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Catonsville Home Makeover: Going “Green” Was Essential

Family’s health and wellbeing dictated choices for kitchen/dining room redo.

Joan Plisko has spent her professional life in positions that draw upon her training as an environmental systems engineer. Since 2006, Plisko has worked as technical director, Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, an initiative of the University of Maryland School of Nursing. Plisko provides technical assistance, as well as educational and networking opportunities in environmental sustainability to hospitals and service providers in Maryland. During her tenure, the program has received numerous environmental awards.

Her husband, Marc, is a certified industrial hygienist. His first office was in the building now occupied by . To be closer to his office, the couple moved to Catonsville from Rockville 12 years ago to the home they currently live in, built in 1940. 

They have two children in public schools: Ellie, 10, a fourth-grader at and Teddy, 12, a sixth-grader at Catonsville Middle School. Plisko is also actively engaged in the community, serving as co-convener of the recently established Catonsville Women’s Giving Circle, where women pool their financial resources to support local nonprofit organizations.

When it came time to renovate their kitchen, there was no question that it had to be “green” in ways beyond choice of color. But she also wanted it to be a focal point for family and friends, as she enjoys entertaining.

Catonsville Patch: What elements make it a “green” kitchen?

Joan Plisko: First thing, when they demoed the wall and took out all the old materials, nothing went to the landfill. In fact, a wall that used to dividing the two rooms is now a retaining wall on a friend’s property. The old cabinetry lives downstairs in our basement as storage.

The new refrigerator and dishwasher are energy-star appliances.

The countertop is 70 percent recycled glass and 30 percent concrete, made by Icestone, a Brooklyn-based company.

My cabinets are Executive Kitchen brand, made in South Carolina, of forest stewardship-certified wood and formaldehyde-free.

The backsplash is 100 percent recycled glass tiles, made in Idaho by a company called Sandhill. 

When we had the fir and oak floors refinished, we used a nontoxic finish.

Using natural daylight is also a sustainable thing to do. So, I can be working or cooking without having to run up my energy bill.

Patch: How did the actual timeline vary from the estimate?

Plisko: I would say that 85 percent of it was completed in a timely fashion and then the punch list and the details took a long time. It was longer than it should have been.

Patch: You have two young children, how did you manage without a kitchen?

Plisko: We set up a makeshift kitchen in the living room. We had a toaster oven. We borrowed a George Forman grill. I did some Crockpot cooking. We had the microwave and we had some very lovely friends. We didn’t go out more than usual; we just got a little more creative with how we prepared our meals.

Some people say a renovation could be devastating for a family; it was just a blip. 

Patch: How did you make the decision about altering the floor plan? 

Plisko: The space that we had didn’t meet our existing lifestyle. There was a wall between the kitchen and a more formal Colonial dining room. So, I could be cooking and couldn’t communicate with my kids; couldn’t see my family. I might have friends over sitting around the table and I would be in the kitchen cooking by myself. Or six of us would be crammed into our tiny little kitchen. 

Patch: How did you decide on your choice of island?

Plisko: This is an interesting decision we made about our island countertop. We had considered bamboo, which is considered to be more sustainable. But when we looked into that we found that sometimes when they are processed they use toxic chemicals and often they are made overseas. So the tradeoff was to get an end-grain maple that is made in the Midwest or get something that might have chemicals and is from far away. It has a food-grade nontoxic finish.

Patch: What is the single best feature? 

Plisko: I’m going to give you three because I can’t give you just one.

This island as a gathering space is fantastic! I am always here. This is my spot for preparing food, drinking wine, or having my breakfast.

This countertop, which is 12 feet long, can accommodate a Thanksgiving buffet.

Everyone always seems to have a dish drainer on the counter. This sink has a built-in dish drainer. Love it!

Patch: What made you choose the large map for the dining room wall?

Plisko: That was a spontaneous decision. It isn’t at all what I was looking for. I was looking for Country French garden art but I couldn’t find what I wanted. My daughter, Ellie, and I were at Ikea and I saw it and said why don’t we try it until we find something we really like. And so far, we have liked it. It spurs great conversations with the kids.

Patch: What advice would you give to others considering renovation?

Plisko: I think it ties in with why it’s green. A lot of people think about going green because it is good for the environment. Well, that is true but it also has to do with the health of my family. For a kitchen— which is a gathering place for your family every day—it doesn’t make sense to put in cabinetry that will off-gas formaldehyde or paint with chemicals that have volatile organics. So my recommendation is to create a space that is safe and healthy and meets your family’s needs.

We wanted a space where kids could do their homework at the table while I prepare dinner or our friends could sit and enjoy a beverage while we prepared hors d’oeuvres or we could play a family game or host a large event. So, figure out your needs first before forging ahead on a design. And, ask all your friends for their ideas, because I did.

Think about your needs today, particularly if you are going to stay in your house for a while. Don’t design it for when you might sell it; design it so that it is everyday comfortable. Look at pictures online and when you go to your friends’ homes, check out what you like and what you don’t like.

Patch: Is there anything you would do differently?

Plisko: Yes, be sure to stand your ground with whomever you work with. Remember: you are the customer.

Patch: What was the most unexpected benefit from the renovation?

Plisko: I think I have more pride in my entertaining. I am very comfortable whether it is for a business meeting or parties. The first thing I did after it was completed was to host a 50th birthday party for a friend. I’ve had Happy Hour here where there are 10 adults around the island. I’ve had Thanksgiving dinner for 20. It’s a great focal point for the house.

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