My (More or Less) Green Kitchen, Part I

By Patricia K. Townsend, NYIPL Board Member

When we retired, it was clear that the old kitchen simply would not do. It was so small that two people couldn’t work on dinner together nor could we eat lunch and breakfast in it. Family dinners in the dining room had been elegant; carrying everything back and forth three times a day was another matter.  Besides, the dining room table was great space for spreading out big projects.

We had always hoped to build a state-of-the-art environmentally sound new house, but when we considered doing that in Buffalo-Niagara, a metropolitan area with more than enough existing housing, that seemed foolish. What spot could we find anywhere where we would still be within walking distance of groceries, drugstore, library, churches, post office, bank, and great restaurants?

At the same time, we realized that opening up the north wall of our house to add a new kitchen would give us access to the “guts” of our house to add more insulation and a more efficient heating and cooling system than our outsized 1923 steam radiators. The old kitchen could become a utility room, bringing the washer, dryer, and freezer up from the deep dark cellar and making space down there for woodworking tools.

We hired a green architect, Kevin Connors, whose design picked up all the 1920s arts and crafts details of the old house so that you can’t even tell where the addition starts and leaves off.  This despite the fact that the new siding is a composite of cement and sawdust where the old is cedar.  Our principle #1 was: Investigate all the materials! That meant we chose linoleum and ceramic tile over vinyl flooring.  We were shocked that many of our friends and even flooring salesmen didn’t know that vinyl is not the same thing as linoleum: one being made of petroleum by an extremely polluting industry and the other of linseed oil and wood.

Principle #1 often enough came into conflict with our Principle # 2: Buy things made as close to home as possible.  Linoleum is made in Europe. That bothered us for a while, until we decided that there was absolutely no reason why it couldn’t be made in the U.S. again, as it used to be, if there were sufficient demand. We weren’t only considering shipping (though ocean shipping is more fuel efficient than trucking). We also wanted to give a boost to local manufacturing in our depressed Western New York economy, so we were delighted to find gorgeous cabinets of Northeastern hickory assembled in nearby Lockport.

Aware that granite countertops were all the rage and would make our house more saleable down the line, we considered granite for about two minutes before learning just how crazy that fashion is. What were they thinking?  Granite is not approved for food preparation (too porous and not resistant to bacteria and fungus).  Massive chunks of granite are shipped here from Brazil and China. Principles 1 and 2 checked off before we even decided on a color. We chose engineered quartz instead and we love it. That too could have come from Israel or Italy, but we held out for Minnesota or Quebec.

(to be continued…)