Betsy Scott and Blair Costello, a designer specializing in healthy materials & kitchen design, talk health and wellness as it relates to design and tech...
Designs are transforming how our kitchens look, function, and most importantly, how they support healthy eating and living. A fascinating dive into the possibilities of technology and design. Learn more at Vera Iconica and Vera Iconica Wellness Kitchen.
Many thanks to our partners at the University of Denver for their editing and post-production talents, specifically Lija Miller and Lisette Zamora-Galarza.
The University of Denver Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management, teaches the full life cycle of the built environment. From integrated project leadership skills to a cohesive understanding of the built environment ––experience the only school of its kind!
"Upbeat Party" is brought to you by Scott Holmes, songwriter from Free Music Archive.
Speaker 1 (00:06):
You're listening to the Housing Innovation Alliance podcast in partnership with the university of Denver's Franklin L burns school of real estate and construction management. The housing innovation Alliance is a nationwide community of game changers driving the future of home delivery through crowd accelerated innovation. We represent thought leaders from dirt to dweller with a focus on the production builders business environment.
Speaker 2 (00:33):
Hi, I'm Betsy Scott with the housing innovation Alliance. We're in the midst of our healthy home series, bringing you insights from builders, designers, technology, experts, and others on how to deliver healthier homes and communities. I'm excited to be sitting here today with Blair Castello, a lead designer, specializing in indoor environments and healthy materials at Vera Iconica architecture, a global firm that specializes in the art and science of wellness architecture. Blair has led nationally recognized residential and commercial projects such as the Vera Iconica wellness kitchen. Their kitchen concept is an integral part of the wit a living lab. The home focused on innovation, technology and wellness within Tabba stocks like no-no community in Orlando, Florida. Welcome Blair, thank you so much, Betsy and excited to be here. So let's start off with a softball. Why are you passionate about creating healthier living environments? Well, in all reality, I'm passionate about it because it's sort of a human right, you know, to live as best we can and to take care of ourselves and for how much time we spend indoors, you know, which typically it's about 90% of our lives.
Speaker 2 (01:39):
Um, these really need to be supportive healing environments that don't deplete your existence. Absolutely. So as a designer, you look at all aspects of the built environment, but why was the kitchen such a passion project for you? Well, the kitchen is such a passion project for me in our, in our firm in general, because it's the heart of the home, right? So much happens in a kitchen, whether that's, you know, preparing food or you're gathering in a social context. And really every element of your life is touched in the kitchen space. And it also provides a great opportunity for enhanced living, you know, through design. It's one of the most complex, highly designed spaces in a home for that matter, you know, there's appliances there, cabinetry, and you're using it, you know, three to five, if not more times in a single day. So it really is this incubated space of impact and how that your life can be improved.
Speaker 2 (02:32):
Uh, I certainly spend a lot of time in my kitchen. I know before the wellness kitchen, kitchen design hadn't really changed much in the last 50 or so years. So, uh, when you were looking at it from a health and wellness perspective, what priorities were you setting when you embarked in the design process? Well, we kind of thought a lot about how, you know, in our modern society, people are kind of going back towards history with how we're preparing harvesting forging foods and leading more or rather living more natural organic lifestyles. And so for the last 50 or so years, the kitchens were really designed around processed foods that were had a long shelf life versus these living foods that we're trying to consume in a matter of days after they're harvested. So a lot of what we're trying to do here is improving the convenience around preparing these nutrient rich whole food diets. So whether that's figuring out a way for your food to last longer, so you're not wasting as much, or even just making it a more enjoyable experience to prepare the food and see what you can do with what's available to you in your local community, from your local farmer or your own backyard.
Speaker 3 (03:43):
Great. So what are the major design changes that you implemented over a traditional kitchen approach? Like what are the kinds of things that you tinkered with and then maybe some of the actual design solutions that you implemented?
Speaker 2 (03:57):
Well, we like to think about essentially five key areas of innovation in the wellness kitchen, you know, delivery, storage, prep, cook, and clean up. And some of the ways in which we've thought about delivery, for example, is factoring in how people are getting meals delivered from companies like blue apron or Amazon whole foods delivery. And so, and you're not always there for that, but beyond that, you know, people are growing more food at home or providing the opportunity for that. We improved areas around storage, you know, we're trying to innovate and create rather, these are prototypes what you see in the Whit kitchen, um, climate controlled cabinetry. So you can have better control of the shelf life of your foods, and even make each every one of the compartments, the different temperature or humidity level, depending on what you're storing in there. We considered how people prepare food and trying to make that as easy and seamless as possible.
