Architectural designer Johana Lukauskis on remodeling and healthy living | Home Front

Johana Lukauskis
Feb 25, 2016

Architectural designer Johana Lukauskis has 17 years of experience in the design and construction industries. She started her design practice Remodella Healthy after her family's health was impacted by bio toxins present at their home. She realized that most architectural designers had little awareness of the potential health risks associated with the process of remodeling and construction.

The mission of Remodella Healthy is to design and build beautiful spaces characterized not just by their elegance and efficient use of space, but to do so while protecting present and future occupants from such common environmental hazards.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

What a perfect day to talk to architectural designer Johana Lukauskis, who helped the Selee-Vallejo redesign their basement. No doubt, the rains and horrible winds last night brought water into some of your properties. Johana started her design practice Remodella Healthy after her family's health was impacted by bio toxins present at their home. She realized that most architectural designers had little awareness of the potential health risks associated with the process of remodeling and construction. She pairs this knowledge with the art of creating beautiful spaces. Ask her your questions.

Hi Jura!

I am very honored to be part of your program this morning. I hope I can answer all your questions. Let's have a healthy chat!

The wood floors in my 1924 bungalow are well past their prime -- scuffed, stained, and deeply grooved. They're in desperate need of attention but the prospect seems daunting and inconvenient and expensive so I keep putting it off. What are my options? Thanks.

My recommendation is to replace them. Wood floors tolerate a maximum of 1/2" of sanding. If this is your case then you definitely have to replace them. If you can't afford new wood floors then look for other alternatives that are less costly such as trendy materials that replicate the look of wood such as vinyl.

Typically, a nail down 3/4" tongue and groove wood floor can be re sanded several times but it has to be done by a flooring expert. If you see deep scratches clearly then these were not done by a professional.

"A contractor sanding a floor is much like an artist with a blank canvas", he has control of how the final result will look." (hardwood floors. mag)

I am blessed to own a the first piece of furniture my grandmother ever purchased, a Duncan Phyfe sofa. Years ago I had it covered with blue denim that has faded beautifully. Now I live in a different home and want to arrange it so the back of the sofa is visible, but the back has been against a wall and hasn't faded. Is there a way to fade it on purpose? I don't care if it matches the other fading 100% but the difference now is too jarring. Thank you!

Yikes! I would put a throw over the back. That way no one will know.

How can I find someone in Florida to help me build a healthy house? I am allergic to many things.

Florida is notorious for problems with mold in homes due to humidity. They also had huge problems a few years ago with contaminated gypsum walls imported from China that had to be remediated due to sulfur and other chemicals. Make sure you consult architects and builders in FL who are familiar with issues of mold and chemicals at home. I can do some research on names and get back to you. You can also try the International Building Biology Institute  where you can find information and even courses online about healthy building. I took their courses and they are amazing! Good luck!

Instead of purposely fading the back of the sofa, you could also try reupholstering it in a completely different, but complimentary fabric. Makes an impact and will give the sofa an updated look!

Hi Jura - I need your help! I have several chairs that I would like to have reupholstered. A few are just dated but in good shape while two newer chairs suffered after being chosen as the top favorites by Tommy and Lily (our cat-divas in residence). Where should I go (DC or MD preferred)? Do I buy the fabric in advance or must I buy it through them? Thanks for your words of wisdom!

I know about cats choosing favorite pieces of furniture! If only they could help bankroll the reupholstery bills. Most upholsterers will let you bring your own fabric, although many offer a selection themselves. Two fabric outlets where you might score a deal are Haute Fabrics in Arlington and Discount Fabrics in Thurmont, Md. What you need to do before you shop for fabrics is to measure and photograph your chairs and email this information to the upholsterer you have chosen. They will let you know how much fabric to buy. One popular Washington area upholsterer is  Yi's in Rockville. Do you all have others to suggest? Please post.

What are some changes I can make for remodeling to have fewer health risks?

Inside the home: check indoor air quality: watch for moisture(i.e. dehumidifier, increase capacity of bath fans to more than 250 cfu), watch for asbestos in flooring and other insulation areas and for chemicals such as formaldehyde in rugs and furniture. Paint with low or better zero VOC paints, remove carpets in basements and preferably no wood floors in areas that can get flooded like bathrooms or basements. Check the International Building Biology Institute  they are an excellent source!

The carpets are beautiful, but are they mold resistant? Wheredid they come from?

Yes they are. They are from The Rug Company-Handmade designer rugs. There are many companies today that sell natural fiber rugs and eco friendly carpets. Sisal rugs are a good example for sensitive people.

In the article, the architect recommends a professional inspection for mold and asbestos before starting the basement remodeling job. What kind of expert is needed to do this, how do you find them, and how much does it typically cost?

If you are in DC, MD or VA here are three great professionals I work with:

Paul Rampsey: (301) 996-0430

Paul Burger (Geller Environmental) (716) 984-4199

Bruce (Mid Atlantic Mold) (240) 577-21258

The cost for the inspection can run from 350-600 dollars it depends on the sq.footage of your home and spaces that need to be inspected.

We had the mold remediated but now I can barely breathe when I go downstairs in the basement. I'm not sure how to proceed. Health inspector? How do I find a good one?

Did you hire a professional to do this? Does your basement have enough ventilation? I would test the indoor air quality with an inspector. Try Paul Burger from Geller Environmental (716)984-4199

Hi Johana! What's your favorite way to bring the outdoors in--incorporating elements of nature, tying the outdoor space with the indoor space--within your designs? Thanks! Kristan A.

