Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Brisket - Sharing My Inner Geek

The graph above was produced from my iGrill, a remote thermometer accessory for my iPhone.  Yes, while taking calls, scheduling jobs and playing a riveting round of Bejewelled, I can be monitoring whatever bit of deliciousness I have on the smokers.  And as you can see I can even export the graphs to share with everyone!

The brisket I'm smoking today is my contribution to the family dinner this evening.  Christmas Eve?  Yeah, it's a combination of Scandinavian tradition and finding a day amongst blended families to get everyone together.  Like the brisket, it may not be the "traditional" way Christmas is celebrated.  But over the years I've come to realize that new traditions can be added without disrespecting the old ones.  It's not about when you share the season ... the important thing is to simply share.

So as I share my inner geek with you this morning, I raise a glass of yuletide cheer to wish you and yours the very merriest of Christmases.  Now, turn off the computer and go spend time with the ones you love.  I'm going back to the brisket.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kitchen Cabinetry in Ceramic

Just when you thought we'd run out of materials for cabinet doors, German cabinetry manufacturer ALNO ups their game and introduces the ALNOCERA (with handles) and ALNOSTAR CERA (handleless) lines.  Based on the photographs you could be forgiven if you thought they were made of stone.

In fact, it's a 3mm thick all natural ceramic surface that gives these cabinets an amazing level of movement and interest.  Change the lighting in the room or look at the surface from a different angle and you'll see something new.  The material is also extremely durable.

ALNOCERA and ALNOSTAR CERA are available in 3 different finishes: oxide nero (dark greyish -brown), oxide grigio (clay/putty) and oxide avorio (luminescent white)


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fusion Pro Pre-Mixed Grout

One of the many benefits of being a CKD and associated with the NKBA is being able to learn about new products at our regular chapter meetings.  Sometimes the meeting is merely a refresher course on a subject matter of which we're all intimately familiar.  But even then there can be a little jewel of information that puts you ahead of the curve in the design world.

Last month our chapter put together Tile 101 at the Ames Tile showroom in Burnaby.  Participants attended five mini-seminars on various aspects and products related to the tile industry; design trends to the latest in installation techniques.  It was an excellent evening all around.

But my big takeaway from that evening was a new product from Custom Building Products (one of my usual grout suppliers) called Fusion Pro.  It's a pre-mixed grout that combines the ease of use and application of concrete based grouts with the durability and stain resistance of epoxy based grouts.  

We were all given a chance to work with it, and I can tell you it's so easy to work with I would use it to take on my own tile project. Now if only installing the tiles themselves was as simple!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Twitter Contest - A MyCube Giveaway

A few posts back I introduced you to the MyCube safe.  Well just in time for Christmas the fine folk from MyCube will be giving away one of it's stylish safes, and all it will cost you is 140 characters and some creativity.

Between 9am December 10th and midnight on Wednesday, December 12th, simply Tweet @MyCubeSafe the answer the following question: “What would you keep in your MyCube safe?” Include the hashtag #inmycube and you will be entered to win your own MyCube safe, valued at $389. See the MyCube Challenge page for a summary of contest rules. 

What would I keep in my MyCube safe?  Follow @arnesalvesen on Twitter to find out!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ugly Kitchen Courtesy of is one of my guilty pleasures ... okay, it has more to do with my wife, but if she hadn't found it I most certainly would have.  The site encourages dog owners to shame their pets by posting pictures of their pets after they have committed an offense with a sign indicating what the dogs did.

Trust me, hilarity ensues.
Then one day I came across this picture of the waffle-ninja, and it occurred to me that I should start a similar site for kitchens.  Exactly what is that on the door behind Goodman?  Is that an overlay created by an over-zealous woodcutter/kitchen designer?  Or did it come from the factory that way?  And take a closer look at the countertop edge just above ... is that flagstone?  What really puzzles me is the quite modern looking range they've used.  Clearly, stainless steel doesn't work with Paul Bunyan chic.

