A designer discovers the vast world of green
by Dan Thompson, January 01, 2009
As a 25-year veteran of the kitchen business, I have been skeptical of the concept of "green" remodeling. After all, how can an industry built on tearing out the old, replacing with new and using trees as its main resource give this concept more than lip service? But when my company was offered the opportunity to create a display for Abt Appliance, one of the largest appliance stores in the country, rather than giving them more of the same old same old, we decided to go green.
I started by doing my homework. Many hours were spent online searching for manufacturers and suppliers from all over the world whose products have little or no impact on the environment and still look good. The research process was invigorating. After years of selling cherry or painted cabinets with granite countertops, I was amazed to discover the abundance of new products, ideas and manufacturing methods revolving around green design.
It was fascinating to talk to these people about their focus and dedication to providing new products for our industry. Tim Scott, of Executive Kitchens in South Carolina, saw the writing on the wall five years ago when he switched to water-based finishes for his cabinets. During a visit to his plant, one of the things that stood out was the lack of chemical smell.
I was also introduced to the LEED rating system. This program enables end-users to quantify different materials and manufacturing on the basis of sustainability, recyclability and reusability. There is more to being green than just reducing waste and minimizing packaging. My goal was to find the most eco-friendly products and manufacturing methods available in order to create the "greenest" kitchen in the world.
The direction and product selection for this green display kitchen came from an in-store designer challenge à la the TV show, Top Chef. Each of our designers had 45 minutes to create a design and assemble their product choices for the creation of a beautiful "green" kitchen. Our hometown newspaper even covered the event.
The designs were judged by Green Homes LLC, a local green home consulting firm. The winner was selected for creating the kitchen that best incorporated eco-friendly, sustainable materials into a usable—and visually appealing—design. The winning designer got an extra day off and was interviewed for the paper.
The chosen display incorporates cabinets from Executive Kitchens that feature solid bamboo doors, water-based finishes and formaldehyde-free plywood. For the countertops, we selected Vetrazzo and PaperStone, which use recycled glass and paper from curbside pickup programs, respectively.
Low-energy-consuming LEDs provide undercabinet lighting, and although most of the LED lighting available on the market is dim with a bluish tint, which is unacceptable for task lighting, we were able to find a product whose output is comparable to halogen. Even the cabinet hardware is recycled glass.
For the flooring, the existing concrete was acid-stained with water-based finishes, while the walls were painted using low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint. The display also includes table pedestals formed of PVC tubing that was pulled from a job-site dumpster and then painted to match the walls, as well as stools made from monkeypod wood. The branches of monkeypod trees are often used for woodcarving because they grow back after they've been cut off. How's that for sustainable?
—Dan Thompson is president of Kitchen Design Group in Glenview, IL