Creating with a Conscience

By Sue Baldani

Healthy and humane design practices for every home

When most people hear the word vegan, they usually just think of the food aspect. But, being vegan is a whole lifestyle. Risha Walden, of Walden Interiors in Millburn, successfully and beautifully incorporates her vegan beliefs into her designs.

“The biggest issue with interior design is that it’s not something people think about every day,” she says. “Most only think about those decisions maybe once every five to 10 years when they need to, say, buy a sofa.”

Using vegan interior design strategies, explains Risha, does not diminish the aesthetic or how you want the room to manifest. And, these design elements can be as luxurious as any other. “Luxury is about rejoicing in this paradise we’re in and to have that appreciation in your home. Your home should reflect the abundance you created for yourself.”

As a vegan interior designer, she has never felt that she’s compromised a client’s design. “There’s so much available and it’s about being aware of it,” she says. “I’m always researching and finding new and innovative products.”

Adds Risha, “Your home is supposed to work for you. I can make anything look beautiful, but when it’s beautiful and functional it makes life easier and happier.”

Alternatives to leather, wool and other animal products

Alternatives didn’t come to be because they’re vegan, but because people are demanding high-performing, durable, stain-resistant, and fade-resistant fabrics. They want to be able to purchase something that they can put in their home that looks and feels good and that they don’t have to constantly maintain.

The importance of sustainability

I’m always looking for durable fabrics for my clients such as polyesters and nylons. I understand that my clients want their homes to look as beautiful as possible for as long as possible and man-made fibers have that resistance and durability that frankly a lot of natural products don’t.

Natural is not always the healthiest choice

Even though leather is natural and should therefore be compostable, it really isn’t because it’s treated with chemicals. Those chemicals are actually toxic and there is some off-gassing.

Mixing the old with the new

I love to repurpose what people already have. When I go into a client’s home, we talk about creating the vision they want, and if I can reuse a piece – that can be reupholstering it, repainting it, or fitting it out for another use – I’m going to do it if it fits into the vision they want. I love old furniture because it’s usually better made or it’s something that’s important to them, maybe passed down from their grandmother, so there are many ways of reincorporated these pieces into the design.

To find out more about how Risha can create a luxurious, comfortable and healthy home for you and your family, go to

[side bar]

Alternative materials

Plant-based products such as leather made from apples, mushrooms, pineapples and cacti will be used much more in the future.

How demand creates supply

If we stop demanding animal products in home design, and start using more  alternatives, there will be a switch in thinking.

If it doesn’t work in your home, get rid of it

If a piece isn’t right for a room, or isn’t needed anymore, sell it or donate it.

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

Arm Yourself for Prevention

Tips on keeping skin healthy

By Sue Baldani

May is Melanoma Awareness Month, and although melanoma is the skin cancer most people are aware of, it’s not the only deadly one. “Squamous-cell carcinoma kills more people now in this country than melanoma and basal cell carcinoma,” says Dr. Gerald Peters of Peters Dermatology Center in Bend. “Those are the two most common non-melanoma skin cancers and they cause a lot of damage.” So, when you’re protecting yourself against melanoma, you’re also protecting yourself against these non-melanoma skin cancers.

Here, Dr. Peters gives us advice on how we can do just that:

One – Timing and avoidance. The midday sun is strong, and it’s better to be out earlier and later in the day.

Two – Protective coverings. There are some really excellent UPF [ultraviolet protection factor] fabrics available now. Also, wear a hat and big sunglasses with UV protection in the 99% range.

Three – Topical solutions. Select products that have physical filters, agents or blockers. We’re talking about zinc oxide and titanium oxide, and for adequate protection, you want products that contain 5% or more of those ingredients. Don’t forget to protect your lips as well. 

Dr. Peters says he’s been encouraging patients to move away from chemical blockers. “They convert ultraviolet into infrared energy, but when you use a physical blocker it reflects the sun off the skin. They also work immediately, not 20 minutes after application.”

Peters Dermatology carries a wide range of high-quality, effective products such as EltaMD®, TIZO, and ALASTIN Skincare®. People often tune out when you speak of statistics, he says, but one thing many do care about is the way they look. “Photoaging makes you look old before your time because those ultraviolet rays destroy the elastic fibers in your skin.”

To find out more about how to protect your skin and get a skin cancer screening, go to

Written for Bend Lifestyle magazine in Oregon.

Create a Home Office That Works for You

By Sue Baldani

When many of us had to start working from home after COVID hit, we made do with whatever space and equipment we had available in our homes. We figured it was a temporary situation and so if it didn’t have enough light, or if we didn’t have a desk, or it just wasn’t very conducive to productivity, it wouldn’t last long anyway.

Now, two years later, some of us are still in that same unmanageable space, maybe permanently if we either started a new remote job or our bosses decided to close the office and allow us to continue working from home. So, isn’t it beyond time that we turn our “temporary office” spaces into professional and functional ones where we can comfortably spend eight and sometimes more hours a day?

If you’re squeezed into a spare bedroom, and find that extra bed that’s taking up so much real estate is almost never used, get rid of it. Instead, use that space for a good-sized desk, some file cabinets, a book case and/or a credenza on which to place your printer and other office equipment. Take advantage of the wall space and hang shelves for an even more organized layout.

If you can’t afford all new furniture, don’t worry. Go to a resale or thrift shop, search online used furniture sites, or venture out to garage sales. You can often find high-quality office items at great bargains and sometimes even for free!

Good lighting is also an important component of any functional office. Pick up a great desk lamp or hang a light directly over your desk so you’re not constantly squinting at your paperwork. Think of all the other things you used to have in your outside office that made your workflow more efficient, and bring those items into your home office.

