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Melissa Wittig to speak in Australia on health-focused interior design

 Interior designer Melissa Wittig will speak on healthy interior design at the Australian International Furniture Fair in February.Interior designer Melissa Wittig will speak on healthy interior design at the Australian International Furniture Fair in February.

SYDNEY, Australia — Interior design encompasses style, function and budget. But when the co-located Australian International Furniture Fair and Decoration + Design fair open here in February, designer Melissa Wittig will add another dimension to the definition - health-focused design.

Defined by Wittig - who will conduct a seminar at the Sydney show - as interior design that considers the "many elements of a space that can impact on human health," health-focused design includes factors like building location, materials, finishes and furniture that minimizes pollutants.

"The health of a household depends on many variables such as where the home is located, site conditions, lifestyle practices of the occupants, interior materials and products used," Wittig said in an interview. "In relation to décor materials, the products that cover the greatest surface area have the potential to make a significant impact on home health."

According to Wittig, a study published in the Environment Health Perspectives in 2005 found that children with the highest levels of phthalate (DEHP) in their bedroom dust were between two and three times more likely to be diagnosed with asthma, rhinitis or eczema compared with children with the lowest levels. Some chemicals used to manufacture household products have also been linked to health issues including fertility, cancer and thyroid and metabolism function, she said, adding that the growing interest in healthy interior design provides a unique opportunity for furniture suppliers.

"It is an exciting time for manufacturing," she said. "Consumers are becoming more conscientious and aware of environmental issues, seeking possible and affordable products that have an ethical background and positive story.

"Manufacturers have an opportunity to put their hand in the air and distinguish themselves from their competitors by comprehensively voluntarily labeling their products as to the material source, finishes used and emission ratings where applicable," Witting said. "Responsible design considers human and environmental health, the use of ethical, sustainable materials such as FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified timbers and products that have been independently certified as being low-emission, minimal pollutant options."

As more information reaches consumers about healthy interior design, Wittig said that manufacturers might discover a new product niche.

"In relation to improving the health impacts of furniture to the end user, manufacturers can opt for water-based finishes rather than solvent-based finishes, usually resulting in lower levels of volatile organic compounds or gases from the product," she said.

"Where applicable, they can opt for natural upholstery fillings rather than foams made from petrochemicals and laden with flame retardants. Furniture manufacturers have an empowering opportunity to provide consumers with products that minimize indoor pollutants, are healthier for consumers, and are cleaner and greener to manufacture which ultimately reduces air and water pollution. This makes a daily positive contribution to families, employees and the environment."

Seminar tickets for Wittig's presentation are available online at The Australian International Furniture Fair runs Feb. 6-8 at the Sydney Exhibition Centre, Darling Harbour.

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