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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, October 29th, 2010

Allusion or Illusion?

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As an interior designer for over twenty-five years, I have learned how to create space through the use of what I term “design magic,” ideas that contribute towards successful design. The premise underlying “Tricks of the Trade: A Professional’s Perspective” is my belief that effective design is achieved through a series of manipulative “twists of the wrist,” magic made by a professional.  By exploring the secrets behind timeless design, I hope to reveal how, through the sculpting and carving of space and the use of different and interesting materials and finishes, a designer creates magic.  “Tricks of the Trade” explains how these twists are created and then brought to fruition.

If sleight of hand is the magician’s forte, then sleight of imagination is the professional designer’s expertise. What distinguishes the so-called ‘do-it-yourself’ decorator from a real pro is basically the magic they create in sculpting and creating space. No mere pretty pink polka-dots on a wall, but perhaps a floating wall, one which seems to exist in space with no apparent support. Is this magic or professional know-how? It is both one and the same. It is an understanding of how a room can be made to look other than it is, and for a space to be constructed to look as though its imperfections were perfectly manicured.

Challenging Spaces Become Features

Consider the narrow passageway. The professional knows that by dropping the ceiling, the side walls “seem” to expand in breadth, thereby giving the sense of increased space. Was the space really widened? Was the neighbor’s apartment encroached upon? Of course not. It is simply a trick of the trade. Another bit of magic can be employed to make a floor appear larger than it is. By tiling or laying the floor on the diagonal, it appears to open up the space spreading off into some undetermined distance. Put a border around it and the magic is destroyed, the illusion cut short.

The Big Impact of Small Spaces

When visiting Malmaison outside of Paris last week, I noticed an abundance of antechambers—spaces designed to create the expectation of surprise and a breathing area, like a stop in music, where one waits in wonder as to what comes next. Often, these antechambers have dropped ceilings so as to create a sense of enclosure while simultaneously making the entering space feel even larger and more majestic. This sculpted drama is sensual in its appeal of the unknown. And then, when the individual passes into the major room, it is grander than thought. Back here in the United States, the entry foyer creates this same magic. By carving out a space, albeit small, it serves as a preface of what is to come. Again, it gives the illusion of grandeur beyond. So as not to enter directly into the living room, it is a transition area for circulation and surprise. What exactly lies beyond this curved wall, or veiled panel? There is really a type of physics going on here, as one lessens the feel of one area, the conjoining area seems enlarged. Niches do a similar thing; they carve out space, yet make it look larger. They create diversity and a sculpted sense that something lies beyond and within.

The Intrigue of the Half-Wall

Another bit of magic is that created by the half-wall. Instead of building all the way up to the ceiling and thereby closing off a space, a half- or three-quarter wall is created to divide spaces, while maintaining an open, airy feeling. These partial walls, which may be made of glass block, cabinetry, sheet rock, sandblasted glass, metal, basically any material, add interest and intrigue. It begs the question of what is beyond…. and yet visually it is completely open. This too is magic, as the viewer must now postulate on what lies ahead.

These are just a few of the sleights of hand, flights of imagination that the professional designer and architect conjure up to create the magic of space.

Coming in the next blog: The “magic” of mirrors, pocket doors, and perfectly placed furniture.

See my Designer Profile on HomePortfolio.

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Linoleum, Naturally

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When I work with residential clients on their kitchens and baths, I’m frequently told “I can’t wait to rip out than old linoleum floor and replace it with something more eco-friendly!”   While they are right that their current floor usually lacks in the eco-friendly department, it’s not because it’s linoleum, it’s because it isn’t.  In fact, what’s actually occupying their floor is vinyl.

So where did all this confusion in names begin, and why does it even matter?

Well, if you knew how beautiful and green a product linoleum is, you would wonder how anyone could possibly mistake it for decidedly un-green vinyl.

To understand how one got mixed up with the other, let me fill you in on a little history first.  Linoleum has been around for 150 years now, and began life as the gummy crust inventor Frederick Walton saw on the top of a jar of linseed oil.   Thinking he had finally found a solution to the problem of how to make a less expensive raincoat, what he actually discovered was a method for making clean, flexible flooring from readily available natural materials.  In fact, the word linoleum is a combination of the Latin words linum (flax) and oleum (oil) – and flax (aka linseed) oil is what is used in linoleum to this very day, along with ground up cork, natural resin, pigment, and jute.  Colorful, durable, and very natural.

So where did the confusion come in?  Until the mid 1940′s, linoleum was found in homes and businesses all over Europe and North America.  It was the resilient flooring of choice.  Then, after WWII, less expensive polyvinyl chloride (PVC) flooring, commonly referred to as simply vinyl, hit the market place.  Because linoleum took several days to cure once it was formed into sheets, it was impossible for it to compete with vinyl, which could take only hours to make from start to finish.  Early vinyl flooring was initially made to look like its more expensive cousin linoleum, hence the confusion.  The words rapidly came to be interchangeable, and since no one was concerned about the sustainability of either flooring, no distinction seemed necessary.

Although it never disappeared entirely, by the 1970′s the once booming linoleum factories in the United States had all closed their doors, leaving only a couple of factories in Europe to continue production.  Now that we are realizing that the use of PVC can have serious health ramifications, linoleum is seeing a resurgence in popularity, and the number of factories in the world has increased to 4.  One of these factories, located in Scotland, has been churning out linoleum since 1875!

The largest, and by far the greenest, of the few linoleum makers left is Forbo, which markets its product under the name Marmoleum.  Available in sheet, tile, and clickable plank form, there are over 120 possible colors to choose from.   Happily, they still use that same formula of natural ingredients first invented by Frederick Walton all those many years ago, making Marmoleum a very green product indeed.

Editor Rachel Hulan, IIDA, has been an interior designer for over 12 years.  You can visit her sustainable interior design blog here.

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Cork, It’s Not Just For Wine Bottles Anymore

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For centuries, wine bottles have used cork as their primary stopper.  How many of us associate the sound of a cork being popped from a bottle of champagne with celebration and good cheer?  Yet, cork has another use that is even better…

Cork is one of the very best, most sustainable materials for flooring.  And why is that…? (more…)