The Cobblestone District is certainly one of Buffalo’s most historical districts, tucked away in the lower section of downtown, just southeast of the Inner Harbor. The neighborhood has been experiencing a revival over the last several years, including the ongoing redevelopment of Canalside, as well as the conversion of former warehouses into mixed-use commercial and residential buildings with nearby restaurants. It seems rather fitting that the oldest–and once abandoned–neighborhood just became the new home to Buffalo’s only design firm specializing in the reuse of recycled and natural materials. It shouldn’t escape one to see the symbolism here: taking something that started out with one purpose and retooling it once the original purpose came to an end. A rather perfect pairing of “what’s old is new again,” if you ask me.
Blue Sky Design Supply opened up shop in July on the first floor of the redeveloped Savarino building on the corner of Perry and Mississippi Streets. The company is an interior design and home décor business devoted to design work that promotes sustainability and utilizes renewable or salvaged materials. For Tyra Johnson, founder and owner, an important part of her mission is to introduce WNY to products that are not only sustainable, but also innovative. While some may not associate reused or green materials with being reliable or beautiful, Tyra firmly believes that eco-friendly materials can be more esthetically pleasing and durable than regular materials.
“Some people think that because something is made from recycled materials, they don’t think it’s as beautiful, as good, or as durable,” explains Tyra. “I’m trying to prove that eco-friendly products can be luxurious, chic and beautiful, but also take the next step beyond that and be really innovative.”
When I first met Tyra and learned of her business, I was excited that this sort of thing was coming to Buffalo: it’s forward-thinking, it’s hip, it’s creative, it has purpose. In addition to the design component of Blue Sky, Tyra is also passionate about educating people about the impacts their everyday choices make on the environment, namely, becoming more aware of our consumption and waste. Spreading eco-consciousness to the masses is a very important component to running her business. Most people wouldn’t normally consider recycled materials for home décor, but it has become Tyra’s mission to not only educate people on why this kind of sustainability is important for both environmental and personal health, but to also show how you can reuse materials you have around your home, as well as showcase the luxury and beauty that recycled or reused materials can offer.
Blue Sky carries a number of finished products, including paint, wallpaper, glass or clay tiling, as well as hardware for cabinets and doors. If you’re cringing at the mention of wallpaper, stop picturing your grandmother’s drab-green picturesque landscape of a Victorian town on her dining room walls (sorry, Gram) and instead, picture vibrant colors and bold, modern patterns. Sound more appealing? Blue Sky carries beautiful wallpaper prints by Madison & Grow, whose paper is silkscreened by hand with water-based inks, manufactured from responsibly sourced and chlorine-free fiber with no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). As part of Tyra’s job, she serves as a consultant who offers suggestions to customers who may want to use some of these traditional home decors but in new ways. For instance, instead of picking one style of wallpaper and papering an entire room, create a single focal point in the room by framing the wallpaper as artwork, or paper the wall behind a bed in place of a headboard.
One of my favorite products is the milk paint–yes, milk paint. Never having heard of such a thing, I was intrigued. Containing only milk protein, lime and earth pigments, this product dates back to Ancient Egypt and was even used by early American colonists, as well. Milk paint is one of the most durable paint products in history, providing bold colors and velvety flat finishes that never fade. What’s more, it is about as easy as it gets – simply add water to the powder, stir and use with any paint application. More importantly, this product has no lead or chemical preservatives, is biodegradable and odor-free when dry.
Blue Sky also offers various gift and home accessories for purchase (ranging anywhere from $6-60), such as kaleidoscope vases (made from recycled magazine pages); serving spoons (made from aluminum); snack and lunch pouches (made from plastic bags); and doormats (made from flip-flops). What struck me about some of these finishing touches is that you would never guess what they’re made from, yet they’re unique, durable and, yes, pleasing to the eye. Not to mention, a conversation piece (read: doormat made from flip-flops. Genius!).
As a civil and environmental engineer by trade, Tyra started Blue Sky Design Supply to combine all her values into one company that is aimed at helping her local community. Her desire is to not only generate enthusiasm for sustainable products and educate clients on eco-friendly design options, but also to offer products that do not have an impact on an individual’s health, in addition to the environment’s.
“For some people, ‘green’ means locally made and to some, it means to be healthy,” explains Tyra. “For example, products that have no toxins, smells or irritations.”
Through Blue Sky, Tyra is also passionate about promoting social enterprise. That is, supporting other organizations with a mission to give back to local communities, rather than being driven by the need to maximize their own profits. Tyra recognizes that being “green” is the trend du jour for most businesses and makes note that some companies try to capitalize on this notion without really understanding what being “green” stands for.
“Sustainability isn’t just about being green; it’s about treating people right, too,” said Tyra.
For every purchase that is made, Blue Sky will be donating a portion of its proceeds to one of three organizations: locally based Buffalo Reuse and the Massachusetts Avenue Project; and Both Your Hands, an international organization that connects communities to the world’s most impoverished villages by promoting self-sufficiency. Customers can select which organization they would like the proceeds from their purchase to be donated to.
Blue Sky Design is also actively involved with its online community, promoting information on green and sustainable practices, along with offering various design tips, through Facebook, Twitter, a blog and an electronic newsletter. Additionally, Tyra offers various workshops on how to incorporate some of these green practices and designs into your home. She encourages people to come into the showroom, just to look and get inspiration for ideas or set up an appointment for a consultation.
Blue Sky Design Supply is one of the most exciting and interesting new companies in Buffalo today. Whether you’re an environmental enthusiast, thinking about giving a portion of your home a touch up, or just curious after reading this post, I strongly encourage you to stop in and see all of the fascinating items on display, or even speak to Tyra, who is quite fascinating herself.
Just like trying to revitalize the Cobblestone District while maintaining its historic integrity, sometimes it takes looking at something from a different point of view to see the potential beauty it beholds, as well as acknowledging and honoring the beauty it came from.
Blue Sky Design Supply | 95 Perry Street | 1st Floor | 716.852.1680 | www.blueskydesignsupply.com