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.

The Healthy Abode: KBIS 2011 Wrap-up by Melanie Holden

The Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) is the annual platform of the kitchen & bath industry’s latest products, design trends, and innovative technology. This 4-day conference and expo is hosted by the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) and typically hosts roughly 1000 exhibitors and 45,000 attendees, though it was clearly a bit more intimate this year.

This year, Kitchen and Bath professionals from around the world converged on the scene in Las Vegas. After attending the past 2 KBIS shows in Chicago, I was excited for a change of scenery in Sin City.

It was my first journey to this convention center and I found the layout to be a little choppy and difficult to navigate. It felt like we were constantly missing sections and found ourselves backtracking quite a bit to make sure we saw everything. Maybe I’m just spoiled by the open layout of Chicago’s McCormick Place. Regardless, rather than focusing in on the layout, lets get down to what we all really want to know – what kind of new products and trends are out there for your kitchen or bath?

There were so many inspired and innovative products exhibited at the show, but if someone was to ask me what product stuck out in my head over all others, I must say Kohler’s Numi integral toilet + bidet takes the cake! It is the ultimate in tech-savvy toilet technology and there is very little that this brilliant fixture won’t do!

The lid opens when it sees you approaching, and then it may sing to you through its integral speakers – your choice of Kohler’s playlist or yours. If that’s not enough, it has a heated seat AND floor warmer for those cold winter mornings. No more chilly bums or tootsies if you have a Numi in your household! Numi also has an air dryer, a deodorizing filter, ambient lighting, a touch-screen remote, multiple user settings, water conserving flush options, AND it even knows if you are a man or woman. All this for a mere $6,400.00. Get your crown for this throne!

My favorite material was the Ann Sacks tile. Ann Sacks has long been one of my most favorite tile lines. A large selection of their gorgeous tiles are designed by some of the world’s most renoun designers such as Barbara Barry, Michael S. Smith, and now Vincente Wolfe. Vincente Wolfe was in Vegas launching his new Vincente Wolfe Textures Collection which includes a multitude of amazing tile designs, all reflecting his appreciation for “the way nature engages the senses.”

Brizo’s new Art Deco inspired bathroom faucet, Charlotte was a frontrunner for faucet introductions. Not only is the style stunning and streamlined, the dual finish really put this one over the top for me. Combining Polished Nickel and Cocoa Bronze is an elegant, unexpected twist on the bathroom faucet. Charlotte is not yet available to ship, but I will be one of the first in line to spec this one out as soon as it becomes available later this year.

Toto introduced their Luminist Vessel Sink, which I love. Who knew that a LED illuminated ring could be used as an uber fabulous sink?

Digital was everywhere. Kohler first introduced the DTV (Digital Thermostatic Valve) a few years ago to streamline their carwash showers. While the DTV is still available, along with the DTVII, some smaller-scale options have become available. Temperature control and water conserving shower systems are hot items. Kohler’s DTV Prompt, Moen’s ioDIGITAL, and Hansgrohe’s RainBrain systems (though HGR was nowhere to be found on ths show floor this year) feature electronic panels that control shower preferences for multiple users.

The most recurring theme that I noticed is that EVERYONE is making at least some products with water conservation and sustainability in mind. I can’t say whether the motivation to introduce so many “green” products comes from a true enthusiasm for environmentally conscious designs, or the necessity to keep up with the “green” innovators, but it was refreshing to see so many options! I must say, it is rather ironic to see the juxtaposition of low flow toilets and faucets often showcased next to car wash showers with multiple bodyprays and showerheads or with a family-sized tub that would require a commercial-grade water heater just to fill with warm water.

I noticed a stronger focus than previous years on the changing demographic of the kitchen and bath consumer. The Ageing in Place scenario was a large factor for some manufacturers, addressing the flourishing needs of the Baby Boomers as their changing physical needs influence kitchen & bath design.

