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Kitchen Waste & Sustainability

As I am a geek who is super passionate about sustainability, waste and energy consumption (yes I won a green grant a few years back to analysis and assess a whole area of Sydney’s waste and energy – nerd alert), I really question anything that claims to be sustainable or green or environmentally friendly! That is why when renovating our kitchen and my husband’s ONLY MUST HAVE item was an insinkerator; I felt I needed to undertake a little research.

When I think of insinkerators, I think of 80’s and 90s houses growing up. It seemed that all of the more well-off family’s seemed to have them. I have memories of brown and orange kitchens with lots of terracotta tiles, in my memory, they were flash (ha ha). I have to admit when we were renovating our kitchen, I never thought I would ever install one! My husband on the other hand, who used to be a site manager on building sites in London had his heart set on one ever since he saw his old boss install them in all his properties. He knew, that one day he would have one…

Not sure what happens to kitchen waste in the USA, but in Australia, Europe, Scandinavia and the UK, kitchen waste goes to the same place as your poo poo. It is considered foul water. Here in the UK, Thames water (who are in charge of my water supply and drainage) do two things with our “bio sludge” aka kitchen, toilet and trapped floor drainage. It gets turned into either biofuel to power the recycling and treatment plants or it gets used as fertiliser on agricultural land.

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So, after much research, I realized that actually, as ashamed as I am to say that I am not much of green thumb and really don’t have the time for composting (ok – in my defence I actually bought a composting book and my flatmates can vouch that I started a compost back in the day, so I have tried), I am aware of how much waste goes to landfill and it really does bother me. As someone who loves to cook and I also cook a lot from scratch being a vegetarian (98% of the time.. ok except when I eat Polish food at relatives houses..) I create A LOT of green waste. Potato peels, veggie waste, fruit cores, you name it!

We got around the wet, rotting bin scenario by always emptying our little bin daily, but with our new kitchen we wanted real bins and my husband insisted on the insinkerator! So environmental consciousness check! Smelly, wet, rotting bin solution Check! Dirty, constantly clogged up sink solution Check! It is slowly becoming one of my favourite pieces of kit in my kitchen…

To Style Or Not To Style – Interior Styling

Styling is definitely not something I learned in architecture school! For many an architect or designer, it would have been seen as a failure if you had to add a vase or mirror to the space to make it feel the way you wanted it to feel. The ultimate goal would have been to make the property feel right with my architectural language – structure, solid / void, light, shadow, material, texture, abstraction… rather than populating it with “stuff”.

Although the dictionary meaning suggests that styling is just arranging things in a particular way, I like to describe it as setting the mood for a space.

The reality is that styling is a very useful tool that helps us imagine how to use a room. I remember my brother saying to me that he wishes he was as creative as I was. I never really understood that he wasn’t creative and still don’t believe that he isn’t, I just think sometimes his imagination isn’t easily triggered. I use styling to help trigger that imagination in a space by using architectural language and styling to create a story or mood that inspires someone’s imagination to enjoy a space.

The main ways I use styling in my life and business are:

  • To help developers and builders sell newly built homes when they are empty.
  • I help buyers of newly built homes create their requested mood in their homes once the empty house is bought.
  • For real-estate agents and landlords, I style a space so that potential renters or home buyers imagine how to use a space.
  • For my clients, I style a 3D or sketch to help them feel how they can use a space I am creating for them.
  • At home for my husband, guests or just for myself, I style my rooms to make the space feel the way I want it to feel either for a party or just for us to accentuate how lovely the morning, space or evening is.

In one of the architectural offices I worked in, interior designers were looked down on and they were seen as “pillow puffers”. At the time I was working on high rise, new build apartments and the work was particularly technical, in that the common thought about the spaces was just units, figures, numbers, areas, not what I saw – spaces for living a life in.

In their minds the planning department and the developer decided how many windows there had to be in a room, it wasn’t guided by how the space was used.

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It shocked me that there was so little love for the thousands of homes being built for happy new homeowners trying to create a life and saving for what was most probably their first home. I have struggled to decorate some newly built properties as there often is no soul or connection from the structure to the interior. Even in architecture school, I was taught to explore the relationship between the inside and outside or even Mies Van der Rohe’s basics of “form follows function”… but I love what I do and I realise creating homes, houses, properties, buildings is my dream.

So styling can help you when the other architectural elements aren’t working or it can help you adjust a mood in a space.  You can use styling to enhance particular features of a room or to help someone’s see what you can see in a space.  Sometimes you can use styling as a picture frame – to frame an idea, to tell a story or to show off a piece of art.

