Natural Home Kitchen of the Year 2003: Kitchen Bliss

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Ramberg’s tile mural extends over the sink backsplash, two walls, and behind the stove.
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The Fisher & Paykel DishDrawer is an energy and water efficient dishwasher.
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Monika and David Eichler and their daughter, Lauren, enjoy the kitchen’s maple island and often eat meals there rather than in the dining room.
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The kitchen is home to the straw bale house’s truth window, which, like a piece of art, opens to reveal the internal material of the walls.
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Cabinetry was handmade without formaldehyde-based glues or pressboard.
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Laura Ramberg, a friend and local artist, created a custom tile backsplash that adds depth and charm.

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“This kitchen truly embraces those who live and visit here, welcoming them with comfort and beauty,” says feng shui consultant Laurie Bornstein, describing the Lawrence, Kansas, room she helped design with owners David and Monika Eichler. The couple aimed to build a home with more ecological and spiritual presence than the McMansions in the cities around them. They envisioned the kitchen as the pulse of this house.

“The kitchen was designed to be a focal point of our home’s main level,” says David. “Monika and I both love to cook, so we wanted a kitchen spacious enough for us to work simultaneously while friends or family sit around the island interacting with us.”

Before they built their post-and-beam straw bale home, the couple spent years collecting photos of their likes and dislikes in a three-ring binder, and Bornstein assisted with many details, from the home’s site to its environmentally friendly kitchen cabinetry. “Laurie helped us really think through the ways we use a kitchen,” David explains. “With her guidance, we had a clear plan for what we wanted to achieve.”

Turning dream to reality translated into an energy-saving space with an Amana Easy-Reach Plus refrigerator and a Fisher & Paykel DishDrawer, an energy and water efficient dishwasher. A bank of insulated windows from the Andersen 400 series supplies a bright wash of natural light and a view of the prairie valley. Insulated fabric window treatments give a little extra boost to the geothermal heating and cooling system that provides both inexpensive climate control and hot water.

Bamboo flooring adds a warm glow to the kitchen, and the Eichlers hired a local builder to create handmade cabinets without formaldehyde-based glues or pressboard–a lovely and environmentally friendly alternative to prefab cupboards. The low-VOC Bioshield and Safecoat paints were a necessity because Monika was pregnant when they moved in (the couple’s daughter, Lauren, is now thirteen months old).

Personal thumbprints

Two unusual accents give this kitchen the mark of the Eichlers’ earthy sensibilities. The “door of truth” (an opening constructed to show the straw inside the walls) was crafted by friend and local woodworker Matt Kirby, whose whimsical artwork seems straight from a medieval fairytale. Kirby created a maple and cherry frame and carved Veritas–Latin for “truth”–over the lintel. The little door leading into the straw is set into the wall like a piece of art.

Another friend and local artist, Laura Ramberg, created a lively tile mural that started as a sink backsplash and expanded to cover portions of two walls, including the area behind the stove. To depict prairie life in the kitchen, Ramberg handcrafted tiles with plants, leaves, bark, frogs, and a hawk’s feather.

A separate project–tiling the kitchen counters–elicits some words to the wise from Monika. Eager to do some of the work, the couple laid the tile themselves, later regretting their decision because they’re all too conscious of the uneven spots around the edges. “Even though it saved us money in the short term, it will probably cost us more to get it fixed,” says Monika.

Aside from the counters, though, the couple wouldn’t change a thing about their kitchen. They believe that’s because they took time to plan and dream. “Before creating your kitchen, think about what you would like to see and feel around you as you sit at the counter or cut up your veggies,” advises Monika.

The Eichlers especially love the kitchen’s maple island, which has become the room’s touchstone and sometimes even the center of family life. “You can sit at the island while someone is preparing a meal, look onto the beautiful prairie landscape, and still be an integral part of the cooking experience close by,” says Monika. “We often use the counter instead of the dining room table to eat our famous Sunday morning brunches. It feels much cozier to eat in our kitchen. I wouldn’t describe it as stunning. Rather, perfectly blissful.”