09 August 2008

On beyond zebra

Sandwiched between Chelsea, Union Square and Gramercy Park is the Manhattan Center for Kitchen and Bath. It is the Mecca of my profession and it defines what a kitchen and bath showroom should be. I walked through its hallowed doors for the first time about four years ago and thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Of the many beautiful things I saw there, one that stuck out more than anything was a counter top made from zebrawood. In fact, here's a photo of the MCKB's showroom and I'll give a quarter to whoever guesses where the zebrawood counter is.

Prior to that, all I knew was that zebrawood was an exotic hardwood and that it was really expensive. I assumed that it was expensive because it was rare and I didn't give it a whole lot more thought. After having made my pilgrimage to the MCKB and seeing how gorgeous a counter made from it is, I started talking up zebrawood like a mad man. At the time I worked at a ridiculously fancy schmancy design studio and I used to specify zebrawood just because I could.

Then I actually looked up what zebrawood was and I learned that zebrawood is expensive because it's rare all right. And it's rare because it's an endangered species. Zebrawood is actually Microberlinia brazzavillensis, a tropical hardwood from Gabon, Cameroon and the Congo. It is not harvested in anything close to a sustainable manner and its popularity is hastening its demise. Ever since I got the straight dope about zebrawood I got religion about it and it is now first on my verboten list.

But leave it up to the geniuses at Smith and Fong to come up with a replacement. Their product Plyboo Neopolitan is a dead ringer for zebrawood only it's made from bamboo. An untrained eye could never tell them apart, and this trained and discerning eye has a hard time. The stuff's great and it represents what the idea of sustainable building products is all about. It's not about doing without. It's about doing things smarter. I have another quarter for anybody who can guess where to buy Neopolitan. Can't think of it? Click here.

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