Monday, May 26, 2008

Modern farmhouse tables

So my latest obsession has become finding the perfect dining room table for our new house. Our floor plan (to be posted soon) is quite open. The kitchen flows directly into the dining room which flows directly into the great room/living room. We want cooking, dining and living to blend together into general communal activity. At least that is the idea.

Our dining room table will also be one of the first pieces of furniture to greet you when you walk in from the mud room. So I want it to make a statement. It needs to capture the essence of our home...the duality of natural and industrial elements, the seamless integration of wood and steel, the intricate balance of indigenous and foreign, man-made materials, the heart and soul of a modern farmhouse. I want a long, family-style farmhouse table that echoes the past but that has a modern profile. It will be our piece de resistance. Okay, that's a lot of pressure to put on a little dining room table. But those are my goals.

I've found lots of inspiration online. Here are some of my favorites along with their sources. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section!

*Companies marked with an [*] are committed to green furniture design including using wood that is from sustainably managed forests or that is recycled and/or low-VOC stains. Check out their websites for more information.

Sundance Great Falls Table

Sundance Holcombe Table

Bruce Marsh Designs*

Style Garage (featured in June issue of Canadian House & Home Magazine)

Michelle Kaufmann's Green + Wired Smart Home at Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Pictures from Apartment Therapy

Hudson Furniture* Renzo Piano table

Hudson Furniture* Matteo Thun Celerina table

Blake Dollahite House Pictures from Design Sponge Online

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ceiling fans and light fixtures

So we got a little purchase happy last weekend. We found great fan and light fixtures options at, of all places, Lowe's. I wasn't expecting to make any great discoveries there (we were checking to see if they had FSC certified slab doors, which they do!) but ended up walking away with some great buys.

We love the industrial look of this Harbor Breeze Ceiling Fan and the price is right at $74. We picked up two, one for the great room and one for the master bedroom.

This barn light fixture will hang above our dining room table. I couldn't find a photo on the Lowe's website but it looks essentially like this (this one is from Westside Wholesale). It was really affordable at $30.

I haven't actually bought these wall barn lights yet but I plan to next weekend when I go back to pick up the ceiling fans that I ordered. The price is right on these too at about $19 a pop. I don't know how many we'll get but I think they would be great for the bathrooms and maybe as reading lights for above our bed. Again, Lowe' didn't have a great photo but they look exactly like this.

First home purchases!

So a quick update on our construction isn't official yet but a wonderful builder has agreed to trade phasing allocations with us so that we can begin construction this fiscal year instead of next. While we were initially thrilled about the prospect of initiating construction this summer (we can technically begin July 1, 2008 now!), we have decided to delay ground-breaking until early next spring. We feel like we have a lot more research to do and a lot more decisions to make before we begin building. We also want more time with our draftsperson to ensure that our plans are spot-on. Avoiding changes in the future means saving money. But knowing that we can begin construction a bit earlier than before has given us the confidence to go ahead and start making purchases when we find things we like at a good deal. We also figure that buying things slowly, over a period of months, will mean not having to plop down a lot of cash all at once next summer. So our recent purchases include...

We got gorgeous mixed yellow and red birch floors at a good deal ($4.69/ft) from our new favorite store, Planet Hardwood, in Hinesburg, VT, less than 5 miles from our building site. We first met these guys at the Green Expo in Burlington two weeks ago. They have an amazing showroom in Hinesburg, full of fantastic wood floor options as well as AFM Safecoat Paint and Marmoleum options. They are 100% committed to environmentally friendly building practices and only stock wood that they know has been sustainably harvested. Our particular wood (a mix of yellow and red birch) comes from a mill just over the border in Canada, less than 100 miles away. The guys at Planet Hardwood know the mill and the family that runs in personally, one of the many benefits of buying locally!

As for the wood, we love the birch texture and warmth. Yet it's light and airy enough to help us achieve the modern feel we're striving for. We also learned something new...that yellow and red birch actually come from the same tree. The darker coloring (red) is wood closer to the core of the tree whereas the lighter (yellow) is from the outer layers. We will be using this flooring for the entire second floor (loft area/offices, two bedrooms) as well as for the bed platform area in our master bedroom. We got this idea from a beautiful home built in Texas (inspiration photo below). More pictures are available on the Wilde Haire Ranch link to the right under "Modern Farmhouse: Our Aesthetic." We will post our floor plans soon.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


So I recently learned of a new, exciting green option for countertops. I've always been drawn to products like PaperStone and Richlite but they're not necessarily budget friendly. So imagine my delight when, in my typical evening web browsing, I came across EcoTop. According to the website, "EcoTop is composed of a Forest Stewardship Council-certified 50/50 blend of bamboo fiber, a rapidly renewable resource, and recycled wood fiber salvaged from demolition sites. These materials are bound together by a water-based resin formula that is both petroleum-free and VOC-free. Because of this, EcoTop products can earn you up to six points on your next LEED project."

Its creator is actually none other than Joel Klippert, the genius behind PaperStone. Read more about him and his product in this Get With Green article.

Right now, it seems that you can order only it directly from the factory (contact information on the EcoTop website). It apparently comes in multiple colors. I think I like the black best and it will fit in nicely with our modern kitchen design. And I've saved the best for last (no pun intended)...because this product is only $35 a square foot.

Champlain Green Living

I guess this is the week of short posts...

