Designer, green kitchen on a budget: the delectable is in the details

By: Matt Grocoff , Contributing Writer
In: Green Renovations

By using Sarah Susanka's "Not-So-Big House" design principals and my friend Michael Klement's ideas about "Addition by Subtraction" we saved thousands of dollars and avoided the need for a kitchen addition. Instead, we chose to make the most of our 11' x 9' kitchen and renovate rather than remodel (Read about the difference between the two: click here). The creativity of recreating this small space allowed us to invest in high-end finishes that made this kitchen look like an upscale renovation. We didn't have to skimp when it came to the detailed finishes.

Details like lighting, faucets, chairs, knobs, and tiling are like the stitching in fine clothing. It separates the machine-made off-the-rack stuff from the tailor-made couture.

Here's some of the details that we added to our kitchen renovation:

Beveled subway tiles:

beveled subway tiles

In keeping with our philosophy of using as little new material as possible, I began to hunt for some antique or salvaged subway tiles. This was tough. Finding intact, good condition salvaged tiles is rare. The tiles need to be removed with care and skill in order to be reused. When you can find them, they are often pricey.

While I was able to find a batch of tiles from a dealer in New Jersey, they told me they had a strict no return policy . . . even if I was not satisfied with the quality of the tile.

We were not willing to bust our budget for tiles we couldn't even inspect. So, we reluctantly opted for new tiles made in the U.S. We were lucky to find a company that makes deliciously gorgeous and premium quality heritage tiles. We were able to source beveled subway tile from Subway Ceramics in Wisconsin.

beveled kitchen backsplash

Tiling is not something left to the amateurs. Especially when you've got high-end tiles with beveled edges that require mitering the corners, you need to find the best tilers in town. Don't skimp here. Kelly and I tiled both our bathrooms. Yes, we did a great job, but it took us three full months. This time around we call Adam Etlie from A2 Tiles (yes, you can spell the word tile by rearranging his last name).

Antique cabinet knobs and bin pulls:

half moon handles

After a bit of work and research online, I found near mint condition antique, nickel-plated bin pulls from Historic House Parts. The set of four cost only $28. Sure, you can buy cheap replicas for half that price. But, for a few bucks more you get the real deal that looks so much better than fake antique. Also, you feel good knowing that you're reusing something old rather than using new resources for cheap junk.

Astoria glass cabinet knobs

At Robinsons Antiques, an online antique parts dealer in Michigan, I was able to find a set 100 year old Astoria glass cabinet knobs. Again this cost slightly more than if we bought junk mass-manufactured knobs from a retailer. But the quality and good looks of the original are hard to beat.

Elegant water saving touchless faucet:

Kohler sensate faucet

Having a traditional style kitchen in a historic house doesn't require sacrificing modern comforts and style. The Sensate Faucet by Kohler was exactly what we were looking for. It's got classic styling but it has a sleek design that allows for an elegant look and easy cleaning.

But what makes this stylish faucet really stand out is the touchless sensor that turns on the water with a wave of the hand. Except for having to train every new house guest how to turn on the water, we absolutely love this feature. You can have cookie-dough covered hands and turn on the water while keeping the faucet spotlessly clean.

To help maintain our goals of net zero energy and water, we opted for the water saving 1.5 gallon per minute aerator available on most Kohler products.

Check out this demo video of how the touchless faucet works.

Salvaged wood industrial counter stools:

salvaged wood stools

We looked everywhere for the perfect antique stools but could not find an affordable matching set that fit the width of our counter. When you can't find salvage or antiques (a.k.a. reused stuff) the next best option for the environment is repurposed materials (a.k.a. something new made from something old).

Following an exhaustive search, I found these unique, understated, and strong industrial modern bar stools from Urban Wood Goods in Chicago. They rock. Guests frequently comment that they "LOVE these chairs!"

The seats are made of salvaged Douglas fir floor boards and authentically aged from a century or more of use before being deconstructed. You can't fake that kind of patina in any new furniture. These beautiful stools stand out and add to the collection of details that make our kitchen our favorite room in the house.


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  1. 1 Response  to “Designer, green kitchen on a budget: the delectable is in the details”

  2. Feb 7, 2014
    Love the hands free faucet! We have one in our kitchen and it really does help the work flow when you are keeping up with the kitchen :D