Monday, October 15, 2007

Final Chapter, Next Book

I realize that this house project has served to propel me more completely into a green and sustainable lifestyle. Hence, the title..... Final Chapter, Next Book.

This renovation project is finished and it culminated in a public showing yesterday as one of the homes featured on the Sonoma Community Center Kitchen Tour . My home was by far the smallest and most "restrained" of the homes shown, but I was proud to hear that it had real livability and warmth. And while my friends have to be kind about my work, strangers don't. The comments I overhead from people seeing my house for the first time were gratifying. Many were astonished that the home was green because it challenged preconceived notions that they had about what a green home looked like. And I was pleased to hear how the space was incredibly well utilized and included many practical elements.

I want to share some of the final photos here. While I still intend to replace the roof and add solar, I'll take a few months off. I will use this venue to comment on more of the lifestyle choices that come with being green. So stayed tuned!

The "Great Room"

The Kitchen and Baking Pantry

The Master Bedroom and Bath

Monday, August 20, 2007

Oh Canada

I recently visited Victoria, BC with my mother and I have to say that I was smitten with so much about the city. I had been there before on business but never really got the chance to explore it fully. Aside from the physical charms, I am so impressed with their commitment to maintaining an eco-balance.

One of the things that struck me was about how “green” practices weren’t called out as a suggested “alternative way of living”, but you get the feel that the local population just gets that they need to live more responsibly and respectfully when it comes to their environment.

For example, there weren’t the long explanations in the hotel about saving water, and thereby the planet, by not washing the linens. Rather it was suggested that if you wished not to have your sheets changed, you merely placed the pillows at the bottom of the bed. There was a recycle bin in the room…. like the ones you see in offices in the U.S. That’s the first I’ve ever seen one in a hotel room. I was also pleased to note that most of the taxis were hybrid cars.

This very clean city clearly takes pride in disposing of trash in appropriate ways. What interested me was that it’s also a city that owes its commerce to tourism and even the “visitors” seemed to honor the proper disposal of trash. I was one of many people intrigued with the solar power containers that crush recyclables. See photo below.

A visitor to the Royal BC Museum is treated to many delightful and engaging “cultural” exhibits, including a well-done video about global warming. There was no “hedging” or balancing the information as is often the case in the U.S. Rather, the museum suggested that enacting the solutions was the responsibility of every citizen on the planet. Sometimes you have to admire the directness of our northern neighbors. I wonder if this “enlightenment” comes from their respect and reverence to the many “first people” tribes that are recognized as significant contributors to the local history. It seems to have engendered a belief in the local population about the importance of maintaining the balance between man and nature.

Whatever the reasons, I applaud western Canada’s stated support for restoring our planet.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Online Shopping Expedition

Of course, it was necessary to find just the right accoutrements to complete the move back into the new home. I tried to incorporate as many of my old furnishings as possible by changing lampshades, updating knobs etc. Of course, there still were some things that had to be brought in order to complete to "look". While searching online, I found some exciting web sites that I share with you here. Happy shopping. I just love their Riverside sea glass dishes. A very chic and practical take on contemporary pieces to add to your home. Use these very stylish melamine plates instead of paper or plastic next time you have a soiree outdoors When not in Chicago or Brooklyn to see the store in person, check it out online. No one edits or chooses more stylish products from around the world than this charming couple. I feel as if I know them by seeing what they select over the years.

Two of my favorite sources/designs for cabinetry hardware. I was so taken with the Sartre (perfect name) knob from Pacific Modern that I used it in my kitchen. An interesting collection of “reuse” items. Got to have the motherboard luggage tags!
I've included the “seatbelt” hammock photo here because it is so ingenious. Check out the bamboo backsplashes. Next house, I’m going to incorporate one these rich pieces. What can be done with old traffic light parts? Stunning lights for the home. An interesting collection but limited collection of eco products. I am intrigued with the metal luggage. I am not convinced that the products here are all that enviro-friendly, but you have to check out their extensive closeout section for great bargains. I’ve enjoyed watching this online retailer’s selection grow. They seem to be nipping at DWR’s (Design Within Reach) heels in terms of product offerings. They are not all green, but they are all very cool.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Coloring a Kitchen Green

I've started showing the finished house and I seem to get the same question, "what makes this kitchen green?" I decided to highlight the features here as it may help guide others as they choose which elements to incorporate in their renovation projects.

In short, creating a green kitchen is all about: energy efficiency, non-toxicity/healthy environment, responsibility, and livability.

This renovated kitchen incorporates all of those features in the following ways:

Energy Efficiency

All appliances are top energy-star rated. The environment makes best use of HVAC efficiency and insulation that is present throughout the house. It was tested for leakage and great care was given to reduce waste.

Windows are Marvin’s Integrity, energy efficient line.

Non-Toxicity and Healthy Living

All paints, finishes and adhesives were mostly non-toxic. That includes the paints (Yolo, Benjamin Moore Aura, and American Pride). The Alder cabinetry was stained with non-toxic water-based stain from Unaxol (see last post).


That comes from having a size-appropriate space where the concept of “smaller is more beautiful,” comes to life.

All of the wood is FSC compliant, which means that it was harvested in an ecologically responsible manner. The white maple floors are pre-engineered from EcoTimber.

The glass backsplash is from Artistic Tiles which prides itself on being socially and ecologically responsible in the production of its materials.

The countertops are French limestone and were “reject material” from another job. Part of being responsible is to reuse, recycle and re-craft current materials whenever possible. The breakfast countertop is a “reuse” of tabletop that was re-fabricated and now has a new purpose as a small desk and breakfast countertop.