So what do you think?  I'd even make Goodman the mascot.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Resources: Kitchen Ideas That Work

New Kitchen Ideas That Work
(Photo:  Taunton Press)
Jamie Gold is an NKBA-certified, independent kitchen and bath designer based out of San Diego, California.  She's a blogger extraordinaire, having witten for Houz, and even here on Useful Spaces.  And if that wasn't enough, she's just published her first book.  New Kitchen Ideas That Work derives a lot of its content Jamie's belief that great design isn't about throwing money around.  It's about focussing on the small details that make a house a home, and give the home owner the best value for their investment.

New Kitchen Ideas That Work deals with all the areas of kitchen and bath design you would expect; cabinet styles and construction, countertop materials, appliances, fixtures.  There's even a section on the dreaded "B" work (ahem ... budget) and how to assemble the team of professionals to put it all together.  In other words it's a realistic look at what you can expect, which is a refreshing take when compared to a lot of the "designer porn" that is published.  Don't get me wrong, there's always room for "designer porn", but a healthy dose of reality is required before you get there.

In the chapter "Layouts That Work" Jamie discusses a number of different approaches the homeowner can take when designing their kitchen or bathroom.  I'll admit I was a bit disheartened when I saw the first option: Making Your Existing Footprint Work.  Keep things the same?  Really?  But after actually reading what Jamie covers in this section, I was pleased to note the approach was very practical and level headed.  "Some kitchens have perfectly functional layouts, but suffer from design fatigue" she writes.  Her advise in subsequent sections is equally level headed.

page 36-37-Chris Giles
Being someone that really enjoys case-studies I particularly appreciated the sections she provided that actually examined projects she'd worked on, and illustrated how some of her advice had been put to use in the real world.  In "Questions and Answers before Making a Change" she explores the decision making process the homeowners went through before deciding to go ahead with a kitchen remodel.  She discusses why changing the layout was essential to make the room function, and how rather than look at the "work triangle" her design created "work zones", something we've been discussing here on Useful Spaces as well.

New Kitchen Ideas That Work is available for pre-order now, and will be on the book shelves of you local home improvement centre at the beginning of December. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Kitchen Computer: 1969 Edition

A couple posts ago I mentioned Neiman Marcus's list of Fantasy Gifts for 2012.  Just to show you how far we've come (and to prove to you that a bourbon-trailer is WAY better than technology at Christmas), have a gander at N-M's offering from 1969.  Yes, that behemoth that our lovely housewife/model is posing with is a computer.

Click on the image to enlarge it, but I'll save you a little time with the text below:
If only she can cook as well as Honeywell can compute. 
Her souffles are supreme, her meal planning a challenge?  She's what the Honeywell people had in mind when they devised our Kitchen Computer. 
She'll learn to programme it with a cross-reference to her recipes ny N-M's own Helen Corbitt.  Then by simply pushing a few buttons obtain a complete menu organized around the entreé.   
And if she pales at reckoning her lunch tab, she can programme it to balance the family checkbook.  (84A) 10,600 complete with 2 week programming course. 
The only thing I can't understand is how someone who can't balance a check-book is supposed to learn how to programme a computer.  Keep in mind this was 1969 so programming was more about learning binary code that using your mouse to click the "side dish" category.  For example, to tell the computer she wanted a meal designed around broccoli, she have to throw a series of switches to input "0001101000".  The computer would then respond with a series of lights that she would have to decode.

Anyone surprised they never sold a single unit?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Clever Safe For Home Security

Anybody who has stayed in a hotel in the last 5 years will recognize the item in the picture here.  The in-room safe has become so much a part of my landscape that I'm truly surprised when my hotel room doesn't have one.  Keeping my passport, wads of cash and my laptop safe while away from home is key to a successful vacation or business trip.

Now, I'm not normally a negative person ... that is I try to see avoid looking at the world with a "sky is falling" attitude.  But the fact is personal security is playing a bigger part in our everyday lives, not just when we're away from home.  So why not bring one of these guys home?

The folks at thought the same thing, and even added a few features of their own.  For one, they've made the My Cube safe available in six vibrant colours so if it has to be out in the open (aaaack!) at least it can coordinate with the rest of the decor.

But my favourite feature is the outlet they've installed on the inside.  You want to pop your laptop or smartphone inside while you go out for a beer ... er ... run around the park?  It may as well be charging at the same time.