While researching green kitchens, I stumbled across this website I had never seen before, Champlain Green Living. Not only does it have some fantastic articles about green living and green building, it's a local resource!!! Fantastic!

Here's a great post about green kitchens and another about green building.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

It's not easy bein' green... quote Kermit the Frog. We spent most of the weekend watching back-to-back episodes of the show Building Green which we rented on Netflix. On a whim, I searched for anything related to green building on Netflix last week and not much came up. But this show, which I think aired last year on PBS stations, was available on dvd and looked intriguing. As I said, we watched ALL of the episodes in one (okay, two) sittings. It was a building green overload...I was in heaven. Overall, I would have to say that the show suffered from three major flaws:

1) The host and homeowner, Kevin Contreras, built what seems to be, according to our calculations, a $1.2 million dollar house. Let me repeat...$1.2 million. Ryan and I are all about emphasizing that building green does not necessarily mean doling out lots of green. But this show didn't really help us prove our point. Granted, they did choose to highlight various ways to save money but they were mostly trivial suggestions (like using one of those super absorbent towels so you don't have to buy and wash loads of traditional washcloths...hmmm....not enough to make our project come in on budget but thanks anyway). On the whole, they used pretty high-end products, materials and building techniques. On the flip side, it was kind of fun to see how the other half lives.

2) The show was really about what this particular homeowner chose for his own green home. He wasn't all that thorough in his explanations of his choices, meaning he didn't do much in the way of describing alternatives. For example, he built a straw-bale home...but didn't provide information on other options like SIPs, ICFs, earth-berm, etc. It would have been more educational to learn about several available options before learning about his particular choice. In that sense, we learned a lot about his house but not as much about the entire spectrum of green building materials and techniques available on the market today.

3) It was pretty cheesy. More attention to editing would have helped. Like the portion of the segment on feng shui. I'm not opposed to bringing in a feng shui expert (hey, maybe we can afford to since we're going to forgo washcloths in favor of those super absorbent towels!!!) but they spent too long on this piece and the host actually ignored her advice! What's the point?

So after having bashed the show, I would like to say that we actually learned A LOT and that it has helped us gain a better understanding of what "green" really means...and how hard it can be to achieve. Before watching this show, we were primarily focused on constructing a super-tight and efficient building envelope so as to reduce our energy load and carbon footprint. I have spent the bulk of my research time looking into SIPs vs. ICFs, ERVs and HRVs, radiant heat floors, low flow and dual flush toilets, solar hot water and PVs, etc. What I have spent less time focusing on is the green nature of the finishing products we will bring into our super-tight, low energy load building envelope. One of the only downsides to a super-tight home is that it has the potential to make harmful chemicals found in our furniture, floors, clothes even more harmful because the house does not breathe to the extent a typical, less well insulated home would. This is why an ERV or HRV system is SO important in tight homes; it is imperative that air be brought into and out of the house, even if it is accomplished artificially, via technology.

This show made us think a lot more about the types of materials we'll be bringing into the home...anything from flooring stains to paints and wall plasters. Before this weekend, I have to admit that I did some quick exploration into the green credentials of IKEA cabinets and felt satisfied that they were a-okay because they met the German standards for off-gassing. But in looking at the IKEA website last night, I found that many of the cabinets are still made out of particleboard. I am not going to bring a product that I know contains urea formaldehyde and that off-gasses (sometimes for YEARS) into my home. This is for my health, for Ryan's health (who has asthma, by the way) and for the health of our dogs and future children. What's the point in building a home that's healthy for the planet but that makes its inhabitants sick???

So we have committed ourselves to finding only the healthiest products and materials possible for use in the home. And this is why I titled this post the way I did. It's not easy to find healthy, green, formaldehyde-free products that aren't through-the-roof expensive. Kevin Contreras in his gazillion dollar home may have been able to do it but we're worried that our budget will constrain us. However, we're going to remain optimistic, continue researching and do everything we can to meet our redefined goal of "going green."

For example, we think we are going to abandon our initial plan of pursuing IKEA kitchen cabinetry. Instead, we are going to try to find a local cabinet maker who is committed to using wood not treated with formaldehyde or stained with any toxic materials. We hope we can find someone who is able to meet our relatively strict cost criteria. It's tough to match IKEA prices. But our current kitchen design does not include any top cabinets (will use wood or stainless steel open shelving) and the kitchen itself is not particularly large. So we hope that will help reduce costs.

Also, we would like to be able to afford green plywood for use in the house. But if we cannot, there is a great product that can be used to "seal in" the harmful off-gassing that occurs in materials that contain urea formaldehyde. So if we stock up on that, perhaps we can address the flaws of building materials that are not green.

We really hope we can achieve our mission of building a home that is mindful both of the health of the planet and of our family. Please do check out the show "Building Green" because despite its weaknesses, I know it has helped us refine our project goals and was truly an eye opener. I'm off to buy a super absorbent towel now...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Solar tubes

One of the innovative products we've come across is solar tubes or small pipes with a mushroom-shaped top that funnel natural light into an interior space. They're relatively cheap to buy and can reduce our need for artificial light. We really want to make our home as light and airy as possible...with natural light, preferably!

Here is the blog Cooler Planet's explanation of solar tubes and a link to one of the primary manufacturers of the product, Solatube.

Here's a drawing of a solar tube from Lowes' online installment guide.