The Healthy Abode: Countertops by Melanie Holden

So, you’re in the market for a new countertop, and you want something that is earth-friendly, durable, sanitary, low-maintenance, gorgeous, and won’t break the bank. Where to begin and how in the world can an eco-countertop boast all of these features? Let’s talk.

First, to appreciate what makes a countertop sustainable, it’s essential to understand the meaning of sustainability. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, sustainability is “a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” My two cents – a sustainable product should last pretty much forever, but can be easily reborn, redistributed or repurposed when necessary. You sometimes may pay a little more up front for sustainability, but will undoubtedly end up saving in the long run.

Sustainability is about the “big picture.” It’s not just about “going green” – whatever that means. A truly sustainable product is defined by its content; long-term availability; the manufacturing process; how it’s transported, how far, and by whom. The safety and well-being of workers producing the product is imperative, as well as what happens to the product when its lifetime is over.

Ok, so now that we’re on the same page, back to countertops. Probably the first types of countertops that come to mind are inexpensive Laminate, Corian, and of course, the overdone Granite. Laminate is a thin plastic material that requires a base underlayment (all too often, formaldehyde-emitting particleboard) and is attached to this underlayment with sometimes toxic adhesives. If choosing laminate, look for one with recycled plastic, non-toxic glues, and formaldehyde-free substrate. Due to its pretroleum base, Corian and other acrylic composite countertops are very poor environmental choices – check those off the list. Granite countertops, though beautiful and durable, are not a sustainable choice due to the ecological damage incurred by quarrying practices, and the enormous amounts of energy and pollution produced when shipping this heavy material halfway across the globe. Not to mention the chance of bringing the dangerous carcinogen, radon (among other types of radiation) into your household, emitting from the stone itself. Yikes!

So, let’s first examine concrete as a countertop material. Concrete is durable, local, has low VOC’s (volatile organic compounds, which we will discuss in future posts), can be recycled, and is composed of recycled content. It’s extremely versatile, completely customizable, can be any color of the rainbow, and can boast added character when made in conjunction with recycled glass and other materials. It’s easily cleaned with mild soap and water, and you’ll want to periodically seal the surface. Lucky for us St. Louisans, we have a fabulous local concrete resource, CK Concrete Designs.

concrete countertop samples

Here is an sampling of their color palette.

PaperStone is another interesting option, consisting of 100% post-consumer recycled paper fiber and a non-petroleum nut resin. Who knew how durable paper could be! It is a non-porous surface that is heat-resistant to 350 degrees, plus resistant to scratches and stains. It’s warm to the touch, and has a slight “yield” that prevents glass objects from breaking when dropped or set down too hard. PaperStone comes in a variety of shades, and is comparable in price to some granite or quartz surfaces. A regular application of PaperStone Finish, a natural wax and food grade mineral oil, is recommended for protection against intense heat and moisture, and defends against harmful UV rays that can alter the color.

paperstone countertop

PaperStone countertop display at Solid Surface Resources

paperstone color palette

A view of their color palette.

A truly stunning earth-friendly option is Eco by Constantino. This product is comprised of 75% recycled glass, mirror, and porcelain, and is bound by a corn oil based resin. A completely non-porous material, Eco does not require sealing, and it is nearly impossible to scratch, scorch or stain. Primary maintenance includes simply wiping down with a mild soap and water mixture. The only precaution with this product is that you will dull your knives when cutting directly on the countertop’s surface. Oh, and don’t use products like Draino or floor strippers on it…This, as of many of these products, can be found i St. Louis at Solid Surface Resources.

Still haven’t found what you’re looking for? How about a countertop with 80%-95% post-consumer recycled glass like Vetrazzo, IceStone or Enviroglas? Using glass from reclaimed bottles, dinnerware, construction demolition, even traffic light lenses, and other hard-to-recycle types of glass, these countertops each have their own unique history. Maintenance includes cleaning with warm, soapy water, and regular sealing to prevent against staining. They are as durable as granite and less porous than marble – and comparable in price to both.

ice stone color palette

IceStone Color Range on display at Solid Surface Resources

Natural Quartz sufaces like Cambria, Caesarstone, and Silestone are eco-friendly as well. This material is completely non-porous and non-absorbant and you will never have to seal it, as well as most other natural countertops. Quartz surfaces are stronger than granite, radon-free, and have no impact on indoor air quality – which means no VOC’s. There are countless color options, in both solids and multi-colored varieties. Quartz is incredibly heat resistant, and also hard enough to dull your knife if you failt to use a cutting board.

