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Archive for Green

Sep 17 2014

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Sustainability in Kitchen and Bath Fixtures: The Next Frontier

Image by Dan, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by Dan, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just a few years ago, it seemed as if everyone was talking about reducing the water usage of plumbing fixtures and fittings as being the best way to conserve water. We still hear this from time to time, mostly when a particular region is devastated by drought, but mostly those concerns have dissipated.

Critics may assume this indicates that consumers no longer care about water efficiency, but those of us in the center of the water industry have seen a shift in – not a lack of – concern. Let me put it this way: When was the last time you saw someone shop specifically for a non-Energy Star home appliance? They don’t. Consumers don’t look for Energy Star-rated appliances; they expect that the appliance is Energy Star-rated. It is just that commonplace.

We’ve seen this shift with WaterSense-labeled and water-efficient products – homeowners want a great faucet or toilet and they simply expect it to be as efficient as possible without having to think about it. The 2014 EcoPulse Survey, conducted by The Shelton Group, shows that consumers expect that leading brands are designing great products, and efficiency is just one aspect of greatness. Choosing a water-efficient product used to be considered the “better choice” but with this shift in consumer mindset, “better” takes on a different meaning.

What has replaced efficiency in this discussion is a more holistic take on what it means to be an eco-friendly product. There is a groundswell of consumers demanding to understand more about the products they purchase and consume – they expect manufacturers to provide that information in an easy-to-understand way.

We see this first in products that are consumed (food and beverages), then in products that are applied (cosmetics, personal care products) and finally in products that people buy for their homes (furnishings, building products). Consumers want to understand where the product came from, how it will affect them while it’s being used and what to do with it when its useful life ends. Professionals helping consumers make the choices in their product selection need suppliers to provide information on those products, with some hard data behind it.

Take the food industry for example – the overwhelming demand for locally sourced food supply isn’t going to disappear overnight. In fact, it is growing exponentially, in part due to the rising interest in “Community Supported Agriculture” (CSA) programs. Restaurants and grocery stores that have embraced this trend see increased profits and customer loyalty.

And it doesn’t stop there – consumer electronics have become more transparent in the materials used and end-of-life plan for the products. This, too, will make its mark on the plumbing industry, and those who want to succeed need to be ahead of this wave. Consumers will undoubtedly become choosier about materials and products, conducting much more in-depth comparisons of products and manufacturers, and they will expect that trade professionals are just as educated as they are, if not more.

Fortunately, there’s a document that provides this information. An Environmental Product Declaration, or EPD, is a third-party-certified document that conveys the manufacturer’s understanding of the environmental impact of a product over its entire lifecycle, including raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, service life and ultimate disposal or recycling.

So rather than just talking about one feature of product, such as how much water or energy it uses, the EPD also includes information on what the product is made from, how much water and energy it took to obtain the raw materials, many other environmental impacts of those processes and what the impact is upon disposal. An EPD is like an environmental scorecard – the first one that attempts to count everything.

Further, EPDs for similar products can be compared with each other. Each type of product has its own special rules for how the environmental data is to be collected and presented. In theory, one can look at EPDs for toilets from several brands and get an idea of which ones are better overall from an environmental standpoint.

But a word of caution: Collecting all of the environmental data to produce EPDs is complicated and time-consuming. When actual process data isn’t available, manufacturers rely on published databases to fill in the gaps. Since EPDs are relatively new – at most 10 years, and much less than that for plumbing products – manufacturers are working to create and improve the data in them. It’s definitely a work in progress, and I fully expect the quality and presentation of information in EPDs to improve in the coming years.

Why is all of this important? For consumers and specifiers who strive to make better environmental choices, EPDs can help them decide. An example is building owners who are looking to earn LEED certification. While LEED has always included points for reducing water and energy use in a building, it’s evolved to be holistic about all environmental impacts.

In LEED v4, which was launched in November 2013, projects can now earn points for including products that have EPDs. The intent of this credit is to create a market incentive for more building product manufacturers to provide environmental information about their products. Transparency about what goes into a product will drive companies to eliminate the bad stuff and spur innovation in materials and process development, which will lead to products that are better for the environment while still delivering the experiences consumers expect.

So consumers today expect efficiency. And they expect manufacturers to be doing the right things for the environment. EPDs and the broader movement toward full transparency will harness the power of the market to reward product manufacturers who do both. Specifiers can aid this process by learning more about environmental issues and helping their clients make informed choices.

- By Rob Zimmerman, Senior Channel Manager of Sustainability at Kohler Co.

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Mar 18 2014

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Faux Real: Digital image printing comes of age

When I was a girl growing up in the 60s, DIY wood paneling was all the rage for creating a quick new look at home. I remember my father paneling a kitchen in a version of ‘pickled’ oak, 4×8 sheets of it nailed over old wallpaper. My mom added her decorating touches to it with a black and white checkerboard vinyl floor and finished it off with a duet of appliances in avocado green. So chic!

