by Derek Maschek (MASCHEK design and fabrication, LLC)

The problem; how to create a cost effective “green” home (or any other building) in the St. Louis area, and this includes renovating an existing building as well. This is ground that has been tread aplenty in recent years, and yet remains ambiguous to many home owners and professionals alike for some reason. I hope to simplify and clarify what seems to be an unnecessarily complicated and confusing topic, saving time and effort while hopefully helping to avoid predicable disappointments. As usual, there are caveats (i.e. “it depends”) that can complicate things again, but I think the overall strategy for accomplishing a cost effective “green” home is really pretty simple and straightforward, as it should be. Then again, I have a fairly practical view of the topic, not that I don’t love my trees. But if you are in the Show Me state, seems to make sense to me, to…well, show that it makes sense.

The first thing we need to do is clarify what it means to be “green”. This is an unclear and emotionally charged term, often meaning different things to different people. All the nuanced meanings are related conceptually, but are critically different when discussed and applied in reality.

Many professionals prefer “sustainable”; meeting immediate needs without jeopardizing a future ability to do so. I personal love this term, but it is a VERY high bar to truly accomplish, maybe more of an ideal than a reality. To truly be sustainable, a residence would not only need to be completely independent of any services (domestic water, sewer, non-renewable energy), it would need to give back in order to recoup losses used to construct the building.

Those more concerned with environment than return on investment (ROI) might prefer “ecological”; environmentally friendly in a “living building” sort of way. Look into the Living Building Challenge for more info on this, but prepare yourself for a college PHD-level exercise in research and calculations. This is just out of the realm of possibility for most people and businesses, but cheers to those that attempt it. We love you for you zeal and shall sing your praises to the heavens.

Those less concerned with the environment but are more focused on a quantifiable ROI prefer “high-performance”; basically meaning energy efficient. This is a great term, used more by engineers, builders, and product representatives that sell energy efficient systems. But because of the practical and simplistic nature of it, it is probably also the most befitting my approach. My only regret is its limitation in that it excludes environmental concerns beyond those directly related to energy consumption. To me, that misses the bigger picture of what it means to be “green”, and so I find it wanting.

I prefer to just say “smart”. It’s a better way of designing and building, with numerous benefits over conventional methods, both economic and environmental, and anybody can take this as far as they want to with more or less zeal. Who doesn’t want to build smart after all?! Every situation and client is unique with different wants and needs, opportunities and restrictions. Done right, it’s actually cheaper than conventional construction methods initially and performs better over the long haul to boot, regardless of location. And feel free to throw in as many of the environmentally beneficial products you feel are appropriate, and get a little warm and fuzzy along with the cost-balancing stuff.

In order to determine which variant of “green” is best for you, answer a simple question; is your priority economic or environmental? Most want a balance of the two of course, but only one can and always does prevail. I usually hear something like “we want to be as environmentally responsible as we can afford to be”, which to date has always translated to an economic priority. It is the very rare committed few that pursue “green” driven by environmental altruism, although God bless them and I hope to work with one some day.

Now, I’m begging you to please, please, please be honest with yourself. Your answer is the foundation of an entire design and construction process. Some call it “concept” or your “level of commitment”. Regardless, if it is not addressed truthfully, expect disappointment and frustration, and in all likelihood wasted time and money for all involved.

While I discuss both aspects in this series, there’s definitely an economic priority to my input as that seems to be the usual driving force behind any “green” project I’ve been involved with. Frankly it’s just less messy overall, more easily explained and understood, and filled with less ambiguity. Don’t feel guilty for not being primarily environmentally motivated, as we live in a real world with real limitations. Designing smart is still environmentally conscious, it just acknowledges and embraces the cost-benefit equation.


Prepare yourself by reading my blog on Designing Small is Designing Smart.

DIY Upholstered Headboard Wall – Part 1 by Andrea Beckman

Every design starts with a vision.  This vision is often inspired by a particular piece you love…a chair, a table or piece of artwork.  Whatever it may be, it begins to set the tone and direction in which you design; but sometimes certain things such as layout or window placement can hinder that vision.

Prior to moving into my new apartment, I had a vision for my bedroom and it included wall lights.  Refined and somewhat industrial looking is what I had in mind.  So when I came across these wall lights (on sale + coupon) it did the trick.  I bought them and set them aside for my future space.

wall lights

Now, let’s fast forward to the apartment that I found and am currently living in…..

Challenge: There is only one wall that works for the bed to go on.  That wall has windows on it…well how about that!  Now where do I hang these wall lights that I am committed to using?


Solution: Create a “headboard wall”.  Build a headboard that has end pieces extending past and in front of my windows.  Mount my wall lights to the side extensions.  To complete the look, cantilever shelving to act as bed-side tables.