All the features and benefits can be found on the web site, but it's essentially the same safe I've come to look for during hotel stays.  For just under $400 I'd say it's a pretty good addition to your home security plan.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Best Christmas Present Ever

This is one of those items you know is completely impractical, that is so over the top that you should be offended that it even exists, but that if you had the money to buy it, you totally would. This is the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Woody-Tailgate Trailer and it's on Neiman Marcus's list of Fantasy Gifts for 2012.

But let's just look at this practically for a second. It's a stunning piece of woodworking excellence; fabricated by hand from used Bulleit Bourbon barrels. Translation: it's environmentally friendly.  It includes elegant glassware, and a top-notch entertainment system, including a flat-screen TV, Blu-ray player, and a state-of-the-art sound system, plus a one-year supply of Bulleit Bourbon and Bulleit Rye.  It's the perfect tailgate trailer.

Not enough?  Then watch this:

The craftsmanship that went into this trailer demands an owner.  And that owner should be me.  Just think of all the joy your $150,000 will bring ... me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hidden Passageways (AKA Scooby-Doo Doors)

Anyone from my generation (who grew up in North America - sorry everyone else) will know what I mean when I mention a Scooby-Doo door.  In the old Scooby-Doo series, the gang was always discovering a door hidden in the wall panelling, behind a bookcase, through a sarcophagus ... that would lead them to finding the villain (who would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids).

It wasn't until I was in high school that I discovered those doors were real.  In one of my friend's houses there was a section of wall paneling that would swing open when you pushed on it in a certain way.  Turns out the hidden cupboard behind it was used to hide booze.  There were similar doors in the backs of closets that led into the closets in neighbouring rooms. My friend wasn't sure just what sort of a place his house had been, but it made for some interesting high school parties.

The idea of hidden doors and such has always piqued my interest (I have a lot of booze to hide) and apparently I'm not alone.  Stashvault is a site dedicated to hidden doors, vaults and passageways amongst other secretive building ideas.  The article I came across was a conglomeration of other sites explaining how to build, or offering to build bookcase doorways.  The trick it seems is balance and clearances.  Check out the full article here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

NIM: Self-Repairing Concrete

Concrete is the most widely used building material in the world.  Not only is it used for building structure, it's flexibility has seen it being used increasingly in aesthetic applications.  But as useful as concrete is as a building material, it has one pretty significant design flaw: cracking.

Concrete is prone to developing cracks as it ages.  That in and of itself is not a real problem; minor cracks do not a structural problem make.  The problem come when water gets into those cracks.  Water erodes the concrete structure from the inside out, carries with it other caustic chemicals (e.g. acid rain) and when it freezes inside the concrete does more dammage as it expands.

At the Delft Technical University in Holland Netherlands microbiologist Henk Jonkers and concrete technologist Eric Schlangen are working on a possible solution for cracked concrete by having the concrete repair itself.  Concrete is mixed with bacterial spores and the nutrients for the spore.  On their own the two ingredients are inert. But when water is introduced the spores start to feed and produce a very useful biproduct:  limestone.

"In the lab we have been able to show healing of cracks with a width of 0.5mm - two to three times higher than the norms state," Dr Jonkers explained.

Read more about the project here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Miele's New Über-Quick Dishwasher

If you've ever hosted a dinner party for more than 6 people, you have likely wished for the speed and efficiency that can only be provided by commercial appliances: a range with more surface area or BTU's, a walk-in refrigerator to store all the ingredients for your culinary masterpiece or perhaps a dishwasher than can power through piles of dishes before you retire for the evening.

Miele has heard your requests and has introduced their new Futura ProfiLine dishwasher.  Rather than the typical 60+ minutes required for a regular washing cycle, this dishwasher features the ProSpeed setting that will power through a load in under 25 minutes!  Now that's still nowhere near the 2 minute cycle you'll find in most commercial kitchens, but those commercial dishwashers aren't available in a fully-integrated option ... so I'd say that's a fair trade.

