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Before and After: An Eco-Friendly Atlanta Kitchen

How a Southern kitchen went from grungy to green


When designer Lisa Vail spotted a dilapidated 1920s Craftsman bungalow in midtown Atlanta, she knew she could bring it back to life. “Looking back, it was a tear-down,” she says, “but I’m always the sucker that wants to save it.”

The house had been empty for years, crumbling while the surrounding Ormewood Park neighborhood was revitalized. “Most of the houses in the area had been renovated,” Vail remembers. “And this was the eyesore. Neighbors had been trying to get it torn down, and even I didn’t realize how much we’d have to do.”

But she did know that she wanted to make it green. Vail and her husband had already built their eco-friendly dream home, and after a 5-year hiatus from flipping, she vowed that when she returned to revamping houses, she’d only do it sustainably. The sad little bungalow nobody else would save marked her grand, green return.

“The house needed almost everything … nothing was going to go untouched,” says Vail. “Sadly, there was little we could save. There were no beautiful moldings, carvings or anything like that, but it had good bones. I could see the vision.”

Vail’s vision manifests itself beautifully in the kitchen. She and design partner Rusty Walton began by knocking down the wall between the dining room and the kitchen. Then, she took space that a previous owner had claimed for a laundry room and gave it back to the porch, inserting a French door leading to the patio. The kitchen is just 10 by 16 feet, but you’d never know it.

The old vinyl floors were one of the first things to go. In their place, Vail laid down 12-inch pine flooring. (A faster grower than other hardwoods, pine often works its way into green homes; it’s budget-friendly, too.) Instead of traditional stain, the planks were finished with oil from tung tree nuts.

Vail tore out the aging cabinetry, too, but she kept the kitchen’s simple footprint, installing crisp white shaker-style cabinets where the old ones stood. The kitchen has 8-foot ceilings that couldn’t be raised, so Vail tricks the eye with molding that reaches up but never quite touches the ceiling, and ceiling paint that’s a 50 percent dilution of the gray wall color makes the white cabinets pop. Of course, the paint is eco-friendly; Vail chose mineral-based, no-VOC Roma paint. “It’s scrubbable, scratchable and just so healthy,” she says.

Next, she introduced new texture and even greater contrast with dark speckled granite for the countertops and near-black tile on the backsplash. The tile looks like a charcoal version of trendy subway tile; actually, it’s recycled CRT glass—what TV and computer screens were made of before LCD displays came along.

Of course, it can’t all be recycled: Vail crowned the kitchen with coordinating brushed nickel hardware, stainless steel appliances and a Cassidy faucet in Arctic Stainless steel featuring Touch2O Technology.

Vail says the blend of modern and traditional touches yields a transitional kitchen that harmonizes with the rest of the renovation, which included new dual-pane windows; energy-efficient appliances; biodynamic garden beds; new moldings and lighting; and fresh, earthy paint inside and out. It wasn’t easy going green, but it sure was profitable: Vail was able to list the home for nearly triple the price she bought it for.