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Small-Scale Kitchen Cookware

By Maria Saxton Rise Writer
Dec 10, 2020

The residential building sector is responsible for an astounding 27% of global energy consumption. CO2 emissions in homes generally come from the energy required for heating and cooling, lighting, appliances, and other electrical equipment. The environmental impacts from homes are even more significant if the CO2 emissions from the manufacture, transportation, and demolition of building materials are considered. 

Large House

Environmental Impact of Large Homes

In recent years, the building trend has been to "go big." New homes in the United States have the biggest average square footage compared to any other country in the world. Large houses can be considered a symbol of status. In recent decades, home size has also increased. In 1973, the average square footage of a newly constructed home in the US was 1,660 square feet. In 2017, the average was 2,631 square feet - a 63% increase. 

This substantial increase in home size causes several detrimental environmental impacts. These include loss of land, increased pollution, and ecosystem fragmentation, and many other negative consequences. Building size is one of the most significant predictors of energy consumption for a building.

Pros and Cons of Tiny Homes

Tiny homes are developing as a potential solution to reduce building material waste and excessive consumption within the residential industry. Tiny houses also counter housing trends of recent decades, which have often valued quantity over quality. Tiny homes fit most, if not all, functions of a large house in 400 square feet or less. 

Research has found that tiny homes promote substantially smaller environmental impacts. For instance, my study found that those who downsize to tiny houses experience a 45% decrease in their ecological footprints on average. This data found that downsizing can influence many lifestyle attributes such as diet, transportation habits, purchasing, and recycling. 

One drawback to tiny home living is the associated space constraints in such a small home. My research found that there are some unintended consequences of downsizing to such small houses. One major drawback I found was that downsizers often use their kitchens less, and as a result, cook less often. This reduction in home cooking is due to smaller kitchens and less storage space for kitchenware and bulk food items. From an environmental standpoint, this was a negative of downsizing. Going out to eat or ordering takeout is almost always more resource-intensive than cooking at home. 

This unintended consequence begs the question, how can it be more comfortable for those living in smaller spaces to continue functioning as if they are in a traditionally-sized home? There is a need for a redesign of kitchenware and other housewares to fit smaller spaces. This is not only important for tiny home dwellers but also for those in micro-apartments, condos, etc.  

What Brands Make Small Scale Cookware?

We've discovered several companies that have addressed kitchenware for small spaces. Here are a few of our favorites:

Ensembl Logo

Meet Ensembl: An Innovative Design Company 

Ensembl is a thought-leader in the home goods industry. They create products that empower homeowners to do more with less. 

I spoke with Kate Swanson, founder and CEO of Ensembl. Kate shared that Ensembl can meet the needs of housing changes by creating multifunctional housewares that fit the spaces where we live. "Ensembl was born to solve my problem – I was living in a tiny, Toronto condo and struggled with storage, especially in the kitchen. But small homes – that is becoming the new normal. It surprised me that I could not find high-quality housewares, especially kitchenware, built to accommodate a smaller space. The industry response was 'just use one pan' or 'wait until you move to a bigger home before you buy the good stuff.' It really irritated me. It was like they were saying, 'if you want a small home, you should accept that you can't do certain things like cook well.' It felt like the industry was telling me not to bother finding a solution because this lifestyle may be temporary'. But this is how I plan to live – and how millions of people live. There is a real limit to what we can do at home without owning more products. And we desperately need something better than what is out there now."

Ensembl's debut product, Stackware, aims to tackle what Kate describes as "the most obvious problem in a small, modern home: pots and pans. We want people to make more food, make food to share, make enough for leftovers. And living in a tiny home – or condo, apartment, townhouse, etc. should not be a barrier."

STACKWARE by ensembl
Stackware. Photo Credit: Ensembl

Stackware features six full-size, fully functional high-performance cooking vessels, made to nest in the footprint of one - taking up just 1/5th of the space required by traditional products.

STACKWARE Cooking
Stackware Cooking. Photo Credit: Ensembl

Ensembl has engineered removable handles and a lid that lies flat – this makes nesting possible. However, unlike camping-style cookware (which also employs a removable handle), Stackware is fully clad. Fully clad means each piece is made using discs of fused stainless steel and aluminum for even, responsive heat. The result: you can cook incredible food. "And isn't that the point? If you can serve a delicious meal, you'll want to cook more!"

