Posts Tagged ‘green’

kirei board

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

With our patios on hold until the spring, it’s time to turn inward. As we close in on finishes for our interior remodel, I’d like to offer this for consideration: kirei board. Japanese for beautiful, clean, pure and truthful, kirei is a natural, engineered product made from reclaimed sorghum stalks.

Heat-pressed using a non-toxic, formaldehyde-free adhesive, kirei comes in panels like other sheet goods — it’s basically another kind of plywood. I think the first time I actually saw it in use and not in a magazine was at a Dwell on Design show in L.A. a few years ago. You’ve seen this cabinet, right?

dandelion graphic by Iannone Design |

Nice one, Iannone Design. Since then, they’ve released a number of other pieces crafted from kirie…

graphic armoire by Iannone Design |

mod coffee by Iannone Design |

There’s a lot going on in this board — a little goes a long way. But in the right applications, I think the pattern is rather stunning…

modular storage unit by Julia Palomaki |

vanity cabinets by jessica helgrson |

Strong and lightweight, it’s a great wood alternative for cabinetry, furniture, floors, ceilings and walls. You see it increasingly in retail spaces — I know I’ve seen it at Aveda.

Here it is at Denver Botanic Garden in the cafe. They used it for their recycling station…

kirei in the cafe at denver botanic garden

I just had to shoot a closeup of the crazy patterns going on in the doors…

kirei detail

Jennifer Siegal, a modernist prefab pioneer, uses kirei board in her prefabs as well as in her own house…

jennifer siegal’s house |

Here’s the whole Dwell slideshow of Siegal’s home in case you want to see more.

Kirei looks pretty crazy unfinished. It comes in 10 mm (about 3/8″), 20 mm (about 3/4″) and 30 mm (about 1-1/8″) panels. This sample we just got shows how it’s bonded to poplar to make it more stable…

kirei 10mm

Here’s a thicker sheet sample…

kirie 20mm

You can really see the sorghum stalks…

kirei unfinished

This would need a good sanding, obviously, but it sure is pretty…

kirei unfinished closeup

You can finish it with wax or a water-based polyurethane. Not so into DIY?  Heck, you can have kirei cabinetry built and shipped to you. So 21st century.

secret source: reclaimed modern

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Back to the inside of the house: the kitchen. I’ve been stalking options for ages now. Before Henrybuilt there was Green Demolitions. Their site design is horrendous but they’ve got a great idea: remove remodelers’ perfectly good, cast-off kitchens and sell the works to other remodelers for much less, then put the money into their nonprofit cause.

I’ve trolled GD’s stock fairly regularly over the last three years in search of modern. Not always lucky but you just never know what they’ll have, so I check often. What did I find this past weekend?

What looks to be a brand-new, rift-cut oak kitchen with stainless steel accents, Blum slides and Corian-ish countertops. Nice!

green demos 2

green demos 3

green demos 4

Thank god for rich people who move into a new place and immediately want to redo the kitchen, right?

There’s this crazy contemporary floor model kitchen by Lucci/Orlandini…

green demos modern

And another Lucci/Orlandini floor model in shiny red metallic…

lucci/orlandini red kitchen |

This high-gloss number in cherry…

green demos maple

A high-tech Alno island…

green demos 5

green demos island2

green demos island3

green demos island4

green demos 6

Even the all-white trend is represented…

green demos bulthaup

green demos bulthaup 2

There aren’t usually this many modern choices. But if you love traditional, Green Demolitions is da bomb yo. Why is it that when I bring it up in conversation nobody’s heard of it yet?

David and I stopped by the New Canaan showroom about a year and a half ago just to see what the kitchens looks like in person — great prices, decent stock and really, really nice people. Since then, they’ve added more stores and have way more inventory online.

Not sure we’ll ever actually buy anything but I’m all for recycling and a good cause. If you’re into it, there’s a nice article on how Green Demolitions works here. It’s a secret no more.

don’t curb it!