Overall, there was definitely a shift in the type of products being shown. There has always been a dominance of plumbing and hardware vendors, but there was an obvious void in the appliance and cabinetry world this year. However, for every appliance or cabinet manufacturer that was missing, there seemed to be scores of obscure foreign manufacturers with fun little booths and some unique products to fill the voids. Looking forward to see what suprises Chicago holds for next year!

Healthy Abode: Spa Bath – Part 3 by Melanie Holden

Happy New Year! Let’s pick up where we left off for the final installment of spa baths.

Shades of orange and peach are warming tones that increase energy levels and inspirational thought. Orange is a color of fun and friendliness and is best used in activity or creative areas. It stimulates the pulse rate and appetite and is known to energize the thyroid and respiratory system. Orange happens to be one of my personal favorite colors and can look great in a bathroom, but its probably best reserved for other areas of the home.

Then there ís sexy, powerful red.

This passionate color stimulates and excites the vitality of the body and mind. Shades of red promote alertness, strength, courage, sensuality, and sexuality. Transversely, rage, anger, and revenge are the polar values of this commanding color. Red can increase circulation and the pulse rate, raising blood pressure and breathing rates. All of those factors, both good and bad, make red a color that you probably will not want saturating your bathroom. If itís red that you absolutely must have, utilizing a softer shade of magenta, rose, or coral may be more appropriate.

Splashes of red may also be more desirable than complete saturation for an ideal spa bath.

What about white for your spa bathroom, you ask? White contains the entire light spectrum in perfect balance and consequently influences all the systems of the body. Crisp white neutrals are absolutely brilliant in a bathroom! Most of you probably already have white plumbing fixtures, so itís easy build off of those elements. White can encourage creativity while it simultaneously strengthens and nurtures the soul. It generally feels fresh, pure, efficient, and clean and is easy to incorporate into various decors, whether traditional, eclectic, or modern. When in doubt as to what color to use, you can seldom go wrong with white.

How about the non-color color, black? Really? Black for a bathroom? Many people shy away from black, thinking that it would be too dark for a smaller space like a bathroom. To the contrary, dark colors can sometimes make a space feel larger when used correctly. Black neutrals feel wonderfully masculine and glamorous when done appropriately.

Black is a protective color that has calming effects ñ especially to more sensitive individuals. It is most effective when used in conjunction with shades of white and should be used in combination with other colors. Of course, too much black can cause undesirable feelings like depression, fear, suspicion, and paranoia, so take care to use it in moderation.

Finally, letís talk brown. Some of you may be thinking, yuck, why would I want brown in my spa bathroom? Keep in mind that brown can come from a variety of sources, not just limited to the wall color. Most wood tones are brown, so it can be incorporated with a lovely wood vanity, your mirror frame, or even a teak or bamboo bath mat.

However, I am absolutely not opposed to brown walls, especially when used in conjunction with complementary clean, white bath fixtures and other accents. Brown neutrals can feel earthy and organic, which is very beneficial in creating a nature-inspired bathroom. Brown is a valuable healing color because it calms, stabilizes, and grounds emotions. Brown can help you rediscover your center. It even is known to calm hyperactive children!

I know there are about a million other colors that we could get into, but Iím already pushing my luck with the length of this commentary. Plus, most of those other colors are shades and variations of the colors that I discussed above. Whichever color direction you choose to use in your spa bathroom, remember that color is personal and it should benefit the wellbeing of your body and soul. Choose colors that complement your skin tone in the area where you apply make-up, and choose colors that generally make you feel good. Combined with good lighting, color can be all that you need to create your ideal home spa sanctuary.

Healthy Abode: Spa Bath – Part 2 by Melanie Holden

If your summer was anything like mine, it was a hectic one, and Iíd venture to say that weíre all overdue for a little R&R before the busy holiday season kicks into full gear. So, letís pick up where we left off a while back and get back to spa-ing your bath so that you can have that R&R in the comfort of your own home! Hopefully, youíve already incorporated a few organic elements as I discussed in part 1. Maybe you added a pretty plant or two or a few rocks here and there? Now letís move on to one of my favorite subjects, COLOR!