My thought…this will create a dramatic focal point that is cozy and most of all, house my wall lights!  When I shared this with a few others, their response was, “And cover up the windows”?  Well yes,  I figure the windows are tall enough where they can still allow for plenty of light in the space, and because they are tall you’re still able to appreciate them.

This is no new concept, but it is new for me and my assistant (dad) to build.  Important Note: Whether or not this turns out is still TBD…it’s not complete yet!!  I have only completed the first phase which is the upholstered headboard.  You will have to stay tuned for my follow up post which will include the finished product.

Now we begin, DIY Headboard – part I, creating the actual upholstered headboard!

Step 1: Decide what you want your headboard to look like.  Is it going to be arched, scalloped, squared?  What material do you want to use…solid, striped, patterned? Do you want to add any details?

Because I knew this would be next to my lampshades and wood planks I wanted a material that would provide a nice contrast.  I chose a heavy textured linen in a charcoal with blue undertones.

My inspiration:

West Elm: Nailhead Upholstered Headboard

When I came across West Elm’s upholstered nailhead headboard I loved it!  It was exactly what I had in mind.  While this headboard is reasonably priced and I’d love to have the ‘real deal’, it was still more than I could afford.  I already owned a huge roll of imitation nailheads that I bought years ago and this would give me a reason to finally use them.

West Elm: Nailhead Upholstered Headboard

Step 2: Create your frame:  We created a frame out of 2×4’s.  Three verticals and two horizontal with an overall dimension of 26″ x 60″.  This is for a queen size bed.


We then covered the frame by running 1 x 6’s horizontally to create the face.  You could also use 3/4″ plywood along with many other material options.  We used 1×6’s because we already had it to work with.

Step 2

Step 3: We adhered 2″ foam to the face and left a 1-1/2″ perimeter along the top and two sides.  We did this to allow for the nailheads.  To attach the foam to the wood we used a heavy duty spray glue.  That baby is going no where!

Step 3

Step 4: We then stretched an inexpensive white backing material to cover and give the backside a finished look.

Step 4

Step 5: We stretched 3/4″ backing material over the foam and stapled to the backside.

Step 5

Headboard with the batting on it.

Head board with Batting

Step 6: Finally the fun part, attaching the fabric….or maybe the not so fun part, five re-dos over!  Because my material had a very distinct weave in it, it was very difficult to keep it perfectly perpendicular and strait.  When stretching it, the slightest pull too hard in any one direction would make the whole thing look crooked and off.  My material also had some natural give to it that made this even more challenging.  The more tout the material the easier!!


Before adding nail heads

Finished product!

Completed Headboard


close up


Stay tuned for “DIY headboard – Part 2” to see the finished product and how it all comes together (cross my fingers)!


Bottom Line: White Kitchen Countertops by Kimberly Reuther

You’ve seen them everywhere lately, it seems.  No, I’m not talking about holiday decorations (although that is true, too).  I’m talking about white countertops, mainly marble.  They are in design magazines, on TV shows, in hotels & restaurants and even your neighbor’s newly renovated kitchen.  They are beautiful and alluring yet you are wondering if they are right for your home with 3 kids, 2 pets and a less than tidy husband.  But mainly you are asking yourself, “what’s the bottom line?”.

Kitchen Inspiration

Kitchen Inspiration

Here is some insight into the more popular choices and how they work with your lifestyle and your budget.

White Marble: Marble is a very porous natural stone and is less durable than granite, which is why it is isn’t commonly used in American kitchens.  It is prone to scratching, staining and chipping.  While it is very beautiful, there is a good amount of maintenance that keeps it looking that way.

All natural stone needs to be sealed (and re-sealed periodically) to keep out moisture and resist staining but it is not an impenetrable shield.  You have to be more careful with marble and acidic liquids (lemon juice, red wine) which will stain or etch the marble.  Also, some bath products, like sugar scrubs will etch marble.  It is a good idea to always use a cutting board, both to protect the sealer and your knives as well as guard against bacteria.  Lastly, use hot pads or trivets to protect the stone from heated cookware.  Of note: most marble is available polished or honed (matte) and has a variety of edge options.

Before you get discouraged, keep in mind that Europeans have been using marble for sculptures, building facades and of course countertops for centuries.  It has proven that it will stand the test of time, it just won’t look the same as the day it was installed.  Here are two of my favorites:

Carrera Marble: This is a more readily available white marble with a slight grey cast.  Slabs will very greatly from light grey to a mid tone grey.  There is a lot of soft movement in the dark grey veining; some slabs maybe more “busy” than others.  It is very important to hand-select your slabs to your personal taste.  Carrera marble looks beautiful with polished nickel fixtures and is available in a range of coordinating tiles to complete the space.

