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Monday, May 30, 2011

NIM - Kitchen in a Box

As apartments in our major urban centres become smaller and smaller, designers are faced with the dilemma of having to do more with less. Designers Kristin Laass and Norman Ebelt took on this design problem in the kitchen by creating a complete kitchen that fits inside 1 cubic metre.

Photo: Dornob
The "box" is in fact several layers or parts that fold, pull and swing into each other.  All aspects of a full sized kitchen are included:  cooking, cleaning, refrigeration, storage.  Even a dining table is factored in (the white "cover| for the box).

Photo: Dornob
What's also clever about this design is that it takes into consideration the work flow of standard kitchen tasks.  Items are accessible when they are needed, making the work space efficient as well as compact.

Photo: Dornob
Obvious concerns I would have pertain to plumbing and electrical services.  But should I ever find myself living in a 400 square foot apartment in Paris-St. Germain I'll find a way to make it work.

Source:  Dornob

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Pepsi Generation Gets Social

Photo: PepsCo
Maybe I'm dating myself by using the "Pepsi Generation" slogan.  I couldn't even tell you what Pepsi's slogan is today because I really don't drink soda.  Nothing personal, just not my thing.  I do however pay close attention to the marketing strategies of the big soda companies.  As a former employee of the media industry and a communications student at university I find companies like Pepsi are amazingly adept at identifying ways to communicate with youth.

Their latest idea is what they're calling a "social vending machine."  It features a large touch-screen that allows the user to choose a soda, get product information, send a soda to a friend or receive a soda from someone else .... what they're calling "Random Acts of Refreshment."

What's interesting about this style of vending is that it's using social media to advertise without being obvious about it.  True, Pepsi benefits by selling drinks, but on a social level the consumer feels like they are simply reaching out to their friends.  The logical extension for this would be the ability to use social media applications like Facebook and Twitter to access the service provided by the vending machine from any location.



The Social Vending Machine is currently be tested in various markets in the US.  No specific release plans have been announced, but when they do ... I prefer Mountain Dew.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Secret Garage Door (aka Open Sesame)

Photo:  Dornob
When faced with the challenge of finding parking space in a crowded neighbourhood, the owners of this San Francisco home chose to look within the home itself and add a built in garage.

Structural and seismic issues had been looked into and the house was sound without any requiring any additional work. But because the house is in the historic Haight-Ashbury district, there was a planning commission to contend with and an aesthetic problem that had to be addressed. Essentially, a standard garage door was a non-starter.

To appease the aesthetic concerns of the planning commission, Beausoleil Architects came up with an ingenious solution. Rather than removing the front of the house for garage doors, they made the front of the house the garage doors.  Have a look:

A full description of the project can be found on Dornob

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Going Flush Free When You Pee

Maybe it’s another “guy thing”, but I’ve been noticing urinals a lot lately. I’m not alone either. Both Paul Anater of Kitchen & Residential Design and Bob Borson at Life of an Architect have written about them, sometimes about their function and sometimes about their form.  Odd stuff?  Perhaps.  But design is design and one cannot pick what one finds inspirational.

For me, it’s all about the form. Even before I started blogging I’d find some sort of pleasing aesthetic in some of the urinals I saw, and try to find ways to photograph them without being thought of as some kind of weirdo. My kids must have thought I had some sort of bladder infection for the number of times I would return to a washroom, attempting to have some “alone” time to properly photograph the porcelain.

During a visit to the Red Rock Canyon in Nevada last month, I came across a urinal in the washroom at the interpretive centre I’d never seen before. I’d initially noticed its shape, but soon realized the only plumbing attached to the fixture was a drain; there was no water supply to flush the waste.

Waterless urinal from Zurn
My initial reaction was: EWWWWWWW! But being the diligent blogger I am I did a little digging and discovered waterless urinals are not a new thing. After all in a world where water conservation is essential, the next logical step after a low-flow urinal is a NO-flow urinal.

