Home & Garden

Green kitchens in any color: Area artisans combine recycling, renovations

Recycling in the kitchen can mean more than sorting cans and bottles – think transforming outdated cabinets with a custom finish and topping them with handcrafted counters featuring locally recycled glass.

South Sound artisans Tristan Litke and Kyle Contris are skilled at helping homeowners add such eco-friendly flair to their kitchen renovations.

Here’s a look at what they do:


Homeowners seeking eco-friendly countertops with just the right hues to harmonize with other kitchen materials can turn to a custom fabricator such as ConCreations in Olympia.

Kyle Contris and his carpenter father, Mark Contris, take an artisan’s approach to crafting concrete counters for South Sound homeowners. Their counters are available in a myriad of colors and can be infused with recycled materials such as glass, metal and shells.

Customers get “a truly unique design experience,” Kyle Contris said. “They’re actively part of the process; they’re not just picking something out of a catalog.” Instead, they can choose from the company’s existing samples or have their own samples created, even from a photo or a solid-surface sample they’ve picked up elsewhere. “It’s artistic for them and it’s artistic for us, because each thing we’re making is different,” Contris said.

The father and son began their concrete venture five years ago, when Kyle Contris was a student at The Evergreen State College. They started with small items, such as coffee tables, later expanding to countertops. “We kind of got addicted to it. It’s a really fun medium,” Kyle Contris said. “We just started looking into the different materials you could use, the ways you could make it unique. That’s where the addiction is – you can’t stop figuring out new ways to do this,” he said.

The company’s concrete-and-recycled glass counters look similar to quartz products, but “this is 80 percent recycled material,” using glass obtained in the Olympia and Seattle areas, Contris said.

The availability of a homegrown product for kitchen renovation is appealing to South Sound homeowners looking for ways to lessen their impact on the environment. “It seems like people who appreciate the idea of a green product appreciate the idea of a local product, too,” Contris said.

Once homeowners settle on a color combination, a template of their counters is created. Back in the ConCreations shop, “we actually make a form that fits your kitchen exactly and we pour the concrete in your form,” which means no extra waste, Contris said. A urethane sealer is applied in the shop; he touts it as a one-time application that leaves the concrete “virtually stain-proof.” As for maintenance, concrete will resist bleach, but the surface and the sealer can be scratched, so steel wool and abrasive pads shouldn’t be used, Contris said.

Cost is about $110 to $125 per square foot installed; without the recycled glass, prices start at $90 a square foot, he said. Customers are favoring earth tones or a white background mixed with a variety of glass colors; mother-of-pearl is another popular additive.


Lots of kitchens have outdated cabinets that are still in perfectly good shape. And if homeowners are happy with their kitchen’s layout, they can save big bucks by refinishing instead of replacing the cabinets, says Tristan Litke, owner of Northwest Refinishing in Tacoma.

“Kitchens are expensive,” Litke said, noting that new cabinets for an average kitchen can run $20,000, plus “$6,000 to $7,000 for the finish that goes on them.”

Litke has been refinishing cabinets and furniture for 21 years. He can take yellowed oak cabinets, fill the grain, then paint and glaze them to create a European look. Cabinets can also be restained, allowing homeowners to trade in oak, maple or other wood looks for today’s more popular cherry or mahogany finishes. He’s even repainted melamine cabinets. “I can’t imagine any cabinets that I can’t refinish,” he said.

Besides getting a custom finish, keeping cabinets can be a green way to go. “That’s a lot of lumber to just throw away,” Litke said. “You can probably save a whole tree if you keep your kitchen.”

That doesn’t mean an artisan finish is inexpensive. A paint-and-glaze finish can run $5,000 to $6,000 in an average-size kitchen, and about $8,000 in a large kitchen, Litke said. Most of the time, he can prime and apply lacquer finish right over the old finish, but if stripping is needed, it can add $1,200 to $1,500 to the cost.

Cabinet boxes are prepped and refinished in place, while doors and drawers are refinished at Litke’s shop. Part of the refinishing process involves sanding edges and filling gaps between cabinets to provide a uniform appearance. “People are usually amazed at how much tighter the cabinets look. They look perfect,” Litke said. “You really do feel like you have a new kitchen when it’s done.”

Litke is always experimenting with finish colors, but said customers tend to favor his antique white-ish base coat, glazed in grays or browns. The glaze darkens the base coat a couple of shades while highlighting details on the cabinets.

“The colors that I’ve worked out tend to be fairly neutral,” Litke said, explaining that they complement a variety of wall colors as well as the granite slab countertops chosen by many homeowners.

He can recreate any finish a customer sees in a magazine, but he also enjoys more original projects. “We’ve created a lot of different crazy finishes that people have come up with,” Litke said. And he’s begun dabbling in artistic lacquering – painting designs such as leaves, vines and grasses on cabinet doors.

Although many people have become bolder in color choices elsewhere in their homes, “they have a very odd existence with their kitchen; they’re afraid to go too far,” Litke said. “I encourage homeowners to put a little bit of their own flavor in there, too.”