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Beautiful and Smart: Eco Manor Celebrates 12 Years

SC: You both share such a passion for environmental care. From creating and building the Eco Manor together (and we all know that building a house can wreak havoc on even the strongest marriage) to your work with the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, which you founded in 1994, so much of your time is dedicated to environmental education. What projects or initiatives will you be focusing on in 2019, individually and as partners?

LS: My work in 2019 is focused on actions we can take to help improve children’s health, their quality of life and their future as it relates to clean water, clean air, healthy food and a stable climate. Besides continuing to be heavily involved in Atlanta-based organizations like Captain Planet Foundation, Mothers and Others for Clean Air, Atlanta Recycles and Georgia Conservation Voters, I am excited to have recently joined the board of Project Drawdown. 

The term “drawdown” refers to the point in time when greenhouse gas concentrations peak in the atmosphere and begin to decline on a year-to-year basis. (Check out Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.)  Drawdown solutions include reducing food waste and eating a more plant-rich diet, and go hand in hand with efforts to improve our families and communities health by increasing access to and consumption of fruits and veggies.  Initiatives include composting food waste, increasing numbers of community and school gardens and donating leftover food instead of sending to dumps where the rotting process produces methane, one of the most powerful heat trapping gases.  

RS: I am supporting my family, clients and friends with my work in 2019. Proudly continuing to chair The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, which was named by MSN as one of the top 30 charities, also received an outstanding rating by Charity Navigator, and works to advocate and secure the protection of local water resources. In addition, I have also started a new initiative titled The Oxygen Project, whose main focus is bringing awareness to the importance of oxygen as well as the protection of phytoplankton in our ocean.

SC: This month marks your 12th year in the home. Building the first LEED certified home in the Southeast is as impressive today as it was more than a decade ago. You and your many collaborators painstakingly chose the building materials, interior and the many innovative systems that make the house successful.  What rooms, features or pieces of furniture have surprised you most with their form or function? 

LS + RS: Twelve years has flown by....seems like yesterday we were welcoming the media and the community into our home to show and demonstrate how a green healthy home functions.  One of our favorite aspects is the amount of natural daylight provided by many sources we planned in the design process.  We wanted to be able to save electricity by not having to flip the switches during daylight hours, so we used larger windows, strategically placed transoms, solar light tubes and French doors in interior rooms. The solar array produces even more energy and cut our power bill by about $2,000 a year making roof top solar a much more viable source of energy.

LS: I loved that our designer Jillian Pritchard Cook and I worked together to make our home a model for healthy air quality by choosing paints, stains, finishes and adhesives that were low or no VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds). For the furniture, we blended family heirlooms with new furniture and decor that had important stories, whether it was reclaimed or made from recycled materials. For instance, a rug woven from dried basil vines, chandeliers made of oyster shells, wallpaper made from recycled newspapers and artwork made from beeswax. We used slipcovers for sofas and chairs, which greatly extends the useful life and keeps them out of the landfill. We are even turning beautiful old curtains into coverings of pillows.

SC: Has the function of any of the rooms changed as you have settled in? What are some of your favorite spots to gather?

RS: The house is extremely functional, as it is comfortable.  The front rooms are full of special furniture and art inherited from family members. The John Kennedy rocking chair is one of my favorites. President Kennedy relied on the rocking chair’s low seat and wide arm rests for elbow support to ease his back pain. It’s a treasure. We have filled downstairs with sports memorabilia, from the Braves World Series win in 1995 [when Ted Turner was owner], Hawks [Seydel is an owner and he and Laura have had season tickets for more than 20 years] and Thrashers - they will always have a place in my heart [he was an owner before the team sold and moved to Winnipeg]. We are all sports fans and salute our favorite UGA players like Dominique Wilkins. 

LS:  Rutherford started giving me live plants instead of cut flowers for special occasions and now my former office has transformed in to a room that mimics a tropical rainforest. The orange safe coat painted office is home to beautiful oxygen-producing and air-purifying greenery. 

SC: Your families have a deep history in Buckhead. Your son is now director of Sustainability for the City of Atlanta. As parents, you must be bursting with pride. How has your hometown of Buckhead changed over the last decade? How does it still feel like home?

LS: We are proud of our children and the fact that they, like their grandpa, Ted Turner, the original Captain Planet, have developed a passion for and an understanding of the importance of stewardship of clean water, clean air and biodiversity that makes up our life support system. It is very exciting and rewarding to our family that Atlanta has become a top-tiered city in sustainability. We have successful model projects like the Atlanta BeltLine, 120 miles and increasing bike paths, the Chattahoochee River corridor project, the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge and the country’s first dedicated urban agriculture program.

RS: Buckhead is now a place where people live, work, play, dine, shop and worship, and it’s becoming increasingly more walkable, with an international aesthetic. And still, we can see an eight-point buck in the yard!

Buckhead’s demographics are changing as people from different backgrounds are coming together, living less divided. To me, it still feels like Mayberry. Growing up, our family walked to church and today, I am privileged to have my grandfather, John Rutherford Seydel (age 100) living nearby. I bike to his house nearly every day when I’m in town. He grew up on 10th Street then moved to the “suburbs,” the rolling hills of Haynes Manor.   

SC: The Eco Manor has become a space for a convergence of important eco-living conversations. You've hosted politicians and authors, entrepreneurs and industry leaders. Millions of dollars have been raised by organizations you have generously hosted at the house. Were you planning on opening your doors so regularly or was that a natural evolution? Why are these collaborations important and how can readers join the conversation or get involved?

LS + RS: Our plan was to have an open feel to the house so we could host fundraising and networking events. It has been our pleasure to bring the community together over important and timely topics. We have enjoyed the opportunity to share our home and experiences with the community.  People have been so interested in learning about how what we did could be used and or integrated in their own home and lifestyle. One simple thing everyone can practice is to remember the four R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse. We need to especially refuse one-time use plastic products like plastic bags, bottles and straws. 

RS: And, on a daily basis, we can all be more polite, being courteous of one another, and also of our environment.