More and more often I see builders or developers altering properties or arranging spaces or positioning windows and doors without a care for the person’s life in it. With such a disconnect between the end user and the “designer” no wonder styling has become more and more a part of my work. I have to try really hard sometimes to make a space feel like a home, imagine someone like my brother who hasn’t trained that imagination muscle? Soon you’ll need more than two degrees just to furnish a home to function in the right way – or you could just start styling.

Kitchen Countertops Pros and Cons

So how do you choose a kitchen countertop? Price is a huge factor for most, but look comes a close second, third practicality pops in and out (how easily does it stain?) and then if it is a man-made material whether it is “healthy” or ethical.

For my own kitchen we have decided to go for concrete again (I know, I haven’t learned my lesson yet…) After all the trouble I had with my black concrete countertop that my husband and I made ourselves, in the end, I fell in love with that ol’ dawg and I miss it like crazy. So let’s start with the not so popular concrete countertop:

Concrete Kitchen Countertops

Pros:
Original, beautiful, flexible design, ¼ of the cost of quartz or stone countertops, can be built in any form or shape, changes over time, can be created in any colour, “easy to repair” (technically, done well you shouldn’t have any problems repairing concrete and it can be done artistically to hide the problem area completely), totally bespoke in every way with loads of flexibility in design, doesn’t have to be high maintenance (if you like to see it change over time), bloody strong mate (I wanted to write indestructible, but it isn’t quite, although I miss your strength blacky….)

Cons:

Will still require expansion joints in certain places (we didn’t listen to the rules and created a 6m run without a joint line and it was fine, no cracks and still a beauty), stains if not impregnated with the right sealant, changes over time, can be difficult to maintain, not to everyone’s taste (acquired taste), not “pretty” like marble (if you know what I mean), sealant is expensive and will require reapplication annually, high maintenance (or not, see above), some mixes and sealants can be toxic (not all concrete is made equal man).

Laminate Kitchen Countertops

Pros:
Cheap, new styles coming out continuously, cheap, last relatively long considering they are just a thin layer of stuff tacked onto some chipboard… Can be fixed pretty easily (with the right tools), cheap, new solid versions out now that don’t have the same problems as the chipboard ones, cheap.

Cons:
Can be fugly when not thought out, don’t last long if not installed perfectly (sealed along the edges), once damaged can deteriorate quickly, standard patterns give it away that its laminate straight away (more often than not), look… cheap.

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Timber Kitchen Countertops

Pros:
Pretty cheap! Look gorgeous, are warm, range of colours and stains can be painted, can be fixed “easily”,

Cons:
They always stain black around the sink (oh the humanity), need resealing, can stain.

Tiled Kitchen Countertops

Pros:
Can look great, solid, flexibility in design, can be cost-effective (for example you can still get marble tiles which will be a fraction of the price in comparison to a slab of marble or granite), technically easy to fix (just keep some spare tiles aside), can be very customisable and creative.

Cons:
I grew up with a 60’s style tile on our countertops, I hated it (can’t remember why so much now, but I do remember the grout discolouring and having to scrub it for ages. Can date easily, has a specific / acquired look, can be uneven if not fitted correctly, can fall apart (literally) and can be high maintenance if not maintained.

Natural Stone Countertops (AKA Marble & Granite)

Pros:
Undeniably gorgeous, natural stone has that feeling of…. well, erm.. nature… and Jo likes nature (except for cockroaches, aggressive birds and slugs).

Cons:
Totally a luxury item, (just get one priced up – seriously and then consider your home’s LTV against it), needs sealing, depending on the stone can be porous (as in absorbent to the max!), joints are hard to hide (well), like with any natural stone can vary in colour and pattern and not in a nice way.

Quartz, Corian & Silestone (& In Other Brand Names Zodiaq, Cambria Etc.) Kitchen Countertops

Oo, look at me throwing these into the “same pile”. Yes ok Quartz is made up of natural crushed rock mixed with resin (rocks & plastic), Corian is built from acrylic polymer and alumina trihydrate (rocks and plastic) and Silestone is made up of quartz and resin (you get my point…)

Pros:
Flexible in terms of design options, can choose pretty much any colour, any design within the proprietor’s range, cost-effective in comparison to granite and natural stone, very strong,

Cons:
Can look too modern for more traditional kitchens, still unattainable when you want it but you’re on a laminate budget, no matter what anyone says these still stain…

Resin Kitchen Countertops

Ah, joy. Did I mention that when we couldn’t import (times have changed) the concrete countertop sealant we needed from the US to the UK we tested resin? Oh dear… This is a tough material to work with (fun, but tough).

