Great design is an art of exacting detail. Although big picture items, like stunning architecture and a resulting small carbon footprint, earn headlines and awards, the minutiae of a project are what elevate it from functional to unforgettable. Kitchens and bathrooms represent the extreme poles of the at-home experience, from the most social to the most personal. Often the most trafficked spaces in a home, both were once considered interstitial places, necessary but hidden from view, and afterthoughts when it came to design. In today’s sustainability-conscious design landscape, these two areas have taken their rightful place as centers of attention. Where form must follow function, the details are everything. Here, Kristofer Lenz explores the work of three designers who, with a keen eye for detail, incorporate an eco-conscious philosophy directly into their projects: creating spaces that are comfortable for today but don’t forget the world we’re building for tomorrow.
Kitchen at the Core
Design by Susan Serra
The kitchen is everything for professional chef, author, and photographer Jaden Hair. It’s not just where family meals originate, but also a community hub, a culinary laboratory, and even the set of her acclaimed show Steamy Kitchen. With a husband and two young boys running amuck, as well as the daily demands of her cooking career, Jaden needed a new kitchen that could accommodate her family’s myriad requirements in an eco-friendly manner.
The task of designing this multi-functional space came to designer Susan Serra. With the family’s diverse needs in mind, she designed an open kitchen concept that revolves around a large, central island with substantial room around it to allow for heavy traffic. Whether it’s Jaden, her husband Scott and the kids, or guests coming by the home, the island counter features several workstations that allow food preparation to become a group activity.
Although the large island was a necessity, it created a few design challenges. First and foremost came the sacrifice of some storage space, as it prevented the placement of cabinets on one wall. Serra turned the obstacle into an opportunity by placing a colorful mural on the open wall and seamlessly uniting the existing cabinetry to create a striking, yet useful, composition. In another space saving and environmentally mindful move, Serra incorporated a BLANCO SOLON composting system, which makes collecting organic waste from egg shells to coffee grounds incredibly easy, into the island.
Serra also utilized a BLANCOCULINA faucet, which saves 20% of water compared to conventional faucets. Additionally, the sustainably produced Crossville SpeakEasy kitchen tiles offered a natural wood look that will last for years, saving the energy (and effort) required to refinish the surfaces. The KitchenAid induction cooktop and refrigerator are also both Energy Star certified and optimized to be aesthetically pleasing and highly functional. A Dekton bacteriostatic quartz countertop rounds out the room, offering a rich, white hue that blends seamlessly with the cabinetry and kitchen as a whole while combatting the growth of dangerous bacterium.
Serra and the Hair family worked diligently to reduce the project’s environmental impact by working within the kitchen’s existing footprint (saving both waste and money created via extensive construction), and they recycled and donated as much of the previous kitchen’s fixtures as possible. The result can be seen on Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen blog, and as the chef’s career skyrockets, she is safely secured in a space that is multi-functional and pleasing to the eye. Serra and the Hair family’s careful selection of materials ensures that the kitchen will continue to dazzle, while keeping hands clean and busy, now and for generations to come.
A Writerly Retreat
Design by Robin Wilson
There is, perhaps, no place on earth where space is at as much of a premium as in New York City. Every inch of an apartment must be optimized to the fullest extent, lest one feel the concrete canyons crashing down around them. When experienced interior designer Robin Wilson took on a kitchen and bath remodel in New York’s historic Lincoln Center, she knew space would be a concern, but she had no inkling of the other obstacles that would stack against her. All plans had to be approved by the building’s board and completed within a tight, strict time schedule, while also meeting the client’s budgetary restrictions.
That client was a bi-coastal novelist who was dissatisfied with the state of the kitchen and bathrooms in her Manhattan pied-a-terre. Additionally, she and her husband had exacting cleanliness standards and wanted a design that offered peace of mind, both as a workspace and as protection from foreign agents. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Wilson worked diligently to provide her client with an innovative, calming design.
She started by designing a creative cabinetry solution that allowed for additional storage in the space-starved kitchen. With a modem tucked away in the cabinets, the room becomes a place where her client can comfortably set-up shop whenever inspiration strikes, and the open kitchen concept revolves around a central island that Wilson festooned with hidden electrical plugs. She also mounted halo LED strips inside the cabinetry—not only energy-efficient; the lights also emit a warm, natural color. Plus, all the lights in the home are connected via a radio dimmer, so Wilson’s client can press a button on her phone and the house will be lit at a pre-determined level—a huge energy saver.
In deference to her clients’ needs, bacteria-resistant Silestone by Cosentino quartz countertops and a Kohler undermount sink were installed to help make the kitchen a sanitary multi-use are. In the bathroom, efforts to create a germ-free space also reigned supreme. Wilson installed touchless Kohler fixtures wherever possible, including a low-flow toilet and a hands-free faucet that utilizes WaterSense technology, which creates the sensation of a big flow while actually saving H2O. This eco-friendly mindset also resulted in a Mr. Steam shower unit that uses roughly half as much water as the previous fixture.
Wilson’s design philosophy is rooted in attention to the subtle details that make a space sustainable at any budget. For example, she carefully selects her fixtures while considering their carbon footprint, often choosing Kohler because they are manufactured and shipped directly from the US. This philosophy fit hand-in-glove with the Lincoln Center project. Despite the variety of challenges she faced, Wilson proudly completed the environmentally conscious project on-time, under budget, and to her client’s lasting satisfaction.
Making the Old New Again
Design by Sarah Barnard
When a young screenwriter came to designer Sarah Barnard with a West Hollywood bungalow in a state of unlivable disrepair, the two worked diligently to retain the structure’s original charm while adding sustainable design flourishes—fitting perfectly with Barnard’s expertise, as her background lies in historic preservation. She made a concerted effort to salvage as much of the existing layout as possible, even saving some of the cabinetry.
In the kitchen, the distinctive countertops get their subtle green hue from recycled Heineken bottles, effortlessly matching the hand-glazed tiles on the backsplash. The distinctive mirror in the master bath was also made from a recycled barn door—it’s striking, original, and a fine example of re-use in sustainable design (a nearby desk fits this theme, made of repurposed barnwood from a bowling alley floor).
Previously, the bungalow lacked a proper master bath. In deference to preserving the building’s original character and with respect to sustainability, Barnard limited herself to carving a space out the existing floor plan, rather than building an addition. She was able to optimize an unused corner and used a corner sink and mirror pairing to save space while making it functional. With inexpensive tile and low-flow fixtures, she was able to create a sustainably conscious space to boot. In both bathrooms, Barnard used solar tubes, which bring reflected sunlight directly into the home. This saves on daytime electricity use by relying on California’s most abundant natural resource.
With floors made from bamboo (rather than new Douglas fir), Barnard created what she calls “a marriage of historic knowledge and a lively modern aesthetic.” The phrase can be applied to entire project, as Barnard and her client made an old space feel new again by combining elements of the region’s classic architecture with contemporary sustainability.