What To Look For In The Eco-Savvy Kitchen

“There is no love sincerer than food.” George Bernard Shaw

Harwell Kitchen

What could be more appropriate a week before the Thanksgiving holiday, than a discussion of kitchens and food? So, bear with me a moment as we take another look at beautiful Biltmore House, in North Carolina, focusing this time on the Biltmore kitchens. Yes, that’s ‘kitchens’ as in plural; it’s not a typo.

As was typical of the day, the kitchens at Biltmore were located in the mansion’s cavernous basement, and were reached by a separate service entrance reserved for use by household staff. There were a variety of rooms that comprised the kitchen, beginning with a vegetable pantry and large, walk-in refrigerators. Remember, this was in 1895; the mechanical refrigeration system was, of course very different from what we see today, yet highly sophisticated for the time. Continuing on, there was a separate Pastry kitchen, reserved for the pastry chef to produce a bounty of cakes, breads and pastries, and a Rotisserie kitchen – in an effort to keep the roasting smells separate from the main cooking area, this was used strictly for the roasting of meats.

The main kitchen facility was a large, cheerful room ruled by Biltmore’s head chef. There was an enormous iron stove in one corner and a huge work table front and center, for prep work. A variety of pots and pans hung overhead, including some of the original copper pots! There was plenty of room for storage and all the latest in kitchen equipment and utensils, and of course, a separate kitchen pantry for washing up afterwards. The pantry included a dumbwaiter, which would have been a necessity for transporting the carefully prepared meals to the floors above.

Fast forward to the present, and compare this to the typical kitchen of today. While the Biltmore kitchen seemed to have it all, our modern kitchens are equally efficient, yet  modest in scale. No longer relegated to the basement, or a separate room at the back of the house, the modern kitchen is considered the hearth of the home, and is an ideal place to entertain family and friends.

It is not surprising, then, that a kitchen remodel is usually high on the list for home improvement. Yet where does one begin? What should one look for when creating an eco-friendly, ‘green’ kitchen?

The following guidelines are a good place to start:

Think Smaller Scale. Think Local.
Do you really need a grandiose kitchen like Biltmore, or can you get by with less? The illusion is that a larger kitchen will fulfill all your workspace and storage needs. While this may be true on some level, the reality is that you can have a highly efficient, well-designed kitchen in a relatively compact space. Keep in mind that by reducing the scale of your dream kitchen, you can reduce the overall cost, and instead think bigger in terms of the overall design. In other words, you can re-purpose those funds into higher end cabinetry, quality appliances, and clever storage options and still come out ahead without breaking your budget. Should you start to feel overwhelmed at any point in the process, consider hiring a professional designer to help you sort through all your options. Remember to support local businesses and locally manufactured products. In doing so, you will reduce transportation costs and your carbon footprint.

Splurge on Quality Appliances
The biggest, energy efficient change you can make in your kitchen is to install Energy Star appliances. The Energy Star stamp of approval is highly reliable, and can be found on appliances in any price range.

Super-Efficient Storage
Before you can decide on storage options, you will need to inventory what you already have and weed out kitchen equipment that you no longer use. Do you really need three vegetable peelers and a dozen spatulas? What about the fondue pot that hasn’t graced the table in over five years? Be ruthless, and remember:  once you’ve cleared out your cabinets and have clarified your priorities the last thing you need is another shopping trip to your favorite kitchen store. Learn to rein yourself in and get by with less.

Rethink Your Cabinets
In today’s market, there are a large variety of sustainable options for cabinets; whatever brand, or type of material you choose, make sure the manufacturer uses water-based glues and adhesives, and particleboard that does not contain formaldehyde. Alternatively, if your cabinets are in relatively good condition, consider having them refinished, or refaced, or perhaps relocating them to the laundry room or garage. In doing so, you will reduce waste, and protect the landfills.

Counter Intelligence
There are an endless number of choices for countertops and decorative backsplashes, including re-cycled glass, concrete, or composite products made from paper and resin. The sky is really the limit here. This is where you can let your creative juices flow and have fun!

As you prepare for your family’s Thanksgiving feast during the coming week, pay close attention to how well your present kitchen is working for you, and what changes you would make if you were to embark on a remodel. Do your homework. Know what you can’t live without. Compile your Wish List. Be sure to DREAM BIG!