that "green design" is as drab as a rice cake? Guess again.
Some of the hottest-looking kitchen products around are made of
renewable resources. Consumers now can choose richly textured bamboo
floors, exotic-looking paper countertops and shiny backsplashes made
of recycled glass. That’s a great combination for those who want
their "dream kitchen" and want to be gentle on the
Even in the tradition-minded Midwest,
the environmental movement is starting to take hold. "A year ago,
nobody was asking about (environmentally friendly) kitchen
products," says Molly Madsen of AB&K in Mequon and
Greenfield. "But that sure has changed." She says her
customers are more aware of how products affect the environment. About
60 percent of her firm’s business involves kitchen design.
When you think about it, the kitchen is
a perfect place to promote environmentally friendly practices. The
many appliances a kitchen contains — refrigerator, stove, microwave,
dishwasher etc. — consume a lot of energy. And a lot of water is
used in food preparation and cleanup chores. Not to mention that the
size of kitchens continues to grow, as people continue to gather in
kitchens for entertaining and socializing.
argue that natural materials already used in kitchens — such
as tile, stone and wood — qualify as being environmentally
friendly. This JFK Builders home was featured on the 2006
Metropolitan Builders Association Parade of Homes.
The trend toward environmentally
friendly kitchens can be traced to a wide variety of sources. Some
experts point to global design trends. Kerrie Lukasavitz of Colleen
Horner in Milwaukee’s Third Ward and Pewaukee notes that kitchen
trends surfacing in Europe and Asia incorporate products made from
renewable resources. In the United States, she sees such trends in
California (where strict building and water codes are enforced) and
the East Coast (where people are more concerned with restoring
The "Hollywood factor" is a
big part of this renewable resource movement, according to Susan
Hirschberg of Wisconsin Kitchen Mart in Milwaukee. "When you have
people such as former Vice President Al Gore and actor Leonardo
DiCaprio talking about saving the environment, people start paying
attention." She predicts this trend will continue to grow in
popularity, especially as natural materials dwindle and therefore
become more expensive to use.
Milwaukee-area designers see two
distinct types of people who are looking to turn their kitchens
"green." One type makes such decisions as a lifestyle
choice. This type may also be concerned about chemicals used to
produce more conventional products. Madsen notes that people are
asking about a manufacturer’s production techniques, and what
chemicals are used to create their products. "People understand
that new materials may emit gases once they’re installed," she
says. "And it’s not just people with asthma or allergies who
are concerned about this." They want to promote a healthy, safe
The other type is drawn to the
distinctive characteristics of these materials. "If it looks ‘hip,’
they are excited about it," Madsen says. "The fact that
these products are environmentally friendly is seen as a bonus."
However, such materials won’t appeal
to bargain hunters. In general, they are priced about the same as
other items available in the marketplace. Despite the fact that many
of these products incorporate "used" materials, it takes a
lot of effort to make them beautiful and durable enough for daily use
— especially in a kitchen. "We confine our products to those
that will stand the test of time," Hirschberg says. "We don’t
want unhappy customers coming to us later with their problems."
Instead, she thoroughly explains the properties of each material
before using it in the design. If you’re not using a professional
designer, it’s important to learn the pros and cons of using these
materials. Like granite and other natural products, eco-friendly
materials may need occasional maintenance.
Some might argue that natural materials
already used in kitchens — such as tile, stone and wood — qualify
as being environmentally friendly. To an extent, this is true.
However, when you think of how quickly a bamboo tree grows when
compared to an oak tree, such arguments become debatable.
There are many options between these
two extremes, however. Hirschberg points to the popular lyptus tree,
which grows in South America. Although it’s a hardwood, it grows
much more quickly than similar trees. It can be left in its natural
state (which looks similar to cherry), or stained to mimic other
woods. Hirschberg’s in-store display of an environmentally friendly
kitchen uses lyptus for its cabinets. The shiny, dark cabinets reflect
an espresso-colored stain topped with a black glaze.
If homeowners are wondering about
whether a wood qualifies as "green," check for a marking by
the Forest Stewardship Council. It will tell you if the wood is
certified, salvaged or reclaimed from a sustainable managed forest.
As natural resources become scarce, it’s
inevitable that environmentally friendly products will continue to
grow in popularity. Simultaneously, the variety of products available
will continue to grow to meet consumer demand. As innovators come out
with new and improved products, many of them may end up in
"dream" kitchens throughout the Milwaukee area.
|The ‘e’ list
Many familiar products are
finding new uses in kitchen design. Here are a few ways to
incorporate an environmentally friendly feel to your existing
Bamboo — Although often used as
a wood substitute, bamboo is actually a fast-growing grass. In
fact, bamboo can grow up to 2 feet per day and can be harvested
every four years. Compare that to an oak tree, which takes 120
years to mature. Bamboo is known for its strength and
durability. In the kitchen, bamboo is used for flooring,
countertops, cabinets and furniture.
Cork — This renewable resource
is actually nothing new; in fact, it was used by famed architect
Frank Lloyd Wright as flooring material in some of his
residences. Cork is popular for its softness and resiliency. It
has tiny air pockets that make it easier on your legs and back,
especially in a kitchen where you’re on your feet most of the
time. It also absorbs sound. Cork is harvested from tree bark in
a way that does not damage the tree. Cork flooring is popular in
kitchens if it’s properly waterproofed.
Recycled glass — Although glass
has been recycled for years, it’s finding new uses in products
that add sparkle and color to a kitchen. Recycled glass tiles
can be used for countertops or backsplashes in the same way that
ceramic tile is used. The benefit of using recycled glass is
that less of it ends up in landfills.
Recycled paper — A recent
addition to the kitchen design marketplace, specially treated
paper can be used in a number of ways. When combined with resin,
paper countertops can withstand heat, stains and dents. Years of
testing and research produced a wide array of colors and styles.
A substance known as "Paper Stone" uses 100 percent
post-consumer paper and nonpetroleum based resins.