In creating Stackware, Kate insisted that the product goes beyond a single function. So she looked at the broader experience we have around food. In particular, she considered what we've come to expect in a large, traditional home. Stackware is purpose-built to accommodate serving meals, storing, then reheating leftovers – all in a single vessel, eliminating the need to own additional, single-use products. This level of multi-functionality enables those living in small spaces to do more because they have one product that can do the job of three or four. 

Ensembl is bringing innovative, functional design to the often stagnant housewares category. It is creating quality products that are highly functional yet made to take up less space. The company hopes this can be a real solution for those living in small areas.

Proclamation Goods

Proclamation Goods: A Powerhouse Duo

Based in San Francisco, Proclamation Goods packs the utility of a 10-piece set into 'The Proclamation Duo.' With a hybrid pot, sidekick skillet, and a matching lid for both, this small set packs a punch! Hinge together the pot and skillet, and you've got yourself a dutch oven setup. 

ProclamationGoods
Photo Credit: Proclamation Goods

According to its website, Proclamation Goods rejects all chemical coatings, providing toxin-free cookware. They incorporated a nitrogen heat treatment to give an all-natural low-stick cooking solution. They also work with a supply chain that 'prioritizes the environment and fair working conditions. 

If you prefer minimalist cookware, The Proclamation Duo may be an excellent choice for you. The set, designed with stainless steel and an aluminum core, is built to last. It is also dishwasher safe, making the cleanup process easy. Also, the set stacks together to take up a portion of shelf space compared to traditional cookware. Cook more, with less. 

The reviews on the Proclamation Goods website speak for themselves! Consumers seem to love these products. 

Abbio

Abbio: All Your Kitchen Needs

The Abbio cookware products are engineered for daily use and pain-free cleanup. Similar to Stackware, these products have fully-clad steel and aluminum construction. They are tri-ply, too, meaning that there are multiple layers of steel and aluminum to give a solidly constructed piece. With a natural non-stick surface and scratch-resistant purchase, these products aim to last a lifetime. 

Abbio Set
Photo Credit: Abbio

With Abbio, you can buy a full set or individual pieces. While not dishwasher recommended, they are still straightforward to clean. Abbio sells the core items you need to cook a delicious meal, which no unnecessary pieces. 

Unlike Stackware and the Proclamation Duo, however, the Abbio set is not designed to stack together. So, if you are tight on physical space to store your cookware, you may want to look at a stackable set. Alternatively, you could buy individual pieces based on your cooking needs. 

Abbio has been vetted by quite a few groups like Business Insider, Allrecipes, and Travel & Leisure, proving its popularity among reviewers. As Forbes shared, "Best of all, the Abbio Set proves that you don't need to register for that pricey fifteen-piece set when five items will do just fine."'

Sustainability: Buying Products Built to Last 

If we look at products made for smaller homes in the past, the focus was mostly on space-efficiency. Product quality often took a backseat. However, low-quality products do not last and frequently need replacement. If we're serious about adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, product longevity is a necessary part of the conversation. What is the environmental impact of replacing a product? Does the used item end up in the landfill? How long does the replacement last? What is the effect of repurchasing that product throughout your lifetime? These questions should apply to both the homes we live in and the products we purchase for them.

For most products, the most sustainable option is to purchase one product and make it last. Currently, many product manufacturers are making this unrealistic. In essence, they are creating products built to be discarded after a relatively short time. However, it is more sustainable to find products that can be repaired rather than those that will require an outright replacement if one part fails.

CookingWithProclamation_vxnpey
Photo Credit: Proclamation Goods

Stackware, Kate tells me, comes with a lifetime warranty, thanks to the high-quality, fully-clad steel and aluminum used to make each vessel. The Proclamation Duo also comes with a lifetime guarantee, while the Abbio set has a one-year warranty. 

Abbio
Photo Credit: Abbio

How Much Does Small Space Cookware Cost?

Costs are another consideration when researching the appropriate cookware for your home. The most affordable option is the Abbio set for $287. The set includes a small and large non-stick skillet, stockpot, saute pan, and saucepan with lids. Next is the Proclamation Duo that comes in at $379 for the stainless-steel set ($395 for the carbon steel set). For the full set of Stackware, the total cost is about $750 (and half sets run between $369 and $529). Despite higher upfront costs than conventional cookware, the goal is for you to own Stackware for life. 