Hi Tristan,

In my designs I always try to connect the indoors with the outdoors. It depends what spaces you have adjacent to each other. For example, if there is a family room adjacent to a patio I try to open up the wall of the family room as much as possible to bring a beautiful picture of your garden or landscape and tons of light. I design another cozy "living room" outside so when you are inside the house you have the feeling that the space continues and you are welcome to enjoy more of your property. Also you can open those large sliding doors and use both spaces for entertaining. Then  you can add a pergola,etc. 

Can you share the cost of the basement remodeling job described in the article? How much does it cost just for the architect's design? (separate from the construction, etc. )

It really depends on the size and complexity of the project. You can contact me:



The task of remodeling the basement in our 50 yr old home seems daunting. We've had health issues and don't know how to start the process. What would be the first steps that you would take? We're in IN.

Definitely you need to have a professional inspect your space. 

I work with these ones whom I highly recommend:

Paul Burger (Geller Environmental) 716-984-4199

Paul Rampsey: (301)996-0430

These can check for mold, asbestos and any environmental toxicity in your home. Indoor air quality.


What would you suggest - carpet, laminate, something else?

Definitely not carpet or wood. I highly recommend tiles on a radiant heating system. In a radiant floor system, the warmth is supplied by hot-water tubes or electric wires buried underneath the floor. Visit

 Radiant heating in general  is the healthiest system compared to conventional forced air heating which is present in most American homes. Radiant heating is silent, provides a comfortable heat, is energy efficient, does not require duct work which can prone to leakage, dirt and mold accumulation.  Try to use also materials that have zero VOCs. 

Is there a simple test for mold (petri dish) before the professionals need to be called?

Yes but it is not accurate. It is better to hire the professional that at the end can even find more problems around your house and give you advice on how to resolve them. The inspectors I listed earlier in my previous questions I highly recommend because they are very honest and very professional. Cleaning with chlorox is like putting a bandage on a very deep and infected wound. You have to hire a specialist.

I am doing an extensive - extensive and expensive! - renovation of my bungalow and among other things am installing a subterranean wine cellar below my first floor sunroom. The cellar will have a sump pump (with battery backup and all the appropriate trenches outside) buried in the floor and of course the yard will be properly graded, gutter downspouts will take water away from house, etc. So my builder assures me I won't have a moisture issue in the basement and I believe him (I didn't before but also because of proper grading, etc.). He's suggesting engineered hardwood that matches my new real hardwood floors on the first and second floors of the house in the basement - including the wine cellar. I'm reluctant to use wood - even engineered flooring - in the laundry room and would prefer linoleum - but I guess that's not recommended for a laundry room either. What do you suggest? I don't want the floor in either location to be really, really hard (need to protect those dropped bottles and old legs!). Ideas?

My  sincere answer to having engineered floors in the basement is NO! They get ruined with water. Try the vinyl replica of wood. It is very trendy in Europe and you can see it in a lot of retail/ commercial buildings. It is durable. Check for the thicker ones as they look much nicer. 

I have a wood chest of drawers that is finished in a rather orange-hued stain. It's time to think about a paint job. I'd like to paint this piece in a white. Maybe not a super gloss, but at least some shine in the finish. Any suggestions about what paint is durable, and what paint is likely to cause the least fumes? Thanks.

First of all you have to sand it and then prime it so the paint can adhere and last very long. Among my favorite paint companies which provide nontoxic paints are:


Benjamin Moore: Natura

There are many other companies like Sherwin Williams, etc who also have these paints and are less expensive.


HI, I'd like to know what type of tile or flooring was used in the basement. I'm a family child care provider and I'm looking to upgrade the flooring.

I used porcelain tiles. In this case a 12 by 24 inches. I got them from Floor and Decor in Virginia to stay under my client's budget. You definitely need with these a radiant heating system. There are many suppliers even you can find them at Home Depot or Lowes. Good luck and I am very happy that you are concerned by trying to make the space healthier for the children. Please check the information the International Building Biology Institute provides regarding healthy indoor environments.  

Hi, I would like to repaint my house but I am overwhelmed by the color choices as well as actual paint quality/brand choices. How do I go about starting to choose the right colors and more importantly, the right paint brand (low to zero VOC, coverage, ease of painting, etc.). I would like to pain my house myself. Thank you!

Hi! If you have low ceilings and the space is a bit dark then go for light colors. Neutrals are trendy now. If you do not like the ultra whites then go for colors like Manchester Tan from Benjamin Moore or Stone Hearth (warm grey)

Check the ECOS PAints they also have beautiful colors. And they also have a nice chalk paint for children to draw. 


So much useful and important information here. And don't miss the story on the basement in Mount Pleasant Johana remodeled. Read it here. See you next week everyone.

I want to thank you Jura again for inviting me today. It was a pleasure, I enjoyed replying to your questions and wished I had the rest of the afternoon to continue this wonderful healthy chat. I invite you to check my website. 

Please contact me and I can definitely help you!

Many thanks and good luck with your future projects! 

Please look at the International Building Biology Institute for more advice

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Johana Lukauskis
Architectural designer Johana Lukauskis has 17 years of experience in the design and construction industries. Her company Remodella Healthy focuses not only on building beautiful spaces, but on environmental impact.
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