Green-interiors juggernaut expands good choices into a lifestyle
Sean and Laura Sullivan, owners of Living Stone Design + Build and ID.ology Interiors & Design, respectively, came to an epiphany about 12 years ago, and it wasn’t a good one. “Most of what we put in our homes — from the materials used in the construction process to rugs and furniture — is highly toxic,” explains Sullivan, who has 25 years in home building under his belt, and embraced green building methods early on.
When the couple was selling a home they’d built a bit before the Recession hit, the buyers requested that a radon test be performed. “The test results revealed that the radon level was above the minimum acceptable level, which shocked us,” relays Sullivan. When he thought about it some more, though, it made sense. Sullivan maintains that the draftiness older homes are known for is commonly considered a liability, but should be reframed as a benefit.
“New houses are built tighter than ever,” he says, “and it’s great for energy efficiency, but not so great for your health.” The couple noticed that clients were increasingly building “green” homes, but filling them up with furniture that off gasses, or releases chemicals into the air.
According to Sullivan, the main culprits include glues that hold furniture and cabinetry together and dyes and fire retardants applied to the fabrics and filling of upholstered pieces, whose arms and legs are often coated in toxic oil-based products. He mentions a common industrial adhesive, used to glue a floor to its subfloor, that’s known to “off gas” for seven years. Not surprisingly, long-term exposure to these substances can lead to significant health problems like allergies, asthma, and even cancer.
As they learned more, the couple became crusaders for the nontoxic home and shared their knowledge with clients and professional peers. The natural offshoot of this passion was a business-model dream that would combine each of their businesses, offer consulting services to homeowners and trade pros, provide green home-focused education, and sell handmade, nontoxic furniture and healthily sourced décor.
But launching Atelier Maison & Co. was not without its bumps. Finding an appropriately roomy but accessible site was a hurdle. Finally they settled on a two-building complex on Sweeten Creek Road that’s 40,000 square feet total, including 19,000 square feet of retail and showroom space. “The buildings hadn’t been touched in 70 years,” says Sullivan. Ultimately the couple had to meet stringent requirements issued by a bevy of institutions in order to open: the City of Asheville, the state of North Carolina, FEMA, the Asheville Tree Commission, and the railroad.
“We fixed structural problems, redesigned the outside area, agreed not to expand the original footprint, and negotiated offering parking in front of the building, which is usually not allowed. We wanted to offer it to our older or less mobile customers,” Sullivan explains. In addition to sales of their services and products, it was critical to them that Atelier Maison & Co. offer educational opportunities, including ones that earn Continuing Education Units, to builders, designers, architects, realtors, and others in the industry.
The Sullivans know from experience that often, one member of a couple — usually the husband — is less enthused about the browsing aspect of the design process. “We addressed that in many ways,” Sullivan says. Putting their airy parcel to good use, Atelier Maison & Co. implemented what he calls an “over-the-top outdoor space” — including a putting green, dog park, refreshment center, amphitheater, and fire pits. “A 4,500-square-foot deck over the creek serves as the store’s outdoor showroom and customer hangout spot,” Sullivan reports. He mentions that the open-air feature is a plus in the COVID-19 era, and adds that the store is following all current safety protocols.
Sullivan can’t contain his excitement about Atelier Maison & Co.’s people and products. “We have managerial staff who’ve lived in Paris and our Operations Manager worked in furniture for over 40 years,” he reveals.
He shares that buying for the store has been a blast. “Our furniture is truly unique, like a coffee table made from an old water meter, and we even sell play dough for kids made with natural oils. Much of what we sell is locally made; if we need to go farther afield, we find the best.”
For a couple who’s won awards for their “before and after” transformations, this endeavor has proven the ultimate example. “Laura and I unwittingly became the builders, landlords, designers, tenants, and startup overseers — all at the same time. But it’s been exhilarating.”
Atelier Maison, 121 Sweeten Creek Road, Suite 50. Open Monday through Saturday, 10am-6pm. For more information, call 828-277-7202 or see ateliermaisonco.com.