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Designer Details

Kitchen design advice from pros.

If your dream kitchen is equipped with more high-tech gadgets than any other house in the neighborhood, the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show had plenty of eye candy for you, including a refrigerator that serves as a household digital command center and a countertop brewery that gives you fresh beer instantly.

But for many of us, the ideal kitchen is a confection of high-functioning equipment, style and sustainability. Protecting the Earth’s resources is as natural in the kitchen as caviar is with champagne. Today, new developments in appliances and an array of sustainable materials for countertops and other surfaces are giving green kitchens an enticing new edge. 

Davida Rodriguez, a certified kitchen designer and principal of Davida’s Kitchen and Tiles in Gaithersburg, Maryland, said that almost every client she designs a kitchen for asks for some sustainable features. “Whether it’s recycling bins, composters, recycled or repurposed materials, or low-energy appliances,” Rodriguez said, “they want a product or design that will show they’re a good steward of the planet.”

Even homeowners on a small budget have ways to help save resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the kitchen. “There’s a lot of ways to incorporate green into your kitchen; it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing,” said Katherine Dashiell, a kitchen and bath designer at the Annapolis showroom and retail store of Reico Kitchen and Bath, headquartered in Springfield, Virginia. Sustainability features range enormously in complexity and cost, she adds, so deciding what your budget can handle is your first step. 

The refrigerator may be the most energy-hogging appliance in your home. When purchasing a fridge or another appliance—including an exhaust fan for the stove—look for models with the ENERGY STAR label, Rodriguez and Dashiell said. Stainless steel, made of 60 percent recycled materials, may be a good choice. Also think of capacity when shopping for appliances—don’t buy a bigger appliance than you need. 

Energy-conserving LED lighting is making big advances and drawing more consumers in the D.C. area, Dashiell said. “LED lighting is huge right now,” she said. When it first came out, many people didn’t like the harsh light. “But they’ve made so many changes now, and there are more options in dimmable switches,” she said. And costwise, “They know they’ll get their initial investment back over time.” 

Water-saving faucets long have been a big component in bathrooms, and that trend is hitting the kitchen. Dashiell focuses on Delta and Moen. Moen has touch technology that turns on with a tap of the back of the hand, she said, and Delta makes a faucet with a motion-detection sensor, both good ways to save water.

Countertops, floors and other kitchen surfaces can be works of sustainable artistry. Porcelain tiles and glass are high on Rodriguez’s eco-list. “Most of the porcelain in the country now has some recycled material,” she said, “and a lot of glass tile companies use recycled glass. It’s got beautiful irregularities and movement.” Concrete is highly sustainable, since a concrete kitchen counter is made per order—no factory or shipping is involved. But concrete, Rodriguez said, can be expensive and hard to clean. Rodriguez and Dashiell agree that reclaimed wood or a fast-growing wood like bamboo are popular, too, for flooring, cabinets and wall coverings. 

Quartz also generally gets high marks for sustainability. But this is where being green can be a deep subject. For instance, consider the mining involved and the transportation needed to move the material. “Whereas granite might come from Brazil,” Dashiell said, “Cambria [brand] quartz is American and needs less transportation.” 

Buying products that are better for the environment and made in America—another frequent request from Rodriguez’s clients—is an unbeatable combination, she said: “People want to feel good at the end of the day that their contributions and choices they’ve made are positive.” 

Many cooks consider the range the hardest-working piece of equipment in the kitchen. For Katherine Dashiell, a kitchen and bath designer at Reico Kitchen and Bath in Annapolis, it is more than a workhorse—it is a centerpiece. “A lot of people are making the range and hood the focal point of the kitchen,” she said.

Like many of her clients, Dashiell favors gas ranges. “Personally, I love cooking on gas because I feel like I have more control over the cooking process,” she said. “People ask for gas when it’s in their area.” Many go through the expense of getting propane service and then convert it when gas service is offered, she said.

“Gas is so much better for controlling temperature,” said Davida Rodriguez, principal of Davida’s Kitchen and Tiles in Gaithersburg, Maryland, including the oven and the cooktop. Rodriguez is happy to see the advent of the two-stove option for 30-inch gas ranges, especially for her clients who love to cook. 

For dedicated home cooks, gas ranges fit the bill for looks, too. As Dashiell said, “Gas stoves always make an impression.” They offer another big plus, too: Natural gas is cheaper than electricity.

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