Photo by Jill Tiongco Photography
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By Jesse Bratter, Contributing Editor
The Journey To Elemental Green
When Sheridan Foster embarked on her own journey to build an eco-friendly, sustainable home for her and her family in 2014, she found it difficult to navigate through the available information out there—much of which either felt too technical or too greenwashed.
So she set out to create Elemental Green, a media entity that would make green home building approachable and digestible: a way to break through the green noise that can be found online and distill it down for those who want to go green but might not know where to start or why it’s so important.
A robust media platform of features followed, along with engaging newsletters and informative social media, covering a compendium of sustainable building topics that bring products, trends, and leaders in the industry to the forefront. But one thing was still missing. After all, what better way to really explore going green than through bringing all of this information to life by showing the process in action and sharing an eco-friendly renovation from start to finish?
Renovate, But Make It Eco-Friendly
#EcoRenovate was born from this desire. And so, Elemental Green is opening the doors to the renovation of a penthouse in Chicago’s Hyde Park. Housed within University Park Condominium, a historical landmark icon designed by renowned architects I.M. Pei and Araldo Cossutta in the 1960s, the condo unit affords stunning views of Lake Michigan and a gorgeous framework on which we could lay our sustainable favorites.
Sheridan Foster is the CEO of Elemental Green. She founded the company after a career as a computer engineer and technology executive with companies such as Sony Electronics, IBM Research, Prime Computer, and Microsoft. Elemental Green merges her leadership in tech with her passion for green home building. Sheridan is a LEED Green Associate.
Image: University Park Condominium Exterior ⓒElemental Green
RESPECTING THE PAST
The commanding modernist towers make innovative use of a curtain wall to foster a light-filled apartment, where we are renovating the kitchen, two bathrooms, and living room, making them more health-minded, energy-efficient and environmentally conscious. And, we wanted to ensure the brands we curated not only follow responsible manufacturing practices but also make a positive social impact. Joining forces with local architect Richard Kasemsarn, Elemental Green set out to bring the historic home into the future while respecting its origins—which is a tenet of sustainability in itself after all. Read on as Sheridan takes us through the process of #EcoRenovate.
Q: Why did you decide to take on #EcoRenovate?
A: I’ve had it in mind to create a branded renovation project to document through Elemental Green for some time. #EcoRenovate is a way for us to put our advocacy into action and showcase the vast number of different settings where sustainable upgrades are plausible—in this case, an urban locale. Chicago and the Hyde Park area specifically are going through a period of great transition. There are a number of sustainability projects with wonderful backstories. So, it seemed like the right step to bring our #EcoRenovate vision to life and create a digital show home so all could see the process, brands, materials and opportunities available for creating a healthy home, whether you’re in the city, in the suburbs or in the countryside.
Q: What spoke to you about this specific building?
A: University Park began as an urban renewal project by I.M. Pei and Araldo Cossutta in the 1960s and has since been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its architecture led the way for many techniques that became mainstream such as using the window frames themselves as the structure. This iconic building is ready for its next, more sustainable phase of life. We recognized our opportunity to update this unit as part of the new kind of urban renewal happening all across Chicago—an eco-friendly living space, designed for the future.
Q: How did you come to work with the consulting architect, Richard Kasemsarn, on #EcoRenovate?
A: There are a lot of resources out there that greenwash sustainability efforts. Richard Kasemsarn is the architect of record for the nearby Ellis Passivhaus renovation (Illinois’ first Passive House Institute-certified building), so I knew he truly understood what it means to be green and would be the perfect partner for this undertaking.
Q: Of the many sustainable selections you’re making during this process, what truly speaks to Chicago for you?
A: We are thoroughly enjoying the design and planning process, sorting and vetting samples, working with brand designers and exploring all the many colors, patterns and products that we could incorporate into the design. In much the same way our audiences learn from Elemental Green about the best brands, products and services for green building and eco-friendly home design, I am also constantly learning about the best existing and emerging brands. That’s why one of the hardest things to do in this process is distill the many great sustainable options down to selections that matched our vision and aesthetic. When selecting tiles for the kitchen, we knew we wanted something bold and unique from Fireclay Tile. I’ve always admired their handmade quality, and the lengths they go to as a brand to ensure earth-friendly manufacturing processes. Not to mention their focus on social impact. The designers introduced me to some playful designs—one in particular was intended to represent an aerial view of midwestern circular crops. But as an element of surprise, when the patterns are rearranged, they can look like the revolution of a vinyl record. Chicago, of course, has a rich music history rooted in blues, jazz and funk, so this Fireclay tile pattern is a fun way to celebrate that heritage and really evokes a sense of place.
Q: How can readers make eco decisions that are beneficial to the environment as opposed to harming it?
A: There has never been a better nor easier time to sustainably build and renovate. More and more traditional brands are increasing their focus on environmentally friendly, sustainable products and business practices. There are incentives for building sustainably, whether rebates on clean energy or securing sustainable certifications.
Q: What’s your vision for the future of #EcoRenovate? Do you see it morphing into other renovations?
A: Our goals, in addition to continuing to offer meaningful content on our site, is to leverage #EcoRenovate to tell the stories of other homeowners—renovators of their own sustainability journeys. And, we will continue to champion the architects, designers, brands and industry professionals who are helping to make sustainable building the green standard for residential projects.
Q: Aside from the Fireclay tiles in the kitchen, can you tell us about any of the other changes you’re making to the penthouse?
A: Yes, Fireclay will also be used in the main bathroom and guest bathroom. Likewise, we are partnering with brands like French Cabinetry, Recolor paints, Earth Weave Carpet Mills, Plyboo, The Shade Store, Dekton by Cosentino, Avocado Green Mattress, and Signa System window retrofitters to make the penthouse beautiful and healthier. We’ll showcase the process as well as the eco-friendly home design brands that will furnish the penthouse and bring it to life.
Q: Why is educating readers about sustainable building important to you?
A: I’m passionate about sharing sustainable building and design solutions with our audiences. I want everyone to have a clear path to creating a more sustainable and healthy home for themselves and their families. Elemental Green’s goal is to lift the veil on what can sometimes be an overwhelming process and demystify green building. Inspiring more and more people to embark on their own sustainable journey, positively impacts the health and well-being of their family, the community, and the planet.