Monday, November 1st, 2010

leaf bags down the street

“Never again will we put our leaves out to the curb.” I swore it last year and I meant it. Adding fall leaves to the landfill is just plain wasteful. If your city composts them, great. But why give away free organic materials your garden needs? I’m composting my leaves from now on — to save money and for a more sustainable garden.

First of all, let me say that my urban garden has 11 oak trees and one spindly little dogwood. “Oak trees?!” you shriek in disbelief. “But the acid!” Oy. The idea that oak leaves will “burn” your plants or make your soil acidic is a myth. My leaves are going to compost over the next half a year or so and will break down into lovely dark brown organic matter that’s high in nutrients. Let’s move on, shall we?

Temperatures are dropping. So are my leaves. That means it’s time to rake…

time to rake!

And rake I do…

rake leaves into a pile

Only now every pile I make I then mow over using our new Fiskars Momentum reel mower. It works great to chop up the oak leaves into little bits, which will then make them break down much, much quicker. Obviously, whatever kind of mower you own will work just fine…

mow the pile

To get the leaves small enough, I run them over a few times, rake the pile together, then run them over again. I never even break a sweat…

mow over it several times, til leaves are chopped

The result: fall confetti!

should look something like this, or even smaller

I then pile it all, including grass clippings, into leaf bags — not destined for the curb. I have a spot at the top of our yard that’s unplanted but still needs to be cleared of weeds and undesirable overgrown shrubs. I’m talking about you, forsythia! So my leaf bits will become a brand-new compost pile in the next few weeks.

“Oh noes! Oak leaf bits on your lawn will kill the grass!” you say? No. Chopped up leaf bits will fall between the blades of grass and, if they don’t blow away during one of our Nor’easters, will break down and essentially compost where they fall…

leaf bits are great for the grass!

Don’t worry, I’ve researched the life out of this. It’s actually good for your grass!

My ultimate goal is not to have to buy compost or even mulch in the seasons ahead. I’ve already begun collecting leaves from my neighbors’s yards as well — I figure why not throw in some maple leaves, right? There’s no such thing as too much compost!

One tip: if you try this yourself, which I hope you will, don’t forget to jump in the pile first!

be sure to jump in the pile before you begin

More reading:

Composting Grass and Leaves Why is it better for your soil? Because “Pound for pound, the leaves of most trees contain twice the mineral content of manure.”

Composting Leaves How to whip up a no-sweat lasagna garden using fall leaves and have a new planting bed by next spring. Think of it as composting in place!

Fall Leaves Make a Great Natural Mulch Why buy mulch when it’s right there in your trees?

Lasagna Gardening More on the no-till, no-dig method of gardening.

How to Make Oak Leaf Compost Surprise! Oak leaves make excellent compost.

A Guide for Composting at Home Lots of great composting info here. Leaf composting is near the end of the article.

Making and Using Leaf Mold An alternative to composting your leaves — make leaf mold. It’s ridiculously easy. Bag it. Forget it. It turns to gardening gold in 6 months to a year! A good option if you don’t have room for a compost pile.

hardening our hardscape

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

So we haven’t talked hardscape in a while. Let’s. Remember how I like to dream big? No? Maybe this will refresh your memory…

d-crain corten steps |

d-crain corten steps |

Not so long ago, I confessed an unrequited love for Corten steel in the garden, like those steps backfilled with gravel. Gawgeous. Minimal. Streamlined. Perfect in a modern landscape. [Shot from above and many more examples on D-Crain’s site. And Andrea Cochran’s site. And Lutsko Associates’ site.]

With visions of steel in my head, I did a little research and learned that Corten lasts a long time in a Mediterranean climate — like in sunny California. Less so in New England with its damp, cold winters. The patina from the corrosion is what makes it appealing. But the rust can bleed onto other surfaces, including our brand-new concrete retaining walls. And burying the steel in the ground speeds up corrosion. So is there a way to make steel last longer, considering the investment?

