Pair Draws Inspiration from Heritage
By Jim Cavan
Seacoast Sunday, Sunday, April 10, 2011
[The following article is courtesy of Seacoast Sunday and Seacoast Online.]
If you polled 100 eco-friendly business owners on why they decided to go green, you'd likely hear some reasons more than others.
For many, it was the recognition of the region as a burgeoning eco-conscious market. For others it might be a dedication to environmentalism and for still others, it may be purely economic. But for one Seacoast company, "going green" is a duty as timeless as necessary.
Launched late last year, Seacoast-based Visions Kitchens and Design is a kitchen design company specializing in cabinets, countertops, closet systems and more. It is also one of the few in New England specializing in green design.
There's one thing that sets co-owners Nathan Johnson and Ernest Proper apart: Both tout a deep Native American ancestry. Lakota, to be specific. Johnson is Hunka, or adopted, Lakota, while Proper is Lakota Oglala and Micmac. While that may set them apart from most Seacoast business owners, it's what the Lakota have to say about the environment, and man's place in it, that truly shines a light on Johnson and Proper's business model.
"According to the Lakota tradition, the Earth is our mother and we operate our business with that in mind, absolutely," Johnson said. "The Lakota always ask the question, 'How are we impacting the environment seven generations ahead?'"
Both New Hampshire natives and Portsmouth residents, Johnson met Proper, who is also a U.S. veteran, 13 years ago at a Boy Scout summer camp.
Over the years they developed a friendship that saw Johnson join Proper's family to form a Native American music group called "Black Thunder Singers," which released its first album last year; it is available on iTunes.
Throughout their journeys, Johnson and Proper were imbued with a sense of pride, both in terms of their unique heritage and the conscious relationship with the Earth.
Johnson eventually applied these lessons to his education, receiving a degree in interior design from Hesser College, with a focus on sustainable design. He also touts certificates from the National Kitchen and Bath Association and more than seven years of general design experience.
After years working for other companies, last year he and Proper decided to start their own business.
"There are some green cabinetmakers and there are certainly people who know how to design with green in mind," Johnson said. "But it's really rare to find a company that can both design a green system and find the right company to make it as green as possible. So in that sense we hope we can carve out a successful niche."
Visions emphasizes a number of green approaches, including partnering with sources who practice sustainable harvesting; making use of bamboo and other "green" wood products; featuring low or no volatile organic compounds paints, stains and finishes; utilizing reclaimed or recycled cabinet and countertop materials; and specializing in design techniques that can help the owner receive points toward LEED certification.
Because they don't boast an actual showroom, Johnson and Proper save resources and energy, helping keep their carbon footprint at a minimum. The company recently joined Green Alliance, a local organization that certifies and promotes sustainability-minded businesses in the region.
Johnson has worked with a number of Green Alliance business partners, including Ridgeview Construction and Little Green Homes, lending his design and cabinet-making expertise to put green finishing touches on a number of LEED-certified projects. According to Johnson, working with like-minded businesses bolstered his confidence.
Visions Kitchens: www.visionskitchens.com
Green Alliance: www.greenalliance.biz
[Editor's note] Visions moved to Hampton by December of 2011