There's no question that we're moving into a more environmentally aware, sustainable landscape. Whether it's the elimination of plastic straws or the shunning of chemical cleaning products, it's a movement we're all getting behind...
But one woman taking it to a whole new level is Lee-Anne Stevens, who founded the company Healthy Abode with her husband, Lee. As serial renovators, they had transformed over 150 homes when they realised something was missing. While the aesthetics were fresh and modern, the products and finishes contained toxic properties that were not aligned with their personal focus on health, wellbeing and simple living. Thus, Healthy Abode was born. Lee-Anne and Lee now focus on creating homes that are bespoke, featuring elements that are locally made, handmade, fair trade, sustainable, ethical, non-toxic and natural. We spoke to Lee-Anne about Healthy Abode, and how we can begin to incorporate more healthy practices into our homes – even if it is just one small step at a time.
Tell us a little bit about Healthy Abode...
Short version – we work on all stages of our client’s journey to making their home healthier.
Long version – we help clients achieve natural, clean and simple living to optimise health and wellness in their home. We do this by creating a bespoke plan for our clients, which outlines the changes they can make to their home to create a Healthy Abode. We also help them navigate through the changes, so it is simple and easy to achieve.
We create the vision, draw on our team of experts and then deliver the project. We cover renovations, new builds and interior refreshes. We can set up the project or manage it from beginning to end, depending on our client’s scope.
Our passion is to help clients create their forever homes. A sanctuary that they feel safe and secure in. Timeless finishings and furnishings are selected based on the ethos of investing in lifetime pieces. We give clarity on creating a healthy home and reducing toxins without feeling overwhelmed.
We also offer consulting services focused on detoxing your home.
What sparked your interest in creating healthy living environments? Can you tell us a bit about your health challenges?
My husband and I are the founders of Healthy Abode. We met in our teens, and purchased our first property a few years later, on Victoria’s picturesque Mornington Peninsula. This is where our passion for renovating started. Since then, we have worked with large teams, small teams and everything in between and have renovated/built/project-managed more than 150 properties. In 2013, I fell pregnant with our first daughter. After realising that the house we had purchased had a phone tower nearby I engaged a building biologist and started investigating the principles of creating a healthy home. This was the catalyst for digging deeper and better understanding the impacts of building a home using non-toxic materials. Whilst our home was under renovation, I became very ill and was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was determined to get to the root cause of my inflammation. I began re-visiting our previous homes over the years and realised that living so close to phone towers, electrical meter boxes and transformers and using toxic paints, glues and sealant had finally caught up with me — the damage had been done. I fought back and refused to take the prescribed drugs which also had a list of negative side effects of their own. Instead, we introduced shielding paints to combat the microwave frequencies being emitted from the phone tower, among many other healthy home principles. I have made a full recovery, acknowledging that the environment played a big part in this, along with the changes to lifestyle and diet.
What does a healthy living environment look like?
- Open windows – without proper air movement a house can trap in toxins which can lead to respiratory issues. Opening windows throughout your home is an easy way to improve circulation and remove harmful pollutants. Cross ventilation via window placement is ideal.
- Furniture made of natural materials – Surround yourself with furniture and artwork which brings you joy. I like to invest and support handmade, local, fair trade where possible. These pieces bring a beautiful energy to the home.
- The chemicals (volatile organic compounds) emitted from building materials, solvents, paints, lacquers and glues are a major contributor to poor indoor air quality in a newly built home. Due to our selection of natural materials such as timber, concrete, bricks and low/no-VOC products our projects don’t have that toxic new smell which can cause headaches and can be irritating to eyes, skin and lungs.
- Declutter – removing clutter from your home can increase productivity and decrease stress. I personally am a fan of the Kon Mari technique. Everything should have a place within your home. Same applies to children’s playrooms, keep it simple. Keep an eye on what your children play with a donate unused items. I know I feel overwhelmed at times cleaning up my daughter’s playroom, so I can only imagine how she feels.
What are some of the toxic elements in our homes that we might not even be aware of?
