Archive for the ‘Countertops’ category

How to Tell if You’re Working With A Green Kitchen Designer

June 15th, 2011

Kitchen renovations tend to be a first priority when it comes to renovating older homes. There are many reasons for this including colour, design, material use (think terracotta tile flooring from the 80s), and most importantly, functionality. Kitchens are also a great place to start a more eco-friendly renovation. There are more and more green options everyday, and they’re easier to find from efficient appliances to better flooring choices to no-added urea formaldehyde cabinetry.

I was wondering about what kind of things you should look for when you’re searching for a green kitchen designer so I contacted Clara Puskas. Clara knows a thing or two (and more) about green kitchen design. She’s the Chair of the Green Committee for the National Kitchen and Bath Association, as well as an experienced green kitchen designer and has won numerous awards for green kitchen design. So, needless to say, she knows what it takes to design a more eco-friendly kitchen than the norm.

2011 Winner: Small, Green Kitchen

I asked Clara, “What are some of the points that distinguish a green kitchen designer from a regular kitchen designer?” and she responded:

A green kitchen designer will be able to:

  • provide more space without necessarily changing the square footage of the home,
  • focus on natural and task lighting, water and energy saving,
  • work with rapidly renewable/ fsc certified/ zero VOC/ environmentally preferable products, but reuse if possible (try avoidng landfill),
  • design for smart storage, recycling and use,
  • design to use less materials/more open shelves etc, clean look, easy maintenance is priority in green design and product choices,
  • [develop a] design [that] should adapt easily so no major changes/replacements should be needed for 50 years,
  • appliances energy star and as needed depending on home/ family size, cooking style,
  • proper venting, air quality, insulation, windows, doors not only for natural light but to connect with outdoors, decorate with fruits, vegetables, plant to create shade during summer, or use blinds, green roofs…d.epending on how far the client can/willing to go.

The more time and effort you put into the design, the better will be your end-result. Keep these points in mind when searching for green kitchen designers.

Then I asked Clara about how she approaches a new design for her clients.

I start interviewing my clients in their home so I can see the space, the position of the home on the lot, windows, door locations, can we work within the same footprint? Finding out what they like and dislike in their present kitchen, budget vs. extent of reno- wish list, how they use adjacent dining room, are key information. Checking, and upgrading the existing electrical, plumbing, insulation is the perfect time when renovating the kitchen. I also recommend if feasible enlarging , upgrading windows  if there is a nice view and doesn’t compromise storage, function within the same footprint. This helps connect with outdoors, enjoy the four seasons, helps fresh air circulation, and with natural light received that could result in energy savings. When no windows are available,  skylights, solar tubes are wonderful alternatives to consider .  Energy efficient lighting fixtures, dimmers, multiple switches will also promote energy savings. Designing for proper ventilation of gases and moisture is priority for a healthy kitchen.  Also very important how many are in the family, how old they are, how they use the kitchen, do they cook together, further more do they entertain in the kitchen, are the guests involved in preparation of food, or not, in that case the design should keep guests out of the working triangle. All these information  effects fixture, appliance choices beyond being energy star rated. How they shop and therefore store, effects appliance, storage, recycling considerations . I recommend environmentally favorable products that conserve energy, water, improve air quality, rapidly renewable,  long lasting and low maintenance, with consideration of my clients’ height, age,  perhaps physical limitations that all  effects design  choice for mechanism, height of counter tops, appliances, storage under and above. I aim to optimize the existing space’s potential, by using environmentally friendly products that minimize water and energy consumption. and with all these  create safe, functional, healthy and beautiful rooms that meet my clients need and dreams.

As you can see by the detail of Clara’s questions to her clients, there is a lot to take into consideration when designing a new kitchen. Making it a green kitchen adds an additional layer of complexity because it goes well beyond material use — it’s more than just using bamboo as a floor. It’s about keeping the same home footprint, if possible or realistic, using less, not more, of everything which means simpler cabinets with less millwork. Reusing anything that’s possible, etc., bringing in natural light, therefore thinking about smart, efficient window choices….

