The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

Sustainable Apartment Renovation Before and After: The Kitchen

In the next installment of my apartment renovation reveal, I’ll show you how I gutted and redid the entire kitchen, as sustainably as possible.

Not that there was much there to begin with.

Before Kitchen pictures

The old particle board kitchen cabinets, which were showing significant wear and tear, were shoved in the back against the wall, providing almost no storage. Oh hey, exposed heating pipe.

Before kitchen

Meanwhile, the refrigerator was awkwardly shoved against one wall. And look at that beautiful fake wood linoleum floor.



Renovation picture-kitchen

I could have tried to repaint the cabinets, but it really just merited a tear-out and complete rebuilding. It’s a small apartment, and I needed every bit of space that we could carve out! So that is what we did.

(I tried to give the cabinets to Build It Green! but they weren’t up to snuff. I tried to offer them up with the fridge and stove for free on Craigslist, but the one taker never showed up. So I told my contractor to take care of it. I’m not proud of that, but it was getting to the point where we needed to move forward, this was holding us up, and I had run out of options.)

I handed off the design of my new kitchen to my mom, who is a kitchen designer in Annapolis. She directed me to Holiday Kitchens for custom cabinets that are non-toxic and sustainable made, and I chose simple, white, flat cabinet fronts.


The refrigerator is retro style, the Artistry series by GE. (It’s a bit big for just the two of us, I’m finding out now. But it sure does look awesome.) The cabinets go up to the ceiling for extra long-term storage. (Gotta put grandma’s china somewhere!) The floor is reclaimed oak from upstate by Carlisle. You can see the washer/dryer combo unit peeking out from under the counter.

The centerpiece is the chandelier by the Brooklyn-based Urban Chandy–everyone fixates on it as soon as they walk in. And it was such a satisfying experience working with the founder, Cassidy, on the perfect piece. While you can buy right from the Etsy store, you can also set up an appointment to walk through the Urban Chandy studio, near the Navy Yard in Brooklyn. As I was puzzling between reclaimed pressed tin or reclaimed wood, we walked into her office, and I spotted these painted boards leaning against the wall.

“What about those?” I said, pointing to them.

“Oh, those!” she said. “I painted those a while ago, they’re from the Coney Island boardwalk. I love them, but I’m not sure what to do with them …”

I had my answer. Cassidy worked with me picking out the color and length of the cord, the style of socket and how I wanted the boards to fit together. The result is spectacular.

editS_IMG_9911 editS_IMG_9909

I picked out remnant Quartzite stone for the counter. Remnant is when someone else’s kitchen counter has already been cut out and you’re using the leftovers. If you can be flexible, it’s much less expensive.

wall-mounted drying rack
A drying rack right above the washer/dryer combo unit makes air drying our clothes easy.
Kitchen renovation accessories
A magnetic knife rack from Whisk, a conventional teapot from Oxo, tea towels from Claudia Pearson and The Little Market.
I keep a collection of shells and coral by the sink for decor. A vintage tea cup holds sponges. Nontoxic dish soap, hand soap, and produce wash completes the picture.
Organic magnetic spices
Magnetic spice jars pre-filled with organic spices by Gneiss Spice stick right on our fridge to save space.
Stacking cook books on top of the pantry.
I got normal trash cans in two sizes, then ordered vinyl stickers for them. I produce way more recycling than trash, so this size scheme works.


I had my mom design the cabinet to leave space for an open shelf. I found the wood reclaimed at Build it Green! On the shelf I keep cooking staples, tea accoutrements, vintage prep bowls, hand-painted ice cream bowls made by my sister, and a Halloween card from my mom in a reclaimed frame made in Detroit by Holstee. The pretty doily-style ladle is from Joinery in Williamsburg. The black knobs (my idea) and the black grout around subway tiles (my boyfriend’s idea) pulls it all together.

Also in here, though you can’t see it because it’s on the other side of the peninsula, is a Blomberg 18-inch dishwasher, which we’ve been really happy with so far. It’s debatable which is better energy wise: handwashing or the dishwasher. But it’s not debatable on the time-saving front, so tiny dishwasher it is!

Overall, we crammed a lot into a tiny space: cabinets to the ceiling, under-counter cabinets with slide-out drawers for easy access to appliances, a pantry, a stove/range, a dishwasher, a washer/dryer combo unit, a bib-front sink, a cutting board and cookie sheet cabinet, magnetic spice rack, pot holder, knife rack, and drawers–for an impressive amount of form, function, and storage.

I really couldn’t be happier. Thanks, Mom!



  • Alden Wicker

    Ruth Alden Wicker is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of EcoCult. Along with growing EcoCult to be the leading international information hub for sustainable fashion, she also writes for publications including Vogue, The New York Times, Wired, The Cut, Vox, InStyle, Popular Science, Harper's Bazaar, Quartz, Inc. Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Craftsmanship Quarterly, Refinery29, Narratively, and many more.

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