What makes this system work is an environmentally friendly sealant that is applied to the vitreous china fixture. The sealant disinfects and protects and maintains an odour-free (I can verify this!) urinal.  I'll admit my initial apprehension towards this system is still there, even if in a diminished capacity. But in an environment where water is scarce, it is a perfect solution.

Monday, May 23, 2011

NIM - Get Natural in the Shower

The calming characteristics of a single slab of stone make it a natural fit in the bathroom. Until recently however it was limited to flat surfaces; typically countertops, shower walls and floors. Using stone for a shower base meant it needed to be cut into tiles that, while still beautiful, don’t have the same impact as a single slab.

Photo: Balance
The designers at Balance hope to remedy this with their line of single piece, stone shower trays. Using bluestone they've created a wide array of designs to help you bring the beauty of stone into the shower. The stone is presented as it’s found, unrefined, and is available on several colours including Abanilla Black (shown) Sand Line, Blue Line and Habana Brown. The stone is gorgeous to be sure, but the organic contours of each design would look amazing in almost any material. I particularly like the use of the lineal drain.

To see the full line of Balance shower trays, or to inquire about export from the Netherlands, check out their website.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Burning Down the Warming House

Leave it to Canadians to design and build something that would leave other nationalities running for the hills with their common sense in tact.

Noa Biran and Roy Talman submitted the Woodpile as their entry in The Warming Huts competition earlier this year.  This competition had artists, architects and designers working to come up with ideas for shelters to be constructed along the Assiniboine River in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  Essentially, the metal frame provides structure for firewood, which in turn provides shelter, and fuel for the fire contained within the structure.
"Woodpile responds to the most elementary of acts used for producing heat: a fire. The proposal serves as a space for the act, by providing material to burn and providing a space for that act. The hut’s walls are constructed as a spatial metal frame which contains firewood, which can be added and removed from the interior and the exterior through the slots in the frame."

Source & Photo Credits: ArchDaily
A first look might have you thinking the walls would burn down around the inhabitants but it seems there's enough distance to prevent this from happening.  As proof, they actually built the Woodpile.  Danger aside, it's a beautiful design, and very practical for anyone who's spent hours outside in the winter.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Food Fridays: Eating Through KBIS

I was very surprised surprised to discover I’ve never written about our eating & drinking experiences in Las Vegas. Where else can you find restaurants from great chefs like Thomas Keller, Joel Robuchon, Michael Mina, Daniel Boulud and many others all in one city? It’s amazing and daunting all at the same time, and every time we visit Sin City I struggle with where to eat.

Unless you have a massive dining budget (which we do not), you’re going to be limited to one of two options: You can either choose a single restaurant for a single, over-the-top dining experience or go “casual fine dining” for several meals. The second option is our typical modus operandi. Dining this way decreases the odds of having a single, epically disappointing meal and allows us to take advantage of that great American invention, the happy hour.

Many restaurants in Las Vegas will offer a reduced price “lounge menu” during specific hours, allowing you a taste of the restaurant without having to commit to a full meal.  It's a nice way to "try before you buy", or even just graze your way through the Strip.  In the past we’ve explored happy hours at Sensi in Bellagio, and Otto in the Venetian. Recently, while in Las Vegas for the 2011 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, we added to the list with NobHill Tavern and Fiamma, both in the MGM Grand.

Fiamma is the beautifully designed Italian themed restaurant. In fact, I could have simply sipped a glass of Pinot Noir and gazed into the fireplace the evening we dined there. From 5:30 to 8 the lounge offers a reduced-price menu with all food items falling between $7 and $14.

Bruschettona Caprese (Heirloom Tomatoes, Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil). Such a simple dish, but so wonderful when done well. The toppings were fine, the crostini, not so much. Grilled bread shouldn’t be chewy … just sayin’
Prosciutto and Frico (Prosciutto wrapped around bread sticks, and parmesan “crackers”). Prosciutto was fine, parmesan was chewy, almost cold. It was also served with some preserved figs, which were really good but unless you balanced the fruit on a breadstick they couldn’t really be enjoyed together.

