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Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

5 Must Haves for a Sustainable Kitchen Remodel

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Ah, the holidays…  Delicious cookies baking in the oven.  Spiced cider simmering on the stovetop.  Relatives and friends jostling their way through your sad, frumpy old kitchen another year in a row…  Sigh.

Yes, we’ve all been there.  Kitchens get a lot of wear and tear, and they are one of the first areas of a house to feel dated.  Remodeling the kitchen is usually the #1 priority with my new clients, and it is also one of the best places to make an impact with sustainable design.  If a kitchen remodel is on your todo list for the New Year, check out this list of stylish and sustainable “must haves”.

Zephyr Milano

1.  A good range hood – Perhaps no element of a kitchen remodel is more misunderstood and neglected than the range hood.  Oh sure, you plan to have one, but will you ever use it -at least before the smoke detector goes off?   Well you should, because even when your house isn’t filling up with smoke, it IS filling up with noxious fumes every time you cook, especially if you have a gas range.

“But those fans are always so noisy!” you protest.  “I can’t even hear myself think.”   Well, the great thing is that there are now range hoods on the market that clear the air very well, but are so quiet, you might forget they are on in the first place!    The Next Generation Europa line from Zephyr uses new technology that gives you an extremely quiet fan, as well as having other great sustainable features – such as warm white LED lighting!

 

Vetrazzo's Bistro Green

2. Composite countertops – Granite is so last decade!   Composite countertops are where it’s at now.  Available in an amazing array of colors and textures, these environmentally friendly surfaces are not only beautiful, but they are usually more durable than natural stone too.  Unlike the more porous nature of granite, most composite countertops on the market have very smooth surfaces which don’t require sealing, and are also less prone to staining and bacterial buildup.  Some of my favorites include the fun recycled glass countertops of Vetrazzo, and the composite stone of Caesarstone.

Aga Energy Star Refrigerator

3. Energy Star appliances – The “star” program of energy efficiency in the appliance world, this successful government program is the source for all those big yellow stickers you see when you salivate over that big stainless steel, french door refrigerator at your local home renovation mart.   Purchase washers, dryers, microwaves, refrigerators, or dishwashers that are Energy Star rated, and you’ll start saving money as soon as you plug them in.

Bazzeo's Gaia Cabinets

4. Cabinets w/ no-added formaldehyde (NAF) – Cabinets are THE big budget item in any kitchen remodel, so spending even a little more to ensure the wood doesn’t have any added urea formaldehyde may seem like overkill, but believe me, it’s worth it.  Classified as a known carcinogen by the State of California, urea formaldehyde is also an airborne irritant as it off gasses into your home, especially for those with asthma and other respiratory issues.

Luckily, as demand has increased for NAF cabinetry, cost has decreased, so beautiful options such as those from Bazzeo or Snaidero are easier to budget for.

 

Wicanders Cork Floor via Country Living

5. Earth AND back friendly flooring – I’m a big proponent of using cork or linoleum flooring in kitchen for two good reasons.  One, they are both made of natural, biodegradable materials, and that is always a good thing.  Second, they are both resilient (especially cork!), which puts a lot less stress or your back and legs as you hustle around making your bonanza of a holiday dinner!  Plus, if Aunt Alice gets a little too tipsy and drops her glass of champagne, it is much less likely to shatter into a million pieces.  Whew!

Enjoy your holidays and may a sparkly, sustainable new kitchen be yours in the New Year!

~ Rachel

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Amazing Wallpaper – Without the Paper!

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I love this new trend…

That sleek black and white wallpaper you see above isn’t actually paper at all.  It’s a beautiful glass tile mosaic, by Trend USA.

Designed to mimic the great graphic punch of classic and contemporary wallpaper patterns, the sheets of 3/4″ tile are made of up to 71% recycled glass, and are entirely recyclable once removed.  Although really, would you want to take something so lovely off your walls?

For those of you craving the mid-century look, this random color mosaic is perfect!  The geometric, warm hued tile pattern falls somewhere between “Mad Men” and “Mod Squad” in style, don’t you think?

Of course, if sharp, glossy and graphic isn’t what you are going for, you might want to take a look at the soft, ethereal wallcoverings of Trove.  I confess, the walls of my dream bedroom would be covered in it.

Evoking the look of a watercolor paintings on antique silk, this collection is actually printed on FSC certified wood veneers, giving it great visual impact with minimal impact to the environment.  Applied very much like an actual wallpaper, it is available in a range of prints and wood species.

Of course, there are many more sustainable options for covering your walls with something other than paint or paper, including: leather, burlap, aluminum, clay, glass beads, silk and bark. The list is only limited by your imagination,… and the manufacturers catalog.  I’ll introduce you to some more of these great options in future posts.

But meanwhile, for my next post I’ll introduce you to that perpetual giggle inducer, the dual flush toilet, and explain why they are such a wonderful idea.  No really!

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Sustainable Wallpaper 101

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Many years ago, when I was in design school, my fellow students and I would frquently go off on tangents about how gross wallpaper was.  Mind you, this was back in the day when it seemed every suburban kitchen was plastered in sheets of little, tiny country flower print, with duck encrusted borders.  Could you blame us?