Separating the open kitchen floorplan from the great room is a glass material that again is considered ecologically friendly, from 3-Form, The product is called pineapple weave and is recycled glass and natural materials sandwiched together in an usual and appealing way.

The pantry countertop, from Eurostone (, is a composite material that is made up of the fragments of granite that fall to the floor and are thrown away. This product collects that refuse and crafts it into a luxurious “granite-like” material.

Water demand is met by a Nortiz tankless water heater and an on-demand hot water generator at the faucets from Both save water and cost the homeowner less to operate.


Being green does not mean giving up livability. This kitchen and baker’s pantry were designed to meet all the needs of cooking, entertaining, and living. Great care was given to mapping out all of the various functions and then providing the necessary space and materials to fulfill on those expectations. In doing so, use of space was carefully considered and only materials were used that would have minimum impact on our environment.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Finishing Touches

I realize that I’ve been away from my “green house journal” for a while. I’ll blame it on wanting to unpack fully. As well, I had the first of many houseguests who are staying with me over the summer. I wanted to make sure the place “showed” well.

I do have many observations that come with living in the space and I’ll try to capture them here for my new few blogs.

Today’s topic: water-based stain and lacquer.

I remember early on in the project, I had a wood finisher who gave me an estimate on some furniture repair. She was very interested in my green project and asked for a tour. As we went though the plans and ideas, she asked about cabinet finishes. What followed was a very interesting discussion between her and my contractor, whose first love is cabinetry. As it turns out, they both agreed that this was the one area that the products are disappointing. While it is true that some of the most harmful and toxic elements that one encounters in a home is what they use to seal wood, there’s a reason for the products. Wood floors, cabinets have to stand up to wear and as such, the process for doing so seems to require caustic products. Any alternative, to date, as been outrageously labor intensive and therefore cost prohibitive.

Well, I was determined to find a solution and I trusted that Cemil’s cabinetry perfectionism wouldn’t let me trade off too much in aesthetics or performance. We settled on Unaxol, distributed in the U.S. by And while the aesthetics are initially acceptable….. even, dare I say natural, there are some cautionary notes.

First, I noticed that during installation there was evidence of more dings than there should have been. Cemil was very careful, but this eco-friendly product requires more care than non-eco finishes. While it’s only been a month since I’ve been living in my new environment, I can already tell that the wood cabinets won’t hold up as well to scrubbing as the toxic alternatives. It means, that I will have to take a bit more care when cleaning up the cabinets. I will also keep a can of the stain handy in order to touch up any worn spots.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Spreading the Green Word

I've been bogged down with moving back into the house. I also took a week off to help my mother in South Carolina get her house updated and sorted out. I want to report on a couple of events that lead me to believe that green is no longer just for the initiated.

I had a new piece of furniture delivered to the house in Sonoma and it just so happens that the day it happened on the day that the painters were finishing up and we had a house full of workers who were putting finishing touches everywhere. I was caught off guard when one of the delivery men pointed out that he normally can smell the effects of new construction when he walks in the door. He said that it normally caused him to wheeze a bit. But this house was different, he pointed out. It is always nice to get unsolicited confirmation that your work is recognized.

Then there's the South. I grew up in the South, so I lovingly embrace its traditions. But often times, it means that there is healthy skepticism for anything new. And I feared that this was the case. Of course, my elderly mother seems game for being part of any new movement that makes her life easier and more productive. She still teaches university and is a whiz on the web, which she uses for her literary research. I've been very heartened by her interest in all things environmental and green. She regularly sends me articles that she's clipped on alternative fuel cars (she's subscribes to Car and Driver magazine) and features from the Wall Street Journal.

She enlisted the aid of Roy Grubbs for his painting services and insisted that he use the low-VOC paint from Sherwin Williams (Duration). She rescues greyhounds so she needs a durable and washable paint. So far, the results live up to expectation. It was fairly odor-free. It went on well, according to Roy. And the gentle test scrubbing that I did before I left seem to hold up.

I spent the week adding the "expert" commentary on green design to anyone that my mother would engage in conversation on the topic. While I understand the look of polite tolerance that one often encounters in the South, I do think that we "converted" several skeptics in our travels around the Charleston area.

It's all about spreading the word and living by example. Isn't everything?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

When Green Becomes Beige

Sometimes I think that too much is being made out of “green” as a lifestyle choice. Of course, I think we all need to take stock of what we do and how it affects longtime viability of the environment. But a part of me longs for the day when green practices will be so ubiquitous as to make calling it out as separately will be unnecessary. However, we are in a period of building awareness and as such, one has to be diligent in thinking about your activities in terms of whether they are good for the environment or not. That's new for most people.

I recently watched an interesting program on the Sundance Channel ( in the series “Big Ideas for a Small Planet.” This particular segment focused on sustainable design practices. The program featured the activities at various furnishing companies and how they are producing products in a more sustainable way.

What came through in the discussion from the DFE team (design for the environment team) at Hermann Miller in Holland, MI. Their goal is to be a zero landfill company that creates zero hazardous waste and generate zero emissions by the year 2020. The company which gave us the Eames and Aeron chairs now has launched the Mirra chair that is made of 42% recycled products and is 95% recyclable at the end of the chair’s life.

While the goals of the company are impressive, I was really intrigued by the discussion that the resident designers had on just what it means to create “sustainable” furniture. They seemed dedicated to a philosophy that manufacturing quality products that are ecologically sustainable should be standard operating procedure and the fact that the products are green should be transparent to the customer. I agree and applaud that attitude. As example, take a look at the Mirra chair as it doesn’t look “green” to me! It just looks like a fabulous product.

PS: I also really like what the Salm brothers are creating at Especially this creative wall covering, made from 100% post and pre-consumer waste paper.