Arancine (Deep fried risotto balls with porcini mushroom). If there is a bar in heaven, it will serve these. Perfect little balls of mushroomy goodness.

NobHill is Michael Mina’s interpretation of classic American pub fare … gastro pub if you will. Cocktails are similarly themed, with the Whiskey Smash (think Mojito meets Manhattan) and the Moscow Mule making several visits to our table.Nobhill’s Happy Hour starts at 10pm)

BBQ Pork Sliders: You know I’m going to be tough on these. The pulled pork on its own was quite good; tender, nicely sauced (not smoked that I could tell). But what’s the deal with the jalapeno rings on top? Was it 1995 Night at NobHill? Seriously, lose the “we-like-it-hot” garnish and I’ll order a dozen.

New England Crab and Lobster Rolls: Meh. Maybe I’m not qualified to “get” this dish. I didn’t grow up with lobster rolls. Same way I don’t expect somebody who didn’t grow up in Vancouver to understand a Tripple-O. Not a bad dish, just not my thing.

Beer Battered Shrimp: The Shrimp were nicely cooked, but seemed misplaced with the avocado lime dip. Honestly, no connection between the two whatsoever. Easy solution: We just avoided the dip.

Korean Style Crispy Chicken Wings: Dish of the night (thanks to our bartender Michael for recommending them). Very comparable to chicken wings I’ve had at Insadong in Burnaby; very crispy with a sweet yet tart Korean BBQ sauce. These would have gone well with an IPA, but the Moscow Mule handled the role nicely.

And just because I wanted to prove to some readers (you know who you are) that we actually got out for some nightlife.  This is the Chandelier Bar.  Located in the Cosmopolitan Hotel, it's 3 stories high and surrounded by glass beads; it really gives you the feeling you're inside a hanging light fixture.

Drinks are everything you'd expect from a Las Vegas lounge, and then some.  I forget the name of this creation, but think S'mores and Booze.  I lost it when I saw the marshmallow garnish.  To each his/her own, but I'll stick with my Negroni.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Brizo Faucets - Inspired Design

Where do you find inspiration? At the recent Kitchen & Bath Industry Show show I found myself asking that question a lot. Surrounded by the latest and greatest in kitchen and bath fixtures and accessories I couldn’t help but wonder where the ideas for many of these products came from.

In my personal life I gather inspiration from the people I surround myself with. These people inspire me by the way they live their lives. Their actions often inspire me to modify the way I behave in a certain situation. As a cook I’m inspired by different meals I’ve eaten and different foods I’m introduced to, And in my capacity as a designer I’m inspired by fashion, nature, art … the list is almost endless.

Inspired by Lighthouses - Baliza Faucet: Brizo
Nothing really brought the vast choice of inspiration home to me more that my recent trip to New York to learn about Brizo’s line of faucets. Meeting and speaking with their design team was the highlight of my time there.  They explained how they took inspiration from anywhere; twisted wrought iron in France, lighthouses in Oregon and fashion from the runways of New York, and incorporated it into their designs.  The result is design that looks almost effortless; and when I say effortless, I of course mean it took them endless hours of work, but the resulting product looks as if that's the only possible way it could have been designed.

While in New York we were introduced to a number of new faucet designs, but Brizo swore us to secrecy until the designs were ready for release. During my tour of Brizo’s booth at KBIS I was thrilled to see two of these designs on display, which means I am able to share them with you now:

The Charlotte


Charlotte Widespread Vanity Faucet - Cocoa Bronze Finish
Photo - Brizo
The Charlotte takes its inspiration directly from the world of fashion. Brizo’s relationship with fashion designer Jason Wu is one of the most vibrant and creative I’ve seen in the kitchen and bath industry. The influence of fashion on this line of faucets is nothing short of breathtaking. The feminine curves of the design are very Art Deco.