As of the publishing date of this post the Futura ProfiLine was not on the Miele website, but once it's in the system look for it to retail for around $4,000.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

3 Great Recycling Accessories

Remember the days when everything went into the trash?  Newspaper, packaging, food scraps ... even beverage containers wouldn't get you a nickel if you could find a place to take them.  Recycling is now (thankfully) a common occurrence, but has also brought with it the problem of how to integrate it into our daily lives.  After all, saving all those papers, bottles and tin cans to be re-used is all great and fine, but where exactly are you supposed to put it all?

The most common vehicle for storing recyclables in most areas is the "blue box" programme.  Functional, but realistically who wants a big plastic box in the middle of their kitchen?  Fortunately there are a number of really great accessories that can address that.  Not only will they hide your recycling behind a cabinet door, they offer the ability to sort your recycling before it goes to the curb and do so in the convenience of your own kitchen.

The pull-out shown here is from the Euro-Cargo line carried by Richelieu.  What I like about this line of pull-outs is how robust they are.  You can find all sorts of recycling centres at various big-box retailers that look like they'll do the job, but if you examine them closely you'll discover construction techniques that will undoubtedly fail after a short time.  You can expect to pay anywhere from $250-$500 for one of the Euro-Cargo units, but they're built to last.  In addition they come in many different configurations allowing you to combine recycling with trash and even composting.

I have an on-again-off-again love affair with corners.  They can be tricky to design around, and even trickier when it comes to what you can store in them.  This "Rondo" unit (also available through Richelieu) suggests you put your recycling in the corner.  The sink-corner application shown here is a perfect way to take two areas of difficult storage and address them with one simple accessory.  Before adding the Rondo to your accessory list, make sure there's enough room around the plumbing.  The sink in the picture seems to be conveniently lacking any.

If you're fortunate enough to be working with a kitchen designer who has access to a custom shop you could also design something to meet your specific needs.  I would love to take credit for the pull-out shown here, but it was designed and built by my client after we gave up trying to find something pre-made.  I'm showing this recycling unit for two reasons:

1) It's just really clever and I wanted to give credit where credit was due.

2) It shows just how with a little thought you can add some convenience without sacrificing storage that is so essential in a smaller kitchen.

I've written about this before, but it bares repeating.  Keeping the recycling in your kitchen takes up space.  Simply putting a Blue Box in a standard base cabinet would require at least an 18" wide cabinet.  That's 18" of cabinet space you're using to store something you're not consuming.  I'm not saying that this is a bad idea, but in a smaller kitchen where storage is at a premium that space could be used to store things you would use every day.  If possible, find room beneath the sink where you typically would store cleaning items and a garbage bin, or see if you can use a roll-out in the bottom half of a cabinet leaving room above your recycling for more typical kitchen items.

If you have to store your recycling outside, consider it a good opportunity to get outside and grab some fresh air.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Free Kitchen Design Advice: You Can't Get Something For Nothing

I've been sitting on this post for about a year now.  Why?  It's about an article I found online, and when I first read the article I was angry ... think smoke shooting out of my ears, eyes spinning like pinwheels.  If there's one thing I've learned about the online world it's to never post anything anywhere when you're angry.  A year later I have calmed down a bit.

I first discovered the article via the Kitchen & Bath Industry News forum on LinkedIn.  I started noticing regular updates coming from one of the discussion threads, and by regular I mean 2 or 3 new posts an hour.  The thread, titled "Any one else find this article totally outrageous?", was discussing an article from that suggested ways a homeowner could get "free" kitchen design advice:
"Big-box home improvement stores like Lowe's and The Home Depot offer free kitchen design advice as a marketing "come on" to push product lines and attract customers, in general, to the stores. The savvy homeowner interested in a full-scale kitchen renovation can use these free kitchen design services to their advantage--without necessarily going with that company."
What ensued in the LinkedIn thread was post after post of outrage.  How dare this person suggest our clients get free advice when our livelihoods are at stake!   One poster even suggested that lawyers be brought in.  However, the general thrust of the posts came down to one simple fact:  You get what you pay for.

I was a Kitchen Department manager with Home Depot for two years, so I know how the company (used to) operate.  The author of the is spot on when he says that the "free" advice is a come-on ... a loss leader.  It was used to get people into the store for a consultation.  I would suggest the entire Kitchen Department was a loss-leader as well.  If we sold an actual kitchen, great.  If we didn't, at least we brought people in the store and they might buy a hammer or something on the way out.

