Welcome to Second Nature, a Q+A series with Jute founder, Ali Davin, that explores all things healthy living, with a fond emphasis on that thing she does best—interior design.
Have you ever noticed that when you host a gathering, everyone ends up in the kitchen? It’s where the food and drinks are, but it’s the heart of the home, where we nourish ourselves and connect with each other.
It’s also one of the most important parts of your home in terms of value. Here’s how to design a beautiful, sustainable kitchen built to last.
Functionality is of top importance—if your kitchen doesn’t function well, you’re not going to use it, people won’t want to hang out there, and it affects your everyday life. So if you can afford it, bring in a professional to plan the space. They will look at it differently than you do and can make it more efficient and livable. It’s worth it.
We typically do a more European kitchen with either a walk-in pantry or scullery—some sort of room that’s really utilitarian, not just a place to put your food. It’s more of a room for small appliances and stuff that’s normally taking up space on your countertops. Behind the door, we’ll put in a wine refrigerator, beer drawers, a backup small refrigerator for drinks, sometimes a microwave or coffee maker if you don’t want them in the main kitchen. We do floor-to-ceiling shelving with heavier juicers and mixers on the bottom, then things you might not use every day: china, silver, outdoor plates, extra glassware, entertaining pieces, serveware, etc. In a perfect world, it has matching cabinetry with the kitchen, and even windows or skylights. It shouldn’t feel like a creepy closet.
It should have an eat-in island and/or table so people can hang out and drink or socialize while you’re cooking. Floor-to-ceiling cabinetry for glasses, plates, and cookware is ideal. Then you want your workhorse appliances: sink, range, and fridge. In terms of placement for those, the notion of the triangle in the kitchen isn’t always accurate. Just do what’s convenient for you.
It’s based on how people cook, and if you don’t cook, it’s more about resale value. We ask people to think about how much they entertain, and how much they cook. You want to buy really good quality that’s going to last a long time—in my opinion, that’s more sustainable than an energy-efficient appliance. If it’s in your budget to splurge on a La Cornue stove—they’re spendy but built by hand and made to last a lifetime—you can actually resell them and recoup your investment if you need to. But other than the stove, we usually hide appliances behind cabinetry. The fridge tends to be the biggest thing in the room and you don’t want it to be the focal point.
We do floor-to-ceiling cabinetry or open shelving on the upper and cabinetry on the lower. Your glasses and plates go on top, and your pots, pans, trash, and dishwasher go below. Either way, you want solid wood—no MDF, particleboard, or OSB. If you’re staining the wood, use a water-based stain; if you’re painting, get a non-VOC paint. For hardware and fixtures, you want classic finishes that last forever and don’t need to be replaced. Keep in mind, the less cabinetry you have, the less off-gassing you’ll have to deal with at first. The healthiest option is upper shelves and lower cabinetry, both in solid wood, plus stone everywhere else.
For the backsplash and countertop, I use natural stone like quartzite or marble instead of anything manmade. The backsplash could be tile—that’s a personal preference—but we like to do stone everywhere, including an integrated stone sink. It introduces fewer toxins because there’s no grout involved, and it’s much easier to clean. It’s also timeless, and the goal is to create something you don’t need to update, ever.
You want classic finishes that last forever and don’t need to be replaced. For lighting, we try to do recessed LED lights, which are super energy efficient. We also like to do a glass pendant light, which usually takes a halogen bulb and spreads the light beautifully, so you don’t need as many of them. For cabinet hardware, we love handmade bronze—you can customize the finish and style, plus it develops this beautiful patina. For plumbing, we go for unlacquered brass, burnished nickel, or a silvered finish. You want something that looks like it’s been there for 200 years, that you won’t need to replace and throw in a landfill.
We do eat-in kitchens of some sort in every property—a banquette, dining table, island, sometimes all three. You want sustainable materials that are easy to clean: natural fibers, wood tables, leather barstools and chairs, materials that will last forever.
The greenest kitchen is the one you don’t need to update.