By Lexi Nielsen
For those of you who haven’t met Maria Onesto Moran yet, get yourselves over to Green Home Experts in south Oak Park. You’re in for a treat. Maria is one of the sweetest, cutest independent store owners this side of Lake Michigan. If that isn’t enough to entice you, Maria is also an expert on living green.
Maria is a positive force in the local community. She bolstered current environmentally friendly living efforts here by sponsoring the first annual Oak Park Earth Day Fest in 2010. Prior to opening Green Home Experts, Maria was involved in the marketing campaign for Lakefront Supportive Housing (currently known as Mercy Housing Lakefront). This internationally acclaimed campaign successfully built two LEED-certified apartment buildings in Chicago that provided permanent housing and support services for previously homeless individuals and families.
So you can see what I mean when I say that Maria is an expert on living green. This girl lived green even before people knew what green living meant. In 2006, after she got married and bought a condo, she had a tough time finding low VOC paint or low flow toilets for her new place. Out of her frustration was born a desire to open a store where someone could go for “one stop shop for all things green for your home”. A year later one could find Maria on the floor of her master bedroom, mixing no VOC paint and colorant for customers. In February 2008 Maria officially expanded operations from her bedroom to Green Home Experts on Oak Park Avenue.
“I never wanted a fancy paint store,” she remarks. “I envisioned a store where people could buy green paint, part eco-general store and part green design."
On the recent Wednesday afternoon when we met at the store to chat, customers streamed in to pick up one of many brown bags gathered on the floor near where we sat. The bags were filled with vegetables from a CSA - community sponsored agriculture - in which Maria and her customers participate. Each CSA customer stopped to talk with Maria for a few minutes before leaving the store. Maria knew each customer by name, and I couldn’t help thinking that she had indeed created the old fashioned general store that she envisioned owning. One customer and I talked for a bit about her recent home remodel, where she worked with local green architect Tom Bassett-Dilley. Most of the products used in the remodel came from Maria’s store, as did the floor tile I recently used in a client’s bathroom remodel.
“You get to know your customers here. They take care of me and I take care of them.” Case in point: when Maria was in labor with her son Oscar, she still took the time to place an order for a customer…from her hospital bed!
Maria doesn’t want customers to be intimidated by green choices in products. She encourages people to come into her store and ask about the current green flooring or cleaning products available. She’ll walk them through the options and take the guesswork out of how to be more eco conscious in one’s everyday purchases. “We love to educate folks.” Don’t worry if you don’t know where to start, says Maria. “We do the homework for you.”
“I want people to think of us when they think of green home products,” she adds. “We don’t carry everything, but we do get really close.”
Getting ready to do a remodel? See Maria first. She works with homeowners, designers, architects and contractors alike.
Some of the design items sold at Green Home Experts include no VOC paint; FSC –certified hardwood flooring; carpet tiles made from recycled content; non toxic floor tile; countertops made from recycled glass, paper, concrete or stainless steel; window treatments; green cabinetry; water efficient plumbing fixtures; and sustainable furniture.
If you’re looking to replace the flooring in your home, explore eco friendly cork as an option. “Cork flooring is off the hook,” says Maria. “Definitely look at cork flooring if you’re doing a moisture rich environment like a basement or bathroom. Plus the colors available are fabulous.”
Maria recently did a cork wall for the Bolingbrook Park District. “It’s a great wall for the kids to hang their art.”
Choosing eco friendly options doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality either. “People are recognizing that they want both quality and value,” says Maria of the remodeling products they sell.” We have both. We stand behind our products.”
Because this is a design blog, I went to Maria to talk green design. But Green Home Experts not just about design. They also provide everyday home items like non toxic cleaning supplies; energy efficient lighting fixtures; rain barrels; composters; organic fertilizer; organic bedding; green pet supplies; stainless steel water bottles; lead free lunch boxes; and green baby merchandise, among other things.
If you want to learn more about green topics (other than what Maria will gladly share with you on your trip to the store) check out the Green Home Experts website for classes and presentations on gardening, cleaning, canning and the like.
And seriously: go see Maria. She is just a delight to chat with, on just about any subject.
Green Home Experts is located at 823 South Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park, IL 60304. Phone is (708) 660-1443 and the website is www.ghexperts.com.