Color has an enormous impact on your feelings in any space ñ not just your bathroom; it is a key factor in establishing balance within the body and soul.

In general, warmer colors such as red, orange, and yellow stimulate while cooler colors like blue, indigo and violet evoke a more calming influence. With that in mind, if itís the ultra-relaxing spa atmosphere you are after, it is preferable to primarily implement calming colors within the space rather than energizing colors. With that said, nothing dictates that a bathroom canít have a bit of stimulating color and still provide a relaxing atmosphere. Every color has its own specific qualities that are beneficial to the therapeutic process, so itís important to focus on the particular therapies that are most significant to you.

When considering the direction to take with your bathroom colors, itís helpful to appreciate the effects any given color may have on your mind and body. So, letís chat our way through the rainbow starting with one of my choice spa-bath colors: blue.

Blue tones generate a sense of peace, serenity and balance. Whether itís azure, cobalt, indigo, sapphire, navy, or aquamarine that strikes your fancy, shades of blue can invoke calmness and invite introspect. Blue is associated with the sky, the ocean, and water in general. The tranquilizing property of blue is helpful in relieving headaches and muscle cramps and is said to have a healing effect on many other types of aches and pains. All of these qualities make blue tones an excellent choice for bathroom color palettes!

Similar to the tranquil qualities of blue, green is classic, calming, harmonizing, detoxifying, and even sedative. It relaxes me just thinking about it! Green is associated with nature, rebirth, growth and money. Have you ever noticed that hospitals often incorporate green into their color schemes? Thatís no mere coincidence. Some shades of green are actually known to have healing qualities and can evoke feelings of security and self-confidence. However, other shades of green should be utilized cautiously, as they can be reminiscent of mold or decay, undesirable in any environment, much less a bathroom.

A blend of blue and red tones, purple is a fascinating, paradoxical color that employs both relaxing and stimulating characteristics of the color spectrum.

It represents royalty, prestige, divinity, authority, and anger. Purple is stimulating, yet meditative, and may aid in detoxifying the body when used in moderation. Physically, purple can provide pain-relieving, tranquilizing, and hypnotic effects. It has been known to enhance intuition and imagination, and reduce stiffness, blood pressure, and body temperature. Purple can provide many positive effects for the mind and body, but when overused it can also prove to cause, create, or exaggerate depression, so use it with care. I typically prefer to see it as an accent color in bathroom applications.

Not surprisingly, yellow is an eye-catching, optimistic, energetic color of awakening. This cheerful, bright color of the rising sun inspires intellectual activity and power. It is a cleansing color that stimulates the digestive system, purifies the blood stream, and has even been known to alleviate headaches. As with many colors, it does have adverse effects when used in overabundance, sometimes creating anxiety and mental tension.

Healthy Abode: Spa Bath – Part 1 by Melanie Holden

Are you too busy for a regular spa trip, but in desperate need of a little pampering? Join the club! It seems like we’ve all been required to do more with less over the past few years, which makes for much busier, more stressful lifestyles. Needless to say, all this work and worry is not good for your health or frame of mind. Excessive exposure to stress can lead to or exacerbate serious health problems like sleeping disorders, heart disease, depression, obesity, and high blood pressure just to name a few. It is time to take relaxation into our own hands! Many overworked, underpaid, stressed-out people are turning to the bathroom as a soothing sanctuary for rejuvenation and retreat to supplement or even replace those few spa trips they have the time and money for.


But wait, your bathroom just doesn’t exude the stress-free spa oasis atmosphere you’re dreaming of? Well, I have some thoughts to help you transform it in a way that will entice each and every sense. It turns out that I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, because once I started putting those thoughts on paper, I couldn’t stop! There are so many ways to “spa your bathroom” that to do this subject justice, I decided to break this one up into a blog series.

So, part one, here we go! The spectacular thing about spa’ing your bathroom is that you can go all out or just add a few personal touches to what you already have. If you’re not in the market for a gut rehab of your entire bathroom, you can do plenty of little things to create a calming spa-like ambience. Ultimately, trust your senses and choose soothing colors, textures, sounds, scents, and soaps to nurture your body and soul.