Oh man, has wallpaper has come a long way since then…

Grahama & Brown Eco Peony in Apple

The most wonderful aspect of this wallpaper revival has been the plethora of great, sustainable choices that have come along with it.  No longer the realm of plastic coated pastels, many of today’s wallpapers are colorful, bold, eco-friendly and natural.  They are also easy to find, it’s just an issue of knowing what to look for.

Farrow & Ball - Peony

Here is a little guide to help you navigate the sea of choices available to you: (more…)

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Is Leather Green?

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Is leather green?  Well, the short answer is… maybe.

In order to understand why that is the case, it helps to first take a look at the many processes involved in the creation of leather.

vegetable tanned leather by Moore & Giles

Let’s start out with the hide.  As you know, leather is made from a variety of animal skins – everything from cattle and sheep, to stingray and ostrich.  In order to become leather though, these skins need to go through the tanning process.  Tanning can be done in many different ways, and using a whole host of natural and manmade chemicals, many of which are extremely toxic.  Unfortunately, much of the leather tanning in the world is done in places with few, if any, regulations protecting the environment, the people involved in the tanning process, or even the water supply for the villages in which these people live.

For that reason, I always work with 100% vegetable tanned leather.  By utilizing the natural tannins found in a variety of plants, leather can be tanned without heavy metals or other deadly chemicals.

Leather tannery, Fez, Morocco

(more…)

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

How to ‘Green’ Your Fireplace and Warm Your Home Too

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It’s been a warm (ok, downright hot) summer in much of the country this year, so it may seem a little crazy to start talking fireplaces.  However, in many areas, the temperatures, then the leaves, and eventually the snow will all start to fall.  So why not plan ahead for a way to keep little warmer and a lot greener this winter?

From cooking, to heating, to romantic backdrop in bad ’80s movies, the fireplace has served many purposes over the centuries.  Unfortunately, while the crackling logs in the fireplace bring a cheerful warmth to the room, they also have some major downsides, such as the creation of carbon monoxide and particulate matter.  And they aren’t even very efficient heaters, with most of the heat created by your average, wood burning fireplace going up the chimney in the form of hot air.   Up to 24,000 cubic feet of hot air an hour!   So, while you gather round your hearth toasting marshmallows, your house becomes like a vacuum cleaner, replacing the hot air going up the chimney by sucking in cold air from outside through poorly sealed window and doors.  It can even cause your home heater to turn on just to compensate.  In fact, using an old, wood burning fireplace can actually increase your overall heating bill – and not just because of that cord of wood you bought at the local store!

Happily, there are some fantastic new options available these days in efficient, non-polluting fireplaces.  You don’t even have to replace your old, wood burning version – you can just pop in a readymade insert that will improve your air quality, and warm you home more easily.  Here are some of your options:

Natural gas

Gone are the days of those cheesy looking fake logs with flames shooting up between them.  Today’s natural gas fireplaces have a more aesthetically pleasing, natural look, and far less polluting.  Because burning natural gas doesn’t produce creosote (that black gunk that the chimney sweep cleans out) maintenance is also greatly reduced.

If you want, you can simply put in one of the new styles of faux logs, which even come with a material to spread out below that will glow like embers when the fireplace is on.  Or, for maximum energy efficiency and safety, you can purchase a full fireplace insert complete with glass screen.  These are particularly handy for retrofitting older fireplaces.

Bio-fuel

Typically a form of de-natured alcohol, bio-fuel fireplaces are a perfect way to enjoy the beauty of a fire, without all the drawbacks.  Derived from crops such as beets, corn and even bananas, bio-fuels are so clean burning they can be used right out in the middle of a room, without any sort of chimney or flue.

However, bio-fuels put off only a limited amount of heat, so they are best used for their aesthetic qualities, rather than as a method for heating a room.

Pellet

Also referred to as “bio-mass”, the pellets are derived from corn and agricultural by-products, which are then burned in a specially designed stove or fireplace insert.  Although they produce a fire that is more functional than pretty, pellet stoves are a very efficient source of heat, and can be easily adjusted to control temperature and output.  One consideration to keep in mind though is that pellet stoves require electricity to operatel, so they would be nonfunctional during a power outage, unless they have a battery back-up system built in.

Wood

Even though I began this post discussing all the drawbacks of old style wood burning fireplaces, it is now possible to make a very energy efficient, low-polluting, wood burning fireplace.  So if you are building a new home, or engaged in a major renovation, you might want to look at an EPA approved fireplace.

My personal favorite are the gorgeous Tulikivi soapstone stoves/fireplaces coming out of Europe.  Although bearing a bit of a heavy carbon footprint on the way over (they can weigh close to a ton), they are a very efficient, lovely looking way to warm a home.  Essentially, they use the heat radiating properties of the soapstone to make the most use of the high efficiency wood burning fire.  The larger versions can heat an entire home from one relatively small fire.

In the end, the type of fireplace or stove you choose will depend on what you need most.  Is it aesthetic beauty?  An efficient way to heat your home?  Or maybe just a place to hang the stockings with care?  Whatever you are looking for, there are now great choices that are also green choices!

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