Trowel Talk: The Black ("Green") Olive
April 28, 2011
Dimitris Spiliadis’ great-grandfather once owned a hotel in Constantinople, which was lost when the Turks invaded the magnificent and historic city (now known as Istanbul). When his father, Stelios, immigrated to the United States, he brought with him his great-grandfather’s entrepreneurial spirit, his grandmother’s Greek recipes, and a desire to build a life of service and hospitality; and in 1996 he opened the Black Olive Restaurant in Baltimore’s famous Fell’s Point. The family-owned business made a name for itself by serving authentic Greek cuisine made from the freshest organic products available.
States, he brought with him his great-grandfather’s entrepreneurial spirit, his grandmother’s Greek recipes and a desire to build a life of service and hospitality. In 1996, he opened the Black Olive Restaurant in Baltimore’s famous Fell’s Point. The family-owned business made a name for itself by serving authentic Greek cuisine made from the freshest organic products available.
As their clientele and restaurant business grew, expanding from a small 35-seat establishment to busting at the seams at 90 seats, the family, which included Dimitiris’ mother, Pauline, dreamed of recapturing the family heritage and one day building and operating a hotel. Not just any hotel-they wanted to create a “boutique” hotel, infusing their dream with the concepts that had been so successful in their restaurant, organic food and healthy living, and bring these principles into the total lodging experience. This meant building a structure and operating a hotel business based upon health-conscious and environmentally friendly concepts.
Desiring to build in an environmentally friendly way, Dimitris set about educating himself on various green building concepts and ultimately turned to Green Tech Contracting located in White Marsh, Md., to guide their project from inception to completion. Green Tech had extensive experience in LEED certified construction and brought a wealth of expertise to the design and construction of the 22,000-square-foot establishment in Fell’s Point. Some of the green technologies included in the construction included:
Air-entrained concrete and masonry
Green technology can be more expensive but as Demitris points out, “It is a short term cost versus a long term savings. The amount extra we spend on a geo-thermal HVAC system will be recouped in about five years. We will reap savings of four to five times the extra cost over a 25 year period.”
The green roofing system, designed by industry expert Ed Snodgrass, incorporates an organic garden that the kitchen staff will tend and bring a “little joy” to the food they serve in their new roof top restaurant. Snodgrass is the author of the book, “Green Roofs,” and is working with both Hewlett Packard and Apple on the design of green roofs for their corporate facilities. The counter weighted elevator eliminates the need for hazardous hydraulic fluid and mechanical building on the roof. The air entrained concrete and masonry walls provide superior structural characteristics while improving the R value and reducing sound transmission between the luxury spa suites. Last, but certainly not least, the use of colorful lime plaster from Eco-Stucco can be found throughout the entire building.
The Old NewThe use of lime is one of the oldest forms of plaster creation known to man. It lost prominence in the United States in the late 1960s to Portland cement (stucco) on the exterior and gypsum plaster on the interior. As the 1980s rolled through, EIFS became a popular exterior plaster application and drywall garnered more and more of the interior market. However, as my own grandmother use to say, “what was once considered old is new again.” Lime plaster certainly seems to be making a comeback, which begs the question, why?
First, lime plaster is made from calcium carbonate, which is abundant throughout most of the world. It can be mined as a rock from the ground or it can even be harvested from oyster shells. Secondly, lime when properly prepared (slaked and aged) is a very pliable and user-friendly plaster material, often used as a component in interior gypsum and exterior stucco finishes to improve workability. Once slaked, the product converts from calcium carbonate to calcium hydroxide or hydraulic lime.
As we become more and more concerned with creating a tight building envelope for the purpose of energy efficient heating and cooling, we sometimes forget the health benefits of fresh air. Air that is trapped inside a modern building tends to accumulate “stuff” from the occupants, furnishings and even the materials used in the construction of the building. The glue found in the rugs and cabinets, the acrylics used in some light fixtures, the toxic cleaning products we used to scrub the tile and toilets and of course the volatile organic compounds found in paint and varnishes. Lime plaster can be colored using natural minerals.
The finished product can appear as natural stone or marble and is quite colorful and beautiful without any of those nasty VOCs. Lime plaster even absorbs CO² from the atmosphere and has natural analgesic properties, thereby resisting mold.
The owners of the Inn at the Black Olive made use of all these wonderful properties of lime plaster. The colors they selected, while stunning and varied, are all colors found naturally so no synthetic pigments were required. Even the bathrooms and showers were plastered using lime, then sealed with a thousand-year-old natural sealant from Morocco known as Tadelakt: A soap like substance made from an olive oil base that seals the lime plaster while still permitting it to breathe. The use of plaster in these “wet” areas eliminated the problem of cleaning tile grouts to prevent mold building up. This speaks to the heart of the project, creating a natural, healthy environment where food is organic and your environment contributes to the guests overall well being.
When faced with the challenge of installing lime plaster, not many contractors in the Baltimore area had much experience using the product. The owners and general contractor turned to Plasterers Local 891 in nearby Washington and entered into a partnership where skilled plasterers would be employed to perform the work. It was no surprise that the owners turned to a labor union to meet the demands of their project.
As Dimetris says, “We believe in fair trade, not only for the food we use in our restaurant or the materials we use to build our building, but also for the labor we use from our community. By partnering with the Plasterers Union, we were able to use highly skilled labor and we knew these workers would be paid fairly and receive benefits. It’s all about doing what is right; what’s right for our bodies, for our environment and for our community.”
Online ResourcesThe Inn at the Black Olive www.theblackolive.com/Inn/index.html
Green Tech Construction www.greentechcont.com
Plasterers Local 891 www.opcmia.org/
Green Roofs by, Ed Snodgrass ww.greenroofs.com