Pros:
Tres flexible in terms of design, colour, form, can be clear (pretty cool).

Cons:
Scratches, oh boy does it scratch horrifically to a point where it is unrecognisable, even the UV resistant one can change colour over time, yellowing (you’ll know what I mean), brittle, stains, toxic, why do we use this for kitchen countertops?

Stainless Steel Kitchen Countertops

Pros:

Clean, industrial looking.

Cons:

Constant cleaning required can stain, industrial looking,

So my conclusion:

Everything stains (and if it doesn’t, let me have a go), therefore get what you want (and can afford) and look after it the best you can.

Kitchen Design Basics

I have worked on over 400 kitchens, either alongside a kitchen designer or just designing them for client’s (or bosses) and I always stick to the design rules I was taught.  So, when it came to designing my own kitchen, I kept going around in circles, balancing my budget, style and functionality and getting no-where. My husband saved me from my own design rules and said: “we’re putting the fridge on the other wall and removing the kitchen table, period”.

I cringed at the thought of my kitchen not functioning with a perfect work triangle and had to think about it (for a few weeks). I gave in because he was totally right. I had fallen into a trap with my kitchen designs that didn’t allow me to think freely first, practically second and I always led with practicality first.

I suppose that has come from my love of kitchens, but also my requirement to always provide the most “appropriate” solution for my clients that was not only functional but beautiful.

My husband just said “I want the fridge there”, that’s it, he didn’t consider that it was on the other side of the bar to the sink. When I questioned how I was going to cook, he said, it’s even better, you can lay stuff out on the bench rather than keeping the fridge door open with your foot…

So here are the kitchen design basics I work to 99% of the time:

Measure The Space (Exactly)

When it comes to joinery, work to millimetre precision (I remember learning that from a joiner I worked with and I had just been working on lots of old crooked buildings thinking “are you mad”? He was completely right. Even in an old crooked building, work to millimetre precision. That entails measuring the distances multiple times up the walls (to check if your walls are straight – lucky you if they are).

Dream A Bit

Installing a new kitchen is probably one of the most expensive alterations the average person does in their property, so definitely consider it as a special place, even if you don’t like to cook or eat out a lot. I love designing kitchen areas in my projects! I really love imagining myself using each kitchen and really consider the absolute best scenario for each occasion. Think about the things you always wanted and think about budget later (boo). Starting off your design with a practical hat on will give you an uninspiring kitchen (always), so at least in the beginning, go and have some fun and check some inspirational images to get some cool ideas and motivate you to love the space a little more.

Function & Socialising

I put these together because they are both equally important to my clients these days. Gone are the days where you cook on your own in a separate room. Yes there needs to be an option for closing the room off (or else consider noisy distractions and excellent extraction / ventilation), but ultimately, we want to monitor children, have the TV on in the background or be part of a conversation (at least once a week) while we cook in our kitchens and those times really matter.

Think about the location of the main items sink, stove, oven, fridge and preparation areas and how you move around them (I always work to the work triangle – except in my own kitchen!) I LOVE to cook, so I just imagine myself cooking the biggest meal possible in every kitchen and if it can handle that situation at a time when I’m also wanting to socialise, then I know that she’ll be right mate.

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Storage

I always seem to be battled on this one. You always NEED more storage than you expect in a kitchen. If you are building a kitchen that is for a family, or for someone who likes to cook (moi), you NEED storage space, pantry space, space to put things that can’t be stacked on top of each other because it will ruin the coating kind of space. As I get older (waaah) I also can’t lift really heavy pans as easily as I used to, so not having to faff about lifting other heavy pans off of the ones I need to use is not only practical, it keeps the pain out cooking. Always add more space than you think you need.

Style

Consider the flow of your house and style of your kitchen.  The one thing that makes me cringe every time with kitchens is getting the “style” wrong.  Know what date your home was built, putting a glossy Art Deco style kitchen into a country cottage (or visa versa) just looks as though you don’t know what you are doing (or you made a mistake).  Consider the context of your kitchen, in your home and as a whole.  If you have a modern home, you have more flexibility with style, but again, a cutsie country cottage style kitchen in your high-rise might be a bit kitsch, so look around at the materials such as your windows and walls to guide your decisions.

Budget & Extras

That gorgeous hot water tap and exceptional door style ARE going to cost more, so, more often than not, you will have to weigh up your options. If you just have to have that SubZero fridge, but its out of budget, why not try an alternative company that can also make up two separate fridge freezer columns or find a way of building in an American style fridge / freezer to give you the “same” (ok its not the same it’s kind of similar) feel.