1-800-RECYCLING: You have been called a “Designer to the Stars.” How did you end up with so many famous clients?KW: I think the fact that I’m an actress myself is the main thing. I didn’t plan on getting celebrity clients, it just happened that way. I had clients like Don Johnson and Antonio Banderas, then Jessica Alba called, and then Virginia Madsen and Kurtwood Smith. I guess people talk on sets, and when someone says they need a designer, they say, “Oh, I have a great one.” 1-800-RECYCLING: You place a lot of emphasis on green design. How did you get interested in it? KW: I’ve been green since I was born. I’m from Boulder, CO, which is a very environmentally conscious little town. I’ve always had this amazing love for Mother Earth. It’s what moves me the most and makes me the happiest. To not do something to try to keep the earth around longer would be a travesty. 1-800-RECYCLING: What are some ways you incorporate green design into your practice? KW: The best way to be green is to reuse what you have. Nearly everything is reused or recycled on my job sites. I did this huge house in Los Angeles and this owner didn’t want anything in the house. I was like, “What are we going to do with all this waste?” So, I put an ad on Craigslist and told people to send me a letter telling me why they needed this stuff and how they were going to disassemble it. I went through all these emails, I called and interviewed people, and on that whole job site, probably 12% of the stuff in the house ended up in the landfill. It also made people really happy. This orphanage came down and took half the kitchen. One guy said to me, “I’ve been trying to buy a dishwasher for my wife for 10 years. Thank you so much for giving this to me.” When people come to me and say they have a green product, I ask them how it’s green. One of the problems is there’s no certification for green besides LEED, so we’re always doing research on companies to make sure they aren’t greenwashing. 1-800-RECYCLING: You have an eco-friendly product called Wall Makeup. Can you talk about that? KW: When most people decide to paint, they’re going to go to the store and buy five different colors of blue and see which one they like. Then what happens is you have all these paint cans sitting in your garage, because paint is one of the hardest things to recycle. With Wall Makeup, you can take a half-cup of paint and make at least 10 or 12 colors yourself at home and test them on your wall. It’s the best way to find the color you want without having to buy a lot of paint. It’s fun, too. You get to be creative. 1-800-RECYCLING: What other products do you recommend? KW: There’s a new company called Sessemo. They do the most beautiful recycled glass I’ve ever seen. Bio-Glass is also great for recycled glass countertops. I love Merida carpet. None of their stuff is dyed; it’s organic and it’s made in America. There’s another company I really like called Paperstone. They make countertops from recycled paper. Green Guard is this green drywall that’s amazing. We use blue jean insulation from Bonded Logic. People don’t realize that insulation is one of the most toxic things people can have in their house. If you look at the guys putting in insulation, they all wear suits. The blue jean insulation is really dense, it smells beautiful and your house doesn’t have those fibers flying through the air. And remember, pleather is always greener than leather. It also doesn’t stain and it lasts longer. 1-800-RECYCLING: Is there anything else you want people to know? KW: People sometimes say to me, “I can’t do anything to help the environment.” But you can do a lot. Just by recycling and carpooling you can make a big difference. For more information on Kari Whitman, visit her website, kariwhitmaninteriors.com.
Kari Whitman has a lot of titles: interior designer, actress, animal lover and green advocate. The self-professed “treehugger” grew up with hippie parents in Boulder, CO, before relocating to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. Over the past 20 years, she has appeared in dozens of productions, including NYPD Blue, The X-Files and Murder She Wrote. In 2007, she hosted her own reality show, Designer to the Stars: The Kari Whitman Show, on the WE Network. In 1994, Whitman founded a design firm, Kari Whitman Interiors, that serves a largely celebrity clientele. The company allows her to express her creative side while educating people about the importance of reuse, recycling and doing their part to protect the earth. She juggles her responsibilities at the firm with Ace of Hearts, a nonprofit she founded to help shelter dogs find loving homes. The project is supported in part by Greener Pup, a line of dog beds, collars and leashes designed by Whitman. The beds are stuffed with a soft, durable filling made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. Whitman took time out of her hectic schedule to discuss her love for interior design, her lifelong commitment to the earth, and how she brings these two passions together. 1-800-RECYCLING: How did you get started as an interior designer? Kari Whitman: I always had this really strong affinity for interior design. As a child, I was always redoing my room. We’d go away on vacation, and my parents would go down to the pool and they’d come back and I’d have rearranged the whole hotel room. Emilio Estevez, who is one my best friends, gave me my first job as an actress and my first job as a designer. He always said, “You have such great taste, you should do interior design.” So, I just started doing it.