Greetings Metro Hipstas!.. To date, I’ve had all sorts of fun sharing innovate eco-solutions and ideas with you, but have kept most my posts and updates relatively impersonal.  I realized the other day that it might be beneficial to share a bit more of what I do on a daily basis, which is run Thrive Design Studio out of Minneapolis.  Thrive is my working laboratory, utilizing cutting edge strategies and products for homes and businesses in the Twin Cities.  My mission has been to utilize each project as a way to prove that designing green can be attractive and affordable.  Well, I recently finished a kitchen renovation and am pretty pleased with how it turned out…  I’m gonna take a couple minutes to share with you some of the project’s highlights… here’s a little teaser of the end result.

I was jazzed from day one to work on this project when the client expressed interest in two things: clean lines and sustainability… ah yes, the two loves of my life!  We came up with a game plan and focused on a design for the kitchen/dining area of the home.  An emphasis was placed on creating a space that complimented the amazing view of Theo Wirth Park in their backyard, a gorgeous nature reserve five minutes outside of downtown Minneapolis…

The existing kitchen/dining space needed quite a bit of TLC… white Corian countertops, dated cabinets, a ceramic tiled island, and an oversized vent hood filled the space with an 80’s vibe.  Appliances and lighting fixtures matched the era of finished materials (a before picture here).  The overall layout was sound however, with a nice open plan designed for entertaining and soaking in views of the backyard…

In addition to updating finished materials and appliances, we wanted to rethink the storage situation in the kitchen.  The countertop along the back wall became the permanent home for the microwave, toaster, coffee maker and various other kitchen necessities… sure, all these elements were accessible, but the visual clutter certainly did not contribute to a piece of mind, and without that, what have ya got?… A walk-in closet next to the fridge was also an opportunity for improving storage.  The thing was nice and big, but the vast majority of its space was gone to waste by a person standing in the middle of it.  We opted for two huge pull-out pantries that held the same amount of goods as the walk-in, while freeing up enough space on the back side to create a full closet off the hall… a nice bonus!

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With this remodel being primarily cosmetic, the selection of finish materials became our chief goal.  We spent several weeks going over options, from FSC-Certified woods, 3form eco-resins, metallic paints, to concrete or recycled paper countertops.  The client and I took a field trip over to the NorthStar Surfaces showroom in St. Paul to check out some of their counter and cabinet options.  We instantly fell in love with a vanity on display there that featured a richly textured bamboo material paired with a deep brown counter.  Initially we were visualizing lighter cabs and counters for the kitchen, but once we saw this display, we both felt that our search was over.  And that was a really fantastic moment, having that connection with those materials… we felt that they presented a very elegant, earthy and modern solution, exactly what we were going for!

The cabinet facing turned out to be a gorgeous bamboo product made by Smith & Fong called Plyboo… Plyboo comes as both flooring and as plywood sheets.  It is formaldehyde-free and has several finish options to choose from, but what we saw and were drawn to was the Neopolitan finish, a highly textured mix of light and dark strands of bamboo… very rich and luxurious!

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The countertop we went with was equally unique as the Plyboo… it was a brand new product called ECO by Cosentino, and to say that I was excited about it would be an understatement.  ECO is an incredibly innovative product that I feel has the perfect characteristics to really bring a bright green countertop to the mainstream… it is comprised of 75% post-consumer recycled materials and is one of a very limited number of ambitious products that has reached Cradle to Cradle Certification (which means that its entire life cycle is sustainable)… It is made from bits of porcelain, glass, crystallized ash and mirror and is bound together by a corn-based resin.  Also, 94% of the water used during the manufacturing process of ECO is recycled…  An absolutely amazing product that looks, performs and costs about the same as stone slabs that we are used to using.. it could really be a game changer!

