Mighty Life List
Aug 13 2009

Born to Build a Better Future: Jill Fehrenbacher of Inhabitat

Over the next four weeks, I’m doing a campaign for Gap that features profiles of other design bloggers. The interviews are an extension of Gap’s Born To… Campaign, which is about pursuing your passion. As you may have noticed, I’m into that. Find out more about the campaign on the Facebook page here. For completists, the whole set of interviews will live over here.

I’m kicking off the Born To… Series with Jill Fehrenbacher, founder of Inhabitat and a LEED-AP green designer. Her passion is building a better future, as indicated by her trusty hammer and power drill:



How fierce is that bob? You may remember Jill from my trip to New York, where I first met her in the spray of Dara Torres’s warm-up routine:

Jill from Inhabitat

Jill and I have friends in common, so we chatted about how one maintains a perfect bob (Japanese straight perm, genetics), and the business of blogging. Later I found out that Jill grew up here in California, though she’s currently based in New York. Over the years, she’s also made homes in Bali and Kathmandu.

Dig a little deeper, and it turns out that Jill is a traveling, karate-practicing, mini-mogul, vegan designer and parent who still makes time for Japanese straight perms. New York moves at a different pace than the rest of the world, my friends.

jillohgirl

In 2005, Jill was enjoying her life as a designer and consultant and decided to start Inhabitat as a way to engage with the design community and draw more attention to environmentally conscious design. At the time, mainstream media was mostly mum on the subject of green design, and Jill wanted to fill that silence. As interest in greener design has grown — dramatically — so has Inhabitat’s online presence and staff. Today, Jill relies on a team of writers to help her maintain five sites:

  • Inhabitat Dedicated to sustainable design.
  • Inhabitots Green design for kids, launched in 2008 when Jill was pregnant with her baby boy.
  • Inhabitatshop A curated online marketplace of favorite green goods.
  • Greener Gadgets A conference and design competition site.
  • Re-burbia A suburban design competition, which recently announced finalists.

I know you’ll be interested to hear that there’s also a fashion site in the works. Keep an eye out for Sustainastyle in the coming months.

Jill’s interest in design started early. A neighbor gave her an easel when she was three years old, and she’d spend hours drawing. “I studied art in high school and college, and that eventually lead me to the world of design, when I realized how much more impactful and relevant applied design was than the world of fine art (sorry fine art people, but it’s true).”

In the beginning, Jill juggled her design and consulting work while maintaining Inhabitat. Soon, the site that was supposed to support Jill’s career became a career in itself. A few years later, she started publishing full time, and replaced her alarm clock with a looming toddler named Petey. She takes him along for a quick jog in the mornings before settling into her role as a publisher.

Jill's Workspace

“I typically stand in my kitchen or office all day in front of my laptop — writing blog posts, fielding inquiries from people, with an occasional pop out to the cafe for a meeting with a designer or advertiser.”

In the evenings, Jill studies karate, and returns home for dinner with her family, all of whom are vegan, including little Petey. Jill has been a vegetarian since high school, but over the last few years her husband’s eating habits have nudged her toward a vegan diet, the occasional chocolate chip cookie aside.

“He gradually converted me off dairy and eggs,” Jill says. “It isn’t tough to maintain at all — especially in NYC where there are tons of vegan restaurants and healthy food shops.”

There’s more blogging to do after Petey goes to bed. “Every day features a lot of time in front of the laptop, but every day is unique,” she says.

She hopes the work she’s doing now will make an easier life for her kids, “[I hope] we’ll be able to solve climate change, and that my children and grandchildren will inherit a decent, peaceful, and not-too-hot future.”

Us too, Jill. Thanks for the chat.


What’s Inspiring Jill Right Now

sunlighttransport1


Fiberoptic Sunlight Transport Lamps

“They direct sunlight into a house, through walls and ceilings, so you don’t need electricity.”

Human-powered dance club


Human Powered Gyms, Dance Clubs, and Subway Stations

“Yeah human power!”

shippingcontainerhouse


Shipping Container Housing

Homes made from shipping containers.

ecotreehouse


Eco Modern Treehouses


Designers Who Give Jill Hope For the Future

malawiwindmill


William Kamkwamba

“A kid from Malawi who — with no formal education or training — figured out how to build a windmill to power his whole village.”

tesla-2


Tesla Motors

“The Tesla Roadster — proving once and for all that eco-friendly can be sexy.”

starckwindmill


Philippe Starck

The Starck Democratic Ecology Windmill

“Star industrial designer Philippe Starck isn’t exactly known for his humanitarian, earth-friendly designs, (he’s better known for decorative plastic chairs and fancy lemon juicers). He’s even said, ‘Everything I designed was unnecessary… and I am ashamed of this fact.’

Now, [he] has turned his eye towards renewable energy and other ‘green’ pursuits, and this gives me a lot of hope for the future, because I believe that he’ll influence a lot of consumers and designers to move in the right direction.”