Chef's kitchen with stainless steel counters, gas appliances, open cabinetry

Chef's Kitchen. Winner in Large Kitchen Category, sustainable design

Finding a green kitchen designer. There are kitchen companies that specialize in green kitchens. Like Clara, designers with a dedication to being environmentally conscious will have received a certain amount of training above and beyond their design degrees, so it’s best to ask them what sort of training they have. Look for training and completed certificates in sustainable kitchen design, lighting, etc., from resource centres such as the American Institute for Architects, and Interior Design schools and organizations. They could also be LEED qualified, (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional.) Regarding education, the National Kitchen and Bath Association offers a one-day Green Kitchen Design workshop for its members.

For more information regarding Clara’s services, visit her website, XL Kitchen Studio

All Photos courtesy of Clara Puskas, Chair, Green Committee, National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Sustain Eco Store, Sustainable Building Store in Huntsville, Ontario

March 1st, 2011

Jonathan McKay from Sustain Eco Living Store in Huntsville

When I was at the Interior Design Show this past January, skimming through the brochure index, many of the green products and services that were there were all represented at one exhibit — that of Sustain, an eco building and lifestyle store based in Huntsville, Ontario. The owners of the store, Jonathan and Celine McKay, are a young couple who have a mission to educate builders and cottagers alike about the importance of building responsibly and sustainably.

I spoke with Celine last week about what they hope to achieve with their business. Celine was very candid with me about their store; she said that their philosophy is to encourage people to introduce small changes into their lives that are better environmentally speaking than the traditional product, so a product they carry might not meet a true “greenie’s” expectations.

Celine and I have a lot of the same goals and philosophies about green building: having a lot of people making small incremental changes will have a better result than a few people making major changes. Not that these latter folk aren’t praise-worthy, they are, it’s just that it’s hard for many people to make dramatic environmental alternations to their lives. Then, of course there’s the fact that many people don’t have an interest in changing their lifestyles or there is the common misconception that “going green” is more costly, or the products don’t work, or aren’t as green as they’re marketed, or even that the styles are “too modern” or “too antique.” While all of these concerns are valid, Celine and Jonathan like to point out that the paths to “a greener lifestyle” are as varied as the number of paint colours on the market. Celine told me that some people come in wanting “toxic free” products, while others want ethically produced products, and others want the lowest environmental impact products available.

Celine and Jonathan’s goal is just to get people to consider using a low VOC paint instead of a regular paint, or perhaps use their bamboo flooring instead of a big box store’s. (Bamboo in itself is a big can of worms that we won’t go into right now, but let’s just say that when it comes to flooring, you get what you pay for: the cheaper it is per square foot, the poorer the quality).

So, when Celine and Jon look at representing a “green” product, they look at every detail of the product from its manufacturing right through to its use. Their important criteria for representing a product are:

  • Is it produced using fair labour practices?
  • Is it produced while safely managing the environment? For example, does the manufacturer have recycling systems in place, conserve, reuse or minimize water? Conserve energy or use renewable energy?
  • Is it produced locally? If not, how is it shipped?
  • Is it produced with the lowest impact ingredients available?
  • If the product is to be visual (like flooring or tile) is it design worthy or attractive? Is it durable? Does it off-gas?
  • Is the retail price point realistic?

Basically, if the product can pass these tests, Celine and Jonathan will carry it in their store. If you look at their website you’ll see a lot of products that I’ve covered before such as PaperStone, American Clay, Nadura flooring, AFM Safecoat and UltraTouch cotton insulation. But in addition to these products they also carry furniture, air purifiers, natural latex mattresses, infrared heaters, and area rugs all of which have a lower environmental impact than their “regular” competition.

You’d think that running a store would be enough for the pair, but in addition to that they also produce a stunning online magazine called Pure Green Magazine. Celine told me that the magazine’s target market are regular home decor magazine readers, such as those who read Canadian House and Home and Style at Home. The goal of Pure Green is to demonstrate that being green doesn’t have to be “out there” on the design front. While a lot of people think that green design is modern and expensive, Celine’s out to demonstrate through concrete examples that green design is just like any other design only with a lighter environmental footprint that’s also healthier for its occupants.

The next time you’re in Huntsville, drop around to their store and have a look. In the meantime you can subscribe to their online magazine here. The next issue is due out in May, 2011.