Included in the Charlotte collection:
  • Full collection of bath products with coordinating accessories and lighting
  • Widespread lavatory faucet
  • Widespread vessel faucet
  • Wallmount faucet
  • 3 and 4 hole Roman tubs
  • TempAssure® medium flow shower and tub/shower trims
  • 3 and 6 function diverters
  • Sensori® High Flow custom shower trims.

The Vuelo

Vuelo Kitchen Faucet - Cocoa Bronze Finish
w/ Soap Dispenser & Bud Vase
Photo: Brizo
The second faucet I was waiting for is the Vuelo. More organic in its form, the Vuelo draws inspiration from nature. Brizo displayed it with images of swans, but I see more in the way of tropical flowers in it. The detail of the faucet continues in the side spray and the bud vase. Yes, a bud vase. The Vuelo comes with Brizo’s MagneDock® (so the pull out spray won’t fall out), and is available with SmartTouch® for hands-free operation. A matching bar faucet is also available.

Photo:  Tropicalflowers.org.uk
I’m grateful they’ve branched away from the modern aesthetic with the latest additions. I’m even more grateful for the new Cocoa Bronze finish. A deep black-brown, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s definitely a welcome break from the ordinary, which I hope you find as inspiring as I do.

The Vuelo and Charlotte lines will be shipping September/October of 2011.

Monday, May 16, 2011

NIM: Product Connect for SketchUp

I was a hand-drafter for a long time, and I still love the feeling of a pencil gliding across a sheet of vellum.   But there are some downsides to hand drafting, and they become quite evident when hand drafting is put up against any one of the CAD programmes available. Whether you are faced with changes to a design or converting your drawing to a cabinet order, computer aided drafting (or design) software makes tedious design tasks routine and increases the productivity of the designer significantly.

I started using a free CAD programme from Google called Sketchup a few years ago. I started using Sketchup for for my custom drawings (like the one at the right) for one simple reason: the basic version of the programme is 100% free. There’s also a huge on-line warehouse of models (buildings, chairs, cars, appliances …) created by other Sketchup users, free for anyone to use and a vast array of plug-ins; small programmes that automate some common Sketchup tasks – also free. There’s no manual per se, but the on-line community has addressed this with blogs, forums and videos to get you up to speed. It’s the on-line community that’s really made Sketchup the powerhouse it is today.

I started using Sketchup to handle the shop drawings for the custom cabinet’s I would design. That evolved into doing basic kitchen drawings to help clients visualize the concepts I had for them, and finally full blown designs including plans and elevations created in the Layout programme (available with the paid version of Sketchup, Sketchup Pro). The design process is now much simpler. My customers can visualize their new kitchens, and any changes they want me to make are very simply accommodated.

One thing Sketchup doesn’t do for me is create a schedule of materials. I still create all my cabinet orders manually. It’s time consuming, and there’s room for error when I transcribe the cabinet nomenclature from the drawing to the order sheet. There are programmes (20/20 for example) that handle schedules of material very well, but until recently, Sketchup hasn’t had a plug-in to handle this.

At the recent KBIS show, I was introduced to Alex Oliver and Mike Tadros of Igloo Studios. Igloo started life as a Sketchup training company and has recently released a new Sketchup plug-in called Product Connect. Product Connect is the tool that I, and many other kitchen designers who use Sketchup, have been waiting for. Product Connect will analyze your Sketchup model, and provide you with a list of all the items in it.

Product Connect is a brand new plug-in, so there are a couple of short-comings. In order for Product Connect to “read” your model you have to use components that are “Product Connect Enabled”; i.e. not just any component will work. If you have created your own catalogue of components (like I have), you’re out of luck. Fortunately, Igloo along with the folk at Masco, Formica, GE, Dacor, Brizo, Delta and many others have stepped up with content that will work with Product Connect.


I’ve been playing with Product Connect for a few days now and I’m pleased to say the programme works exceptionally well. You can create a schedule of everything in your model, or you can highlight just a portion of it and get a listing of just those items. The data you get out of the reports will be based on that which the manufacturer has included. With the cabinet catalogues currently available it’s just things like the manufacturer, the cabinet nomenclature and a description. However, Igloo told me that pricing, dimensions and weight can also be included.

