Living Large In A Small Footprint
This remodeling project involved not only a green kitchen remodel but also the greening of an entire condominium unit. It came from a couple’s desire to soften their impact on the Earth. Theirs is certainly not the right choice for everyone but it was a change they felt ready to try.
The couple decided to downsize and attempt to live green -or at least- greener than they had. They thought about what they would need to be completely comfortable. Then they unloaded possessions, transitioned from two cars to one and moved from a single family home to a two-bedroom condo at Parkside Plaza at Sligo Creek Park in Silver Spring. Again, not the right move for everyone but just right for them at the time.
We are going to consider two aspects of this green remodeling project. First, we will look at the sustainable design attributes of the building location—then on to the particulars of the interior renovation and greening of the condo unit.
Sustainable Design = Low Impact
The move to a condo is in line with the first principle of sustainable design and green building. That is to conserve land, preserve green space and reduce sprawl in the site design. A multi-unit residential building undeniably helps with that. The 250-unit building and grounds at Parkside Plaza take up four acres. In Montgomery County Maryland, that amounts to 1/10th the per unit land use of the typical suburban lot of 1/6th an acre.
Sustainable Design = A Response To Nature
Walkability and connection to nature –another feature of sustainable site design- was also an important factor in their choice. While this can be a problem with most apartment buildings, Parkside Plaza has a close alliance with nature both in setting and design. Facing Sligo Creek Park, the long arc of the building’s facade resonates with the languid unraveling of the Sligo as it crosses the county to the Anacostia and then the Potomac River. Nearby walking trails, trees and urban wildlife are an extension of the condominiums grounds. Shopping, dining and metro are all within reasonable walking distance.
The Green Remodeling Conundrum: Sustainably Sourced Materials
This is not an excuse. This is full disclosure about an extremely important but confounding principle of sustainable design and green building. Green principles are comprised of methodologies, techniques, and building materials. All of these areas are evolving, and we are perhaps most challenged in the area of materials.
In green remodeling and building we attempt to identify products that are sustainably sourced, manufactured and transported. In truth, this is a difficult and complex principle of sustainable design to fulfill reliably. Why? because it’s not easy to develop a product that meets all three of those qualifications. We are learning and improving as we go, but expect it will take years of dedication and innovation in the marketplace before we get there. So for now, particularly in the realm of green remodeling, we make the very best choices that we can.
Green Remodeling = Light + Air + Ease of Movement
The entire space was gutted. Walls were moved and narrow doorways widened to facilitate ease of movement and air circulation—and to capitalize on light penetration from the magnificent floor to ceiling balcony doors and windows throughout the apartment.
Day light was invited deeper into the interior by a pass-through cut into the kitchen wall. A lancet-shaped interior window cut admits natural light into the once cave-like inner hallway.
Deteriorating parquet flooring was replaced by sleek, renewable bamboo. The parquet flooring was delivered to Community Forklift for reuse and purchase by someone who used it for her home office in West Virginia.
In the kitchen, linoleum was replaced with sustainable cork flooring. Cork is a renewable resource, long-lasting, forgiving of dropped dishes and kind to the hips and knees of middle-aged cooks.
Green Remodeling Materials = Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The owners had local Treincarnation artisan Marcus Sims build a floating desk, bathroom vanity and shelves and a hallway divider of fallen wood that was salvaged locally.
Patrick Sells forged custom-designed sconces from recycled metal and Sasha Petrov created a neon sign for the kitchen proclaiming “fresh seafood”. Many of the custom-designed elements in the apartment, borrow and repeat design motifs from Parkside Plaza, a tribute to the taste and integrity of the original designers.
Green Remodeling = Energy Efficiency
“Going Green” in an apartment presents some limitations for the builder, since many of the big energy-use decisions were made 50 years ago when the building was constructed. However, the owners were determined to improve energy use within the confines of their unit wherever they could.
Compact fluorescent lamps were used in all fixtures throughout the apartment and equipment using “standby power” (TVs, computers, and stereos) were wired to shut down completely after use.
A Green Kitchen Remodel
Energy efficency. The original kitchen appliances were replaced with energy star equipment.
Countertops. Rather than use strip-mined granite for countertops they used soapstone found at an abandoned quarry. The result was a very chic-looking entertaining-friendly space with everything in easy reach.
Kitchen Cabinets. Sustainable cabinetry was not available without the tremendous environmental cost of shipping across country. So the owners did the next best thing. They bought locally made cabinets and as few as possible. They lined the walls with shelves made of cedar salvaged from a construction site that went to Community Forklift rather than the dumpster. The pass-through counter at the kitchen was made from pine reclaimed from old rafters.
Water Conservation in the Bath
In the bath, a water saving toilet and a low flow shower head were installed. Tiles used in the bath are manufactured by American Olean and made with high recycled content. To protect indoor air quality from off-gassing of harmful toxins, all coatings and sealers are low VOC (volatile organic compounds).
Flower boxes were constructed by Hab Chang from Trex material. Trex is made partially from recycled plastic grocery bags! Note: Just one week after the boxes were planted a pair of mourning doves took up residence underneath the petunias and sweet potato vines. Since then the doves and their offspring have flown away but the plantings have flourished.
The finished balcony “room” redefines the boundary between outdoors and indoors. It is a great place to unwind after work and have a cocktail.