living light by susan kolber

I moved to San Francisco with a couple suitcases in July of 2014 and found a room that barely fit a bed and no closet. This was before my Marie Kondo phase which I've been a proud disciple of since last year. In San Francisco I knew I'd be living in petite spaces, so my stuff remained at my parents home or in my sister's closet. This room measured in around 7'x9'. However it had a large window facing a fragrant magnolia tree and a clear view of twin peaks beyond. The wind would role off the hills and coat my room with ocean fog. Life in SF brought a lot growing up challenges and trying to find my grounds in a city that wanted to change and stay the same all at once. I had this room for nine months before the building was sold from a family who had lived there since the sixties to the second generation of tech buyers. I wanted this small room to inspire me and be a refuge.


garden closet

My friend once slept on the floor for a summer. Not because she had to, but because she felt like it was better for her back. That inspired me to live mattress-less and get a 4" Japanese futon. After steam cleaning the carpet, I laid my futon on the floor and dressed it with soft white cotton sheets. Then I did a long search for a closet alternative and selected and a souped up garment rack with wheels. The open garment rack served as my garden and held my edited closet. I painted the existing shiny beige walls and trim super white. The west facing room became soft blue in the morning and ivory in the afternoon. My remnant life items were stored in three white enamel boxes that I placed under the garment rack. Luckily I could keep my suitcase in a hall closet. I really enjoyed my time in this space and I think the futon was actually good for my back. 

-Susan Kolber

 A bouquet of Eucalyptus and Yarrow

A bouquet of Eucalyptus and Yarrow

peace lily

Make this space:  Benjamin Moore's Super White on the walls, CB2 white cotton curtain panels, vintage architectural lamp, boll and branch sheets, Container Store metro garment rack. Plants: Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus Lyrata), Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum), Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum), Aloe Vera, Alocasia Polly 

inspired by landscape by susan kolber


I made this super mini film 1.5 yrs ago, but on a daily basis encounters with landscape inspire me. Because of time I use instagram to post these joyous responses to plants and gardens I run into. This weekend I had a lot of work to do and wanted to visit some gardens, but just didn't feel like I could spend the time exploring. I simply went for a walk around my neighborhood and saw so many awesome plants and gardens--it reminded me that inspiration is near by. I did not bring my camera on that morning walk (which is seriously hard for me because I want to take photos of everything). 

Deconstruct & Donate before Demo by susan kolber

 1. Old 1980's light pink kitchen 2. Kitchen was carefully deconstructed by Habitat for Humanity Staff 3. HFH came and picked up the contents of the home 4. Old Kitchen appears in HFH Restore  West Palm Beach, FL 

1. Old 1980's light pink kitchen 2. Kitchen was carefully deconstructed by Habitat for Humanity Staff 3. HFH came and picked up the contents of the home 4. Old Kitchen appears in HFH Restore West Palm Beach, FL 

In 2013 I worked on a gut renovation of a 1980's residence in South Florida. The clients were striving to be as sustainable and health conscious with their choices. One of the first steps of this sustainable construction process was an extensive deconstruction where we tried to donate as much as possible.

Demolition is the process of removing everything in a home from the old linoleum, drywall, furniture, to the appliances in order to start construction with a clean slate. You may be taking down an entire structure before you build a new home. Demolition is usually completed as quickly as possible with a crew smashing things and tossing everything into a dumpster.  It can take quite a bit of time and money depending on how extensive the renovation is. Deconstruction is part of demolition and an awesome way to avoid waste.

Think of deconstruction as spring cleaning. Like spring cleaning where you donate bags of clothes and recycle piles of magazines, before your start the renovation you can more carefully deconstruct your home and donate the old toilet, furniture, cabinets, faucets etc. Demolition on HGTV always disappoints me when they proudly smash the old toilet as they fling it into the dumpster--that toilet can have a second life! I'll go over more details below, but here are the simple steps and benefits of deconstruction: understand that many objects in your home can be reclaimed, it takes a little time to plan deconstruction, make a list of things you want to donate, get an appraisal, find local charities, schedule accordingly, you'll save resources, help local charities and earn a tax credit that can offset the cost of demolition.

