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The mostly-but-not-entirely green kitchen remodel

It's done! Woo hoo! I've spent years dreaming of what our kitchen could be one day. All of those HGTV redesign shows and home decor magazines fueled a serious case of kitchen envy that had me sketching and measuring and wondering if we'd ever be able to afford our dream kitchen makeover. And then the dream shifted (along with the economy). It became less about the sleek cabinets and the hi-tech appliances and the giant island/gathering place and the maybe-we-can-bump-out-a-wall scenarios and more about how to get the biggest bang for our dwindling bucks while keeping it eco-friendly. It was about appreciating what we had and figuring out what would really make us happy. Big impact with little planetary and bank account impact. We called it the Recession Remodel.

Our kitchen started out like this:


Dark and cramped, with a horrible vinyl floor that never seemed to look clean after a washing.



Now it looks like this:




Here's what we did in a nutshell...the green and not-so-green.

1) Removed the upper right-hand cabinets and microwave tower, the soffit and the partial wall dividing the kitchen from the breakfast nook. The upper cabinets were carefully taken down, stacked and turned into a pantry that now lives in the nook area. Two cubbies were built on top using wood salvaged from the old microwave tower. Rather than build something brand-new we did this because 1) it's good reuse, and the cabinets were in great condition and 2) we didn't have to worry about matching the finish of the cabinets and 3) we needed the storage space. Can't tell you how much I love this pantry. The shelves are lined with leftover Marmoleum flooring. The drywall and wood debris from the demo was taken to PLC Recycling (or at least this is what I asked our general contractor to do...I hope he listened).



2) Installed awning-style windows along the length of the countertop. Vinyl windows. I can't tell you how much I struggled with this, knowing that vinyl windows are made from PVC, the worst possible plastic. However, the rest of our house contains 7-year old vinyl windows, they are super energy efficient and the people who operate the LEED program have determined that quality vinyl windows are actually no more evil than any other type of new window. This new Milgard window was manufactured here in Portland, and the company says it doesn't off-gas, which is one of the pre-requisites for LEED certification. That's what they say, so I'm hanging onto that with my every last hope. We're donating our old vinyl window to the ReStore. Also, we're getting an Energy Star rebate (30 percent) on the new window.


3) Covered the vinyl flooring with eco-friendly Marmoleum made from linseed oil and other natural materials. We had it installed right over the old vinyl, so no disposal issues. I love this floor, and at $2.77 per square foot it was a budget-friendly choice. Frankly, this was one of the easiest choices. I didn't want a hard floor made of tile or stone, so it came down to wood, cork or Marmoleum. This floor works with the era of our house and this particular design (Tiger Eye) hides dirt like you wouldn't believe. Almost too good. We did a partial border in the nook area in a slate gray color. Once or twice a year I'll need to seal it, which just involves spritzing on a non-toxic sealer and rubbing it in. Takes 15 minutes. Wash with water and vinegar. Marmoleum, if taken care of, can last 50-plus years.


4) Added more recessed lights. However, with the new big window we never have to turn on the lights during the daylight hours (bonus efficiency)! We had three existing can lights down the center of the kitchen, so we added three over the counter, which are on a separate switch. Five recessed lights were added in the nook, also on a separate switch, plus the Nelson Bubble Light is on its own switch. Four light switches for a smallish kitchen may seem extreme, but it means we don't have to have a whole bunch of lights on if we don't really need them. Plus my plan is to keep the center kitchen lights as incandescent and the rest as CFL. Why? The center lights are our main lights, and I don't like the lag time it takes CFLs to warm up. Plus these are the lights we turn on and off for quick jaunts into the kitchen, and CFLs don't last as long if you're constantly turning them on and off.

5) New paint. It's Kelly-Moore's EnviroCote no-VOC paint, mixed to match the color of Sherwin-Williams' Wheat Grass. Sounds complicated, but we already had Wheat Grass in the dining room and wanted to extend it to the kitchen. The painter would only use Kelly-Moore, so that's why we went with that brand. I personally think Miller Paint's no-VOC is better, plus they are a Portland-grown business.

6) New furniture. I looked high and low for vintage versions of the Saarinen table and Eames chairs, but no luck (though I did get them on sale). I have long coveted this table and chairs. I will own them forever and pass them on to my grandchildren because my own children will think they are weird and outdated.

7) New storage. The two long, gray cabinets with white doors were actually custom-built based on an IKEA unit, but not as deep. The glass/aluminum doors are IKEA's Besta Tombo doors. Having it built meant we could use a formaldehyde-free, recycled wood fiber-based, low-emission producing MDF by Sierra Pine called Medite II. Our fabricator, Brendan, used Miller Paint's low-VOC latex paint for the finish. He also built the two floating shelves for our everyday dishes out of the same material. You might think that having something custom made would be prohibitively expensive, but you would be wrong. We got exactly what we wanted using greener materials for not much more than you'd find at IKEA. These doors are cool because you can insert fabric or paper or other material behind the glass and change out the look, which is what we're planning to do.



8) Did not replace the cabinets, countertops or appliances. Probably the greenest (and most budget-friendly) choices we made were ones we didn't even touch. The cabinets are original to our 1958 house and are still in excellent condition. Even the pulls are original, though we had them replated in a nickel finish a few years ago. The countertops were replaced 10 years ago and are still in fine condition. Black granite tile is not a choice I'd make today (nor is it considered an eco-friendly material), but they actually don't bother me now that we have so much light in the space. The appliances, with the exception of the cooktop, are about 7 years old, and while black and shiny aren't my first choice, they are efficient and in good shape. We'll probably upgrade the cooktop in a few months. It's awful.

We're super happy with the kitchen now. The view of the trees is lovely. The light makes me so happy. We didn't break the bank, and I feel really good about the choices we made (mostly). I had a really good working relationship with our general contractor, who kept on schedule. We spent around $13,500 on the remodel, not including the furniture, and didn't do any of the work ourselves. The whole process took four weeks, only about ten days of which required dinners out every night. There are still things we'd like to do, like figure out a treatment for the hulking black fridge (or maybe get a counter-depth), but there's no rush. We're happy. Turns out that the 'dream kitchen' was always within our grasp, we just needed to redefine the dream!


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