When the time came for Helen Hobart and Terry Wenner to remodel their Sacramento, Calif., home, the couple knew they wanted a green kitchen.
It wasn't about color but philosophy and deep-felt social consciousness.
"We approached it with a holistic idea," explains Hobart, an interfaith chaplain. "The concept of integrating what we do in this house should be a gift to future generations, not a problem."
Almost two years later, they're reaping enjoyment from their project.
"This is something we can really live with," Hobart says.
Hobart enlisted a longtime friend, designer Mary Ann Downey, and William Carter Construction, a Sacramento green-certified builder.
"This was definitely a challenge, even when you're familiar with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification standards," Downey says. "The whole idea was to give this Spanish house more of a handmade feeling. It was not a blow-and-go mindset."
Wenner, an arborist with a busy tree business, and Hobart married later in life. They met when he trimmed her trees.
Hobart bought the 1926 duplex in 1977 and raised her daughters there. But with Wenner, she wanted to meld their lives as well as ideas and make it really their home.
Neither liked the former kitchen.
"It felt so squeezy. Everything seemed crammed," Wenner says.
After five years of thinking about it, Hobart and Wenner took the plunge and started remodeling. Some small strokes prompted Hobart to make the leap and get to work on the kitchen.
"Most people say remodeling is very stressful," she says. "But I found it a lot of fun."
Every inch of the 120-square-foot addition brought something special, like a little "dog cubby" on the bottom row of cupboards for the couple's Pomeranian mix, Puma.
The couple's small, galley-like kitchen expanded to a 15-by-18-foot room that seems much more spacious. An adjoining garage/laundry room became a mudroom/laundry room with a new, eco-friendly bathroom.
Downey incorporated Hobart's 200-year-old oak chairs and vintage table into the design, which has a very Spanish feel with lots of curves, including a striking tiled hood above the range and a circular window. Wenner contributed woodworking for accent pieces, using rare woods such as Western juniper harvested on his job.
Coconut-fiber panels front alderwood cabinets that are stained a dark cherry. The PaperStone and Rich-Lite countertops echo a green/gold theme.
"The harmony of the colors was surprising," Hobart says. "It's just what we wanted: serene."
The counters — made of recycled paper and cashew resin — are an example of Hobart's hard work preparing for the remodel. They look and feel like slate or granite.
Hobart gets credit for her diligence as a partner in the project. Although she declined to state the final cost, it was in line with a conventional remodel of its size.
Says Hobart: "It was a year of design planning just in research, but it paid off with so many interesting finds. ... We didn't want materials that would only end up in landfills."
A built-in steel bucket next to the sink makes composting extra easy. Vegetable and fruit scraps drop right in. The compost pile is their next step.
Recyclables each have their own drawer or bin, tucked into the center island — out of sight but not out of mind.
"Some things like the appliance garage seemed too foo-foo at first," Hobart says. "But now, that makes so much sense. It hides all the clutter."
Going green can come in pieces, Downey observes. A touch here, a little there. These products and ideas blend into any design.
"It doesn't have to be all or nothing," Downey says. "The point is every bit helps, and it gives you some options to think about. And now there are so many more options."
Just take flooring, for example. The couple considered bamboo, tile and laminates, but opted for dark oak in the kitchen to match the living room and entryway. The warm wood helps the kitchen blend in and look as if it was originally part of the duplex.
For the adjoining mudroom, they chose a swirling orange Marmoleum that looks like crazy lace agate. Marmoleum, an eco-friendly spinoff from linoleum, is made with linseed oil, wood flour and jute backing, Downey says, "and it comes in a million colors."
Recycled glass and ceramic tiles were used in the new bathroom next to the mudroom, designed with Wenner's tree business in mind. In the early morning as he prepares for work, the bathroom gets just enough warmth from subfloor heater coils beneath the tile.
"It saves energy instead of heating the whole house," Hobart says. The heated floor operates on a timer; the lights on sensors.
"That way, we never forget to turn them off," she adds.
The Toto toilet is a super-low-flow design with two flush buttons: One uses 0.9 gallons, the other, 1.6 gallons for more push when needed. A solar tube delivers light, and an ultra-efficient whirlpool tub eases aches.
"Initially we thought the tub was an extravagance," Hobart says. "But we're also looking toward our own future. As we age, we'll really appreciate it more and more. That's why we incorporated the handrails, too."
The mudroom doubles as laundry room. Although she has an Energy Star-rated dryer, Hobart almost always uses a European wooden rack that can be raised and lowered from the ceiling.
Every little bit helps, Hobart explains.
"We have a real commitment to the children of our children of our children," she says. "All our life comes from the Earth. We're connected.
"How can we not be kind in return?"