- Buying new furniture can contain nasties such as formaldehyde which can be found sofas, cabinets, bed frames. It is a good idea to understand where your furniture is made and what materials are used. Get to know your local furniture makers and artisans. Save up for that special piece instead of rushing out and buying on trend items. Other options are purchasing second hand or if buying new place outside in the sun for a week or two to let the nasties out-gas before bringing permanently indoors.
- Filtering your drinking water to remove nasties such as chlorine, heavy metals, and pesticides either via an under sink or whole house filtration system. This applies whether you are on town or tank water. You can even put filters on your showers and bath taps so your little ones are not ingesting nasties when they bathe and swallow water.
- Swimming pools are renowned for containing high levels of chlorine. Not only can chlorine be an irritant for skin (particularly babies and eczema sufferers). By ingesting the water, it can destroy your healthy gut bacteria and mess with the balance of gut microbiome. There are pool filtration systems which create a fresh water environment.
- Pots and pans may increase your exposure to toxic metals and chemicals, particularly non-stick offerings. Ideally you should opt for stainless steel, enamel coated iron or cast iron. Store food in glass as opposed to plastics which can leach nasties into your food.
What top tips do you have for women who are looking to make small but impactful changes to their homes - without a massive renovation?
- Sleeping is when your body does most of its rejuvenation. Bedrooms should be free of technology. Instead of using your mobile phone as an alarm clock or a digital clock opt for an old-fashioned battery operated or windup clock. Don’t place your bed backing onto a wall with a fridge, television or metre box.
- Mattresses are one of the most important items in your home, unfortunately, lots of mattresses can be laden with formaldehyde and flame retardants so opt for one made of natural fibres such as 100% natural latex or organic wool. When it comes to selecting sheets, select Organic cotton and Linen (GOTS certified if possible).
- Minimise your exposure to Electromagnetic fields by following simple steps such as switching off your wi-fi router/modem at night. Putting your phone on flight mode before bed and when you give your phone to your children to look at photos or play music. Consider an ethernet cable for your computer rather than using wi-fi all the time.
- Cleaning Products – switch to using microfibre cloths and get rid of conventional cleaning products which can contain pesticides and toxins. Instead reach for natural cleaning solutions like vinegar, bi-card and essential oils. Better for you and better for the environment.
- Cosmetics – make up is a place where so many nasties hide. Looking good should not compromise your health. Read the labels and stay away from ingredients such as talc’s, paraffins, leads and nanoparticles. The good news is there are some amazing natural brands on the market which are better for your skin, well being and environment.
- If you are looking to re-paint your home or a nursery opt for a low/no VOC paint.
For those of us who live in big cities - what can we do to improve our living environments, without a big move to the country?
- Connection with nature makes us happy so why not bring the outdoors in and boost your mood and improve air quality with indoor plants. Open your windows daily, switch on fans to keep air circulating. If you cannot achieve optimum ventilation or you have recently moved into a newly built home, you can invest in an air purifier which can assist in removing pollutants.
- Ditch toxic candles and air-refreshers and replace with bee’s wax candles and diffuse essential oils.
- Introduce the ritual of removing shoes when you arrive home. This is a great way to minimise dust which can lead to allergies in the home. Shoes can track in pesticides and bacteria. Also cuts down on vacuuming….
- Speaking of vacuuming…. If you currently use a conventional vacuum, you might simply be “re-arranging the dirt” around your home. If you are considering purchasing a new vacuum select one with a HEPA filter, it will filter particles down and prevent dust mites and other particles from re-entering the room and becoming airborne. If you have a cleaner request that they use your vacuum, so they are not transferring dust and mould from other client’s homes.
- All these methods will help to improve indoor air quality without having to move to the country.
You have renovated over 150 properties - that’s incredible! What have been your biggest learnings along the way?