Price Range: approx. $70 – $80/sq. ft.*

Close-up of Carrera Marble

Carrera Marble Bathroom Countertop

Calacata Marble:  If you are looking for a creamier white marble with warmer, taupe or camel colored veins, this is it.  These marble slabs are more exotic and therefore come with a much higher price tag and possibly longer lead times.  You also want to hand-select this stone as it has a lot of variation.  Nonetheless, from a designer’s perspective, Calacata marble has such an exquisite aesthetic that it almost doesn’t compare.

Price Range: approx. $120 – $150/sq. ft*

Close-up of Calacata Marble

Calacata Marble Kitchen Countertop

Quartzstone:  Manufactured quartz has become an increasingly popular choice in recent years, for both commercial and residential projects.  It is more durable than granite, does not have to be sealed, requires little or no maintenance, is anti-bacterial, has multiple edge options and some colors even include recycled content.

Manufacturing stone to give it the best possible features & benefits is a little like gene mutation to me.  However, once I saw slabs of this installed, I was very impressed.  I do think the granite-looking color choices need a bit more work but they have really excelled at the marble and limestone alternatives.  In fact, they keep getting better at it.  I often refer clients to explore these options as alternatives to white marble if maintenance is a major concern.

Price Range: approx. $65 – $95/sq. ft.*

Caesarstone Misty Carrera: One of the first of its kind and still a favorite.  It’s soft grey background with darker grey veins has a subtle movement that fools the eye into thinking it may be marble.  It is available in both honed and polished finishes.

Close-up of Caesarstone Misty Carrera

Caesarstone Countertop

Zodiaq Bianco Carrera: I love this because they have succeeded in adding large scale movement to a manufactured product.  It is also of the creamy white family which is rare to find and is equally stunning in traditional or contemporary applications.

Close-up of Zodiaq Bianca Carrera

Zodiaq Countertop

Concrete:  Want something more modern & less busy? I have to mention this because I am also a fan of this material for several reasons.  I own a white concrete countertop (2 years & counting) and it is beautiful and durable.  It was manufactured by a St. Louis company and it is made of concrete in the form of a powder.  They are able to make any color out of a paint fan deck, can make integral sinks, and have several unique edge options.  They mix it together, mold it, put a sealer on it and deliver it just like a regular countertop, no on-site pouring.  It is not porous so it doesn’t need to be resealed as often as natural stone, it is stronger than granite, has recycled content and is made here locally so it is very good for the environment.   I had them do a custom “pure white” for me and I love how the color turned out.  Of note: different finishes are available but there is no movement or veining in this product.

Price Range: approx. $70 – $80/sq. ft.*

My white concrete countertop

Bottom Line:  Americans tend to base their selections on how well things “age” and we are inclined to replace things without letting them age “gracefully”.  Keeping longevity and your budget in mind will help you make the best selection for your lifestyle.

*Note: pricing by square feet is for general use and is best for budgeting purposes.  Actual pricing for your project depends on a lot of variables including size, cutouts, edge options, color, etc.  Pricing estimates provided by CK Concrete, Hallmark Stone & ISC Surfaces

Originally written by Kimberly for AT HOME’s website.  View the post here.  You can see more of Kimberly’s work here.


Bottom Line: Kitchen Backsplashes by Kimberly Reuther

Welcome to a new series of blogs designed to help you prepare your budget for your remodeling or new construction project. The first topic we are going to tackle is tile for kitchen backsplashes. There are numerous sizes and materials to choose from. How do you know what is right for your budget and your overall design? Here a re a few tips that will help you get started!

Tip #1: Backsplash tile pricing cannot be compared to floor tile. A lot of people think that since they purchased a 12″ x 12″ porcelain floor tile for $4/sq. ft. that the backsplash tile should be the same price or less expensive because they are smaller tiles. This is definitely not the case. It is more expensive for vendors to manufacture smaller tiles and typically you have much less square feet of tile on your backsplash compared to your floor. If you only want to spend $4/sq. ft. on your backsplash, you better love Dal-Tile 4″ x 4″ tile in white, white or white. You need to be prepared to spend around $15/sq. ft. as a starting point for backsplash tile.

Tip #2: Beware of trends. Glass mosaics have been the “rage” for several years now. But how long can it last? It depends on how well you integrate the glass into your overall design. Browse through a tile showroom, like The Gallery at ISC Surfaces, and you are dazzled by brilliant blue glass and different iridescent versions of mosaic tile. Glass manufacturers want to show you all of their capabilities, which are amazing, but many are best suited for commercial applications. Go visit your favorites at the latest hot spot but don’t install them in your kitchen! Paint is easy to replace; tearing out custom tile every 2 years is a whole other ballgame.

Tip #3: Be mindful of your countertop pattern. If you, like most people, have selected a beautiful granite countertop with a large amount of “movement”, you need to make sure your backsplash tile doesn’t compete with it. A simpler backsplash with a busy granite creates a more harmonious kitchen design. The same is true in reverse, the simpler the granite the more leeway with your backsplash. Seeking out photos in magazines is very helpful to narrowing down your style.