The majority of the designers who worked for me had minimal experience in the kitchen and bath industry, if any.  More often than not they were from other departments and had expressed an interest in kitchen design.  "I'm really good with computers" was the most common skill touted since we did all our design with a CAD programme.  New "designers" were put through a 3 day course on kitchen design (run by the NKBA when I was there, sadly no longer) and then released to the floor.

So yes, the advice is free, but how accurate is it?

Maybe I've matured in the year since I first read the article, or maybe I'm just numb from thinking about it.  I've made the case for choosing a CKD or professional interior designer for your project time and again on this blog.  But in the end, is that any different than the post on suggesting you milk the system for free advice?  The reality of the situation is that people are always going to try and get something for nothing.  There's nothing wrong with offering it and nothing wrong with taking advantage of it.

I leave it up to you, my future customer, to decide for yourself what route is best for you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wood Cabinet Doors: Consistently Random

If I had to chose one material for my kitchen cabinet doors that I had to live with for the rest of my life, it would without a doubt be wood.  Perhaps it's because I was born and raised in the rugged wilderness of (Vancouver) British Columbia or perhaps it's just the natural randomness of the grain, but wood just feels good to be around.

But as much as that "natural randomness" adds to the character of wood, it also presents some issues if you're looking for something a bit more consistent.  Now I know that sounds like common sense, but you'd be surprised how many clients have expressed concerns that their wood doors aren't exactly the same colour throughout.

Here are some examples of different things to look out for when selecting wood doors:
Woods like walnut, hickory or this heart birch door are not for the faint of heart to be sure.  They are all about the grain variation.  No amount of staining is going to get this door to even out.  If you don't love it, stay away.

But even something like maple door is subject to colour tone variations.  This door is 100% solid Eastern Maple and is finished in a clear lacquer.  Depending on the angle of light and the angle you are looking at it the rails and stiles of the door take on different colour qualities.

To add to the conundrum, the door looked perfectly even in colour before it was finished.  This means that even if you wanted to take the time and effort to select pieces of wood that matched you'd have no idea how they would turn out after they were finished.

This is a cherry door finished in a "Tobacco" stain.  Cherry has been the wood of choice over maple when a dark stain is desired because maple has the tendency to get a bit blotchy when stained dark.  However, even with the "better" wood the variation between the different parts of the doors can still be quite noticeable.

When selecting wood cabinetry for your project, try whenever possible to see an example of the wood in a larger installation.  A single door sample just isn't going to give you a true indication of what you can expect.  It doesn't even need to be the exact species and door stye you're considering, just the wood and as close to the colour you'd like as possible will do.  Sometimes the randomness can even out in a larger installation. 

Do your homework.  You'll thank me later.

Monday, October 22, 2012

NIM: Future Appliances

Since 2002 appliance manufacturer Electrolux has been inviting industrial design students to submit their ideas for the appliance of the future to their Electrolux Design Lab.  The annual competition offers a prize of 5,000 euros and a six-month paid internship at an Electrolux global design center.  That's a pretty serious opportunity for some of the best new minds in industrial design, so you can imagine the entries did not disappoint.  Here are some highlights from the over 1,200 entries received:


Tastee is designed to mimic human taste buds, analyze what you are cooking, and tell you if you need more salt, oregano or wine (there's always room for more wine).  Designed by Christopher Holm-Hansen of Denmark.


Have you ever spent what seems like eternity of front of the stove stirring your risotto or polenta?  Well that is a problem no longer thanks to the Easystir—a mechanism that will stir endlessly by utilizing the magnetic field produced by an induction stove.  And because it only works when the stove is on, there's no need to for batteries or plugs!  Norwegian student Lisa Frodadottir Låstad designed the Easystir

And lest you think I'm only focussing on the (very intelligent) Scandinavians, I offer you the Impress from New Zealand designer Ben de la Roche.  Impress is a refrigeration "wall" that cools only what you put in it, thus conserving energy.  The concept is not only extremely functional, but the honeycomb design is visually appealing as well.

To see the designs from the 10 finalists of this year's competition, check out the slide-show here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why Am I A CKD?