Product Connect's current usefulness is based completely on which manufacturers are making compatible catalogues.  For me, until I can create my own catalogue (something I'm told can be done ... it just takes time and skill, both of which I'm lacking)  I’ll just continue playing with it to see if I can use the cabinet catalogues to mimic the cabinets I use and create some simple reports that I can cut and paste into my orders.

The major point here is that Product Connect is doing something that needs to be done and if the Sketchup community takes to this plug-in the way they’ve taken to creating models and other useful plug-ins, it won’t be long before I’ll be creating orders straight from my designs. It’s a first step, and for that I applaud them.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Top 600 Reasons To Pop Balloons

MTV Brasil has come up with a very creative to way to make a bang with a new promotional video.  Using more than 600 balloons, each featuring a new frame of animation, and a spike propelled through the line of balloons, they've created an something very similar to a flip book.

No, it has nothing to do with kitchens, but after all the KBIS talk, I figured we could use a break.



Source: designboom

Friday, May 13, 2011

Countertops: Quartz

Quartz is a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to countertops surfaces but has quickly become one of my favourite choices.

Some of the more popular brands include: Silestone, Caesarstone, Zodiaq, Cambria. Difference between brands is minimal as the formulation is virtually the same for all of them: a combination of natural quartz (approximately 93%) and epoxy resin binders and colours (approximately 7%).  Some brands offer different textures and additives to their formulation, but for the most part this is for marketing advantage.  With quartz, the consumer can comfortably focus on colour rather than brand when selecting quartz.

Quartz surfacing, or “engineered stone” as it is sometimes known, has the appearance and hardness of stone but due to the resins doesn't require sealing. Another benefit is the consistency of the product. Each sheet of material will have the exact same proportions of colouration which avoids the sometimes undesirable randomness of stone. No threat of a natural mineral discolouration in the middle of your island with a quartz countertop! When it comes to cleaning quartz, most brands simply require a mild, non-abrasive cleaner. Exact cleaning instructions will depend on the specific brand you select.

Quartz surfacing behaves almost identically to stone in terms of fabrication. So you can expect seams in your quartz countertop. and integrated sinks are not possible. Sinks will typically be of the undermount variety, although Silestone has introduced the Integrity sink for an integrated application. Depending on the manufacturer, quartz comes in either 19mm or 30mm thick slabs, so depending on the thickness available, the front edge of your countertops may or may not have a seam in it.

Overall, expect to pay about $70-$125 per square foot. As with all premium counter surface materials, be sure to get your specific layout priced rather than going by a “lineal foot” price.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Professional Advice: Surviving the Remodel Mess

A kitchen remodel is a messy undertaking. Construction waste piling up in the back yard, work boots trampling over floors and of course the insidious drywall dust that works its way into every corner of your house; all of this makes it very easy to forget the good things that await you at the end of it all. Any reputable design firm will employ responsible trades who will do their best to protect the parts of the home that aren’t part of the remodel. Drop sheets or 1/8” hardboard go down to protect the floors, sheets of poly cover the doorways to prevent the spread of dust and a regular site clean-up should all be expected.

But is there something you, the client, should be doing to help with the mess? In a word: yes. While the remodelling firm can take steps to minimize the mess, there will be a mess. So if there’s something in your home that absolutely cannot get dusty, or you do not want to even risk getting damaged, the best plan of attack is to get it out of harm’s way.

Take things like pictures and wall hangings off the walls, even on adjacent walls in neighbouring rooms. A good thump on one side of the wall could have items on the other side of the wall crashing to the floor. Bigger items like furniture can be moved to another floor for safe keeping. If that’s not possible even wrapping theses items in drop cloths can help. Electronics like home theatre equipment and computers are best kept completely away from any room being drywalled as the dust can ruin the circuits. Again, if this isn’t possible, wrap the items in plastic and seal them as tight as possible.