So that was my initiation into faux wood, followed by the ubiquitous “walnut” desks and TV stands made of plastic. So suffice it to say, it would take a lot to change this designer’s perspective on anything that mimics real wood, but isn’t. For that matter, my opinion on anything that’s fake, or ‘faux’ as it’s now known, hasn’t been so great.

But that has all changed. Digital printing has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for creating products for the home that are insanely gorgeous – from porcelain tile, countertops, fabrics, wall covering and more. As a designer who’s focused on sustainability, preservation of our natural resources is my top priority. Being able to specify a porcelain floor tile or countertop that looks EXACTLY like stone and saves our planet gets my attention every time.

A couple of years ago I started seeing digitally printed tiles that are pretty amazing. There are some wonderful renditions of concrete floors, wood planking and stone. The beauty of these floors goes well beyond their looks. Virtually maintenance free and made to last, these tiles are a stylish, sustainable choice.

Italian tile company Ceramica Serenissima created this concrete look tile that comes in several sizes and color ways.


                                                                               “Metropolis” by Ceramica Serenissima

Crossville Tile, a Tennessee-based company, has introduced two great lines called Reclamation and Speak Easy.

Digitally printed porcelain tiles with wonderful texture, they’re a fresh take on aged wood with an urban edge. Both Speak Easy and Reclamation are manufactured in the U.S. with Crossville’s EcoCycle manufacturing process and contain a minimum of 4 percent recycled content and is Green Squared certified.

Speak Easy

                                                                                      Speak Easy Sweet Georgia Brown


                                                                                         Reclamation Whiskey Lullaby

When it comes to countertop choices, Formica’s 180 FX line of stone and wood laminates has become a real game-changer. Using digital imagery and creating large-scale formats, you can now create a beautiful surface that’s affordable, and yes, sustainable. The current trend in rare, textured woods was captured by Formica in a pattern called Black Walnut Timber. Taking a cue from the iconic furniture maker George Nakashima, it includes the natural fissures in the wood and even the butterfly joinery detail.

Formica 180 FX

                                                                                             Formica’s Black Walnut Timber

Here’s another of Formica’s 180 FX stone tops in Dolce Vita. It not only has the large-scale look of a slab of granite, but also has the company’s new Ideal Edge detail, which eliminates the tell-tale black line, delivering an even more authentic look. Adding to the beauty of this top is the stainless steel sink by Karran. Yes, you can now have an under-mount sink in a laminate top! The result:  a stunning, high-end look with an affordable price tag.

3420_DolceVita 180fx_Bullnose1

Now you can paper your walls with wood. This realistic wood wallcovering from Walls Republic would look fabulous in a beach house or a country bedroom. Dreamy! Priced at $89 for a 21-in.-wide x 33-ft. bolt, it’s a pretty, affordable way to get a great look without having to hire a carpenter (or cut down a tree!).

Walls Republic

                                                                                      Brushed wood Tuscan R1879

So call if what you will, fake or faux, I love the way this digital world we live in has changed the way we design. If we can create gorgeous interiors while saving our precious natural resources, I’ll take fake over real any day.

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Aug 05 2013

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Happy Kitchens: Designing for Millennials


There’s something about looking at old pictures of kitchens from the 1950′s that makes me happy. Maybe it’s because it was arguably a happier time in our history. World War II was over, housing was booming, and the country was getting back to the business of living and having fun. Drive-in movies, big cars, rock and roll music – not to mention some crazy clothes and colorful house interiors – make me look back at that era and smile. Besides, who wouldn’t love a pink kitchen?

Pink Kitchen

Or a turquoise kitchen?

Turquiose kitchen

I still like to collect funky 50′s textiles and other cool stuff from my childhood like colorful tablecloths (I own at least 30 of them).


Or some cool retro kitchen accessories…

Retro accessories

Even though I lived through that time, there seems to be a growing interest in this era among the younger set (also known as THE MILLENNIALS) – although it has somewhat of a twist. The twist is: a little more modern and sleek and still colorful, but also should be energy efficient, sustainable and yes, AFFORDABLE. After all, this particular group of up-and-coming citizens, described as Millennnials – a generation born from 1980 onward, brought up using digital technology and mass media – is still paying off college loans, getting into the business world and coping with the current economy. So it’s a pretty tall order to try and satisfy this group of consumers, which is growing by leaps and bounds.

There are some great products out there that fit the bill for designing a fabulous kitchen for Millennials, starting with an amazing new introduction due out this fall from GE called the Artistry Series. Here’s how GE describes it: With the introduction of the GE Artistry Series, GE’s designers focus on the needs of today’s generation of Millennials and their desire to uniquely express themselves. Created by a 27-year-old GE industrial designer with his own generation in mind, the Artistry Series provides first-time homebuyers with a distinctive and cool appearance at a price they can afford. This new line of stylishly sensible kitchen products includes: a gas range, electric range, bottom-freezer refrigerator, over-the-range microwave and top-control dishwasher.