The answer is hot dip galvanized steel. Hot dip? what the heck is that, you say? The steel is “… immersed in a kettle or vat of molten zinc, resulting in a metallurgically bonded alloy coating that protects the steel from corrosion.”

Zinc. Hmm. The American Galvanizers Association claims it’s sustainable — the zinc itself is 100% recyclable and the hot dip process protects steel for 50 years. 50 years! That’s a long time! That pretty much convinced me hot dip galvanized over Corten. So this is where we’ll be using it:

For steel planter boxes in the veggie garden area at the top of the retaining wall that runs along our front driveway…

veggie garden area

The layout (click to biggify)…

raised beds layout and dimensions

For risers on the steps up to the veggie garden that currently look like this…

concrete stair disaster

Ugh. The concrete crew just could not get them right. We talked about repouring them ourselves. But then we decided the raised beds would be made of steel and it just seemed easier to make the risers out of the same material and backfill with gravel. So that’s the plan…

dimensions for steel risers for the veggie garden stairs

Which is perfect, because out back we want a full set of steel stairs at the end of the other retaining wall. Remember when I drew that?…

layout for stairs next to wall out back

Now imagine the chalklines in steel and backfilled with gravel. Looks nice, doesn’t it?

So the drawings went over to Rhode Island Welding a few weeks ago. They constructed the boxes and the stairs and then sent them off to a galvanizer in Massachusetts.

Expect to see the result — soon!

no, reely!

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

As proud owners of an almost-lawn, we inevitably had to break down and buy a lawn management tool. Boo. So I ordered the new Fiskars Momentum Reel Mower from last week. Yay. DING DONG! FEDEX IS HERE!

it’s here! it’s here!

So why the Fiskars Momentum, you ask? Well, it’s just a new-fangled reel mower so it’s kind to the environment. No gas. No oil. No spark plugs. No fumes. No noise. Adjustable mowing height. And we have a fairly smallish lawn so we thought it might make sense. We’ll see how it fares on our slope — will let you know. Video of how it works.

Minimal assembly required…

easily flummoxed by instructions

Five minutes and one Bronx cheer later…

bronx cheer

We have a mower! Pretty cute… for a mower.

blade closeup

ooh la la!

Wanted to buy local but just couldn’t find one in stock. Maybe because it’s new? Or because it’s just that time of year? Or because I didn’t do an exhaustive enough search? Bought online but applied carbon offsets to the shipping. I like that.

Excited to give the mower a try — once our lawn is the reel deal. Still in the fledgling stage and still a bit patchy out there after the rain washed an eyebrow-raising amount of our seed down the slope. Good thing more grass seed just arrived on our doorstep today, too!

from my perspective

half full or half empty?

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Pleased to report that we are now HARVESTING RAINWATER!

Just to remind you, here’s the view inside the tank Thursday night before the rain:

tank completely empty

And here’s the view on Saturday after an inch of rainfall:

tank half full

So look at that! Just one inch of rain collected off our roof filled the tank about 2.5′. The highest the water can rise is 4’6″ where the overflow pipe starts channeling water out into the overflow trench. Not bad! (The floaty stuff is plastic shavings… don’t worry, we skimmed those off.)

David has a grand plan to hook up a solar-powered pump to the tank, but until then we’re using a cheapo submersible sump pump…

david installing pump

With the garden hose hooked up to the pump and the whole contraption in hand, David slowly dropped it down into the tank…

david submerges pump

He made sure the hose and electrical cord were threaded through the top of the manhole cover, of course…

david closes tank

Then we plugged in the cord and turned on the hose…

first water from our tank

And voila! We can now water with rain! *touchdown dance*… *fist pump*… *chest bump*

busta slope!