But first, you must de-clutter! Clutter creates a sense of unease and chaos, making true relaxation virtually unachievable. Get organized and get rid of anything that you don’t love or is not functional. Make sure that everything has a place and that things are stored neat and organized.


Once your de-cluttering mission is complete, its time for the fun part: finishes! Whether working with an existing bathroom or starting from scratch, think natural. Natural colors, textures, and materials add a fresh, organic feel to any space. Incorporate natural stone, actual stones, or recycled glass for an organic, earthy feel in your bathroom.

Deep, rich wood tones and bamboo elements add warmth and elegance to a room. Wood elements will also promote personal growth, inspiration, creativity, and passion.

Incorporating a few metal elements into your bathroom will create harmony and can balance a space. Various types of metals are even associated with good health. Just don’t overdo it; too much metal can cause anxiety. Keep in mind that the goals are harmony and balance. Are you starting to feel a little Zen yet? Many of these spa strategies align effortlessly with Feng Shui principals; hmmm, sounds like a great subject for a future blog, don’t you think!

Plants are another way to enhance your bathroom atmosphere.

Not only a natural accent, live plants clean the air and bring the outdoors inside, adding color and texture. Tropical plants thrive from the bathroom humidity and herbs provide naturally fresh scents. Your bathroom should emanate fresh, clean air, not a chemical jumble of artificial fragrances, air fresheners and cleaning products. Display small pots of lavender, rosemary, sage, or peppermint. Potted fresh herbs will not only enhance your bathroom atmosphere, they can be used for your very own custom aromatherapy bath! Pick a few stems from your favorite herb du jour, wrap them in cheesecloth and tie them to the tub faucet so the water flows through them as the tub is filled.

Check back soon for part 2 of Spa Your Bathroom where I’ll elaborate on the colors you may want to consider for your spa bathroom, what effects particular colors can have on your mood and what chromatherapy is all about. Until then, happy bathing!


The Healthy Abode: FSC – What is That? by Melanie Holden

In several of my previous blogs I’ve referred to FSC Certified wood products, which has generated the question on more than one occasion: what exactly does FSC Certified mean?


FSC is an acronym for “Forest Stewardship Council,” which was established in 1993 by various representatives from social, environmental, and forest management groups to raise awareness of and transform destructive logging practices. The FSC is a third party certification organization that assesses those who manage the care of forests. The Forest Stewardship Council realizes the fragility of the earth’s natural habitat and strives to protect it while preventing deforestation. Based in Germany, the Forest Stewardship Council exemplifies the world’s strongest system for setting forest management standards ranging from legal issues, regional circumstances, and environmental impacts of forest management. Their mission is to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable forest management. A simple way to recognize sustainably harvested FSC certified wood or bamboo is to look for the FSC label on the packaging or the material itself.

fsc logo

By following FSC requirements, forest managers adhere to a sustainable plan that imitates the natural life and death cycle of the forest. FSC codes prevent harvesting more trees than what grows back, and do not allow the harvest of rare ancient trees. FSC also mandates forest practices that reduce chemical use and protect the natural habitat. The use of genetically modified trees and organisms (GMO) is prohibited, and FSC assesses and strictly monitors nearby springs and streams to detect any signs of contamination or vegetative disturbance caused by harvesting. When forest managers make the decision to strive for FSC Certification, they must comply with all applicable FSC rules and practices and cannot use the FSC label without first earning certification. After becoming certified, they must continually prove compliance with FSC standards through annual audits.


An added measure to ensure integrity of FSC certified products is Chain-of-Custody certification (CoC). FSC certified wood is tracked and documented through the production process from forest to finished product. CoC certification requires the FSC certified products are kept separate from other products throughout the production process. Only operations with the FSC CoC certification are allowed to label products with the FSC trademarks.