Speaker 2 (04:50):
So we have innovative prep surfaces with sliding boards and rinse racks brother that we can slide right into your sink or over your compost bin. We've partnered with some people in regards to the cooking aspect, you know, in the Whit house, there was the, um, uh, GE innovative cooktop, which was induction. It had sort of recipes built right in, it could auto feed your grocery list, but some of our, their Iconica wellness kitchen components around the cooking sphere, talk a lot about having multiple kinds, rather of cooking modalities, whether it's over the fire or over induction or over gas. And, you know, so you can bring in more cultural influences to the way that you cook and the way you eat. And then again, with cleanup and disposal, you know, we have integrated compost bin. I think it's becoming more and more commonplace knowledge, how much food is wasted in our American society and around the world.
Speaker 2 (05:36):
And so trying to encourage composting and making it easy for people right there with the cleanup, but then also the flow of the design, having your dishwasher within arms reach of where you put your dishes away. And also how, when you're doing that, you don't want to be in the way of people preparing food so that multiple people can be in the kitchen at one time making it a real social activity that brings people together. You know, whether you're all, or they're all preparing, whether you're all feasting or even just sharing and setting the table.
Speaker 3 (06:02):
Well, it is interesting to hear you talk about thinking about where people are moving. It's almost an orchestra in the kitchen, not bumping into each other, being able to do multiple things at the same time, find it interesting. I didn't get a chance to see it actually working live. We actually went to see the wit the day that they were installing that cooktop from GE and there was something there about the surface remaining. Cool. And you would move a pan and the heating element would follow the pan. So just really, there've been a lot of crazy advancements in, in the cooking space and in, in the technology, in that space over the last several years. So what roles does smart technologies, you talked a bit about, you know, maybe sensors in the cabinet tree to create different humidity levels, different temperature levels. What other kinds of smart technology were you looking at as part of the wellness kitchen?
Speaker 2 (06:56):
Well, it's kind of amazing. You know, tech today kind of can touch every aspect of your life. And in the Whit kitchen, we've partnered with an a two FIA kitchen garden that is an indoor hydroponic system that produces enough to feed a family of four a week, apologies for getting my data wrong. But I think it's a number of sales a week, for example, in this 24 inch wide compartment of living food, you know, you can grow herbs, you can grow vegetables right there at your fingertips. Beyond that we've partnered with the lighting science group and there is some UV bacteria killing lights so that, you know, when you're not in the room, they do have a human sensor that essentially turns UVS off. So it doesn't disrupt your head cells, but they clean the surfaces at a bacterial level, um, which especially with global pandemics going on, I think is an even more reassuring aspect that someone could add to their home and their kitchen. And yes, of course, innovative things like we mentioned with an induction cooktop, smart refrigerators with, you know, change state glass. So you could see what's there, but then instantly with the wave of your hand, shall we say, hide the marinating meat?
Speaker 3 (07:59):
Yeah. We don't want to see that on the regular, but I do think, you know, I have found just being home and cooking more often that I forget about things that are in my refrigerator. So the idea of the transparency of it, I would think would also allow you to waste less food. So we know your wellness kitchen better supports people's health. What other measurable benefits do you think? Like if you're an end consumer that you get out of that process, if you, if you have a wellness kitchen.
Speaker 2 (08:29):
Yeah. Well, I mean, if you think about health in a broader sense of the word and how health is this holistic understanding of a complete wellbeing, right? We've been truly believe that the kitchen can improve your physical, mental, spiritual, environmental, and financial wellbeing. You know, you touched upon earlier food waste or rector. We touched upon food waste earlier by limiting that and reducing those numbers, you've improved your financial bottom line. You're not putting money into things that you don't even consume and you know, a lot more and more energy efficient appliances. That's also a smart financial move. You think about your mental wellbeing, having clear spaces organized with reduced clutter improves your stress, right? It, it doesn't add to it and also making this environment a social place. Cause we all know, like we talked about before everyone gathers in the kitchen, this warm, inviting space that brings people together. So really highlighting the fact that it's the heart of the home. So make it easy for people to prepare food with love together and to make it a comfortable space, to gather supports your social wellbeing. And that I think that's beyond the obvious improvements around healthier food. And those are some, I think surprising elements that are impacted through the wellness kitchen
Speaker 3 (09:40):
Is a wellness kitchen, a high price upgrade, or, or can it attribute to the attainability of housing as well?
Speaker 2 (09:48):
I think that it can be something that's brought to the masses and attainable affordable option. You know, if you look at exactly what we put in the Whit house that is a higher priced item, it has many of the bells and whistles that we're talking about and higher cost finishes, but there's so much to be said for designing the flow of the space. And there are other hardwoods that also improve the hybrid capacity of your space. And don't add toxins to your environment that aren't wire brushed white Oak. While on one hand, it can be a very high priced element of your house. It doesn't have to be that, you know, healthy living is, is available to everybody and that the wellness kitchen can be curated to meet everyone's budgetary needs.