Bamboo countertops are another option that I must mention, but buyer BEWARE. Though it is a popular renewable resource because it regenerates approximately every seven years, you must be extemely vigilant of the source when selecting a bamboo product. The harvesting practices are not always as sustainable as you may believe. Some bamboo is harvested too early, resulting in a very softened product that is not very durable. On top of that, some countries are actually deforesting their native trees to make way for bamboo forests! Not to mention that so much bamboo comes from the other side of the world and is shipped across the ocean in polluting freight vessels, consuming enormous amounts of gasoline and energy. In some cases, bamboo forests are being harvested by private owners who are endangering the lives of animals that are dependent on these plants for survival. For example, the Bamboo Lemur of Madagascar is just one animal that was named on the recent world report of endangered animals – 90% of their diet comes from bamboo. If considering a wood or bamboo countertop, pleas make sure to use an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Certified product, like Plyboo, so you are asured that it comes from a source that employs responsible forest management, and preferably locally..

Stainless steel countertops, when made from a good quality stainless steel (the lower grade, the better) is long-lasting, hygienic, durable and low-maintenance. It is completely recyclable and on average is made from 75% recycled stainless steel crap metal. There is also a recycled ceramic tile as a countertop alternative, but make sure you seal that grout! There are quite a few other environmentally friendly countertops, but I would never finish this blog if I went into details for each and every one of them. Of course, you could also find the ultitmate sustainable countertop by paying a visit to your local architectural salvage dealer to see what treasures they may have to offer.

Recycling 101 by Jamie Briesemeister

Recycling has been a part of my life since I was a little girl. My mom and I recycled cans and bottles as far back as I can remember. Stomping cans flat and taking them to the recycling facility was a lot of fun – and we were paid for them! Later on, friends of mine and I started the Ecology Club in our high school. We collected paper, cans and bottles throughout the whole school to sort, stack, and stomp before taking everything to the recycling facility.

Then, it was a lot more difficult to recycle as we had to take everything to the recyclers. Not bad for just our family – but for the whole school, that’s another story. Now, recycling is a breeze. Many municipalities are going to curbside pick-up of recyclables so all you have to do is separate what is – from what isn’t – recyclable.

This begs the question – How do you know if it’s recyclable? Read below for a few simple guidelines to consider the next time you go to throw something away… you may find yourself tossing it into the recycle bin instead.

  • Office paper, empty paper towel rolls, cereal boxes, cardboard, a shoe box, a magazine, or anything resembling what I’ve just mentioned, have good chances of being recyclable.
  • You can recycle glass bottles, aluminum soda and beer cans, and steel soup cans.
  • Plastic is recyclable and is stamped with a number denoting its recycling code ( Not all facilities take every recycling code – check with your local provider.
  • Batteries!!! Yes – you should NOT throw your batteries in the trash. Please recycle them. (
  • Clothing – take it to charity or to a recycling facility that takes textile goods, which can be made into sound-deadening materials, archival-quality paper, blankets and even plastic fencing!
  • Tires can be reused for more than just swings! From playground material to horse arena fill – for a small fee, your local tire provider may offer recycling.
  • Your old paint is recyclable – check out St. Charles County Division of Environmental Services ( for more information.
  • Electronics and Appliances should never hit the trash can. Many have harmful metals or chemicals that are toxic to the landfills – plus they take up a LOT of space! Electronics recycling drives happen all the time around St. Louis or you can drop off. Check out for November recycling drives.

If your municipality doesn’t offer curbside pick-up, the Francis Scheidegger R ecycling Depository in Kirkwood is a great spot to drop off many different kinds of recyclables ( You can also visit earth911’s website ( to search for recycling centers and drop-off locations near your neighborhood.

My husband and I have loved our curbside pick-up service. Since everything hits the curb, we easily realize just how much is recyclable vs. the amount of trash we actually produce. It’s easily 75/25, in favor of the recycle bin. Nearly anything can be recycled – even hangers (check the recycling code) and clothes tags!


Produce less waste – enjoy your world… Recycle!


reducing consumption by jamie briesemeister

One of the easiest ways to reduce our consumption rate is simply to use less stuff. Buy less, use less. When you can’t use less, consider reusing what you have in a different way. In the design world, this would be called repurposing: reusing an item of value to serve a new, often completely different purpose.

Use these ideas for inspiration on how you can reduce your consumption rate and offer a new life to items you may have previously tossed out.