Practically anything that is manufactured from trees can be FSC Certified. Not just limited to building materials and finishes; paper, pencils, cutting boards, even musical instruments can be made from FSC certified wood! It is important to note that FSC Certification does not have anything to do with the materials being recycled or reclaimed ñ only that they were derived from trees from a well managed forest.


Until recently, Bamboo products were not eligible for FSC Certification, but thankfully, they are now! Though it is a popular renewable resource because it regenerates approximately every 7 years, the harvesting practices of some bamboo growers are less than sustainable. Some bamboo is harvested too early, and some countries are actually deforesting their native trees to make way for bamboo forests! Bamboo absolutely needed to be regulated.

bamboo forest

FSC is not the only certification program and should NOT be confused with the paper-industry backed Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). The American Forest & Paper Association basically created SFI to promote “business-as-usual” logging practices as being sustainable. It is the epitome of greenwashing and is funded by large paper companies for their own best interests. The photo below shows an example of an SFI compliant forest in the Sierra Nevada’s in California.


And this photo is from an SFI Certified forest in Maine.


Tell me, what is wrong with these images!

In comparison, the following is a photo of an FSC Certified forest, also in the Sierra Nevada’s shortly after a harvest.

after harvest

The FSC is by far the most credible and scientifically sound standard for sustainable forest practices. Today nearly 125 million acres of forest are FSC certified in 76 countries. For more information, go to the Forest Stewardship Council’s website:

The Healthy Abode: Paint by Melanie Holden

Happy spring everyone! How wonderful it is to throw open those windows and ventilate all of the stale indoor winter air. Love it! Fresh air brings a renewed energy to the soul. With the anticipation of flowers blooming and the earth coming out of hibernation, lets talk color to give that renewed energy a jump-start. Winter can get so drab with the long nights and lack of daytime sun. Thankfully, the days are getting longer and the Missouri Botanical Gardens helps ease the winter blues with their annual orchid show to help brighten those dreary days. I love gathering inspiration from the delicate and breathtaking display and translating it into colors and décor in my clients’ homes and businesses.

spring flowers

Before the weather gets too gorgeous that you’ll be enjoying it outdoors, you may want to consider painting a room or two in your home. Paint can be one of the quickest, most inexpensive ways to make an enormous impact on a space. Whether you hire a professional painter, or you’re a do-it-yourselfer, please don’t cheap out on the paint! Why not? You’re probably wondering why splurge for the pricier brands when you could get a similar look with a cheap one. Though I’m partial to the selections from Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore, and Yolo Colorhouse, I’ll admit that almost every brand of paint has some pretty colors. However, the lesser quality paints or stains will not likely cover in the same way as a superior mixture so you’ll likely have to use more to get the coverage required and it may not be as lustrous a finish. So, what are you really saving if you have to purchase more to get results that are not as desirable as the alternative? Nada!


As a tag note, please make sure that you are making a wise choice with the color. The color you choose for a space can even influence the disposition of the occupants within that space. We’ll need to talk color psychology one of these days to dig into just how much of an impact color can possess over your mood – footnote for a later date… But back to today –don’t be afraid to experiment. If color is not your forte or if you are uncertain about your selection, I encourage you to hire a designer that you trust for an hour or two to give his or her 2 cents. Investing in a professional opinion will save you time and money in the long run. Wouldn’t you prefer to go through this just once anyway?


So, what else can you do to be responsible with your paint selection? Let’s talk about the VOC thing. VOCs (or volatile organic compounds) are air pollutants that evaporate effortlessly at room temperature and contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer (greenhouse gases), smog, and poor indoor air quality. Paints and stains are among the leading indoor air toxins. It’s no surprise that most finishes are jam-packed with nasty VOCs that threaten your family’s health until fully off-gassed. According to the EPA, polluted indoor air is among the top 5 hazards to human health. Why in the world would you want to introduce more pollutants into your home if you didn’t have to?
Until recently, VOCs were essential to the performance of paint. Paint of some sort, even if it’s a simple shade of white, is essential in most spaces. Thanks to research and technology, you now have some wonderful options for paint with very low amounts of VOCs or no VOCs at all! Most zero-VOC paints can be mixed into any color, though you sometimes may be limited when using very deep colors.