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Can I just start with the incredible view from my backyard across my neighbors’ yards towards Providence College?

springtime view of neighboring yards

Spring is suddenly busting out of her halter top! It’s like a botanic garden back there, which makes our dirtscape look all the more desolate…


That changed somewhat on the front slope today. The truck from Sylvan Nursery pulled in at around 9 this morning and dropped off our plants

sylvan truck arrives

Shiva and Rich offloaded 199 in all…

plant lineup

The four flowering currants arrived from Forest Farm just a few days ago — flowering!

flowering currants — arrived in the box, flowering!

Today’s arrivals are also showing signs of spring. The cute little bearberries are blooming…

bearberry in bloom

And the yellowroot plants are fully in flower already…

yellowroot in flower

And the heavenly scented sweetferns will soon unfurl…

signs of sweetfern fronds

Shiva and Rich started getting things in the ground right away, first cutting holes through the Curlex matting so they could dig holes for the plants…

digging thru curlex

They made their way through most of the plants today…

slope progress

By the end of the day, I’d say they probably made it about two-thirds of the way across the 100-foot stretch…

the slope at the end of day

They literally stopped traffic all day. So many rubber-neckers curious to see the transformation, I guess. Or Rich and Shiva busting out of their halter tops.

Tomorrow, Shiva and our friend Ellen will finish up and determine how many more plants we’ll need to fill out the space nicely. I can’t wait to watch this happy hillside transform as things grow over the next year. Thanks to everyone who helped to make this happen!

day 3: a whole new yard

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

What a difference a day makes! It really does look like we have a whole new yard.

Yesterday morning began with the arrival of a tri-axel filled with Smithfield Peat’s finest screened loam/compost mix. Impressive. The Savages broke out the big guns…

tri-axel truck arrives full of loam

7:30 am, Adam starts with a little more grading out back with the mini excavator…

7:30 am grading begins

You can hardly even tell the water collection tank is there. Well, except for the giant manhole covers and the filter, of course. We’ll remove one of those covers and screen it all with plants soon enough…

water collection manholes

For future reference, David marked down where the overflow piping and other underground bits of the system are hiding. Probably a good idea…

rain collection diagram

The veggie zone got raked out…

ready to spread compost in veggie zone

… then the loam was brought in and spread with the bobcat. So rich, it looks like brownie mix…

loaming veggie zone

Our plants are going to be soooo spoiled…

finished veggie zone

Rich and Mr. Savage perfected the grade out back so that water would flow away from the house and down the slope…

getting the grade right so water will drain

Then it was ready for loam…

back ready for loam

Which  Adam had spread in no time…

backyard with loam

Ever since we moved in, I’ve been looking forward to finding a new home for five fairly young rhododendrons. The last owner must have put them in hoping to add privacy to the downstairs patio area… which is ridiculous for several reasons. One: those suckers take forever to grow, so there wouldn’t be privacy screening for at least another decade. And Two: they planted them practically on top of each other and way too close to the pathway — hard to believe looking at them now, but these will be monsters when they finally reach 12′ tall and 12′ across…

row of rhodos

So Mr. Savage dug them up for Rich to take home with him. Plant them and love them, Story!

bye rhodos

Mr. Savage added a little soil and smoothed out the eroded slope along the road…

adding to slope

… the entire 100′ foot length of it. Wow, that looks incredible!

slope prepped and ready for curlex

Then Rich and Shiva dug a shallow trench along the top of the slope where the biodegradable Curlex erosion control matting will be secured…

digging the trench up top

That was a lot of digging…

top of slope trench

Then the two of them rolled the Curlex down the slope…

first roll of curlex

… and secured it with our natural, biodegradable staples at the top and bottom.

second roll of curlex

Up the hill, down the hill, up the hill… and so on. Thanks, Rich!

