Energy-efficient green kitchen renovation: design

By: Matt Grocoff , Contributing Writer
In: Green Renovations

You can put bamboo seats in a Hummer and call it "green," but it ain't going to give you better gas mileage or get you where you're going any more effectively.

If we really want a better designed, more durable, more energy efficient, more cost effective kitchen, we need to rethink design. We need to stop thinking of our kitchens the way we used to think about our over-sized, expensive SUVs.

When we began the renovation of our 1950s kitchen, we acknowledged that it was small, only 9 x 11 feet, and that it didn't function effectively for the way we cook and socialize. The cabinets were small and poorly designed. The refrigerator was blocking a large window with a view our tree covered back yard. The counters were small and built around the original windows - everything that ever fell behind the counters since the 1950s was still buried between the counter and window sill.

This kitchen was built for 1950s TV dinners during the dawn of the over-sized grocery store and the end of the era of family farms and victory gardens. It was not designed for a modern family who love to entertain and to cook with veggies from their own garden and local farmers' market.

With this background, we made the same rookie mistake as everyone. We started with the idea that we needed to remodel and add an addition to give us more square footage.

Fortunately, I'm an evangelist for architect Sarah Susanka's Not So Big House design philosophy. And I've learned from my good friend and colleague Michael Klement of Architectural Resource. Michael has a concept called "Addition by Subtraction." Both Sarah's and Michael's approach focuses on smart design rather than square footage. They've proven you can do more with less. Check out this Old House Web video of Michael's brilliant design for a bike room in an old basement staircase.

So, we went back to the drawing board and started with our ninety-nine square foot blank slate. Our boundary restrictions were the placement of the windows and doors. We knew that if we could avoid an addition and still get everything we wanted, we'd save about $15,000 which we could put toward the best quality finishes and appliances.

Here's the process we went through:

1. Listed what we needed / wanted in a kitchen.

We wanted more counter space, more cabinets, a place to hide recycling and trash, more flexible and more energy efficient cooking, better lighting, a dishwasher, a breakfast counter, lots of daylight, a place to store shoes by the door (we really wanted a mudroom), a large food prep space, and butcher block. This was a tall order for a such a small kitchen.

2. Used the IKEA online design tool to get ideas.

We didn't want IKEA cabinets. We just saved $15,000 on an addition! Now we could get custom cabinets and really maximize our space. But the free IKEA design tool helped us find creative storage solutions and determine how to maximize the use of space for appliances, cabinets, and counters.

3. Made a list of all the stuff that would go into the kitchen.

In order to determine what you need for counters, cabinets, chairs and appliances, you first need to figure out what you'll put in the kitchen when it's done. That means everything: pots, dishes, small appliances, food, chairs, shoes, towels, recycling, sink, dry-rack, utensils, silverware, kids artwork . . . EVERYTHING!

Then you can begin to look for ways to efficiently organize all that stuff. You'll be surprised how little space you may really need.

I can't wait to show you the finished product . . . Stay tuned!