What Cookware Brands Can Be Repaired, Rather Than Replaced?

Stackware made a removable handle was purpose-built to be repairable (rather than replaced). "It would cost less to replace a worn-out handle outright. Plus, the long-term environmental impact of tossing something worn in exchange for something brand new is massive. We should be repairing, and we should be demanding the companies we buy from are creating products that allow for repairs," Kate of Ensembl shares. 

Why Avoid Cookware With Non-Stick Coatings?

In contrast, cookware made with coatings - like ceramic or other non-stick compounds - automatically has a short, defined lifespan. Coatings don't last forever. And once they start to chip or scratch, they're not only likely to lose their non-stick properties but may leach toxins from the coating into the air and food. "Coated cookware is a product that, by design, needs to be replaced every few years. That is not a sustainable option."

STACKWARE by ensembl on counter
Stackware on Counter. Photo Credit: Ensembl

If the aim is to be sustainable, we need to look for products that last.

Sustainable Cookware Supply Chain

When we think about sustainability, we need to think about how our products are made. "When you buy a product, where are the materials sourced from? Where is it made? How is it transported? How is it stored? What is it packed in? Each step here impacts the environment. If you have to buy that product two, three, four, or more times – the impact is continuously repeated," says Kate Swanson of Ensembl.

One of the most visible areas to a consumer is the packaging. Is the packaging made from recycled materials, is it free from single-use plastics, and can it be reused? Kate shared that Ensembl has sourced compostable bags made from corn husks to wrap Stackware in – a new alternative to plastic, poly bags. These bags can be composted or used as compost bags. "We're trying to make as much of the packaging reusable, not just recyclable. And that is an easy step for brands to take, and something everyone should be doing."

Less visible is the source of materials that make up a product. Many companies are creating products out of recycled plastics to reuse and reduce the creation of new plastic. In the context of cookware, the metals used are mined. But where are they mined? What measures have been put in place to minimize adverse environmental impacts? Can sustainably-sourced metals be used? "I'll admit that, at this stage for Ensembl, this is an area we don't have a lot of visibility into. But it's something we want to be transparent about, and our goal is to be able to show customers the mines where the metals that create Stackware come from. No one in the industry does this right now; it would be great to lead that effort."

In between packaging and shipping lies transport and storage – not the most exciting thing to think about, but part of every product's journey. "Customers deserve to know how products are shipped, emissions used in transport, energy used to run a distribution facility, and what the company is doing to minimize impact throughout each of these steps." Kate explained that Stackware's space-efficiency does not just benefit the home it ultimately lives in but makes their shipping easier. "Because we can nest all six pieces together, we're able to use a smaller box, and we're able to ship more sets per container. Our shipping is incredibly efficient, and we maximize every inch of space to make sure we can send as much in each batch as possible." Other stackable sets like the Proclamation Duo accomplish more efficient shipping compared to traditional cookware sets, simply by nature of the stacking feature. 

Understanding the supply chain behind a product helps customers understand the real environmental cost of the purchase – and the cost to repurchase.

Proclamation Carbon Stainless
Photo Credit: Proclamation Goods

Bottom Line

At present, there is a gap in the sustainability argument for tiny and other small-scale homes. For example, their limited space can make cooking at home difficult. This circumstance has led to a marked rise in the consumption of delivery, takeaway, and packaged meals - options that come with adverse environmental effects. 

Stackware on the Table
Stackware on the Table. Photo Credit: Ensembl

There is a need for kitchenwares that fit the small-scale home life more appropriately and provide a way to create a genuinely sustainable kitchen. But, this is not merely a need for products that save space. There is a need for high-performance, multifunctional, and built to last products – all while being created to use the least amount of space. In this article, we explored a few brands that may offer solutions for this conundrum: Ensembl and its debut product, Stackware; Proclamation Goods' 'Proclamation Duo,' and Abbio's five-piece set.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-10-22T19:22:35+0000
Maria Saxton

Article by:

Maria Saxton

Located in Roanoke, Virginia, Maria Saxton holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Design and Planning from Virginia Tech. She works as an Environmental Planner and Housing Researcher for a local firm specializing in Community Planning, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Historic Preservation. Her dissertation explored the environmental impacts of small-scale homes. She serves as a volunteer board member for the Tiny Home Industry Association.

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