Thanks again Celine for your time!

Sustain is located at:
8 Crescent Road, Unit B2
Huntsville, ON
P1H 0B3

t.    705-787-0326
f.    705-787-7326

Store Hours:
Monday to Friday: 10 – 5
Saturday: 10 – 4
Sunday: closed

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Nexterra’s New Eco-Friendly Partners

February 15th, 2011

Nexterra and LivingHomes have partnered to build 4 luxury eco-homes in a quiet setting on a ravine, close to the subway, restaurants and amenities. These homes are greener than your ordinary homes and if you’d like to read more, see an earlier post I wrote about the project.

Nexterra has been working tirelessly to find more suppliers for these wonderful homes. When I was at the Interior Design Show 2011, Nexterra invited a few of us on a tour of five new partners recently added to their list of suppliers. Nexterra has two requirements when selecting suppliers: that the products are designed with high style, and that they help preserve the environment whether that be by avoiding off-gassing of harmful chemicals into the built home, conserving water and/or energy, or choosing materials that have a lower impact on the environment than their traditional counterparts.

Be Collection -- Sink

WETSTYLE: A Montreal-based company, makes beautiful sinks and tubs by hand. Each tub takes about 6 hours to finish and almost all the work in manufacturing the products is done by hand. All work takes place in the factory in Montreal. In addition to the lower energy use, the factory boasts a waste and scrap rate of less than 1%. Bath furnishings come from the Cube Collection, Be Collection and M Collection. (Note: for a list of retailers for WetStyle, see their website.)

Hey Joe Faucet by Aquabrass

Aqua Brass: Italian-designed faucets and shower heads that anyone would be proud to put in their homes. These faucets are beautiful contemporary pieces that belie their functionality. The Bridge Collection of faucets will be used in the powder room and second floor main bathroom, while the Hey Joe Collection will be used for the master bathroom. The faucets use 1.6 gallons per minute versus a standard flow rate faucet of 2.2 to 3.8 gpm. To find a dealer near you, visit their website.

Natura Paint by Benjamin Moore. Zero VOC

Benjamin Moore: Natura is a line of zero VOC paints, even when colour tints are added. This last part is important because some paint retailers boast zero VOC paints — but only when the paints aren’t tinted. Natura 100% acrylic paints are water-based, fade resistant, have good coverage and come in finishes of flat, eggshell and semi-gloss. (To find a retailer near you, visit their website.)

Quartz Reflections by CaesarStone

CaesarStone: Quartz is the lowest maintenance, most durable of all the stone surfaces. The surface being used for the kitchen island, side gables and countertops also has recycled content which includes crushed quartz, post consumer mirror and windshield glass all of which is being diverted from landfill and reused in this product. Product is Quartz Reflections, #7141. To find a Caesarstone dealer near you visit their website.

AEG Steam Oven

Euroline Appliances: Euroline is providing all of the kitchen and laundry appliances for the homes.

  • AEG is supplying a cooking tower that includes: A 24″ oven, steam oven, microwave and warming drawer, induction cooktop (induction boils water in under a minute) and dishwasher. The washer and dryer (Lavamat and Lavatherm) are also AEG appliances.
  • Liebherr is supplying  24″ (each) refrigerator and freezer which stand side by side. Liebherr is one of the first companies to completely eliminate hazardous chemicals from its manufacturing process.
  • Franke: A Swiss company providing the sink and faucet.

Euroline is located at 2278 Speers Road in Oakville, ON.

For more information on the Nexterra/LivingHomes collaboration, visit their website.

Polytrazzo — 80% recycled material, 12% rapidly renewable material

January 12th, 2011

I came across this counter top/flooring product last month that looks interesting. Its product, Polytrazzo is similar to the other recycled-glass products like Vertrazzo and IceStone, but it’s made in Canada. At the moment it’s made in Vancouver, but following an email exchange with Dan Stubbs, the Director of Sales and Marketing for Polytrazzo, their ultimate goal is to be able to manufacture this product in various locations across Canada.

Polytrazzo’s originated from eurocrete(.com), a similar product designed for industrial flooring in the food manufacturing business, so you know, that if it’s good enough for an industrial food manufacturing facility, it has to be a pretty resilient material.  It was a simple switch to to recycled material when developing this new product that made it perfect for the commercial/residential market.