I achieved my CKD (Certified Kitchen Designer) accreditation back in 2001. Since then the question I am most often asked is "why should I use a CKD"?  I typically respond with a somewhat longwinded explanation of what a CKD does and how it will save you time and help you avoid pitfalls.  Trust the NKBA to answer the same question in their new 30 second commercial.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Help Me Help You: PunchLists for iOS

I've written before about the last few little jobs on a remodelling project and how they seem to take a disproportionate amount of time.  Some call it the 80/20 rule, others refer to it as the "short strokes".  One of the reasons the little jobs seem to drag on is because they're easy to forget.  A nick in the paint on a railing in the basement is certainly not top of the list for your general contractor ... if it's on a list at all.

I've discussed the use of lists before.  On my iPhone I use the standard Reminders app.  Very basic, but at least things are written down.  Thankfully, the folks at SmartTools have come up with a great little app called Punchlists.  Punchlists allows you to photograph whatever it is that needs to go on your list, add some text describing it, and then take the entire list and email it to the trades who need to finish up.

I've tried it out on a couple projects and have found it an excellent way to keep my thoughts organized, and keep the communications clear with everyone exactly what is left to be done on the job.

PunchLists is available for iPhone and iPad (sorry Android users)  for $4.99.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Vin de Garde - Wine Design in Vancouver

For years I've been writing about the importance of consulting with a kitchen designer when planning for your kitchen, and how finding a designer that knows how to cook adds a level of understanding to that process.  The same applies to a wine cellar.

I met the guys from vin de guarde a number of years ago at the IDS West show in Vancouver.  I was  designing a wine cellar for a new client and was having trouble coming up with a simple and attractive way to do so.  Even though I have access to a cabinet shop, cabinet shops build boxes, which for limited applications are just fine for storing wine.  For a wine cellar ... not so much.

vin de garde focusses specifically on custom wine cellar designs.  They design them, build them, install them and can even help you decide how to stock them and maintain them.  It makes perfect sense when you think about it.    Entrusting your wine collection to someone who knows and appreciates wine is going to go a long way.

vin de garde's product line has grown significantly from when I first encountered them.  I addition to the original wood racking system they produced (still one of the simplest and most versatile I've seen) they've added a number of modern racking systems as well as refrigeration units.  Take a few moments over on their website to see their full line of products, or to read about their design process.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Giving the Lightbulb a Kickstart

If you've never spent any time over at Kickstarter, do yourself a favour and go.  There are a lot of creative people out there looking to get their ideas off the ground and Kickstarter provides them with the avenue to do so.

Take LIFX for example.  LIFX is more than just a new kind of light bulb.  It's a new way of controlling the lighting in your room.  Rather than relying on a simple switch, LIFX uses WiFi and your handheld device to control almost every aspect of how you light your room.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

My Neighbourhood: U Are Cool

Some days a post writes itself.  Today is one of those days.  And I'll warn you right now it's not very designer or even food related.  Rather it's a about an idea that I've been mulling over the past few years.

I live in the house I was born in.  Okay, not literally born in, but I spent the first two years of my life there.  It was my grandmother's house (my dad was raised there too) and years later, when I moved back into the house as an adult to help look after my grandmother, the neighbours on all sides of us were the same as when I was a newborn.

Back then there was a real sense of neighbourhood amongst the people who lived there.  You knew  your neighbours.  You helped paint their fence, you mowed their lawn when they were away, you didn't hesitate to walk into their kitchen and help yourself to a cookie ... okay that was a 2 year old me, but you get the point.

Things are different today.  Families moved on for work or school, the real estate market proved too tempting and homes were sold, and neighbours passed away.  The families that have moved into the area seem to look at their homes as an investment rather than as part of something bigger.  That's their right of course, but it's a shame.

And yet, there are a number of rental homes in the area that in a strange way may be reintroducing the idea of neighbourhood to the area.  These homes are typically rented by either university students or young families.  The students are pretty transient (they rarely stay for more than two semesters) but they at least use their yards and make the homes appear lived in.  Other homes down are block have toys and bikes scattered in the front yards, a clear indication that the neighbourhood still exists.  Meanwhile the McMansions next door keep their shutters closed around the clock.