two more rolls

sixth roll of curlex

closeup curlex

twelfth roll of curlex

By late afternoon, the slope was completely transformed. The Curlex won’t break down for three years, which is plenty of time for plants to get established. Speaking of which, the plants arrive this Tuesday…

end of rolls

Meanwhile, David made a trip to Sylvan Nursery in Westport, MA, to pick up our focal point tree for the backyard…

tree in truck

Doesn’t look like much in the truck…

tree arrives

After months of deliberation, I finally settled on a Betula nigra Cully Heritage River Birch. Yes, I considered many other gorgeous options — Perrotia Persica (Persian Ironwood),  Stewartia Pseudocamillia (Japanese Stewartia), Fagus Sylvatica Tortuosa (Tortuous European Beech) and Cercidiphyllum Japonicium (Katsura or Caramel Tree), were top contenders. But the size and multi-trunked habit of the Heritage Birch was just right. I’ve been stalking just such a tree in a neighborhood where I run. This is what it looked last last summer…

heritage cullen birch

The peeling bark is really something…

birch bark closeup

So with the help of Adam in the bobcat, Shiva, David and Rich got the tree up the slope…

tree wrangling

… and hoisted it into the hole..

putting tree in hole

And, voila! Landscaping has officially begun. Thanks to Shiva and Ellen for making the tree-sleuthing trip to Sylvan last week to find the perfect specimen for us. It’s gawgeous!

tree planted

Birches grow quickly, so this should fill out nicely in no time. Will look lovely from the living area…

goodnight yard

Thank you so much Savages. You rawk!

savage trucking


Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

You want a washout? Yeah, we got that…

slope washout

That slope used to be slopier. Days of constant rain have made it slumpier. What a mess. Good thing the cavalry is coming later this week. To the rescue: some supercool, environmentally friendly erosion control.

curlex closeup

American Excelsior Company makes this awesome biodegradable erosion control blanket called Curlex, available in 150′ rolls. It offers some benefits over straw or coconut fiber, a few other green options out there. We definitely did not want to go with polypropylene. We’ll be using the Curlex CL. Here’s what makes it better for us…

curlex in action

They’re made of barbed, interlocking aspen fibers, of all things. It allows rainwater to slowly percolate into the soil, clings to the ground to stop erosion and creates a warm, damp place for new plants to take hold. Which is exactly what we need. There’s really nothing else like it out there. I’ll let you know how it works out.

e-staple |

To secure them, we’ll be using 6″, water-resistant biodegradable stakes made from plant sugars and oils, also by Excelsior. Not petroleum based. And rather than leaving hundreds and hundreds of metal stakes in the ground forever, these E-Staples will naturally degrade slowly  — by the time they’re gone, our plants will be established.

Shiva, who’s going to be tackling that bear of a slope (with some help) bless her heart, will be able to cut right through the blanket once it’s been rolled out and dig planting holes for the new plants. The plants are ordered and on their way. Woo hoo!! Thanks for making it all happen, girlfrennn.

Before Shiva can do her magic, it now looks like we’re going to have to add soil to that rain-ravaged slope. It never recovered from the retaining wall guys turning it into a ramp…

a ramp in my slope

Once they loosened the dirt, it was bound to erode even quicker. The concrete guys still owe us 40 yards of top soil — this looks like a good place for some of it.

We have a crew we love coming as soon as the mud dries up to make it all happen. Not just on the street slope but around the entire yard where we need final grading. More heavy equipment, yay! Our neighbors are gonna love us.

rain rain... you know the rest

reaching entry entropy

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Outside: moving. Inside: going nowhere until we settle on finishes. We finally agree on the flooring. Except that we’d both like to see something different than cork in the entryways. What we’re loving: concrete tile.

