I was introduced to the concept of “Green” design when I was studying for my design degree.

Green Design was presented to us as the philosophy of designing physical objects in accordance to the principles of social, economic, and ecological sustainability. 

It was a philosophical discussion that came up in most of my design classes and at coffee houses on campus.

How could we as designers design spaces that would not have a negative impact on the environment?

Once I graduated and started practicing as a Kitchen Designer though, the conversation of Green Design rarely came up.

Occasionally I would see a new product introduced touting “LEED certified” but most of those products were geared to commercial builds.

I was several years into my design career when something happened to make Green Design a focus for me.

That turning point was when a consumer contracted me to re-design and replace a kitchen she had installed 2 years prior.

Her previous kitchen renovation had been a disaster from the beginning including poor functionality, toxic off-gassing products, poor quality materials and now a dumpster load of waste heading to the landfill.

To me she had installed a DISPOSABLE KITCHEN!

Of course my goal had always been to design long lasting Kitchens, but this experience got me thinking about how I could make my Kitchen Designs even better and “Greener”.

My goal was to develop a guideline to help my clients navigate through all the choices in the market to meet their definition of Green and allow them to make choices that worked philosophically for them, their homes and the environment.

Maybe I could even encourage other Kitchen Designers to do the same.

After some extensive research on the subject focusing on the Kitchen Industry, I developed


F.R.E.S.H. is an acronym that stands for

  • Functional
  • Renewable
  • Eco-Friendly
  • Sustainable
  • Healthy

I began using these 5 categories to evaluate the products presented to me by suppliers, to decide if I would include them in my showroom offering.

Everyone will have their own perspective on each one of these categories and my hope was to provide consumers with a guideline to make decisions on design and products for their new Kitchens.

Let’s look at each area and see how Kitchen Designers can help their clients through the process of designing a F.R.E.S.H. KITCHEN.


Often consumers will think they need to put on a large home addition to get a functional Kitchen.

This is not always the case.

A well planned layout following the Food Flow Theory is the best starting point for a functional space no mater what its size.

And the incorporation of space saving devices can maximized storage in the Kitchen without increasing the homes square footage.

Typically the storage capacity of a Kitchen can be increased by 25 percent or more with the use of appropriate interior storage accessories.

When you design the new Kitchen within your client’s existing space the impact on the environment can also be minimized.

Employing Universal Design into your Kitchen Designs also increases the functionality of the space across a homeowners lifetime.

Universal Design can eliminate costly and wasteful renovations in the future, reducing the need to send items to the landfill.

Paying attention to the orientation of the room is great for functionality.

South facing Kitchens in northern climates, north facing in the south, east for morning people and west for evening people all should be considered to add to the functionality of the room.

Not only does large, intentionally placed windows illuminate the space most of the day, they can also provide ventilation and natural heating & cooling, cutting down on electrical bills.

Kitchen Designers should always bring functional solutions to their Kitchen Designs and point out the additional benefits that clients receive in the long run.


Renewable products are those that are grown rapidly, harvested and then replanted quickly such as bamboo, cork, hemp and cotton.

Kitchen products made from these plants include flooring, cabinetry, furniture and fabrics.

Cabinet doors are the perfect place to incorporate renewable products and often produce unique looking doors.

Kitchen Designers should also be on the look out for items made from agricultural or manufacturing waste.

Cabinet doors made from sunflower hulls is a good example. The pattern they produce is very interesting and would be a focal point in any Kitchen.

Renewing an old item is great way to introduce KITCHEN F.R.E.S.H. to a client’s Kitchen.

Everything from reclaimed beams, to furniture pieces, to antique light fixtures can be incorporated into contemporary Kitchen Design.

Consider using a furniture piece as an island or an armoire for a focal point pantry.


Being Eco-Friendly is leaving the smallest footprint on the environment as possible.

This can be accomplished in your Kitchen Designs by limiting the amount of product used in the design.

A good example of this is the “Kitchen Facelift”.