Every renovation is different. We learn so many new things from every project. In the building and renovation space, you never stop learning. We love this part of the job and I guess you could say it keeps you on your toes. We wanted to create a healthy home without compromising on the aesthetics. So many people associate eco or healthy homes with building a house out of mud bricks or straw bales. Whilst this is beautiful, you can still create a home which embraces non-toxic materials, is practical to live in and will hold its re-sale value, thus protecting your investment should you wish to sell down the track. Creating a Healthy Home may sound easy but having the right consultants, architect, builder and trades whom share your vision and passion for using non-toxic materials is the key to a successful project. This is where Healthy Abode step in and help our clients by building the right team to achieve their vision.
What have been some project highlights you’ve worked on?
We currently have two new builds almost complete just outside Brisbane CBD. I am looking forward to both clients moving in. They have both been through a lot with their own health journeys and deserve a safe haven they can call home. Building a new home can be an overwhelming task but this is where our skill set comes in. This is the most rewarding part about what we do.
What does a typical day look like in your home?
I would love to say we start most days with a walk on our property or a swim at the beach…it’s something we are working towards. The reality is I have a 5-year-old to get ready for school, a lunch box to pack and breakfast to make all with 8-month-old baby Violet perched on my hip. After school drop off I come home and try to schedule my work commitments around Violets naps. Before I know it is school pick up and I’m on the road again. We all get in the kitchen at dinner time to make something simple and tasty. We always gather at the table and eat as a family, this is a great opportunity for us to share what adventures we got up to during the day. We try to get to the beach for a walk or swim before or after dinner and watch the sunset at least a few nights a week. This is a great way to connect and re-group at the end of the day. When everyone is in bed sleeping I like to sip on herbal tea and eat organic raw chocolate, most times I just enjoy the peace and quiet but sometimes I like to put on a podcast. This has become a bit of a ritual for me in the evenings and helps me wind down.
How do you encourage healthy living in your family and with your children?
We spend a lot of time in the kitchen preparing food as a family. I want my daughters to understand where food comes from. In our last home we had chickens for fresh eggs, an organic herb and veggie patch which we would enjoy harvesting from. Our bees even moved with us, so we produce our own honey which our eldest daughter gets great pleasure in gifting to friends and family. We talk about ingredients used to make food and staying away from preservatives and sugars with a focus on what we call “real food”. I feel strongly about educating children on the benefits of eating well from a young age. We feel blessed to be making a home in the Byron hinterland where there is so much passion and commitment around ethical farming and growing organic/spray free produce. Living on 2 acres enables us to enjoy the connection to nature. Hours are spent in the garden generally exploring, climbing trees and getting dirty.
What are some of the emerging living practices/elements/products that you’re most excited about?
- I think an increasing number of people are taking their health and wellbeing into their own hands and being accountable by making informed decisions around eating organic food, removing toxic cleaning products, using natural skincare and cosmetics. The flow on is to question the environment you live in and introduce principles to create a healthy home.
- An increasing number of holistic doctors and practitioners are starting to question the environment of individuals whom are unwell – asking “could your home be making you sick?”
- When we first started our healthy home journey there were limited building materials, paints, furnishings to source etc. This space is expanding and there are lots of new brands entering the marketplace. This makes our job more exciting as we have wider selection to choose from and work with depending on our client’s needs.
You were voted as one of the top 50 rooms in 2018 in Australia’s House and Garden. What have been some of your other career highlights?
We were featured on Better Homes and Gardens for our last two projects. On the first one we decided to stay behind the camera, however on our latest project we were interviewed by Joh Griggs. Joh is so down to earth, and we had such a great day filming with her, lots of laughs were had.
What’s next for you and for Healthy Abode?
Our little family has just made the move to the historic village of Newrybar in the Byron hinterland. We laugh and say we moved here as it is around the corner from our favourite restaurant Harvest, who are renowned in the area for serving locally sourced produce. We love being part of a like-minded and supportive community, it means a lot when you have young children. As they say, it takes a village to raise a family. We have purchased a renovator’s delight, we are just in the planning phase and will commence major renovation works this year. We are also working on creating an AirBnB incorporating Healthy Home principles. This has been a dream of mine to let others experience a space of rest and rejuvenation.