It’s gorgeous, ridiculously durable and generally an eco-friendly choice. Thus far, I’ve come across three styles of concrete tile:

  • something monolithic that resembles poured — these range from plain to colored to terrazzo
  • patterned
  • and dimensional or relief, meaning it has raised bits — doesn’t make sense in a high-traffic area

Whatever we choose, we’re not going to need much. The front entry is roughly 8’x5′. The back entry maybe 4’x2′. The tile has to go with the cork flooring we think we’re going to use…

edipo cork tile in bleach white |

edipo cork tile in bleach white |

So considering that, I’ve found a few options that catch my eye…



In a modern house, you can never go wrong with terrazzo. The drawback to polished terrazzo in an entryway, of course, is that when it gets wet it may get slippery. But it is a modern staple and who knew you could get it in tile?

marble mosaic in honey onyx |

marble mosaic in honey onyx |

custom marble in twilight white |

custom marble in twilight white |

Both of those from Fritz Tile and use marble in the aggregate. Pretty. We’d need an inside doormat no matter what kind of tile we choose, so maybe slippery won’t matter? Hmmm.

Fritz also offers two lines of LEED-certified recycled glass terrazzo tiles set in aggregate, but I’m not as fond of their look. For glass terrazzo, I prefer this…

recycled glass tile in riviera |

recycled glass tile in riviera |

or this…

recycled glass tile in swiss alps |

recycled glass tile in swiss alps |

from Wausau Tile, which also uses an aggregate base. Some recycled glass terrazzos are set in resin rather than aggregate (like countertop materials) — Enviroglas is a popular, environmentally friendly source. If we order samples, I’ll share.


Here’s a tile from Ann Sacks that’s not only concrete with a pattern but terrazzo as well…

neoterrazo by andy fleishman |

neoterrazo by andy fleishman |

Less glossy than the all-terrazzo choices above. I’m not one to shy away from pattern but I’d have to see it next to the cork to know if it would work. Maybe too… traditional?

Just to funk things up, Angela Adams has a few subtle but very modern patterned concrete tiles at Ann Sacks…

argyle by angela adams |

argyle by angela adams |

manfred by angela adams |

manfred by angela adams |

Nice matte finish. A hint of the ’70s there, am I right? Might be good in a circa ’72 house. Anything by Angela is a class act.

In case my design aesthetic isn’t all over the place enough for you, how about these Paccha concrete tiles, also at Ann Sacks…

zigzag by paccha |

zigzag by paccha |

Would the pattern overwhelm the rest of the room? Maybe. Popham Design who makes Zigzag also makes lots of other styles not carried by Ann Sacks — some that might go better. Although Zigzag doesn’t have to look like a quilt. Their website shows you how you can change things up in layout…

zigzag, zigging |

zigzag, zigging |

zigzag, zagging |

zigzag, zagging |

Does crazy things to your eyes after a while, doesn’t it?

Here’s another Popham style completely covered in awesome sauce…

popham squarish |

popham squarish |

Called Squarish. Simple yet arty. Probably my favorite by Popham for our entryway. Just love that so much.

Another configuration of Squarish, more vintage looking…

squarish, yet againish |

squarish, yet againish |

I emailed back and forth with Popham not long after we moved in. At the time they were only in Morocco and had no U.S. dealer. Not sure if the ordering deets have changed since ’08 (may well have and if we decide to pursue, I’ll double-check), but this is what Popham shared with me about ordering through them at the time:

We sell the tiles for $15/square foot and can ship via air or sea. For air, which takes about a week once the tiles are dry, you’ll add about $12/square foot, for groupage (marine), which takes about a month, the cost is about $5/square foot. Or, if you want a container’s worth :), about 6,000 square feet, the shipping cost drops to about $1/square foot. Our production lead time is 2-3 weeks depending on the size of the orders.

So maybe $20 a square footish. Not cheap but also not out of the realm of possibility given the small footprint. Not very “green” ordering from Marrakech, I know. On the other hand, it does employ local artisans in a very low-tech process. Conundrum. Nice video, btw.


I dream of a statement-making entry floor but my gut tells me this house wants something sleek and simple. We’ll see. For me, tile is a must-touch, must-ogle item. This means a visit to Ann Sacks, for sure. And I located Fritz Tile’s terrazzo at a few shops in MA and RI. Field trip!