Speaker 3 (10:29):
So if a builder wanted to get started delivering wellness kitchen as part of their offering, what are the top three things you suggest that they would do first
Speaker 2 (10:39):
Little plug here, we're looking to partner with our production home builder to make this more attainable for the masses. It's working with a design professional, who's spent the better part of their adult lives, focusing on how design can improve, you know, your daily rituals, you know, the flow of the space, but I'd say some primary things to keep in mind. And this, this extends beyond the wellness kitchen. You know, it's think a lot about the materials you're using, what additional toxins are there that could be avoided. For example, you know, don't use a highly composite material that's laid in with toxic glues or fallates in plastics. And, you know, you can find better materials to build with, and especially where you're storing your food and you're eating all the time. That's really a place you don't want any additional toxins.
Speaker 3 (11:23):
So I have to remember that with kids and even us grownups will spill something on the counter and just pick it up and eat it on not thinking about, you know, the, the cleaning materials that were used or maybe some of the materials in the, in those finishes as well. It might be pretty, but it might be pretty bad.
Speaker 2 (11:43):
It has a multiple definitions in that regard when you were just speaking that I think is another important thing for builders to keep in mind. It's proper practices for installing a product, you know, was reading, I think last year about a particular countertop material that was known to be causing all of this extreme lung damage. And it sort of can be in the fine print with how to properly cut the material, for example. So you don't have all these particles entering the lungs of the installer. You know, so I'd say a lot to with builders is yes, the materials that you're working with in regard to how they'll impact the end user, but of course, how you and your team are impacted in the manufacturing and construction process when things are being cut and dust is being created and what you're breathing in on the job site.
Speaker 3 (12:29):
Absolutely great point to add. Are there any other projects that you're working on that you can highlight for us in the healthy homes and community space since you do things beyond just the kitchen?
Speaker 2 (12:39):
Yeah. You know, our wellness aspects really can touch every element of the home. And, um, some exciting things we've been working on lately is the, uh, multifamily wellness community in California. We have some hospitality projects also in California. We've got, I'd say actually in the last few years, it's been really exciting that more and more clients are coming to us directly for our wellness specialty. And prior to that, you know, there's certain levels of what we do that we are, we guarantee for all of our projects, whether people necessarily ask for it or not, you know, we're going to put in a healthiest installation, we can and limit as many toxins as we possibly can without asking, you know, like this is, this is our standard because we don't believe that option X is the right choice for you, you as the inhabitant or the planet in the long run. But yeah, no, it's been really exciting as the last few years, you know, I've been with the company six years and we've really been able to broaden our offering and people are seeing what we can do and are coming to us for that. Now, whether it's private, residential, multi-family residential workspaces and hospitality projects.
Speaker 3 (13:42):
Well, when you're further along the road with the multifamily project, we'd love for you to send us a link or an update on where that lands, because we're certainly looking at continuing to look at a lot of the healthy projects and profiling those as they come around.
Speaker 2 (13:57):
Yeah. We'd be happy to it's exciting work. Cause you know, you know, you brought this up earlier with the question about, is the wellness kitchen, a high price tag product. The more we bring these opportunities to people into the country and the world, like the more affordable they'll become and the more opportunities there will be for multi-family projects, work, live projects and so on. So it is exciting and they'll be happy to share it with you when we're further along and have the go ahead.
Speaker 3 (14:22):
Um, so what do you think are the biggest opportunities for innovation in wellness architecture over the next five years? Yeah, that's a good one. We like to, as an innovation group, we like to leave everyone we interview with the forward looking challenge to say from your perspective and what your area of specialty is, what do you think the future of the industry looks like?
Speaker 2 (14:47):
Interestingly, I think the future of the industry is this beautiful marriage of cutting edge tech and really natural low-tech materials and methods. You know, in my opinion, the less adulterated a product or material is the healthier it is for people in the planet, but at the same time, rather, you know, we want to keep moving forward, implementing the latest technologies out there because we have these amazing sensor central abilities. Now with technology that can tell you the air quality in an instant, you know, and either increase or decrease the frequency of air exchanges in your home. I was reading an article a few years ago about people who are studying the way plants relate to the sun. And so using the plants knowledge of what's happening in their environment to inform how it's impacting us as humans or how our light levels are changing or should be changing with the circadian rhythms to better, to better support our hormone production throughout the day.
Speaker 2 (15:42):
You know, I think that there's a lot coming in regard to healthy lighting and reduce toxins in the indoor environment, better air exchange systems. But yeah, it's sort of a complicated, convoluted answer, but a synergistic blend of simple and snazzy high-tech that helps inform our behavior as natural beings. I don't know. That's pretty good stance on it. That works for me. It's really aligned with what you guys do. And I really appreciate your taking the time to chat with me today and, uh, excited to share what we learned with talking with you. I spoke to Fred on Wednesday of this week too. So he mentioned some of this stuff in the, in the kitchen project as well. Yeah. Thank you so much, Betsy,
Speaker 1 (16:31):
On behalf of the Housing Innovation Alliance and the University of Denver, this is Dr. Eric Holt. Thank you for being part of our journey. This is where innovation calls home.