If the cabinetry is in good shape have them painted to bring new life to the room.

Even something as small as specifying simple shelves instead of a full cabinet eliminates a lot of wood.

Reusing or upcycling items as part of the design is also Eco-Friendly.

Any product that gets reused saves it from becoming thrown away and eliminates the energy and resources needed to make a new one.

Keep in mind that if an item has lasted many years and is still serviceable it is a much better choice for your client’s Kitchen than an item that fails in a few years and needs to be thrown out.

Specifying products that contain recycled materials is very eco-friendly.

Almost every week there are new products on the market produced from recycled products which can be the prefect choice for your client’s new Kitchen.


Sustainable design is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

For KITCHEN F.R.E.S.H this means making thoughtful choices on how products are produced and specifying durable products.

Recycled products fall into this category as do engineered products.

Engineered wood veneers that can produce the look of exotic wood species are a better choice than the real thing that destroys endangered rain forests.

Modular Kitchen cabinetry falls under Sustainability due to the way it is produced.

Manufacturers of modular cabinets are able to produce cabinets more efficiently and with less waste than one at a time production.

Durability is also a strong component of KITCHEN F.R.E.S.H.

Kitchens are hard working places and all the products specified for them should stand up.

Evaluate the products you specify for your Kitchen Designs to ensure longevity.

An inexpensive stainless steel sink may seem like a deal but if it needs to be replaced 3 times in 10 years, it fails at KITCHEN F.R.E.S.H.

Do not specify disposable Kitchen items!


Healthy is a very important part of the KITCHEN F.R.E.S.H. philosophy.

Products in this category will not put toxins into the home’s air and will have zero or low VOC’s in their paints, stains, glues and sealants.

The industry standard melamine particleboard cabinet box off-gasses because of the use of formaldehyde in the glue used to bond the materials.

Just eliminating this product from your client’s home can make it much healthier.

When specifying cabinet boxes, choose formaldehyde free materials.

For countertops, look for products that will not promote bacterial growth since this is where food is prepared.

Growing fresh organic food is the ultimate in Healthy in KITCHEN F.R.E.S.H.

Specialty appliances for growing fresh herbs are being introduced to the market and would be the prefect addition to your client’s healthy Kitchen design.

If the Kitchen can be located near an outdoor Kitchen Garden even better!


To recap, here are the points to use when evaluating your client’s Kitchen Design for KITCHEN F.R.E.S.H.


  • Design the kitchen around the Food Flow Kitchen Theory
  • Use space saving cabinet accessories that maximize storage
  • Renovate without increasing the homes square footage
  • Incorporate Universal Design into the space


  • Choose products that are grown rapidly, harvested and replanted quickly
  • Choose products produced from agricultural or manufacturing waste
  • Choose recycled products to reduce the need to extract or harvest virgin resources
  • Choose products that can easily be recycled in the future


  • Choose products that do not off-gas toxic chemicals (VOC’s)
  • Install the minimum amount of product possible
  • Choose products produced close to home
  • Reuse existing items in the new design
  • Re-purposing items instead of sending them to the landfill


  • Meet your needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs
  • Do not choose “disposable” products with no longevity
  • Choose durable products that will withstand the abuse of a hard working kitchen
  • Choose modular cabinetry for the best use of wood products from a manufacturing standpoint
  • Specify woods that have FSC certification or are sustainably harvested


  • Use zero or low VOC paints, stains, glues and sealants on surfaces
  • Use products that do not promote bacteria growth
  • Plan the Kitchen close to a kitchen garden
  • Orient the Kitchen to take advantage of natural light and ventilation

Before you specify anything for your client’s new Kitchen always ask: “Is it Functional? Is it Renewable? Is it Eco-friendly? Is it Sustainable? and/or is it Healthy?”

I would love to here your thoughts on KITCHEN F.R.E.S.H. Please leave me a comment below.

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Jan Rutgers B.Sc. H.Ec.

Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one! Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

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