If you don’t have a whole room to spare, that’s fine too. Pick a corner or choose one side to dedicate as your office space. Then, incorporate as much of the above recommendations as you can. I know someone who put a desk in her walk-in closet. It has a door, it’s quiet, and can be cozy if set up right.

Creating the right work space will let your productivity and creativity soar. You’ll also have a place that you look forward to going to every day. A positive attitude is the first step to having a great work day.

Love, Live, and Give

How two teens are making a significant impact both locally and worldwide

By Sue Baldani

While most teens were trying to stay busy during the lockdown by playing video games and interacting with others on social media, friends Dillon Elam and Connor Suscha wanted to do more. In July of 2020, they founded Tone 3.

“Tone 3 is a social enterprise focused on connecting as many people as possible to the organizations that make our area as welcoming and compassionate as it is,” says Dillon. “We do this by selling simple, stylish clothing with varying designs that allude to these essential organizations.”

Two-thirds of its profits are used to support six deserving mostly local nonprofits, while one-third goes into brand expansion. “Tone 3 is organized around three ideas that we believe serve as the fundamental motivations behind the majority of charitable acts in the community,” adds Connor. “Hence, all of the organizations we support are either focused on the people we love, this earth we live on, or the ways we can give back to people in need. Put simply –  Love, Live, and Give.”

Only 17 years old at the time, they say they knew they lacked both the platform and the expertise to intervene directly in the community and facilitate a positive improvement by themselves. “As a result, we began searching for a way to provide support for the organizations we knew already have considerable impacts, while still having a hand in bettering the community we appreciate so greatly,” says Dillon. “Our search concluded after we settled on selling nonprofit-inspired merchandise, and since then we’ve been sharpening our skills in pursuance of one simple goal – to recognize the most impactful members of our community by giving help to those who need it most.”

They began by selling T-shirts, and their goal was to produce them with a true purpose and also ensure they were comfortable, stylish and would appeal to people of all ages. They also wanted to be responsible stewards of the environment. “We started out with all of our shirts being heavyweight organic cotton, but now we have some made out of recycled materials as well,” says Connor. In addition to T-shirts, Tone 3 has expanded its offering to include pants, fleeces and accessories. And, the entire line is eco-friendly and made in a sustainable way with virtually zero waste.

The logos are on the smaller side, since they don’t want them to overtake the entire items. But, each one is big enough so people will notice it and hopefully ask the wearer about it.

In the beginning, the two friends handled everything themselves – from marketing and buying to ironing on logos (which resulted in a lot of burned fingers as well as T-shirts) and shipping. Now, most of the logos are embroidered by a local company, but they still handle every other aspect of the organization, while also attending college.

When it came time to decide on the organizations to support and partner with, they based their decisions on their virtues of Love, Live, and Give. “For our Love pillar, we chose the Dragonfly Foundation, an organization that aims to support the families of pediatric cancer patients,” says Connor. “We also chose a local company called My Bag My Story. Its founder creates homemade sewn backpacks, duffel bags, and things of that nature, and sells them online. Then, for each one that’s sold, she uses the proceeds to make an identical bag to give to a child in the foster care system. As a foster care mother, she often saw children piling all their belongings into black trash bags and felt it was demeaning.”

Under the pillar Give, they support Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, and the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, which assists the homeless. For its Live pillar, they give to the Coral Restoration Foundation and The Audubon Society.

“To know that we have the capacity to create this from one little idea and watch it grow into an organization that’s had the ability to influence the lives of so many people in our area in a positive way, is transformative and humbling,” says Connor.

Adds Dillon, “From something that went from building T-shirts on my bedroom floor to now having boxes full of clothing to ship out is just amazing.”

They would love for more people to wear their clothing and promote their mission. “We are a bridge for these nonprofits, and want to make people aware of their needs,” says Dillon.

To find out more and shop for merchandise, go to

A Survivor Speaks Out

Eradicating trafficking both here and across the world

By Sue Baldani

Andi Buerger, JD, founder of Voices Against Trafficking in January 2020, has a passion for helping those who have been trafficked. She can well understand their devastating ordeals since she experienced them herself.

“My voice as a survivor is important and has some influence, but what if we had more voices?” she says. “That’s the idea behind Voices Against Trafficking.”

While Voices is a national and international presence, it’s heavily vested in a regional presence here in Central Oregon. “We’re not political or religious,” says Andi. “We’re a human rights organization focused on getting the best information, the best ideas, and the best strategies out there to combatting trafficking in our neighborhoods.”

Voices produces and creates free international antitrafficking forums every quarter, which can be seen on Facebook and YouTube. “We talk about ways to divert predators, whether it’s by prevention, education, or awareness,” she says.

Andi also just published a book, Voices Against Trafficking – The Strength of Many Voices Speaking As One. “It’s another tool for awareness, prevention, and education and to inspire action.”

The nonprofit has a campaign going on right now. It’s looking for donations to get this book to every member of Congress, every governor and every attorney general.

Another way to help is to visit its website and click on “Add My Voice.” “Anybody anywhere in the world can add their voice to our roster for free,” says Andi. “We want to get a million names by the end of summer 2023. We can then take those names and continue to influence legislation against trafficking.”

An additional way people can support Voices is by joining one of its memberships, which helps keep its programs going, which is critical. “One of the other reasons I speak and do interviews is because I want people to know there’s hope,” she says. “If someone like me can make it, then really anyone can.”

To find out more, go to, and if you need help for yourself or others, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text INFO or HELP to BeFree (233733).

Written for Bend Lifestyle magazine in Oregon.