Western Design: Refuge Sustainable Building Center


With a slogan that promises to build healthy environments indoors and out, Refuge Sustainable Building Center has a big mission. 

Expanding its products and services at Refuge is one measure that the new owner, Alexa Calio, has taken to accomplish the business’s goals. At Refuge Sustainable Building Center homeowners find creative solutions to green living.

“People are learning more about how products are made and so consumers care more about the overall health of building materials,” explains Calio.

She’s on to something. Over the last decade, since the inception of organizations such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and EnergyStar, there has been a dramatic increase in consumer-driven demand for advanced green building technologies. Topics of energy efficiency, conservation, indoor and outdoor air quality and use of renewable materials drive the pursuit for aesthetically appealing buildings that can be constructed responsibly, create less of a carbon footprint and improve the built environment overall.

As a result, offering alternative products and building supplies that help create healthier, safer homes is the priority. From decorative products such as American Clay, PaperStone® countertops, reclaimed wood flooring to U.S. Green Building Council-certified drywall panels and solar-powered attic fans to VOC-free paint, Refuge is the place to start.

A longtime supporter of environmental studies, Calio holds a degree in wildlife biology and has found a way to combine her personal philosophy with her business. The green movement is by nature one of collaboration and community involvement, Calio points out, and as Montana’s only full-service environmentally friendly housing and construction retailer she hopes Refuge will grow as a valuable resource in this market.

Calio wants Refuge to be a place where all homeowners, even those on a shoestring, can find creative solutions to their housing needs. As part of her commitment to offer a fairly priced alternative to mainstream products, breaking with industry practices, Refuge marks wholesale inventory up by only 30 percent (compared to the average 50 percent). Offering free consulting and design services in addition to unrivalled prices, it is no wonder why business has been booming with eager customers hopeful to build or ready to remodel.

No stranger to the construction industry, Calio also owns Roche Jaune, Inc., Chinking and Plaster Specialists. She started the business 12 years ago, offering services for new log home construction and remodeling. Additionally, as the look of plaster became popular, Calio perfected an artisan-quality application of American Clay Natural Earth Plaster products for traditional and contemporary homes. Through Roche Jaune she has experience in every phase of construction and remodeling that now extends as hands-on knowledge to the product lines and application at Refuge.

Calio hopes her business will continue to flourish with a new location and more square footage to host events and speakers. Collaborating with a range of organizations, including design firms, Montana State University graduate classes and the Girl Scouts of America, Alexa and her staff hope to involve all age groups and income levels in its community outreach initiative.

[Refuge offers a variety of affordable natural materials for flooring and countertops, including this Madison Slate in the home of Carbon Neutral Builders owner Adrien Tanguay. Home design by Zimtor Architecture.]
Refuge offers a variety of affordable natural materials for flooring and countertops, including this Madison Slate in the home of Carbon Neutral Builders owner Adrien Tanguay. Home design by Zimtor Architecture.

Working with architects, builders, interior designers and home owners is key to furthering the understanding that green building doesn’t have to be more expensive and that sustainable products are also beautiful. In the showroom, a wood burning stove models the natural patina of soapstone. The golden hue of bamboo flooring shows off one of the most renewable woods available worldwide. An array of colors pop out from the wide selection of Marmoleum flooring, inspiring new decorating ideas, while utilizing a product that is made of rapidly renewable natural resources, and biodegradable at the end of its life cycle.

“If consumers can afford it, they should make the right choices in building a home and they can have a real impact on the environment over the long term,” notes Calio.

Through the course of these collaborative efforts, Refuge’s state of the art showroom will be open to the public as a living classroom, so that participants can more fully learn about the healthy, economic and stylistic cache attached to living in a home built and furnished with visionary, yet timeless construction alternatives. The new space showcases not only flooring, wall treatments, paints, countertops, insulation, and roofing supplies, but works of art that simply function as parts to a home — a healthy home.

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