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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!

Clarity, Order and Simplicity

“People, like sandwiches, come in layers.” A. Pujari

Let’s face it. It’s those very layers that make life interesting, and that make us, as individuals, so fascinating and complex. It is those same, complex layers that sometimes lead to confusion and a desire for more clarity in our lives.

Clarity. What is it?

We can equate it to the proverbial light bulb that goes on, when you suddenly ‘see the light’. In essence, it means knowing who you are, understanding your tastes, what you want, your likes and dislikes. You need to know these things about yourself before you can even begin to choose paint colors, and new furniture, let alone navigate the rest of your life. Otherwise, you will constantly be bumping up against imaginary ‘walls’.

If you don’t know your tastes and preferences, even the most basic design decisions will be very difficult. You will be constantly second guessing, and hemming and hawing, instead of knowing instantly, in your gut, that you are making the right choice.

Clarity also means reducing clutter, especially at the outset of a project, as it allows you to determine how your living space can best meet your needs, and what must be done to achieve that. Keeping things simple definitely helps. If you’ve heard the saying ‘Less is More’, you’ll know what I mean.

As part of my design philosophy I believe in a uncluttered environment and paring back whenever possible. I like to see the elegant lines of a piece of furniture, or a beautiful work of art, having room to shine.

It may not be easy peeling back the layers and find order among the chaos. However, the end result will definitely be worth it.

Losing Luggage, Losing Stuff

Earlier this summer, on a return trip from Hawaii, my luggage made a detour to San Jose. I live in Seattle, so while this was still on the West Coast, it wasn’t home. You know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach? That feeling of forboding when you are about to deal with some Unplanned Event? For any of you who’ve ever had missing luggage, you will know what I’m talking about.

True, it’s not the end of the world. Worse things can happen. And that’s precisely my point. Once I got over the initial shock of arriving home without any of my ‘stuff’, I slowly accepted the situation for what it was. I started to figured out how I was going to make do, and even went so far as to explore the worse case scenario.

What if I NEVER got my suitcase back? I wouldn’t be a happy camper, but I knew I would survive. After all, it’s just stuff, and that stuff can be replaced. I also realized it would be one, very large shopping trip. I started to make lists. As it was, I didn’t get my luggage back for three days, and I was never happier to see it again than I was at that moment!

If you really think about it, isn’t it silly how attached we get to our things?

Which brings me to those piles of clutter we all have in our homes, be it a closet, a junk drawer or just papers piled on a desk. We know we should set aside some time to sort through everything and either get rid of it, donate it or better yet, recycle it. Yet we don’t.

There are any number of reasons why. We’re too busy. It’s too overwhelming. Maybe we’ll need it again – someday? Some things have sentimental value, and that’s a different story all together.

I have worked with clients who were downsizing from the family home into a small condo, or retirement home, and it can be a major project sorting through years of accumulated belongings, trying to decide what to keep and what has to go. There are family heirlooms and so many memories – some good, some bad.

Whether you are downsizing or remodeling or gearing up to re-design the rooms you live in, give yourself time, first, to thoroughly contemplate the situation. Then be ruthless. If it is out of date, invokes bad memories, or is simply old and falling apart – get rid of it. Consider re-cycling, giving to other family members or donating to charities.

Some things will always be non-negotiable, and that’s fine. Those are the things that make you happy, that nurture you and are part of who you are.