Last week one of our neighbours, the mom and her 4 year old son, came to our front door with a couple of tomato plants.  They were moving and wanted to know if we would like the plants.  They'd seen our garden and figured we'd provide the tomatos with a good home.  I accepted and wished them good luck in their new location.

When I walked my dog this morning I noticed a message written in chalk on the sidewalk in front of our house.  I saw similar messages written in front of other houses.  I recognized the handwriting as that of the mother (from many chalk drawings in front of their home) and her son.  They moved out this morning, but not before leaving the neighbourhood a little gift; a reminder that neighbourhood is about more than where you live.  It's where you make your home.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Gallery: Clean & Serene

You may remember this tantalizing picture as a pre-cursor to a remodel I was just starting.  You'll be pleased to know the bathroom and its hardwood flooring are now long gone, and the new kitchen that occupies the space is now complete.  To orient yourself with the new kitchen, the toilet and bathtub are approximately where we've placed the new cooktop.  Once the queasiness subsides, enjoy the new kitchen!
Get the flash player here:
The palate for this kitchen was chosen for its calming nature; the soft blues of the glass playing of the warmth of the laminate (yes, LAMINATE) doors. The countertops are Cambria Quartz surfacing (Torquay) and the flooring is an old favourite of mine, Marmoleum.

Combining the old bathroom space with the new kitchen has allowed the new design to eliminate wall cabinetry on two walls and still have plenty of storage space for the clients.  Pantry spaces are accessorized with roll-out shelves and a full height pantry pull-out to make the amble storage as useful as possible.  And by putting all the tall elements in this kitchen onto one wall, the amount of continuous counter space is every cook's dream.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tile With Texture II

There's a really strong trend in the tile industry towards texture.  Tiles that take advantage of all 3 dimensions add depth to a surface in a way that faux finishing can only dream about.  Tiles also have the added benefit of allowing precise repetition of design.  I've featured some textural tiles previously and have discovered a few more that really show off this trend.

WallArt has come up with a terrific new series of embossed tile (16 pattern in all) made out of a 100% recycled and 100% biodegradable product made from bagasse.  Bagasse is the fibrous residue that is left after sugarcane is crushed to create raw sugar.  Apparently it can be compressed and formed into all sorts of shapes ... these tiles as an example.  

Patters range from brick-like, to more organic waves and craters (shown left). The tiles are thinner than you might imagine, so cutting and installing them is relatively simple.

Maps and various forms of cartography have been finding their way into many aspects of design ... so why not tile?  Brazilian designer Renata Rubim has incorporated cityscapes into a series of tiles called appropriately enough, "CITY".

The tiles are made from refractory concrete so they're suitable for both floor and wall applications (I'm thinking behind an AGA or an outdoor grill).  Several different patterns are available, so rather than playing another round of Sim City perhaps you can fulfill your metropolis building desires in your own home.

I tend to avoid celebrity designers on Useful Spaces.  Not that I have any issue with them per se (okay maybe a little) I just don't feel they need my "help" in promoting their particular product.  But when we're talking about Lenny Kravitz, well, the coolness factor is just too overwhelming.

Lenny has collaborated with Lea Ceramiche to create Goccia wall tiles.  "Goccia" means "drop" in Italian, and when you look at the patterns in this series you see where the name comes from.  Quiet yet visually impactful Goccia are available strictly in black or white and in a glossy or matte finish

Monday, August 13, 2012

NIM: VibraAcoustic - Good Vibrations in the Bath

I'm a shower guy, and yes if you must know I like to sing in the shower.  Not rock ballads or anything like that ... usually soccer chants (quit laughing!) .  But I've heard tales of people who prefer taking a long soak in the tub with some music playing in the background.

Kohler has taken this idea a step further with their new VibraAcoustic line of tubs.  Plug your favourite MP3 player into one of these tubs and you can enjoy your favourite tunes in or out of the water.  Check out how they're using it in Rio, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Paris!

