Sustainable Kitchen Design: Prioritizing Eco-Friendly Home Building

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Sustainable kitchen design

A kitchen is a special place in everyone’s home. It’s where we cook our meals, where we drink coffee and read the morning paper, or where our kids do their homework. We connect with one another in our kitchen, and where we connect with our planet when preparing a meal. 

Designing an eco-friendly kitchen is at the crossroads of ethics and aesthetics. With a little bit of leg work, and intentional selections, you can have a sustainable kitchen. Here’s how Spark Interiors creates kitchens that are long-lasting, verifiably environmentally responsible, timeless, and functional. 

Use sustainable kitchen design to create an eco-friendly kitchen

What is a sustainable kitchen?

A sustainable kitchen emphasizes eco-friendly practices and materials in its design, purchases, and in practice. The end goal is for the kitchen to minimize waste, reduce energy and water consumption, and use products and appliances with a low environmental impact. All while maintaining its functions as a place to eat and gather. 

How do you create a sustainable kitchen?

To create a sustainable kitchen, consider the impact each product you bring into your kitchen could have on the planet. This includes how the product is made, how you use it, how long you can use it, and how you dispose of it at the end of its life cycle. By making decisions that do the minimal amount of harm at each stage of the life cycle, you’ll create a sustainable kitchen. 

How can I make my kitchen environmentally friendly?

To make your kitchen environmentally friendly, start with creating a sustainable design. Once the kitchen is designed, learn how to cook and clean your kitchen in the most sustainable way possible. 

How to design your kitchen with sustainability in mind

Work with what you’ve already got

Take inventory of your current kitchen. Note the things that you love that you would like to retain in your new kitchen. This may be a certain appliance, the tiles, or your cabinets. The most sustainable choice you can make when designing an eco-friendly kitchen is to reuse what you already have.

We recently refinished and used the doors from someone’s old cabinets in one of our projects and it turned out great! 

Buy second hand

Once you’ve taken inventory of what you already have, check out places you can buy products second hand. New products require more energy and materials to create than buying something second hand. Plus, there are some really great consignment stores out there these days. In Denver we love ReStore and Bud’s Warehouse

Buying second hand also gives you an opportunity to mix old with new, helping your home achieve a cozy, lived in aesthetic. 

Look for products that are carbon neutral or negative when trying to create a sustainable kitchen
Photo by Fireclay Tile

If you’re shopping new, shop locally

There are a lot of great reasons to shop locally. First, you’ll be supporting members of your community. Second, it’s a more sustainable option – especially if the product’s materials are local, and the product is handmade nearby.

 When you cut out the transportation of getting materials to a factory, and products to a dealer, you greatly reduce the amount of emissions emitted to create your product. 

Invest in carbon neutral or carbon negative companies

Some companies have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint and have earned a carbon neutral or carbon negative certification. If this is the case, they’ve gone the extra mile to either invest in offsetting their carbon footprint, and/or greatly reduced their overall emissions through more sustainable practices. 

Here are some of our favorites:

Be smart about where you add pops of color in your kitchen

Explore innovative, new sustainable materials

Have you ever pictured scooting yourself up to your kitchen island while sitting on hemp furniture? Or maybe the stool is made of recycled wood, and mushroom leather? 

From mycelium flooring to biodegradable linoleum, new sustainable products come out regularly. If you’re unsure how sustainable a material is, check out Declare. This is a database that helps people find healthy building products. We love the way they’ve simplified labels. 

Pick where you add color wisely 

While some designers believe white kitchens are outdated, they do offer advantages. For example, white or wood cabinets can easily pair with any color tile backsplash, the funky new hand towels you ordered, or the new coat of paint you want to add to your kitchen. 

If you paint your cabinets a specific color, or purchase a funky countertop, you may be pigeonholing yourself into having to create more waste by updating cabinets and counters instead of the things surrounding them. Neutral counters and cabinets allow you to update your kitchen while creating a minimal amount of waste. 

Floating shelves can be more sustainable than some built-in cabinets

What is sustainable kitchen flooring? 

Eco-friendly kitchen flooring is flooring that does the minimal amount of harm to the planet in its creation, use, and disposal. The most common kitchen flooring is made of tile or wood. When sourcing wood, look for the FSC-certified to ensure that the wood was sustainably harvested. 

Not sure what FSC-certified means? Find out in our Sustainability for Interior Design blog post. 

