Mother Earth Living

A Recipe for Success: An Eco-Friendly Austin, Texas, Kitchen Remodel

A green builder explains how the rich colors and patterns of environmentally friendly material add to the lively charm of this Austin kitchen—without inflating the remodeling costs.
By Bobby Zirkel
September/October 2003

Mary Sims’s remodeled kitchen is energy efficient, comfortable, and inviting.
Photo by Paul Bardagjy
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Mary Sims knew she had to do something. She had just bought an early 1950s duplex in the Austin, Texas, SoCo (South Congress) neighborhood, and the kitchen in her unit was a catastrophe. “It was so badly designed and depressing,” she laments. “I felt claustrophobic because it was so dark and enclosed.”

The cabinets were stained dark brown, and layers were peeling off some of the plywood cabinet doors. A huge cabinet, built to cover up what had originally been an exterior doorway to the other unit of the duplex, was completely out of proportion with the rest of the room. Within a week, a friend brought over his Sawzall, and the two began taking things apart. They removed the offending cabinet, along with a counter, range, and the upper cabinets, all of which protruded into the room, giving the old kitchen a tight U shape. Then Mary called me to begin discussing the remodel.

Kitchen remodeling can be one of the most challenging home-improvement projects a homeowner tackles. The multitude of options for flooring, countertops, cabinets, and other components often seems overwhelming, and the question of what to keep and what to replace is not always easy. Yet, as Mary discovered, incorporating green building principles into a kitchen can help with making all those decisions—without adding to the cost.

Mary’s remodel was completed for less than $17,000, and the outcome is more than she could have hoped for. “I wanted the kitchen to have a playful aspect, to be a place where you’re not just washing dishes and cooking,” she says. “The kitchen should be a room where people want to hang out.”


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