Mother Earth Living

Green Kitchens: Remodeling a Victorian Kitchen in San Francisco

A San Francisco couple with a zest for cooking renovates their outdated, Victorian-era kitchen.
By Jennifer Roberts
September/October 2011
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Open shelves hold the couple’s colorful cookware. Glass doors on upper shelves keep items secure and dust-free without obstructing daylight.
Photo By Linda Svendsen
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The following is an excerpt from "Good Green Kitchens" by Jennifer Roberts (Gibbs Smith, 2006). The excerpt is from Chapter 5: Energy, Water and Cleaning Up. 

Although I’d spent less than an hour in Leslie Spring’s company, as soon as I bit into the fresh tomato galette she served up for lunch, I wanted to ask her to be my friend for life. Spring grew up in San Francisco in the Queen Anne–style Victorian where she and her husband, architect Geoffrey Gainer, now live. Room by room, they are gradually renovating the three-story house, which was originally built in 1894. Given their zest for cooking, it’s no surprise that the kitchen was a top priority.

The interior spaces had good bones, including original Victorian woodwork, large double-hung windows, and eleven-foot ceilings, but the kitchen was outdated and walled off from the dining room, inhibiting casual entertaining. The couple dreamed of having enough storage to accommodate their large collection of antique and modern cookware, as well as enough counter space to hold the profusion of organic produce they haul home from the city’s farmers’ markets on weekends.

Gainer removed interior walls between the old kitchen, dining room, and pantry to create an airy 450-square-foot space that’s a dream in which to cook and entertain. Instead of demolishing the walls and hauling the splintered framing lumber to the landfill, which happens all too frequently in these tear-down-happy times, Gainer had the walls deconstructed.

The wall studs—old-growth Douglas fir harvested more than a century ago—were re-milled and joined to create a dramatic system of open shelves suspended from the ceiling. In keeping with the spirit of deconstruction, the shelving units, some of which have frameless glass doors, can be fully disassembled, the wood and hardware reused, and the metal and glass recycled.

Gainer’s alterations provide a stylish reminder that greening an existing building has less to do with introducing novel products or offbeat technologies than it does with thoughtful reuse of what’s already there.

Green Details 

• Interior walls were deconstructed and 100-year-old Douglas fir wall studs were re-milled and joined to create open shelves that provide much of the kitchen storage

• Additional reclaimed Douglas fir was purchased from a local salvage yard to complete the shelves and build the dining table

• The shelves can be fully disassembled, the hardware reused, and the stainless-steel tubing and glass doors recycled

• Glass doors on the upper shelves allow daylight to pass between the kitchen and dining area

• Broad-louvered shades painted white help reflect the east and south sun deep into the room; white paint on the walls and ceiling also bounce daylight into the room

• The flooring is a glueless-cork floating floor finished with a water-based polyurethane

•Counters are Richlite, a paper and resin composite

• Original Victorian features were preserved, including wood door and window trim

• Perimeter walls are insulated with formaldehyde-free fiberglass

•Low-VOC paints were used

Project Credits 

• Architect: Geoffrey S. Gainer, Actual-Size Architecture, San Francisco, California
• Builder: Simon Chambers
• Cabinetmaker: David Brunges
• Photographer: Linda Svendsen


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