Kitchen flooring has to be tough – from frequent traffic to dropped pans, prioritize a durable floor in your remodel or build. Tile is often recyclable, which makes it a more eco-friendly choice than products like vinyl. If you need something that can provide some sound proofing for the floors below your kitchen, consider cork. 

How can I pick sustainable kitchen cabinets? 

Cabinets are one of the biggest offenders of off-gassing in our homes. Harmful chemicals can be released from our kitchen cabinets, which can cause headaches, nausea, and even cancer. To avoid off-gassing, look for cabinets without urea-formaldehyde. Formaldehyde-free woods are a safe and sustainable choice. 

Wood kitchen cabinets can also be more sustainable than laminate, in the long-term because they can be refinished or painted over. Look for solid wood, recycled wood, reclaimed wood, and FSC-certified wood. Note: If you live in Colorado (like us!) bamboo is not a sustainable choice to make and will likely need to be replaced. 

By starting off with neutral cabinet colors, you can change up the hardware in the future to give the room a new look. If you’re still not satisfied, refacing is much more eco-friendly than demoing your entire kitchen and starting fresh. 

A fresh coat of paint and new handles can go a long way on old cabinets.

Consider floating shelving over fitted kitchen cabinets

If you are starting from square-one in designing your kitchen, consider investing in floating shelving instead of fitted cabinets. Floating shelves require less materials to make and can be adjusted to different heights and moved to different places in your home if needed – increasing their life. Plus, if you do need to dispose of them, there’s far less waste going to landfill in comparison to throwing away an entire cabinet. 

How to think about your next kitchen countertop

Picking the right countertop for your sustainable kitchen

Picking a countertop is about a lot more than veining. When choosing a countertop, consider its manufacturing process, longevity, and end-of-life disposal. 

One of our favorite perks of certain countertops is their low maintenance (like quartz and quartzite). When a countertop is maintenance free, you’ll put less toxic seals on the areas you prepare food. Plus, cleaning up will be easier while keeping your counters in pristine shape. 

Here is a list of the most sustainable to least sustainable kitchen countertops:

  • Locally sourced or reclaimed wood
  • Recycled glass
  • Stone
  • Engineered stone
  • Concrete
  • Polymer
  • Laminate

If you’re going to do a wood countertop and the wood has been salvaged, make sure it hasn’t been treated with chemicals or lead paint. Keep in mind that ecosystems can suffer irreparable damage when mining or quarrying natural materials. 

Appliances that reduce waste

Appliances create a few different kinds of waste: creation waste, energy waste, and disposal waste. Consider each of these types of waste as you begin making appliance purchases. A couple of our favorite sustainable appliances for kitchens are:

Boiling water taps: These taps not only save you time, they also help you save water by only getting the exact amount of water you need. You can get hot water straight away without letting the tap run. You’ll also be saving energy by not re-boiling the water you didn’t use if you decide you want tea. 

Induction cooktops: Great for boiling water (if you can’t get the boiling water tap) and for your air quality, induction cooktops are quickly making a name for themselves when it comes to cooktops.

Fun fact: Induction tops have been the standard in Europe for decades, so while they may seem new to Americans, they have been tried and tested with great success!

Eco-taps: These built-in flow limiters reduce water waste, and often have a WaterSense label or Energy Star certification. 

If you need more ideas, check out our blog post on Sustainable Luxury Appliances

What should you do with leftover materials from your remodel?

Consider how to sustainably dispose of leftovers

Whether you had to demo your entire kitchen (it happens!) or if you’ve got extra tile left, how you dispose of the materials from your kitchen remodel matters. If you’re demoing, consider a delicate demo, which could help another family use the pieces of your kitchen you no longer want. 

Donate leftover products to organizations that can help them find a new home. A great place to check out products, ReStore by Habitat for Humanity also takes donations. If there’s a way to avoid sending materials to landfill (without wish-cycling), then do it! 

Get an expert involved

In crafting the perfect kitchen, sustainability is one important piece of the puzzle. How the kitchen fits with your lifestyle and the aesthetics also play an important role. By seeing the value in what we have, and investing in products that are good for our future, we can create a space for our loved ones to gather, eat, and cook together. 

Finding the right products and materials for your kitchen can be overwhelming. Yet, you don’t have to make all these choices on your own. Expedite your learning curve when it comes to beautiful, sustainable kitchens by hiring an interior designer who’s been there, repurposed that. 

An eco-expert interior designer, like Spark Interiors, can guide you through your decisions, and work with your contractor to help make sustainable choices.

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