Natural Home Kitchen of the Year 2007: Something Old, Something New

Using salvaged and sustainable materials, a designer works magic on her own kitchen.

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Interior designer Alinda Morris put her skills to the test in her own kitchen.

Photo By Michael Shopenn

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Interior designer Alinda Morris had a bit of an advantage when it came to redesigning the kitchen in her 1963 home in Gig Harbor, Washington. “I wanted a sustainable design that looked as good as the high-end kitchens I’ve designed for my clients,” she says.

Even with her design background, Alinda had obstacles to overcome. Her budget was just a fraction of what many homeowners spend on kitchen remodels. And the galley-shaped space was tiny, just 12 by 8 feet. “I have clients whose closets are bigger than my kitchen,” she laughs.

Alinda kept the original range and dishwasher and found the smallest possible refrigerator, an 18.3-cubic-foot Frigidaire that uses 479 kilowatts per year. The model isn’t Energy Star labeled, but its size saves nearly 200 kilowatts per year over a larger, standard-sized Energy Star unit. As a further energy-conscious measure, she pays a premium for green power from her utility, Peninsula Light Company.

Next, Alinda hired Finn Jensen of Evergreen Custom Cabinetry and Design, the only craftsperson she found who would build cabinets but let her finish them herself. Jensen built cabinets out of Plyboo, a sustainable, laminated bamboo product that’s low in toxic formaldehyde. Alinda then finished them with OSMO Polyx Oil, a durable, low-VOC hardwax oil. “It dries to a satin sheen, it’s waterproof, and I can wash it with soap and water,” she says.

For the countertops, Alinda visited the Environmental Home Center in nearby Seattle and found PaperStone Certified, a hardy material made from 100 percent post-consumer paper and cashew-nut resin. It’s heat resistant and waterproof, making it a great choice for the kitchen.

On the kitchen island, Alinda installed a chunk of concrete she found at a salvage yard; it had sat outside for more than a year and developed a lovely weathered patina. “It’s 3 inches thick and has this nice visual weight,” she says. “When I first saw it, I knew I’d use it in the kitchen.” The backsplash was a true labor of love; Alinda rescued used tiles she found in a warehouse her employer owns, cleaned them and reinstalled them.

Morris believes the remodel is one of her best efforts. “It has clean lines and bold colors. The best compliment came from my neighbor, who said, ‘This kitchen is so you!’”

The Challenge: “My budget was tight,” Alinda says. “That forced me to be creative, to think through things and entertain possibilities I might not have otherwise.”

The Joy: “I’m thrilled when people comment on the aesthetics of the kitchen first, not just on its green design,” Alinda says. “There’s no need for a separate aesthetic: Green design can and should be incorporated seamlessly.”

The Compromise: With her tight budget, Morris spent more time planning, shopping and acquiring sustainable materials than she might have otherwise.

Our Favorite Feature: Alinda reused or recycled 90 percent of the materials in the original kitchen. She chose all new materials based on their recycled content or ability to be reused in the future.

The good stuff

Kitchen cabinets: The Plyboo cabinets are a bamboo edge grain. The bamboo is rapidly renewable and responsibly manufactured by Smith and Fong. The cabinets were finished with low-VOC OSMO Polyx hardwood oil.

CountertopPaperStone Certified is made from recycled paper fiber with a non-petroleum resin.

Kitchen island and backsplash: Salvaged concrete and backsplash tiles were saved from their landfill fate.

PaintAFM Safecoat’s low-VOC paint provides color with minimal toxic outgasing.