WHEN Olga Turner and her husband Jonathan Baker (pictured above) dreamed of building their own home, they wanted it to incorporate the elements of healthy living that Olga had discovered in her commercial property work.
The WELL Building Standard, first launched in the US, uses environmental research to guide the building design process, focusing on plants, wood, air filtration and natural lighting to improve health and wellbeing. It is increasingly employed in office buildings throughout the UK but the couple found little of this science available in the residential market.
So, in 2018, after years of research, they launched Ekkist — a unique consultancy firm that specialises in offering design services that improve the health and quality of life in houses and offices across Britain.
‘We never did build our own house, we just modified this one,’ says Olga, as she gives me a tour of the three-storey 1970s home she shares with Jonathan and their two rabbits, Daisy and Lottie, in Guildford. ‘But it is amazing the difference that applying these principles makes, even to an existing property. We changed our garage into an open-plan kitchen, which leads directly to the biophilic garden.
‘We introduced natural stone floors throughout and wood on the stairwell, used all natural sealants — linseed and beeswax — and knocked down some walls so that every room in the house has two large windows to bring in more natural light. We have a lot of plants indoors, too, specifically chosen to absorb toxins and defeat off-gassing, the chemicals given off by everyday furniture and products in our homes.
‘In our study/office, for example, the air used to feel quite stuffy after an hour or two. But after painting the walls with pollution-neutralising paint [Airlite] which absorbs toxins, and installing plants such as the Fatsia japonica [an indoor-outdoor plant which is particularly good at combating air pollution], I can leave it four hours before I feel the need to open a window.’
Most of the furniture is also natural wood, including an upcycled chair [stripped of its ‘polluting’ varnish] that Jonathan was given by his grandmother. ‘In old furniture, there are often more natural products and fewer chemicals,’ he says. ‘And it’s nice to know an item’s history.’
Unlike feng shui, the trend which swept the world in the 1990s that based its designs on energy and karma, Ekkist and the principles of WELL Buildings are based on proven and sometimes complex science. The key core design areas are air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, sound, comfort and mind.
The couple have now been listed in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list, which champions 300 diverse young entrepeneurs who are at the forefront of driving change.
Ekkist has also designed the Ori House, the first residential building in the UK based on the WELL Building Standard. They have also created a natural furniture collection with Another Country and are in the process of developing an urban housing typology, which can be built as a standalone house or replicated as a terraced street.
In her own home, however, Olga is most proud of her biophilic garden, designed to promote improved air quality and encourage people to spend more time outdoors. The three-tiered space is both beautiful to look at — there are views of it from most rooms in the house — and a healthy haven.
‘We retained a big, ivy hedge on the boundary, though many people would rip it down as a pest, because ivy is brilliant at capturing pollutants,’ Olga explains.
‘The other star is the Fatsia japonica which is really good at tackling air pollution, and all the ferns. I also love the 28 species of roses from David Austin, which are informal and fluffy and add great diversity to the garden. We use only natural organic substances to control any pests. And there are lots of evergreens.
‘Studies show that our concentration ability doubles when we look at a green image, rather than an urban image. Natural wood is also proven to have a calming effect and reduce stress levels.’
The couple are also gradually replacing all the PVC windows in the property which they say are far less healthy than natural wood.
‘When I first encountered WELL Buildings, my first thought was that it should be as important in our homes as in commercial buildings,’ Olga says. ‘It’s just as important as sustainability but it hasn’t received nearly so much attention. The two can run side by side. Most of the materials used in WELL Buildings are natural, so it’s possible to link them with sustainable materials. It’s good for our health and for reducing our carbon footprint.’
Ekkist’s top tips for a healthier home
1) Ventilation — choose a good ventilation system (such as an advanced MVHR system with carbon filters) which removes pollutants and condensation to reduce chemicals, damp and mould
2) Select natural paints and plasters for supporting good indoor air quality (Airlite, for example, is a toxin- neutralising paint)
3) Choose indoor plants such as ivy (above), ferns and Fatsia japonica which are good at absorbing toxins
4) If you’re renovating, try to consider ways to improve your views of nature and the outdoors
5) Try to maximise natural light when renovating to enlarge or extend windows
6) Make sure you can dim your electric lights and be specific with colour choices: bluer hues trigger the brain to be most alert; warm red shades, such as sunset colours, trigger your body to be calm and enter sleep mode. Circadian lighting systems do this automatically
7) Choose furniture and floors in natural materials. Wood, for example, has a calming effect
8) Opt for a water filtration system with a carbon filter
9) Choose all natural cleaning products (such as Method)
10) Consider getting rid of carpets, which collect dust and toxins, and opt for all natural floors