by Paula Balzer
How organic living expert and NYC mom Alexandra Zissu keeps her loft clean, cozy and eco-friendly
The walls are painted in soothing, muted shades, a mix of vintage and modern furniture is perfectly arranged for engaging adult conversation and piles of welcoming books are always within reach. But rather than pointing out the collection of retro prints and eclectic furnishings that she’s gathered from her childhood home, Zissu is most excited about the perfect amaryllis that’s in full bloom on her dinner table.
“Can you believe I planted that?” she said. “It was just a bulb with a tiny bit of green sticking out of the top.” The flower is a vibrant poppy red and is, unquestionably, a cheerful touch on a cold winter day inside this green guru’s abode. Without a doubt, Zissu has forever been a nature-minded Manhattanite. “I had always eaten super organically because I was raised eating whole foods,” she said. “I joined a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] in the late 1990s and turned very organic, learning a little bit more about the way food was raised.”
But it wasn’t until she started considering pregnancy that Zissu really jumped on the eco-friendly bandwagon. “I was talking to a friend who was also thinking about getting pregnant,” she recalled. “I started researching everything from paint to nail polish to cleaning products, which can affect growing children.”
As Zissu dove deep into the world of eco-conscious parenting, she reacted like most moms-to-be. “I started freaking out. It’s a house of horrors. What am I sitting on? What kind of foam is in here? Is it offgassing? What am I breathing? You get in the shower… there’s bleach residue getting up in your feet. The nail polish you’ve loved for years has hormone destructors! It’s going to do something unbelievably horrible!” she remembered with humor.
After methodically going through each aspect of her home and work life in an effort to make things greener, Zissu started to become fluent in the organic and natural lifestyle. Her next step, naturally, was writing The Complete Organic Pregnancy with Deirdre Dolan, the friend with whom she had shared that initial conversation.
And that was the beginning of her career. Six years and three more books later, Zissu fully embodies the environmentally responsible way of living and writes about it regularly on her blog at alexandrazissu.com. One of her biggest must-dos? Shared meals at the family table and purchasing food locally. “We spend Saturday afternoon at the farmer’s market at Abingdon Square. We can get apples, bread, fish, meat, eggs—everything. Then we usually head home for a farmer’s market lunch.” Back at the apartment, Zissu describes her living space as a “wholesome urban home setting.” While the loft is a good example of conscious design choices, like the sleek yet rustic dinner table, Zissu feels strongly that “it’s more about what’s green.”
The layout of the family’s living space is a testament to her commitment to clean and responsible living. The first floor features a central lounging area, including an antique table paired with new hardwood chairs. The office furniture is hand-me-downs—solid wood and classic in design—while Aili sleeps on her mother’s childhood bed frame, topped with a new organic mattress, of course. Toys are neatly stacked in non-plastic bins and rugs are made from natural fibers without backing. But Zissu is especially proud of her kitchen, most notably her glass container collection.
An entire cabinet filled with jars of all shapes and sizes provides an attractive and safe alternative for storing food. “Look…no plastic!” Zissu exclaimed. Aili goes to school with a stainless steel Japanese lunch box while her mom chooses to cook in enamel pans—never nonstick. “A good alternative is a cast iron pan. They cost about $25 and last forever.”
While committing to a green lifestyle may sound overwhelming, especially to a busy parent, there are some simple steps you can immediately take to improve conditions in your home. “Take off your shoes!” insisted Zissu. “It’s the public health equivalent of washing your hands. We all walk around in NYC and we know what we’re stepping on, and then we see our kids crawling around on the floor [at home]. You wouldn’t let your kids crawl around the street. Right there you minimize your exposure to pesticides, auto exhaust and even dog poop.” To make shoe removal easier for her own guests, Zissu has placed a charming bench with storage right next to her entryway.
When helping clients, she starts by finding the easy fixes. “It might not be easy to throw out your mattress, [so] change what’s already there…Look underneath your kitchen sink. What are you willing to give up? Take everything out and switch it with green products. Just doing this can result in a drastic reduction in inner air pollution.”
With an apartment that’s as pure as can be, Zissu now looks forward to cultivating a green thumb. “I would like to grow things. To experience that full circle…watching something grow from seed to corn.” Alexandra glances back at her amaryllis. “There’s something magical about growing things with a kid.”
For more tips on green living, read “Home, Green Home” at newyorkfamily.com
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