verdelife

The alfresco life

A passion for sustainability led award-winning cabinetmaker Dan Bruce, and wife Carrie, to launch an eco-friendly alfresco kitchen solution that is now available in trade packages Australia-wide.

Photos courtesy VerdeLife

Author

Laura Valic

You could say Dan Bruce’s decision to go on a working holiday to Western Australia before taking over his family’s cabinetmaking business in South Gippsland, Victoria, was serendipitous. It was what led him to Perth and a chance meeting with his future wife Carrie, an American international student who was studying for her masters at the time. ‘Our paths crossed and here we are 15 years later,’ she says.   

verdelife
(L–R): Team VerdeLife, Dan and Carrie Bruce, with Megan Kenny

Dan had been an apprentice under his cabinetmaker father – a long-term HIA member – learning the trade and knowing more than most where his future was heading. After marrying, the couple decided to live for a time in the US; Carrie worked for Rotary International, while Dan managed a kitchen company and gained experience in different aspects of the industry.

When they made the move back to Australia seven years later, a burgeoning passion for design motivated Dan to gain further qualifications. ‘When we bought out the business, I got certified as a kitchen and bathroom designer, and then completed my builder’s registration with HIA,’ he says.

It was a busy few years for the pair, growing their family together alongside their design and custom cabinetmaking company, their hard work recognised with numerous HIA kitchen awards in Victoria. 

 

However, the couple were soon propelled onto an entirely new and thrilling path after Dan completed the HIA GreenSmart Kitchen and Bathroom course in 2015. He came away from the experience inspired to produce premium quality sustainable cabinetry for the outdoor kitchen market. 

‘There weren’t many doing outdoor kitchens at that time, and I saw a big opportunity for me to be creative in this area,’ Dan says. ‘I realised much of the GreenSmart knowledge could be transferred into alfresco kitchens.’ 

With Carrie equally enthusiastic about the idea, the brand VerdeLife was born – a manufacturing venture that embraces environmental considerations for product development as well as business practices. Dan set to work on designing their new outdoor kitchen range, SustainaPod®, which was launched 12 months later.

‘I combined thoughts I’d had over the years with pre-assembled cabinetry and the GreenSmart philosophy, and put it all together into one package,’ Dan explains of the pre-assembled modular cabinetry. ‘I wanted it to look like a well-designed and thought-out indoor kitchen that was outside.’ 

 

At the time Dan and Carrie were pursuing their new business concept, Weber® Australia/New Zealand released a range of in-built barbeques. Dan personally loved the Weber barbeques and pivoted to design his SustainaPod around the line. ‘We consulted a business mentor who said, “If you build it for Weber, go to Weber”. So we called them and set up a meet,’ Carrie says.

Dan loaded a prototype into a van and drove to Adelaide to meet the managing directors of Weber Australia/New Zealand, who immediately loved the idea. Before long they launched in 10 Weber specialist dealer stores in Victoria and are now manufacturing two SustainaPod series – LITE and All-Weather – in their fully equipped workshop, exclusively for the Weber range of sit-on and built-in barbeques. 

By 2017, SustainaPod had expanded throughout Australia. ‘The Weber Stores were getting built nationwide, and I met with the Weber Store development manager who was fitting them out,’ Dan explains. ‘He liked what we were doing and wanted to put us in all of their Weber Stores. We were a great solution for what they needed.’

Sleek cabinetry and beautiful natural granite benchtops define the SustainaPod outdoor kitchen range – a contrast to the sterile-looking and clunky stainless steel variations that were already on the market. Configured in a way that’s simple to assemble, homeowners can choose pods which can add on features such as sinks and in-built bar fridges. 

‘We’ve produced a fully exposed alfresco solution that’s 100 per cent weatherproof,’ Dan explains. ‘It doesn’t matter how much rain or sunshine it gets or how close to the ocean it is, we’ve built it to withstand the Australian elements.’

 

Verdelife’s SustainaPods give builders and trades a complete alfresco solution for new home builders and renovators

 

VerdeLife opted for UV-resistant Laminex® Alfresco Compact Laminate to avoid warranty concerns. The granite gets shipped in pieces so ‘there’s not too many joins’. Carrie adds that an extensive amount of research went into ensuring the range was compliant to Australian Standards.

‘In addition to the design, the most significant amount of product research and development went to complying with Australian Standards for outdoor kitchens, barbeques and gas installation,’ she says. ‘We’ve ensured our alfresco outdoor kitchen complies so builders don’t have to.’ 

The SustainaPod series is currently sold through 47 authorised Weber Stores and Weber specialist dealers, plus VerdeLife recently expanded its reach with the release of its commercial arm for builders and trade suppliers (see text box). As of 2020, the SustainaPods are available at commercial prices – complete with the barbeques and bar fridges (selected models) – for builders, buying groups, architects, cabinetmakers and other industry professionals to offer a one-stop alfresco solution for their clients.  

‘This is something we were hearing from the building trades market is in demand,’ Carrie says. ‘It’s simple for a builder’s client to add to their home selections at the planning stages.’

Another exciting milestone for the innovative duo was securing the ‘Australian made and owned’ labelling. ‘Being an Australian-made product shows we are being responsible and looking after the environment,’ Dan says. ‘It’s a trusted brand which we thought would be a good choice even for an international market because the Australian-made brand is positively recognised overseas as well.’

 

VerdeLife’s environmental philosophy means all of its products are sourced from accredited and eco-conscious suppliers that meet or exceed industry standards, including FSC-certified sustainably-sourced timber, while other business initiatives minimise water use and wastage, offset carbon emissions, and use recycled packaging and considered transport logistics.  

‘The GreenSmart principles say we all have an obligation to be more conscious in our waste and the building cycle, and they just make sense for being socially responsible human beings – in our personal lives and in business,’ Carrie says.

While they say there’s still plenty of growing to do, Dan and Carrie are invigorated by the challenge and their renewed, shared sense of purpose. 

 

Australian-made alfresco kitchens 

Victorian-based HIA member company VerdeLife has launched a commercial arm for its SustainaPod® outdoor kitchen range, specifically designed to offer trades a complete alfresco solution. The packaged bundles, which come complete with a Weber® built-in barbecue, cabinetry to house the barbecue (in different models and sizes) and a bar fridge, now make it simple for home builders and designers to provide an alfresco kitchen upgrade to their clients. 

According to designer and manufacturer, Dan Bruce, founder of VerdeLife, the pre-assembled modular designs are 100 per cent weatherproof, and constructed with Laminex® Alfresco Compact Laminate and PVC board. ‘They’re easy to sell and comply with Australian Standards for gas installation, which eliminates the need for builders to spend time and effort manufacturing a compliant custom outdoor kitchen,’ he says.

 

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