When the Museum of Science and Technology in Chicago wanted a “smart” house on their grounds to showcase energy-efficient and healthy living at its best, architect Michelle Kaufmann was a natural choice to design it.  After all, her passion for sustainability, coupled with an impeccable eye for style and plenty of award-winning projects under her belt, has made Michelle an authority on good green design.  The Smart Home: Green and Wired exhibit has inspired thousands of visitors with its perfect mix of high and low-tech green building techniques, materials and gadgets in a friendly, modern setting.

Current and recent projects for Michelle Kaufmann Studio include a sustainable neighborhood, a co-housing complex for some very with-it Franciscan nuns, and several private residences for green-minded clients.  With so much hands-on experience with many of the materials and technologies we write about here at Jetson Green, I was eager to pick Michelle’s brain.

I proposed a series of open-ended questions starting with “What is the one green product …”, hoping the busy designer would find it a fun, thought-provoking exercise.  Luckily she did — and I hope you find her responses as illuminating and insightful as I have!

Photo credit: Garret Curtis

What’s the one green product …

… every home would have in a perfect world?  Living roof that produces food for the family in the home.

Living roof on the Smart Home. Photo credit: John Swain

… as stylish as it is sustainable?  Reclaimed wood.  Whether it is a live-edge dining table or wood flooring from wine barrels, material that has a history to it, a tactile memory, plus a lengthened life.  So lovely.

Live-edge ash table featured in the Smart Home. Photo credit: JB Spector

… that will be a game-changer?   Systems like Aqus that can make gray water easy, even in retrofit situations. Water is our next oil, our next scarce resource.  Products that help us get maximum use out of each drop will be successful. 

Graywater concept courtesy of Michelle Kaufmann

… to deliver the most bang for its buck?  The learning thermostat by Nest.

Photo courtesy of Nest

… to surpass your expectations?  No-VOC paints.  So happy to see most of the big companies now (finally) offer no-VOC options in all of their colors.  

Smart Home (right, photo by JB Spector) features Benjamin Moore's Natura line, a zero-VOC premium paint exceeding LEED and Green Seal GS-11 standards . Newcomers to the U.S. paint scene, like San Marco USA (left) and Unearthed Paint, promote all-natural, non-toxic finishes in the European tradition

… so clever/amazing/beautiful you wish you had invented it?   Solar Ivy, the solar panels that behave like leaves. 

Solar Ivy uses photovoltaic technology and piezoelectrics to form "leaves" that can be colored for aesthetic effect and angled for maximum solar collection.

… you include on every project without exception?  Healthy materials and systems. It is criminal not to as a designer or builder.

The Smart Home is so energy-efficient and healthy, it is considered "The Greenest Home in Chicago". Photo credit: JB Spector

… you’ve been dying for the opportunity to work into a project?  A living wall that would create the home’s food, and purify the water and the air at the same time. I love when something beautiful has multiple uber beneficial functions.

Rendering by MK of varying types of bio-walls

… you’d want to have if you were stranded on a deserted island?  Solar charged water purifier — that could hopefully charge my iPhone too!

To learn more about Michelle Kaufmann, please visit her website.