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Appliances were also important elements of the remodel… basically every existing appliance was at the age of needing to be replaced.  We researched and selected an Energy Star compliant oven, dishwasher, vent hood and microwave.  For the cooktop, we were considering the uber-efficient induction option, but didn’t pull the trigger on that due to the added expense of needing a corresponding set of steel pots.  We instead went with a sleek Siemens electric top, which was quite efficient itself…

And speaking of efficiency, for lighting we selected an LED solution for under the cabinets.  I had worked with Environmental Lights on several other projects before, so I felt more than comfortable going forward with them again… their undercabinet light bar was extremely efficient (less than 10 watts for a 36″ strip!), was dimmable, and produced a beautiful warm light that in my opinion is identical to the light quality of a traditional incandescent bulb.  And meandering along the ceiling of the kitchen we placed a new track light that adds a biomorphic element to the room, helping to balance all the hard corners and right angles seen throughout the rest of the space… The plan is to eventually replace each of these track bulbs with LED MR16s, but we’re waiting for the bulb costs to drop a bit before we do so…

To best highlight the gorgeous plyboo, ECO, and new stainless appliances, we designed several features into the kitchen.  We built a nook into the cabinets to house the microwave, taking it off of the counter.  Below the microwave we added a stainless tambour door, creating a nice storage space and further decluttering the work surface from small appliances and various other gadgets.  Above the fridge, we placed a custom wine rack, because what’s a finished kitchen without a wine rack, eh?

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I’m sure you won’t argue with me when I say that the Plyboo steal the show… it certainly draws a lot of attention!  In my design I was sensitive to not have the Plyboo be too overwhelming, so I offered a bit of visual relief by having the back wall of upper cabinets be made of a much more neutral material.  Aluminum and frosted glass offered the perfect solution, becoming visually weightless while corresponding to the stainless appliances…

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While most of the action took place in the kitchen, the dining room got a nice splash of love as well… by lowering the kitchen island from bar height to counter height and selecting a much smaller vent hood, we successfully opened up the space separating the two rooms.  This helped to synergize the space as a whole, but we had to walk a fine line of how much attention to place in the dining room since the bamboo in the kitchen was so visually dominant.  We spent several weeks scouring the web for the perfect dining table and couldn’t find one, so the client pulled the trigger and hired our cabinet guys (Rust Brothers) to build us a custom table.  The result was absolutely dynamite!  Made from the wood of local ash, the minimal table with matching benches was above and beyond what we saw publicly available… its natural wood finish complimented the floors while the benches allow guests to sit either facing the activity of the kitchen or be apart of the table conversation… (for a view of dining are before, click here).

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With a gorgeous build out as a base to work from, we needed furniture, art and accessories to be the icing on the cake.  We went with Minneapolis-based furniture company Blu Dot and selected their Knicker chairs and stools.  Their entire lineup is fantastic, but what drew us to the Knicker was its use of upholstery, which effectively pulled in the grays from the walls and stainless elements in the kitchen.  It also helped to soften the overall feel of the space as there were no other textiles used in the design… Art behind the table was provided by a homeboy of mine, Ray Becoskie… this dude absolutely wails!  Like Blu Dot, his mission is to bring good design to the masses and consciously keeps his work very affordable.  Behind the painting, we used Sherwin Williams Harmony paint, which is one of their low-VOC products, in a soft blue hue…

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Photos were taken by my pal Aaron Holmberg at Holmberg Studios.

So that pretty much wraps this baby up… an awesome project, great team, amazing client, fantastic result… doesn’t get much better than that!  We reached all of our project goals, improving efficiencies, utilizing cutting edge green materials and creating a design that transcends trends.  The client’s husband was a bit cautious throughout the project, but came around to really enjoy the result for its relationship to the natural elements of their beautiful backyard.  The cabinets, table, and refinished floors created a strong sense of wood, the stainless steel represented stones or rocks, and the light blue walls created the soothing and calming effect of water… very cool!

For more information on my biz, Thrive Design Studio, to see other projects, and get a better understanding of what we do, please check out our site at thrivesustainability.com

Have fun, be good, be green!

-j

About Joshua Foss


Joshua is a leading voice for transformational change. He is the editor of Metro Hippie, co-founder and director of development of the Ecala Group, and adjunct faculty at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He is also an ambassador for the Living Building Challenge and is a frequent speaker at national conferences, trade shows and summits.