This Cape Cod kitchen’s redesign combines traditional quality with innovative green features
“The only thing that’s missing here is that renovation smell!” This is a common exclamation by friends visiting Kitty and Tom Brown’s newly remodeled kitchen in their home in East Falmouth. Says designer Nicole Goldman of ‘g’ Green Design Center in Mashpee, who worked with the Browns from first design idea to final installation, “Yes, there are no toxins, no off gassing, no fumes. At ‘g’ Green Design, we don’t do smells!” The Brown’s kitchen remodel features all the hallmarks of traditional kitchen design—quality materials, continuity with existing parts of the house, a more functional, satisfying space—all with the added green perks of health, sustainability, energy efficiency, and low maintenance.
What’s not to love? The new kitchen is truly a breath of fresh air, but one in keeping with the country New England style of the house. Light pours in through the windows, reflecting off smooth, cream-colored cabinets, highlighting a spacious new dining area and a deluxe-sized central island that seems to beg to be surrounded by friends chattering as they munch on appetizers, or a gaggle of grandchildren clamoring for an afternoon cookie break. Says Goldman, “It’s easy to entertain here. It can either feel intimate or expansive.”
The homeowner was delighted and surprised throughout the process at just how easy it is to remodel in ways that complement one’s own ideas of health and sustainability, in any aesthetic and style. “It’s a mentality that I have—to reuse and use products that will last a long time,” says Kitty Brown. “The variety, the choices that are out there—that surprised me!”
The venture evolved in a somewhat unexpected way. A frequent customer of ‘g’ Green Design in Mashpee Commons, Kitty stopped by the shop one afternoon to pick up some sustainable tableware products for an upcoming party. Small talk with Goldman and showroom manager Paula Smith led Brown to the topic of her dark, cluttered, and outdated kitchen. With Smith and Goldman, Brown realized that she might be able to actually tackle her goal of a complete overhaul. “The kitchen was 27 years old,” she says. “Things were falling apart. We needed to do something.”
Brown wanted a lighter, brighter space—one that made better use of the large footprint of the room, with more storage and better functionality. “It is a very traditional, Cape-style home in a small neighborhood on one of the fingers [of land] in East Falmouth. You don’t want to overbuild or put in anything out of context,” says Goldman. “With a traditional setting, the idea is that green doesn’t have to mean contemporary. It can be any style—it is really about what is in the materials.”
Over a nine-month design and construction process, Brown collaborated with Smith and Goldman to devise a new, bold floor plan that included enlarging and redesigning a center island, rearranging the cooking and food preparation areas, replacing and expanding an existing pantry, and adding both an eat-in dining area and a small home office space. The range, microwave, and refrigerator were replaced and updated with Energy Star-rated Liebherr appliances, known for their beautiful design and excellent engineering. About the refrigerator, Goldman says, “It’s not just about the look, they actually keep food longer so that you have less waste.”
Fabricated in Monroe, Washington by Canyon Creek Cabinet Company, the redesigned cabinetry was the keystone of the plan. “For Kitty, it was all about the cabinets and getting that finish just right,” says Goldman. She is quick to note that the search for the right sustainable vendor is a balancing act. “It can be all over the spectrum,” she says. “Yes, we paid a little bit more in the carbon footprint for shipping from Washington, but the product is super-sustainable, and the company itself is also very environmentally conscious in their production—they reuse their water, their wood, and their energy.”
When people think “green” they might sometimes only consider the extreme, but, says Goldman, “It is not just one thing, like ‘Did we cut the wood from our local forests and then make the cabinets?’”
Green materials are defined by their use of non-toxic, healthy and sustainable ingredients—namely, a lack of chemicals. Most importantly, green building materials do not contain urea-formaldehyde, also known as urea-methanal, a resin that is found in just about everything, from plywood and particleboard to paints, textiles, and carpeting. “It is a known carcinogen,” explains Goldman. “It definitely contributes to all sorts of issues relating to breathing, allergies, asthma—it can cause all sorts of reactions and it’s in absolutely everything!”
What many people may not realize is that going green often means going back to the basics of construction materials: making quality products as they were made before the introduction of chemicals in the 1950s and 60s. “What we did in the 20th century is we put chemicals into absolutely everything—as a stabilizer, as a conditioner, as a preservative—thinking that was a solution,” explains Goldman. “Now, we’re spending the 21st century taking it all back out again!” In the realm of house construction and remodeling, that means reevaluating all the products used down to the paints and adhesives.
Once the cabinets were just right, the next big choices were floors and counters. To maintain continuity with the wood floors throughout the rest of the house, Brown chose red oak flooring, made from sustainably harvested wood from Quebec and northern New England. Stained a warm reddish-brown to match, it is NAUF (No Added Urea Formaldehyde), just like the cabinets, and comes with a 26-year warranty. “Kitty’s never replacing this floor,” says Goldman. “Not only is the floor beautiful, sustainable, and healthy, but it is also durable and low maintenance. She doesn’t have to think about it again.”
One of the perks of going green is that the products will have a longer life. “Sustainability does equal quality because we want to make things that will last and be low on maintenance, and to do that, you have to make something well,” says Goldman. As with most high-quality products, there is a higher price. But as Goldman says, “Do you want to buy it from us first—or do you want to buy it from us next?”
The counters are a mix of NAUF maple-stained wood from Canyon Creek and an innovative product called Eco by Cosentino, a recycled glass and concrete surface. Goldman added an ogee profile to the edges of the countertops. “The style is very country, and so the ogee edge gives the counter a classical, country look that goes with the rest of the house,” Goldman notes. “You can add a new material, but by using classic lines, you create a classic look.”
Other green details included energy-efficient lighting, VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) free paint, and the replacement of fiberglass insulation with an eco-friendly batting. Brown says she couldn’t be happier with the end result of her kitchen. “The materials are beautiful, so practical, and so earth friendly,” she says, “I absolutely love my new kitchen. It is inviting. It’s warm. It’s so light and airy!”
For Goldman and Smith, the reward is not only watching the transformation of the space, but also steering their clients towards ideas that will bring their goals to fruition. “It is our job to lure this information out of our clients and then realize it for people,” says Goldman. For Smith, who particularly enjoyed working with Brown, “It is a joy to guide her to choices that may not have been her normal, practical, run-of-the-mill options.” The choice to go green was essentially Kitty’s—her husband, Tom, was convinced by the quality of the materials and the final product.
The Browns are part of a growing number of people who are seeking out greener alternatives for reasons of health, efficiency, low maintenance, and concern for the planet. Amazingly, ‘g’ Green Design Center remains one of the only places in the region specializing in green building materials and design. Goldman regularly gets requests from people in the Boston area.
“People want their houses to be energy efficient, knowing the value of it. They are more aware and they want things that are safe and healthy,” Goldman notes. “Businesses also want green options because they want to be able to market themselves as sustainable.”
Going green in a home design or remodel project couldn’t be easier. With more choices than ever, there is a seemingly endless array of options to fit a variety of budgets and styles. “When we started in 2006, we had an option of about three different countertops,” reflects Goldman, “We have over 20 options now. There were a few options for wood and bamboo and we now have multiples.”
The clientele has also evolved. “Not everyone who comes in here is ‘earthy-crunchy,’” says Goldman. “Most people are somewhere on the spectrum.” Today, green design offers enough options to satisfy both the hippie and the pragmatist in all of us.
For more information, visit ggreendesign.com.