Polytrazzo is a product that consists of 80% recycled glass, 12% “not feedstock competing, non petroleum-based” vegetable oil and 8% white cement. Regarding the 8% cement in the product, Dan says: And yes, we know that white cement is frowned upon in the ‘green’ world; but we feel a product that is 92% environmentally friendly is step in the right direction. We have done a significant amount of testing and 8% is what is optimal right now.” The finished product is twice as hard as concrete and has a long lifespan. In fact it will outlast the concrete it sits on.

It is available in a variety of colours and thicknesses depending on if it’s going to be used as paneling, flooring or counter tops. It is scratch and chip resistant, non-porous, food grade, chemical resistant, waterproof membrane, zero VOC and it doesn’t need sealing. It’s one of the lowest maintenance products I’ve come across.

Polytrazzo is available in a variety of natural resin colours including: blue, red, yellow, green (several shades) and grey (several shades), mixed with two different aggregates.

The product is available two ways: it is either pre-cast in the factory to order and sent to its final destination for installation by a traditional tile installer, or it is ready to be cast in situ, meaning that it is poured on site and left to cure and can be done by a professional terrazzo installer.

The cost: Locally in Vancouver, the product cost ranges from $7-8.50/square foot, in Toronto and outside of Vancouver, it’s about $8-9.50/square foot. Installation will cost $2-5/square foot, depending on the type of installation being done. The company has recommended installers they work with in the Toronto area.

The company’s goal is to set up more centres across Canada in order to manufacture the product in the area in which it’s used. At the moment, however, it’s manufactured in Vancouver and shipped across North America.

For more information contact Polytrazzo directly:


Concrete Elegance — concrete countertops with 88% recycled content

October 7th, 2010

I always hesitate to write about concrete as a green building material. Concrete manufacturing is one of the most energy and water intensive processes around with an average CO2 output of one kilogram per kilogram of concrete produced! So, when I was at the Green Building Festival a few weeks ago, I passed by the booth for Concrete Elegance and spoke with Alla Linetsky about her product. I had written about Concrete Elegance before, but it was purely from a decor perspective, its green attributes at that time were ignored. As it turns out, concrete from Concrete Elegance is a pretty ‘green’ product after all.

Concrete Elegance was established in 2004 and since 2006 the company has been continuously improving the environmental footprint of its product. Some of the improvements it has made include:

  • Replacing 80% of Portland Cement — the energy intensive part of concrete — with recycled cementing materials, mostly with steel mill slag from Ontario smelters
  • replacing all of the sand and gravel with the broken, multi-coloured glass shards left at the bottom of our recycling boxes that would otherwise go to landfill
  • producing a product that is less than half the thickness (and therefore weight) than traditional concrete but just as durable
  • sourcing up to 88% of all ingredients from Ontario
  • replacing steel reenforcement with glass fiber filaments which use less energy and are lighter and stronger than steel
  • casting on permanent table surfaces, eliminating disposable formwork material using VOC free ingredients and sealer.

In addition to its environmental qualities, concrete offers a lot of flexibility in design. Because it’s a poured substance, it can be made into unusual, thin-walled three dimensional shapes that would be impossible to fit with solid sheet material. It can be polished or honed and needs sealing only occasionally.

Curved sink and counter top

The cost is similar to stone surfaces and largely depends on what your needs are. For instance, concrete can be made into fireplace surrounds, floor tiles, counter tops, backsplashes, and even complete counter tops with sinks (although not recommended for your primary sink). It can be used in interior and exterior locations.

Concrete, like all surfaces, does chip so you need to pay attention — although chips can be repaired, you will see them. A knife will scratch the finish so use a cutting board, and while the food-safe sealer applied is non-porous it develops its resistance over time, so it’s best to clean up spills quickly in the first few weeks.

For more information on Concrete Elegance, visit their website.

Concrete Elegance

610 Bowes Road, Unit 14, Concord, ON, L4K 4A4

Phone 416-567-5529
Fax 416-913-2462

(note: please call before you visit as they may be at a customer site).

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