All of this caught the eye of Robert M. Cain, an architect in Atlanta, GA. Cain designed the RainShine House in Decatur, GA, the first LEED Platinum house in the Southeast, by achieving the highest level of “green architecture” possible through the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes Pilot Program.
One of the most important credits given this home was for extraordinary performance in the selection of homeowner and environment-friendly materials from salvaged, locally sourced, recycled materials and those with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Each material represents lower energy investments, lower contribution to off-gassing and environmental pollution, reduced energy investments in shipping, enhanced durability, etc.
The countertops – Meld USA’s ecoX eco-sensitive concrete material in Natural with Tri-blend 100% post-consumer colored glass – were part of what made this project so green.
PUT A CORK ON IT
You’ve seen it on floors; now, get ready for 100 percent post-industrial cork as a countertop surface. Two things make cork a great alternative to more traditional materials in the kitchen and bath: a highly compressed surface, and suberin.
Suberin is a waxy substance in the cork bark that protects the tree and makes a cork countertop water resistant, stain resistant and antimicrobial. Manufactured by Suberra and distributed on the East Coast by Eco Supply, Suberra recycles wine corks by grinding, compressing and binding the material with a polyurethane binder. The resulting slabs are 1-1/4" thick, 25" wide and 36" long. But don’t let the diminutive slab size worry you – Eco Supply CFO and Marketing Manager Brooks Perlin says Suberra Cork joints can be machined and seamed almost invisibly, much as one would expect from a typical solid surface.
Like solid surface, Suberra cork is solid throughout its thickness, and the material can be refinished and/or repaired. Unlike solid surface, the cork surface must be sealed with an oil wax similar to that used with butcher block. An optional finish coat may be applied for aesthetic reasons. According to Perlin, cork countertops may be refinished as needed to retain/restore their aesthetic appeal, but it is not necessary from a performance standpoint.
Glass provides some great, eco-friendly options as well. Take recycled glass – things like old beer bottles, wine bottles, water bottles and stemware – crush it up and, then, using a process of heat and pressure, combine the elements into a uniform slab ready for use as a countertop or wall panel. The best part is there are no dyes, no resins, no epoxies, no chemicals, though it can be argued as well that the best part is how it looks and performs.
The product is Bio Glass, manufactured by Coverings Etc. in Miami, FL. Raw slabs are transformed into striking countertop shapes using standard glass fabrication equipment and techniques. Decorative edges are machined using the same technology that is used with stone countertop fabrication.
Developer/contractor Todd Glaser used Oriental Jade Bio Glass to renovate a private estate in Miami Beach, FL known as Villa Okto. The goal was to create an effect reminiscent of a California home, while retaining its own character as an exclusive Miami Beach property.
Because Bio Glass is strong and non-porous, the material works equally well for vanity tops/backsplash and wet walls in the shower.
GRANITE? LOOK AGAIN
Mike Massey of Kitchen Encounters, Belton, TX, who has been designing and installing kitchens for local builders in Central Texas for many years, was on the brink of taking his CKD exam when he came across the opportunity to design a kitchen using Wilsonart’s new HD laminate series. Itching for a chance to exercise his creativity with a newly emerging product, Massey found HD laminate easy to design around.
He notes that the homeowner chose Wilsonart HD because it gave her the look and feel of a luxury stone, without the major investment (or fear that one of her three teenagers would destroy it). She had recently seen the Hartson-Kennedy Amore edge treatment that wraps the postformed edge around all sides of the island and peninsula, and that clinched the deal.