Artistry series

A price tag of under $2500 for all 4 appliances is pretty sweet.

For affordable countertops, a fresh approach from Formica’s anniversary collection in “Endless Graytone” has a retro vibe but still delivers sleek, modern design.

Formica Gray

Or ‘red ellipse’ can deliver a ‘diner’ style vibe with a modern twist.

Formica red

For some lighting choices, West Elm has a bent wood line that’s great looking and priced well at $ 169.

West Elm

The ‘Corona’ pendant from Rejuvenation Lighting is great in the color ‘Neptune Blue’ and is only $ 275.00.


For door and drawer hardware, Ikea’s “Bastig” knob in brushed stainless is simple and affordable at $ 4.99 for two.


Rejuvenation’s cabinet knob with star backplate is cool and sells for $10 each.

Last pic

Back to work!



- Patricia Galyor

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Apr 08 2013

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Fifty shades of green: Making decisions (and compromises) inside a green maze

Green Maze

Even though I’ve been interested in the environment since the early 70s, I started integrating it into my interior design practice only about 15 years ago. Back then, words like ‘sustainable’ and phrases like ‘carbon off-sets’ and ‘off-gassing’ were just being introduced in the building trade. I had a few good years of growth within this early part of the green movement and loved speaking to people about what sustainability in design can offer. In those days, it was pretty much about bamboo floors and fluorescent lighting.

We all now know that green design (or just plain DESIGN, as I like to call it) involves so much more than that, and a well-built, well-designed ‘green’ home is one that maintains a holistic approach, incorporating both the building science and the interior materials.

Manufacturers began to realize that their product would be a more saleable one if it touted a ‘green’ label, and they could even save money in production by various means: reducing waste, closed-loop manufacture, pre- and post-consumer recycling, etc. So now there are
literally thousands of products out there that are claiming to be green. Some are certified by third-party testing, while others simply claim their product to be green by virtue of, well, cuz they say so…

Positioning yourself as a green designer, builder or remodeler can put you ahead of the curve with your competitors, which will translate into more sales for you. But in this economy, it can’t cost more than ‘regular’ design either.

So how do you or I, as a designer, architect, builder or specifier, make decisions about what green products to use? Are they really as green as they claim they are? And can I offer them at the same price?

For example:
1. Even though it’s a ‘natural’ product, how green is a slab of granite? What green countertop material alternatives are out there?
2. Can I find some gorgeous light fixtures that are energy efficient, low cost and don’t cast a bluish-green light?
3. Can I find kitchen cabinets that are made with no added urea formaldehyde plywood and low VOC finishes that don’t cost a premium?
4. What if the homeowner wants something that I don’t consider to be ‘green’?
5. How can I know what the product manufacturer says about their ‘green’ product is true?

The list goes on, and you get stuck in the green maze. It’s too much work to keep it all straight, and it’s so confusing. Let’s examine question # 1 – granite. People like it for it’s hard, durable surface and upscale look. It’s long been the number 1 choice in countertops, and even though it’s at the top of the price range, it’s still very much in demand by consumers.

Here are the green pros and cons of granite tops:
- Rich look with varied patterns and colors
- Hard surface that is very durable; resistant to heat
- Sinks can be undermounted
- Surface can handle hot pans
- Can resist most stains when properly sealed
- Porous
- Must be chemically sealed periodically
- Granite can be scratched and leaves watermarks if not cleaned up immediately
- Marble can stain and chip easily
- Seams are very evident, especially if the surface has a clear pattern
- Marble and granite are mined deep in the earth
- Stones are quarried from around the planet, including China, Brazil, India and Africa. Depending on the location, they may have significant detrimental local impacts, including water and air pollution, waste, and risk worker health
- Significant embodied energy costs, especially when coming from far distances
Maybe granite isn’t the greenest choice for your project, but the homeowner insists on it. Here’s where a compromise might come into play. A more sustainable choice might be manufactured quartz, which is just as hard as granite, requires no chemical sealing and resists staining. It can be slightly more sustainable than granite in that there’s one or more manufacturers located inside the USA. Some of the bigger quartz composite companies are located overseas, so trying to select one located in the US would save on long-distance fuel costs and carbon emissions. If that still doesn’t cut it, and he or she is hell-bent on granite, go for it. But offer a more sustainable item for the cabinetry or flooring, or specify LED lighting or high-tier EnergyStar-rated appliances. The point is to give the client what they want, stay within the budget, offer alternatives that are green and affordable, which will involve some compromises and heavy research on your part. Keeping your design as local and low-impact as possible is the solution, and the best way to get as close as possible to a truly green project that you can be proud of. Green design will never be perfect, it’s continually evolving, and that’s what makes it one of the most exciting fields to be working in today, and I’m grateful to be part of it.

- Patricia Gaylor

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