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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

The Heart of the Home: Planning a Sustainable Custom Kitchen

Custom Kitcehn Design Digital Rendering

The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.

When we were first looking at buying a house, both Tyler and I were drawn to the traditional farmhouses set out on rolling acreages. We learned pretty quickly that the design of those homes wasn’t going to fit our lifestyle well, and was one of the main reasons we decided to build our own home. We spend a lot of time in our kitchen, especially when guests are over, and it is really the heart of our home. Many of the older farmhouses had small, walled-in kitchens that would make it hard to spend enjoyable, comfortable time in the room. We decided to have a more open floor plan, with the kitchen, dining and living room spaces flowing seamlessly from one to the next. When we plan for the sustainability of our kitchen, and our home in general, these two considerations — function and enjoyment — are key factors. For us, true sustainability needs to include several pieces: environmental (such as material sourcing), economic (including price and local impacts), functional (designed to support food self-reliance activities) and personal (enjoyment). 

These factors aren’t really so much separate columns in a sustainability spreadsheet as they are a Venn diagram of sorts. Let me explain: Choosing to create a kitchen space that’s set up well for canning fresh tomatoes from our garden could be classified as functional, environmental, economic and personal. Ultimately, our hope is that we’ll have a beautiful, workable space that we can feel good about on many levels.

To that end, we’ve spent quite a bit of time researching the materials we’ll use in the kitchen. We’re currently pricing out Paperstone countertops (with the help of Elements of Green in Kansas City), which are made of compressed paper and can be seasoned to have a level of patina, if you desire (we do). Similarly, we looked at several sources of hardwoods for our cabinets. We haven’t found any reclaimed wood sources within our budget, but have decided to use a local cabinetmaking company (Custom Wood Products) to do the work. That way, at least a portion of the money we spend will stay in the local community. By collaborating with the cabinetmaker, we are able to really customize our options. The image above is a computer-generated image of the first draft of our kitchen cabinet design. It is not final and we are working on making changes, but it gives a basic idea of our kitchen layout.

Of course, the aesthetic is also important. We are striving to have rustic farmhouse appeal, even though the house will be newly built. We hope to incorporate some knotty wood into the cabinets, use a large-basin white sink, and have a traditional hoosier (or baking) cabinet, complete with punched-tin pie cabinets. We’re merging that aesthetic with more modern design components, including an island and live-edge, open shelves instead of closed-in cabinets.

We’ll delve into many of the main points in subsequent blog posts. For starters, below is a short list of the custom options that contribute to our kitchen’s sustainability and that we hope to include in our kitchen:

1. EnergyStar appliances that use less energy than non-certified options.

2. We won’t use a glass- or ceramic-tip stove because they have a surface that can be damaged by heavy canning pots, and typically cycle heat in a way that is not safe for pressure canning; are looking at gas options currently.

3. Paperstone countertops that are made of compressed layers of recycled paper.

4. Fireclay adobe tile backsplash, because the tiles are handmade with more than 70 percent recycled materials and use lead-free glazes.

5. Building a compost bin into our counter and cabinets, either as hole in the counter or an easily accessible pull-out drawer to easily scrape food waste into.

6. Including a walk-in pantry for bulk-food and appliance storage, in order to support our from-scratch cooking style.

Graphic above provided by Levi with Custom Wood Products. It is the property of Custom Wood Products and is not available for reuse.

Next in the series: Financing Renewable Energy: Home Solar and Wind Power
Previously in the series: Home Construction Timeline: Plans vs. Reality

­­­Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer and Tyler by leaving a comment below!