sitting area

Sherwin William’s GreenGuard-certified, zero-VOC interior paint line, Harmony, is one of my favorite go-to products when specifying paint for a client. Benjamin Moore’s Natura line is another great option. Both are available as a durable primer or top-coat paint in a variety of sheens. Other great resources for VOC-free paints include Green Seal-certified Yolo Colorhouse, Green Planet Paints, American Pride, and Safecoat (just to name a few). Soy-based Green Planet Paints even takes an additional stride by completely eliminating Petroleum from their paints, a step that further reduces the environmental impact associated with manufacturing paint. These products are a little pricier than their smellier counterparts, but what is your family’s health worth? What about the atmosphere around you?
Thanks to this technology, we don’t ever have to go back to the days of chemical headaches and that awful paint hangover feeling the day after painting a room.

The Healthy Abode: Cabinets by Melanie Holden

When you make the decision to implement sustainable practices into your life, education is critical in order to understand what you’re truly looking for in sustainable products. So far, I’ve brushed on water-saving plumbing fixtures and countertops. Let’s chat about cabinets for a while…

Cabinetry is an important investment that creates a significant impact on your space. Not only the comfort-of-your-home kind of space, but also the environment where it was manufactured, all the way to the forest where it came from kind of space.

What’s the first thing you think when considering “green” cabinets? The material? Bamboo? Bamboo is a beautiful, durable, option; just remember to be very cautious of where it originates and how it is harvested. There are a few reliable resources for it, but many are not. Smith and Fong’s Ply-Boo is an excellent one. A very scrumptious one, actually…


How about cabinets made from reclaimed materials? Are those reclaimed materials local? How far have they been transported to get to the manufacturer, then to you? If your cabinets are made from virgin lumber (wood that has come directly from trees that have been cut down to make them), is that wood FSC Certified? So much to consider! Luckily, we have an excellent local resource called Greenhaus Cabinetsthat can meet any and all of those requests.

So, let’s go back to the responsibly harvested bamboo or hardwood. Remember, it is often manufactured as a veneer in lieu of solid wood. Why, you ask? There are a few reasons, but a notable one is to minimize the natural expansion and contraction that wood goes through with changes in temperature and humidity. Some solid wood cabinets aren’t particularly practical in a kitchen or bathroom. Especially in the Midwest. Want more to consider?

What is the cabinet made of under that veneer? How is the veneer attached to the substrate underneath? How is that veneer actually finished? It doesn’t make much sense to take a smart product like Ply-Boo, FSC Certified Maple, or Missouri Red Oak – only to use a smelly adhesive to attach the substrate that is laden with more VOC-purging chemicals – then smother it with a beautiful finish that happens to be loaded with yet more VOC’s! The horror!

Back up…not so sure what’s so awful about VOCs…or what they are for that matter? VOC stands for volatile organic compound. They are (often toxic) gases omitted from various products. They constantly vaporize into the atmosphere around you, polluting and infringing on your fresh air space. You know that new carpet smell – blame VOCs. Its no surprise that concentrations of many VOCs are higher indoors than out (one great reason for a well-ventilated house or building). Some common health effects are headaches, various irritations, nausea, or worse.

Thankfully, there are products like formaldehyde-free Pure Bond, a nontoxic soy-based plywood. Water and Soy-based finishes are available as well. Combined, these factors contribute to a VOC-free end product. Locally, Centorbi Custom Cabinetry does beautiful work, using formaldehyde-free plywood upon request.


When seriously considering new products to put into the sanctuary of your home, you need to open yourself to the idea of spending a little more money up front. These cabinets are not always price competitive with the throw-away cabinetry you can pick up at homecenters. However, in return you invest in lifetime quality and contribute to healthy living.

All of this, above and beyond your contribution to a healthier environment.

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!


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