In some situations it’s just simpler to empty the rooms completely - if all the floors on the main floor of a house are being refinished for example. You may think your contractor could just move items from room to room ahead of the flooring trades (I’ve actually had a client ask for this). Not only will you annoy the contractor, it will cost you a fortune (they don’t move stuff for free) and you risk items being damaged each time you move them. I sometimes hire a company like PODS for temporary storage of furniture while the remodel is happening, but off-site storage also works well.

Finally, make sure you think about where all of the refuse from the remodel will be stored. Sometimes this will take the form of a large bin, in which case there’s nothing to think about. But often there’s not enough trash to warrant a bin and temporary storage of job-site trash needs to be considered. Daily removal is often not possible, not practical so there should be room for at least a couple days worth. It should also, if at all possible, be under cover. Your contractor and his workers will thank you.

Your designer or contractor should be asking you about most, if not all of these things before your project begins. But being a little bit proactive can ensure you get through your remodel as unscathed as possible.

Monday, May 9, 2011

NIM - Light Up Your Patio Life

It's spring, or so they tell me.  At least the days are getting longer.  For my family, that means eating outdoors whenever possible.  Something about dining al fresco just makes the food taste better and the evening breeze a little sweeter.

The Luna table by Manutti seems to embrace this idea as well. Very sleek and modern, the only thing remarkable about the Luna is the strip of LED lights running down each leg. Once the evening sun sets, the lights turn on automatically, adding a sense of drama to your deck and cleverly highlighting what you don't want to stub your toes on.

via Trendir

Saturday, May 7, 2011

KBIS - Get Away From the Strip

KBIS 2011 in Las Vegas was all about work. But all work and no play makes Arne a dull boy. And as much fun as Las Vegas is, it’s welcome relief to get some time away from the strip. My travel agent (aka my wife) did excellent work seeing what there was to do around Las Vegas: Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Death Valley all provide unique day-trips from a Las Vegas base.

A little closer in is the Red Rock Canyon. Part of the Bureau of Land Management the Red Rock Canyon was designated as Nevada’s first National Conservation Area. It’s a place I had never been, but the idea of hiking outside in 90° heat didn’t sound too appealing after several days at KBIS. What did sound appealing was seeing the Canyon with driving a 3 wheeled cart with Scoot City Tours.

Our tour began when Curtis from Scoot City picked us up at our hotel (part of the tour fee) and drove us to their facility just west of the city. After going over the operational and safety features of the cart we climbed in and followed our guide Nick to the Canyon. The carts are surprisingly easy to drive, much like riding a snowmobile or ATV. What’s different about the cart however is the sense of stability which leaves you secure enough to take in the scenery!

After a short drive to the canyon entrance we made a quick stop at the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Center. For a canyon neophyte, it’s a worthwhile visit. There’s plenty of information on the flora and fauna of the region, and large vistas with spectacular scenery. If you think of this area as being only dry and dusty, think again. The colours although muted, are plentiful. The flowers of the creosote bush are a beautiful soft tangerine, which contrasted against the dusty green of the leaves and the rust-red rocks. It’s not difficult to see how the deserts have inspired similar palates.





We followed Nick into the canyon, making several stops along the way, each revealing some new geological aspect of the area. The sandstone is prevalent in virtually every view, the layered rock formations invoking images of some alien landscape. I couldn’t help but wonder how much tile I could quarry out of the walls of the canyon. And when we discovered the area is also well know for gypsum, a major component in drywall, the connection between the Red Rock Canyon and my world of interior design was complete.





The tour lasted a little over 3 hours which went by incredibly quickly. That could have also been because we were lucky enough to have had a private tour due to a last minute cancellation. Once back at the Scoot City facility and the carts returned to the garage, we were driven back to our hotel. Aside from a little bit of sunburn on my forehead (you can’t wear hats while in the carts … safety issues) every aspect of the tour was top notch. Scoot City Tours was a perfect diversion from a busy week of seminars. Highly recommended.

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