  • Stop buying bottles of water and buy a refillable water containers instead. We are so lucky St. Louis has great water! Filters on your tap or at your refridgerator help clear any impurities with reverse-osmosis systems offering even more filtration.
  • For parents with children in diapers – consider reusable cloth diapers. LONG gone are the times when you need to fold, pin, and diaper-cover a squirmy toddler. St. Louis’s own Cotton Babies has a great website ( with friendly personnel to show you the latest innovations in cloth diapering.
  • Choose to reuse with cloth hand towels and wash cloths instead of paper towels – plus, they feel better!
  • Grocery stores have recently begun selling reusable grocery bags for around a dollar each. Use them everywhere you buy something! I took a Macy’s bag into Schnuck’s the other day. It held all of my groceries and I didn’t use a ‘new’ bag. Some stores like Whole Food and Target offer a discount for using reusable bags.
  • If you don’t use reusable bags, reuse the plastic (or paper ones) you do get. Small plastic bags are great for small trashcan liners and brown paper bags make great wrapping material for shipping holiday gifts.
  • Cook your own food or dine-in. Very few take-out containers are recycled, if they are even recyclable. Go to for the dirt on the best (and worst) containers for our environment.
  • When you do get take-out, use left-over containers (or empty margarine tubs) for bringing food to a potluck or when giving away cookies around the holidays.
  • Donate your used toys and clothing to charity or to resell shops. You save it from a landfill and give it a second life as another child’s favorite toy – or another woman’s favorite sweater.

Think outside the box. If you go to throw something away and you think it can have another life, try it!

Holiday Table Setting – Return of the Taper Candle by Kimberly Reuther

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The holidays are almost upon us. While the weather is a bit behind the atmosphere in our stores, there’s no denying it. We are rapidly on our way to dreaming of sugar plums and hearing reindeer’s footsteps overhead.

Some of you may have noticed in recent years that the skinny taper candle had lost its place as the centerpiece of more modern tables in favor of its fatter cousin, the pillar candle. While the pillar served up long hours of burning time and an ambient inner glow, nothing rivals the scale and drama of long sleek taper candles.

I am glad to celebrate their return in two beautiful settings I captured at Niche & Pottery Barn. First, I happened to stop by Niche while they were setting up for a photo shoot and was able to get a sneak peak at a decorating event they are hosting 11.18.09 & 12.9.09. (Call 314- 621-8131 for more details).

I was drawn to the juxtaposition of the modern glass orbs and the elegantly traditional mercury candle holders. Most people think modern design has to be very clean and structured but this tablescape shows how whimsical elements play nicely with modern furniture.

Here’s a beautiful hot of the entire setting with abstract art as an unexpected backdrop element. I also love the little craft-paper wrapped boxes. Wonder what’s inside!

Now off to Pottery Barn at Plaza Frontenac for more holiday inspiration. Lo and behold, they have revived the taper candles as well! I fell in love with this organic tabletop display that is perfect for displaying all your favorite elements in between dinner parties.

Love the idea of mixing in potted poinsettias and moss covered objects to balance with the shiny silver candleholders and mercury ornaments!

Of course it wouldn’t be Pottery Barn if there wasn’t some unusual element added to the mix. Their new concept for this season is hanging ladders decorated with ornaments over dining tables. The catalog has lots of photos of this as well. You can definitely achieve a similar look without the ladder and possibly a lot less headache!

Here’s to happy decorating for your friends and family this holiday season and I’ll be sending more tips and trends your way soon!

Previously written by Kimberly for St. Louis AT HOME’s website.  Read more of Kimberly’s work and view her portfolio at

What’s So Special About Hickory Chair? by Victoria Dreste

Introduction by Kimberly Reuther

What’s so special about Hickory Chair? They are a furniture manufacturer that has churned out timeless pieces for generations. I’ve long been a fan, especially when the Thomas O’Brien collection debuted a few years ago. I’ve asked a fellow colleague to give recommendations on some of her favorites to stir the hearts of future admirers!

Vicki: “As a designer, I am drawn to various styles and periods. I appreciate the strong, clean lines of a modern look as well as the layers and mixing of a more traditional design. This is why I love furnishings from Hickory Chair. The design elements used cover a wide area of styles; which works seamlessly with my own design aesthetices.”

“The Duchamp is a classic French demilune sideboard. The clean lines and simple tapered legs make it usable in various settings. Aged pewter oval ring pulls and grill overlays add a touch of antique decoration. The Louis XVI side chairs in a silver finish add elegance to the setting.”

“The Fredericka is a beautifully proportioned reproduction of an antique bench. The broad stripe fabric updates the look. The Antoinette side table was reproduced from a find at the Paris Flea Market.”

“This beautiful setting is anchored by the Argonne sofa in deep rich brown leather. Along with the contrast of the white frame it makes a stunning statement. The tuxedo armoire was inspired by a 1940’s cabinet. It is sleek, modern and elegant.”

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