To achieve a look that balances nature with structure, you should look for materials that are naturally long-lasting, come straight from a trusted source and have recycled content.

Share story

Q: We’re looking to make some home updates to our kitchen and living area. What are some environmentally conscious materials we should consider?

A: We applaud your effort to “green up” your home. And, there are a lot more eco-friendly options out there than you’d think.

As Seattleites, we love to gaze upon and draw inspiration from our gorgeous natural environment. To achieve a look that balances nature with structure, you should look for materials that are naturally long-lasting, come straight from a trusted source and have recycled content.

While there are hundreds of green products on the market, here are three materials you can incorporate for a modern, eco-friendly home.

Cork flooring

“People underestimate the quality and wear of cork,” says Pieter Sundgren of Greenhome Solutions, a Seattle storefront stocking exclusively green building materials. Here’s why you shouldn’t: Cork is exceptionally quiet underfoot, environmentally friendly, comfortable and serves as a natural thermal insulator. Typical skepticism includes worries that won’t last or that it’s going to dent. All flooring has advantages and disadvantages, but the benefits outweigh in most scenarios with cork flooring. Cork flooring is sealed to prevent moisture absorption and staining. And it can sometimes even be refinished like hardwood.

The versatility of cork is also underrated. Colors, patterns and hues can all play a factor into the look of cork. Some of the colored cork doesn’t even resemble cork, but rather a tile or painted floor—with plenty of added comfort. Cork flooring patterns are natural and geometric at the same time, for those looking for an edgier option.

“Overall, it’s one of the healthiest building materials out there,” says Sundgren.

Recycled countertops

Though the thought of a recycled countertop may not be as alluring as quartz, you may change your mind once you see the options. You may not find an exact marble lookalike, but recycled countertops are twice as interesting as traditional options.

Case in point: high-density paper countertops. If you think paper could never be a durable countertop option, you’re not alone — but you have to hold it in your hands to believe it. It’s reminiscent of soapstone and looks like a smooth slate. As a non-porous hard surface, it’s surprisingly warmer to the touch than stone alternatives. Like cork, it too comes in a variety of colors.

Another countertop option is recycled glass. A slab can be made of 100 percent recycled glass, but many are approximately 85 percent of the final material — a significant amount. The countertops use all sorts of specially selected, post-consumer glass from curbside recycling, as well as architectural glass or even car windshields. The products range in colors and size of the glass particles, so you can find a look that fits your style while also saving glass from the dump.

Shou Sugi Ban wood siding and paneling

Shou Sugi Ban is an ancient Japanese method of charring the surface of wood to preserve it, make it fire retardant and resistant to rot, insects and decay. The burning process draws out moisture, so the resulting chemical compound protects the wood. Used more in modern architecture, the charred wood makes a statement and is easy to spot.

While it’s used primarily for exterior purposes, it can absolutely be used indoors for decorative purposes, as well. Shou Sugi Ban wood is installed using the same techniques as traditional siding, so installation costs won’t vary. It won’t need paint, sealing or any major care, so it is about as durable of a siding option as you can find. Greenhome Solutions offers a hyper-local option: Douglas Fir from Blakely Island in the San Juan Islands. With a lifespan of up to 80 years, it’s a timeless and naturally beautiful product built to last.

Emma Zimmerman is the marketing specialist at Model Remodel and member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS), and HomeWork is the group’s weekly column. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBAKS’s nearly 3,000 members, write to