili goes to school with astainless steel Japaneselunch box while her momchooses to cook in enamelpans-never nonstick. "Agood alternative is a castiron pan. They cost about$25 and last forever."
While committing to agreen lifestyle may soundoverwhelming, especiallyto a busy parent, there aresome simple steps youcan immediately take toimprove conditions in yourhome."Take off your shoes!"insisted Zissu. "It's thepublic health equivalent ofwashing your hands. We allwalk around in NYC andwe know what we're steppingon, and then we seeour kids crawling aroundon the floor [at home]. You wouldn't letyour kids crawl around the street. Rightthere you minimize your exposure topesticides, auto exhaust and even dogpoop." To make shoe removal easier forher own guests, Zissu has placed a charmingbench with storage right next to herentryway.
When helping clients, she starts byfinding the easy fixes. "It might not be easyto throw out your mattress, [so] changewhat's already there?Look underneathyour kitchen sink. What are you willing togive up? Take everything out and switchit with green products. Just doing this canresult in a drastic reduction in inner airpollution."
With an apartment that's as pure ascan be, Zissu now looks forward to cultivatinga green thumb. "I would like togrow things. To experience that full circle?watching something grow from seedto corn." Alexandra glances back at heramaryllis. "There's something magicalabout growing things with a kid."
For more tips on green living, read"Home, Green Home" at newyorkfamily.com
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