Elemental Green is a California-based design firm built on the premise that design should be beautiful and sustainable without sacrificing one for the other and that homeowners and designers should have an easier time choosing building materials and finishes that fit with their environmental values.
Elemental Green just wrapped up a project in Chicago that perfectly represents their mission and Fireclay was fortunate enough to take the lead when it came to the tile. We caught up with Founder and CEO Sheridan Foster to share Elemental Green's story, walk us through this project and their #ecorenovate mission to make sustainable renovation the status quo.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and Elemental Green?
I spent my "first career" in technology, specifically computer and system design. When I left my role as a corporate executive, I started working as an advisor to early-stage startups. As I counseled these entrepreneurs as they sought to change the world, I thought, "I know a problem that needs to be solved. How do we make every house more sustainable?" Obviously, there is a role for building standards and incentives. But there is also a need to educate homeowners, builders, designers, and architects about why choosing better products will bring health benefits for their families, communities, and the planet. So I pulled a team of writers and web designers together and Elemental Green was born.
What inspired you to start Elemental Green? What first piqued your interest in sustainable design?
I had just finished building a house for my family in the Seattle area and had found the experience to be very frustrating. While we went in with a desire to build a healthier, more sustainable home, it was not easy to understand what to look for like specifications, what products were available, or where to source them. My builder was supportive of me coming in with alternatives as long as I had done all of the research myself. So each decision became hours of time spent online and in various showrooms talking to salespeople who sometimes knew less than I did about what made something eco-friendly
How did you first hear about Fireclay Tile?
Fireclay Tile was one of our first discoveries when we started to pull together products to feature on Elemental Green. The wide range of styles, materials, and colors was very inspiring. And the company had really thought through how each part of the manufacturing and use could be the best choices available. So we started with an article sharing some of our Fireclay favorites in 2016. We have revised that original article many times over the last few years as new products and initiatives have come out at Fireclay. When the #EcoRenovate project came up, Fireclay was the first partner we sought out.
What do you love about tile?
Variety is the spice of life! You can find a tile to fit any space and any design aesthetic. It is also durable and in the case of Fireclay tile non-toxic and sustainably manufactured.
Any advice for homeowners and designers working to make their spaces more sustainable?
Understand the tradeoffs that you need to weigh. One of the many reasons I brought Elemental Green to life was to answer the various questions that you need to consider when embarking on a healthy and sustainable home building and renovation project. For example, you need to think about many different attributes and weigh the pros and cons in each area to come up with the right product for you. #1 How is it manufactured? Does it use renewable energy? Does it make efficient use of water? Are the raw materials sustainably sourced? How is manufacturing waste handled? #2 How is it distributed? How far does it need to travel to reach the end-user? Are the carbon emissions being offset? #3 How does it perform in use? Is it healthy and non-toxic in the home? Is it durable? #4 What does end of life look like? Ideally with a durable product it takes a long time to get to end of life. But once you are there, can it be recycled? If it makes it to a landfill will it be an addition that will break down to neutral materials?
Let's talk about #Ecorenovate! Can you tell me about this project? What inspired you to take this on?
I’m an architectural design enthusiast. Always have been. My dad was an architect and as an engineer myself, I’m always fascinated by beautiful structures, whether new or old.” University Park is both unique and historically significant. The twin buildings are rich with stories, challenges and opportunities. They were designed by I.M. Pei and Araldo Cossutta, as part of a revitalization project. The buildings’ unique history served as the perfect backdrop to show how modern sustainable renovations could be combined with the modernist elements of the past to create a healthier living space.
Did you work with a designer?
We worked with a local architect in Chicago, Richard Kasemsarn, whose earlier projects included the Ellis Paasivhaus, to help guide our vision for the renovation. When we were ready to focus on the tiles we took advantage of Fireclay's free designer program. Ariel, Fireclay’s designer, was phenomenal in highlighting various design options to us and sending loads of samples. This was critical as the tiles were going to be a prominent feature in the renovation.
Can you tell me about the space? Is there any story behind it that you want to share? What did you change?
The biggest change was taking out part of two walls to open up the small kitchen to the living and dining area with their enormous bank of windows. That meant that the kitchen became the focal point of the whole renovation. We also updated the tiling in the two bathrooms. Both had been renovated at some point in the past with generic white tile that covered the walls but added nothing to the look. We also found that the original bathroom floor tile from when the building went up was still in reasonable shape. So we kept that in place and with the slightly organic look of the handmade Fireclay tile it went well together.
What type of look or aesthetic were you going for?
We wanted to honor the modernist design of I.M. Pei without being locked into mimicking the decisions he made in 1961. So we could use materials and patterns that he would not have used but that would mesh with the architecture of the building.
How did you come up with your color scheme and design?
We didn't know going into the design which way we would go. Our biggest goal was to pull in elements inspired by the views beyond the striking floor to ceiling windows, such as Lake Michigan, the rooftops of the surrounding buildings and to play off the neutral palette of the University Park buildings themselves.
Let's talk about the kitchen first! What made you choose the Maze for the backsplash? The hexite for the floor?
The Agrarian collection Maze tiles and their vivid design reminded us of Chicago jazz and evoked not crop circles but spinning records, which speaks to my love of music and Chicago’s rich music history. That became the design decision that we used as the basis to expand out into our other selections. That backsplash really does define the space. We used the slip-resistant dark blue velvet on the floor as a neutral that would be easier to keep looking clean. But then we used the surprise of the hexite pattern.
Onto the bathrooms! Let's talk about the main bathroom first. What was the inspiration here?
A cloudy winter view from the windows with the lake below and the sky above made us go with the two-tone bathroom. We wanted a calm space and something that wouldn't make the small space seem claustrophobic.
What made you choose 3x6 glass tiles in King Fisher + Magpie?
When built, the condo had 3x6 tile running vertically in a neutral light brown. That tile was long gone, and not what we would have chosen, but we could replicate the vertical placement in the beautiful glass Kingfisher. Then we grounded it with the "lake" of darker Magpie installed horizontally as a baseboard accent and as mosaic in the pan.
How did the installation process go? Did you face any challenges? Did you work with a tile installer or contractor?
We worked with a contractor who had not used Fireclay tiles before. The most important technique we used on the handmade tile was the dry layout. We would lay the tile out, as we wanted it installed, adjacent to the installation and then the tile installer would move the design intact as he installed it.
Lastly, any other tiles you'd love to use in future projects?
That is a tough question because I don't think there is a single Fireclay pattern that I don't love for some location. The new Block Shop tiles are very unique, and the Sakura and Contemporary collections are all great patterns that I'd really like to use in a project.
Ready to #ecorenovate your own home. Fireclay's sustainable handmade tile is Climate Neutral Certified and uses recycled materials and 100% renewable energy in our manufacturing.