1. Demolition + Construction = WASTE. heaps and heaps of building parts that bloat landfills. 

Both processes are enormously wasteful and will break your eco-friendly heart. If you are new to construction you will be amazed at the amount of waste construction produces. Every time the dumpster is full and hauled away you will feel upset knowing that majority of the content will end up in landfills. The solution of course is waste management on the construction site and that begins with deconstruction.  Before you start ripping up carpet and smashing drywall donate as much as possible--it will avoid waste, save you money and make you feel better.

2.  COSTS: Demolition can be expensive, Deconstruction can offset that cost

If you've never done a renovation you may forget the cost of demolition.  While demolition may be faster because a crew will sweep through your home as quickly as possibly, you could earn a tax credit from your donated goods. So hold up on using on that sledge hammer and think about what could be donated. Local charities will most likely pick up all of your donated goods. In our case the local Habitat for Humanity (HFH) provided a crew for 3-4 days of free deconstruction for all of the bathroom vanities, wood shutters and kitchen cabinets which they ended up taking and reselling. By the end of the project we had at least 5 Habitat for Humanity truck pick ups, 1 Goodwill pick up and 1 Faith Farm pick. This saved a lot of home items from going to the dumpster, and because HFH offered some free deconstruction it saved costs on demolition.

Even if your local HFH will not deconstruct for free, you will have a crew taking apart your home. You need to let them know how to handle items that will be donated and where to carefully store them to be picked up. One thing to note is that HFH did not want any of cabinet doors to be removed off the cabinets, so make sure the doors are all left on! In several cases the clients had to spend more money on labor for deconstruction. For example the homeowners donated 8,000 sqft of driveway and patio pavers, and the pavers had to be pulled up and stacked on pallets and delivered to HFH as opposed to simply being tossed in the dumpster. This cost a extra in labor and delivery. These extra labor costs for donated goods may be eligible for tax credit. 

3. Get an Appraisal 

If your items are valued over a certain threshold, I believe $5,000, you need a certified appraisal. It took some time calling around to find the right appraiser, but we found someone who did mostly appraisals for donated goods. We had the appraiser and the manager from HFH come out and determine what items could be donated. We spent $1,000 on a detailed appraisal which took a few weeks to complete. Here are some resources I found on the EPA website for deconstruction and construction waste management. One resource and appraisal company the EPA recommends is the ReUse People of America. I have not used them before but it may be worth investigating. We donated majority of the home's content to Habitat to Humanity and some to Goodwill and Faith Farm Ministries. Each organization wanted and would take certain items. 

4. SALVAGE EVERYTHING! Make a list of everything you want to donate... you'd be surprised what has value to your local charity.

We decided to donate as much as possible including: kitchen cabinets, they even took old 1980's appliances, bathroom vanities, sinks, shower and sink faucets, toilets, hvac vents, blinds, the pool and driveway pavers, fake plants, old furniture, shower doors, bed frames, art, sofas, chairs, electrical plate covers, old but usable patio furniture etc.

He told us what items HFH would want and suggested because some of the furniture was too dated to call Goodwill because they would except older furniture. We had 8' doors we wanted to donate but because they were too big HFH would not take them, but another local charity Faith Farm Ministries would. 

5. PLAN AHEAD. Deconstruction, salvaging, donating takes time and planning

Between making a list, getting and waiting for an appraisal, coordinating a crew to carefully deconstruct and waiting for pick-ups, deconstruction takes some time, so do not leave it for the last minute. Deconstruction and donations can prevent a lot of material from going to the landfill. Remember that HFH is a non for profit and they can not provide their free service any day of the week. We had flexibility in our deconstruction time frame, but you need to schedule pick ups at least a week in advance. Also if you live on multi level home you need to find out their policy of moving objects downstairs.