Nourishing Myself (A First Time Homeowner’s Guide to Kitchen Renovations)

Reader Contribution by Staff
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I was
determined that my kitchen renovation– the final internal transformation of my
precious 85 year-old home–would facilitate my return to the hearth, so I
approached the renovation in a very different way than I did the bathroom (my
vain self’s most favorite space).

The
original kitchen was sun-filled but worn-down, replete with scratched counters
and torn vinyl floors that always looked dirty. It was the home of the mouse that once occupied my
house and became a space that was used for quickly reheating store-bought food
rather than cooking from scratch. In order to reclaim that piece of myself that
loves good food made by my own hands, I had to lure myself back into the
kitchen. I had to create a space that was beautiful, functional, easy and
efficient; a space that reflected what I love and would make me want to, again,
feed myself.

With the
help of LEED AP certified green contractor Danny Veerkamp of Prairie Designs,
cabinet-maker Scott Dixon, and a few foodie friends (including The Cleaner Plate Clubbyauthor Beth Bader), I did just that. (Deepest
thanks to all of you. I owe you a meal.) I like to call it “Eat, Save, Love.”

Eat 

The first
question I needed to answer was, “What would make me want to cook again?” or,
more precisely, “What would cajole me back into the kitchen so eventually I
would cook?” My answer had something to do with beauty and ease-of-use. I
needed 
something to visually draw me back to the space. That attraction came in
many forms: low and
zero-VOC paints
that made up a
brilliant peacock blue accent wall; thin, narrow shelves Scott built to hold
the beautiful ceramic mugs made by dear friend and brilliant artist Sam
Clarkson; stainless steel knobs that hook under my index finger just so and
shine like little jewels; and a built-in butcher block from a piece of wood
that was salvaged from our recent microburst.

Save 

I
interpreted the idea of “saving” in a few different ways. My top commitments
were to reusing materials I already had (namely, the solid wood cabinets that would have likely
been replaced with lesser quality MDF or particle board) and conserving energy
and water (in that order). The first contractor I met was adamant that I would
not be happy with a mash-up of old and new. I persevered. It would have been a
lot easier on a contractor to work with a clean slate, but I knew that certain
parts of my kitchen could be salvaged. Finding someone who was willing to work
with my vision not only saved financial and natural resources, it bolstered my
confidence that I, indeed, would be happy with the kitchen I requested.

  When it came to energy and water savings, opportunities were plentiful. According to my calculations (based on this incredible research from Gerald Gardner and Paul Stern), at least 10 percent of our energy usage is within the kitchen. This expenditure (ranked here from greatest to lowest usage) is derived from space heating and cooling, water heating, lighting, refrigeration, the powering of appliances, cooking and dishwashers. That is why it was a priority for me to ensure all my appliances were not only Energy Star rated, but ranked at the lower end of the usage continuum that Energy Start’s created. If you have older appliances you’d like to upgrade, the federal government has created incentives, offering federal tax credits for consumer energy efficiency program–a “cash for clunkers” initiative for home appliances. The program has been extended through 2011; I can think of no better time to upgrade.

Water is one of the most
urgent areas to illuminate. According to the non -profit group Water.org, a child dies every 20
seconds because of lack of access to potable water. Add to this, the knowledge
that an American family of four can use an average of 400 gallons of water
every day, and, on average, approximately 70 percent of that water is consumed
indoors.

The biggest
water expenditures are within our bathrooms,
but mindfulness in the kitchen is also important because about 15 percent of
our water usage within our homes comes from our collective faucets. That’s why
my faucet is a very eco, very sexy, and, I will admit, pretty pricey, Grohe. The faucet uses 30 percent less water
than a traditional faucet and is one of a number of products certified under
the EPA’s WaterSense program for water conservation. Because I use this item
so frequently, the extra cost was worth it. Ditto for the dishwasher, a dual
whammy when it comes to water and energy usage. I have a lot of nostalgia for
this item (my first big ticket purchase). I can’t say this about any other
major appliance, but my Bosch
dishwasher
, purchased on clearance
at Sears, will always hold a
special place in my heart.
Boschwas also my choice for a washer and dryer because they offer some of the most
energy- and water-efficient front-loading washers on the market. What I find
especially encouraging is that the company has started to consider the energy
generated over the entire life cycle of its products–from manufacturing and
shipping all the way to disposal.

I have
never been a bottled water kind of gal for what I think are
obvious environmental reasons, but I have to admit I hate Kansas water. My
water tastes like it’s come out of a garden house and has left me dehydrated
and dissatisfied. This remodel gave me a great opportunity to install an
undermount
Zuvo
Water Filtration System
that makes my water
taste, well, less like a garden hose. Zuvo filters use a five-step process to
remove odors and flavors, chlorine, lead, and particulates. It’s not perfect,
but that’s because we have to consider the source.

Love 

Food is
love. It its best incarnation, it comes from the earth, returns to the earth,
and is healthy and safe. I wanted everything in the kitchen to reflect that
integrity not only because it connects to my values but also because it makes
common sense. If I am going to feed myself healthy food, I want to prepare it
on non-toxic counters in kitchen with clean, healthy floors.

The
flooring is Marmoleum,
a natural linoleum composite
of linseed oil, cork, limestone, and tree rosin — made without VOC’s and
installed with solvent-free adhesives, so it doesn’t off-gas like vinyl. And,
it costs about the same as other flooring options.
The counter
was a significantly pricier prospect. Comprised of compressed paper and made
without the toxic, off-gassing adhesives and binders found in conventional
counter products, my PaperStone counter has a presence that can
only be described as classy.

Even when I
am not in the middle of transforming my kitchen, I am always trying to move
into a deeper place of alignment–from the fridge to what’s in the fridge, from
the counter to how I  clean
the counter
, from how I feed my
belly to the kind of nourishment I give my brain and soul.

As we both
continue the journey may our larders–all larders–be full.

Simran

Simran
Sethi is an
associate professor of Journalismat the University of Kansas.
Follow her on Twitter @simransethi.

Photos by Simran Sethi; edited by Rebecca Evanhoe

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