Food & Wine's Kristin Donnelly gets tips from a star eco-architect.


Michelle Kaufmann has devoted her Oakland, California, firm, mkDesigns, to creating eco-friendly houses, furniture and lighting. In addition to a number of prefab buildings, she designs custom homes for clients interested in green design. Her most important tip? Think small. "With kitchens, they don't need to be huge to be efficient and effective," she says. "Smaller kitchens generally use less energy." A few more of her best tips:

Incorporate natural light

"Lots of windows and skylights mean you don't have to turn on the lights during the day. I've installed windows in kitchens at counter level, so the light washes over the countertops. I like to use skylights that open with the push of a button, because they double as vents—cooking fumes and heat just go up and out."

Install countertops made of recycled materials

"PaperStone ( and Richlite ( are both great countertop materials made from recycled paper. New to the market is a material I've been working with a lot: EcoTop (, a blend of bamboo fiber and recycled wood fiber salvaged from demolition sites. Unlike with PaperStone and Richlite, which are only offered in darker colors right now, the people behind EcoTop have figured out how to create lighter colors with recycled materials."

Monitor your energy use

"In some houses, we're installing a monitoring system made by the Lucid Design Group ( that shows you energy use in real time. It can show you things like, if you cook at one time of day, you might use a different amount of energy than you would at another time of day. It's sort of like the dashboard on the Prius, where you can see that if you make slight adjustments to how you brake, it can have a big impact in terms of gas mileage."


"To make composting easy, I like the Ultimate BioDispose bin (available at, which can be stored in a lower cabinet. The bin takes food scraps and does the composting right inside with a rotating blade for aerating. When it's done, you can just sprinkle the compost in your garden."

Cut water use with an aerator

"Faucet aerators maintain water pressure while reducing the amount of water actually used. They're easy to install in existing faucets and are available at hardware stores (Ace Hardware makes many for around $7.50, available at If you're buying a new faucet, it's best to buy one with an aerator built right in. I like low-flow faucets from Kohler ( The company really stands behind their product."