With the new year upon us, it's a great time to invest in statement pieces that have a subtle yet transformative effect on the home. Organic, environmentally friendly wall and floor coverings made from materials like cork, bamboo and grasscloth offer several options for breathing new life into rooms in need of a pick-me-up. Not only are they free of chemicals or dyes, they possess an unconventional, compelling texture that amplifies a space's visual appeal. "Textural surfaces provide a lot of options," says Nomita Joshi-Gupta, co-owner of Spruce Eco-Studio (2043 Magazine St., 265-0946; www.sprucenola.com). "You can paint them to match your decor, or leave them as is. You can also make a statement with a few well-placed tiles or create a striking surface for an entire wall."
Spruce offers a variety of organic wall adornments ranging from European-inspired hand-blocked wallpaper colored with vegetable dyes to paintable plasters. Three-dimensional Inhabit bamboo wall flats, which are 22.5-inch decorative tiles, are a popular way to spice up walls. "Bamboo is one of the world's most sustainable resources, and each tile is 100 percent biodegradable," Joshi-Gupta says. Spruce also stocks mother-of-pearl laminate, which lends an instant sheen of glamour and opulence ($70 per square foot) to any room. Joshi-Gupta says a major benefit of wall coverings is their flexibility and versatility. "(Organic wallpapers) are multipurpose and can also be used to design things like custom drapes or shades, or even to re-cover pieces of furniture."
Organic materials also offer health benefits. "Renewable resources and products ... do not emit volatile organic compounds, typically known as VOCs," says Michael Ward, owner of New Orleans Bamboo (6065 Magazine St., 897-5001; www.nolabamboo.com). "Chemicals like these, such as formaldehyde, are often found in lesser-grade adhesives." Joshi-Gupta agrees, saying that optimum indoor air quality assists better health and a decrease in allergies and breathing problems. To avoid these harmful byproducts, Ward suggests that homeowners use natural, reusable products and check the ingredients.
Ward opened New Orleans Bamboo in 2007 following his extensive travels throughout Japan. "I was blown away by the vast array of uses the Japanese have found for renewable resources, and I felt compelled to provide customers with long lasting, quality products that cut down on unnecessary destruction of forestry," Ward says. New Orleans Bamboo specializes in green building materials, including 100 percent wool carpets, recycled rubber flooring, cork flooring and wall tile, bamboo plywood and wall coverings ($4 per square inch), and wallpaper made from banana leaves. Ward manufactures a decorative wall covering called Kirei, which is made from sorghum stock and means "beautiful" in Japanese. New Orleans Bamboo also distributes American Clay, a mud from New Mexico that contains its own natural glue and resembles marble glass. "It's like Venetian plaster at a fourth of the price," says Ward, who adds that American Clay can also help dehumidify a room by absorbing moisture.
Both Spruce Eco-Studio and New Orleans Bamboo provide access to contractors and installation specialists, and Joshi-Gupta advises clients not to treat new walling or flooring as a DIY project. "Wall and floor coverings are an investment and a major design statement, one that we feel is best left to professionals in order to ensure the best quality," she says. "If you ... do it yourself, it would be wise to schedule a consultation with an expert before hand."