Obviously, there are many materials to work with and they will impact your budget in different ways. Here is a general guide to sizes and material costs along with photos for your reference. I always advise my clients to keep their minds open when selecting backsplash tiles. The things you think are expensive sometimes are not and vice versa. It is wise to consult with an interior designer to help create a timeless look while staying within your budget.

Tumbled Stone: There is an abundance of certain natural stones, namely limestone and travertine, that are reasonable for backsplashes. They often come tumbled in the following sizes: 3″ x 6″, 4″ x 4″, 6″ x 6″ and cost around $7/st. ft. – $15/sq. ft.

tumbled stone backsplash tile

Natural Stone Mosaics: A few vendors, namely Walker Zanger, seek out higher quality stones and offer unique sizes, colors and shapes. They are very beautiful and often the images seen in magazines. They are also much more expenssive than their tumbled counterparts. You are looking at around $35/sq. ft. – $200/sq. ft. for this type of stone.

stone mosaic backsplash tile

Porcelain Tile Mosaics: A small sampling of the offerings above are “re-created” by manufacturers in porcelain tile for two reasons. The first is maintenance and the second is cost. However, mosaic tiles are not cheap and sometimes the “fake” version is almost as expensive as the natural stone, so it is important to do your homework. These range in price from approximately $20/sq. ft. – $40/sq. ft.

porcelain tile mosaics

Glass Tile Mosaics: Another versatile backsplash idea is the glass mosaic tile. 1″ x 1″ tiles in a huge range of colors and finishes (matte, gloss, iridescent) are available from a variety of manufacturers, some even made from recycled content. Recently, more shapes and custom color blends, including glass and stone combinations, have come on the market adding to the overall confusion for homeowners. Typically, the price range for glass mosaics is close to $35/sq. ft. – $100/sq. ft.

glass tile mosaics

Machine-Made Ceramic Tile: As I mentioned before, Dal-Tile offers a lot of options for $4/sq. ft., approximately ten different very basic shades in a 4″ x 4″ or 6″ x 6″ tile. These are great for bathrooms because of the large quantity needed but for your kitchen you normall want something more special. I will say that basic white 3″ x 6″ “subway” tile set staggered joint has and always will be one of the most timeless backsplashes and is very affordable.

Hand-Made Ceramic Tile: A more unique, organic look is hand-made tile. The undulations in the shading and shape of the tile create a subtle movement without being too busy. These tiles have a very “old world” feel and have increased in popularity in recent years. They are also available in more creative shapes, such as a harlequin/diamond shape and elongated or large scale “subway” tiles along with a multitude of colors and crackle glazes. Hand-made tile can start at $15/sq. ft. and increase to upwards of $55/sq. ft.

hand made ceramic tile


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

What makes an oven great? by Kimberly Reuther

“I love to cook, correction, I love to bake. Mainly, I love to make cookies for the holidays. When I was growing up, my grandma used to make so many different kinds of cookies, the Tupperware containers spanned for miles! Well, maybe it just seemed like that to an eight year old with visions of chocolate chip cookies in her head!”

Cookie Press Cookies are my absolute favorite!

I also remember baking cookies and pies and strudel cake (so seventies) with my mom. Brownies were a favorite and she could never seem to get the consistency of them correct. The edges you could throw against the wall and the middle was as gooey as the batter originally started out. A few years and other residences later, I realized it may have had more to do with her oven than her cooking skills.

Living in an apartment in the city, I had to get used to gas stoves. Now, if I cook at my parents’ house on an electric range, I think time has stopped as I wait for the water to boil! Needless to say, I have become a huge fan of gas ranges!

I also love reality TV cooking shows and I thought it was time to find out what makes a gas range good, what makes it better and what makes it the best option for a home cook.

Oh, how I wish my dishes would turn out like this!

Here are suggestions from AUTCOhome:

Good – Bosch model HDS7052U

Key points

  • Touch & Turn® Electronic Oven Control with 8 Cooking Modes
  • Continuous Grates – Effortlessly Move Pots and Pans. Easy to Clean.
  • Sealed Burners Prevent Spills From Entering the Burner Box
  • Integrated Warming Drawer

Better – Electrolux EW30DF65GS

Key Points

  • Wave-Touch™ Controls
  • Luxury-Glide™ Oven Racks
  • Perfect Pair™ Ovens
  • Perfect Turkey® Button

Best – Wolf DF304

Key points

  • Natural or LP gas rangetop with large capacity dual convection electric oven
  • Ten cooking modes
  • Dual-stacked sealed 9,200 Btu / hr (2.7 kWh) and 15,000 Btu/ hr (4.4 kWh) burners
  • Temperature probe feature

Happy Cooking!

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