VibrAcoustic technology permeates your entire body with buoyant rhythms that carry you on a course toward complete relaxation. Vibrations surround your body and resound throughout your core as the slow, sonic rhythms pulse both above and below the waterline. Choose one of our four original compositions or listen to music on your own personal device. Either way, the resulting relaxation and calm is closer to a spa session than anything previous experienced in the bath.
I just want to know if my bubble bath would overflow if I played my extensive collection of Georgio Moroder albums.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Making It Work - NKBA Guideline #4

In the last Design Tips we beat up on the work triangle a bit and talked about work centres and how they need to relate to each other.  I'm feeling a little grumpy today and want to go after the stodgy old rules a bit more.

Anyone who's spent any time in the kitchen understands that it makes little if any sense to put obstacles in the way of your work flow.  NKBA Guideline #4 states that a full-height, full-depth, tall obstacle (such as a tall pantry, refrigerator or wall oven cabinet) should not separate two primary work centers.  Thanks for the clarification.  Seriously, we needed to be told this?

In the top illustration on the left we see a wall oven cabinet to the right of the cooktop (it's the one with the red "NO" symbol on it). If I was only ever going to spend time at the cooktop this could be viewed as a convenient location; sear your roast then pop it in the oven.  of course, if you needed some water from the sink, well you're in a bit of trouble right?

There is a sneaky solution to this.  In the next drawing the tall unit is recessed into the corner.  Let's not worry about how much space this wastes for now, but rather focus on how it allows us to maintain a work flow from one side of the wall-oven to the other.  It's a great solution for the right situation, but an expert's eye is needed.  I try to avoid it whenever possible.

Our next guideline (#5 for those of you following along at home) is so obvious I'm a bit embarrassed to even bring it up, but you'd be surprised how many designs miss it completely.  No major traffic patterns should cross through the basic work triangle.  Think of it this way:  if the primary path to the back patio runs directly across the path between the sink and the fridge, how many times will you be interrupted by stampeding kids while preparing for a BBQ?  If it was my house I'd just knock the rugrats on their backsides, but if you're not as mean as I you need to find away to keep the traffic flowing.

The illustrations shows one of the simplest ways to avoid this mistake.  An island can clearly define the footprint of the kitchen, and will nicely direct non-kitchen traffic away from the work spaces.  A peninsula works as well, as will a Jack Russel Terrier with an attitude.  The point to take away from this: pay attention to the traffic patterns in your kitchen.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Kitchen Efficiency Comes in Small Packages

Integr60 cm wide fridge (on right)
I've recently moved over to a new laptop and have been spending the past few weeks going though old files and bookmarks, deciding what's worthwhile and what needs to be purged.  The purging was somewhat fortuitous because I rediscovered an article from fellow designer Becky Shankle.  Becky wrote about an idea she's been percolating about designing around smaller appliances, and it just so happens that I'm designing a kitchen for someone who would do well to pay attention to Becky's advice.
Let's design our kitchens around small appliances. This would allow our real focus to be on useable work and storage space, nicely appointed accents, good lighting and integration with other living spaces. 
It's all about efficiency.  If we have a small space to work with (as is the case with my client) then it's imperative we use every square centimetre of space we can.  We can't rely on "bigger is better" because we don't have room for bigger.  This isn't a problem if you're building a 4500 square foot monster home like those that seem to pop up in my neighbourhood like big ugly stuccoed weeds.  But as our cities because more dense, and space becomes more valuable, sub-300 square foot apartments will become more common.

An apartment that small just doesn't allow you to use that 36" french door fridge.  30" is going to be the biggest and 24" would be even better.  Becky refers to the 80/20 rule and applies it to the fridge ... so most of your eating comes from a small portion of the volume of your fridge.  It makes sense.  The other day our fridge went on the fritz and we had to downsize to a 24" bar fridge while the main fridge was repaired. It was amazing the number of items we just composted because they'd been in the fridge for so long and just never used.  Most of the European homes I've been in use a 24" (60 cm) wide fridge or narrower.

Becky offers other reasons for using a smaller fridge:
  • Our power use would go down.
  • We'd be more inclined to eat fresher food, since there'd be less space for prepackaged food. We might lose weight, like our European comrades.
  • Contents would be more visible; less waste and fewer forgotten items at the back.
  • We might have more room for countertop and cabinet space.
I have a hard time arguing with any of those reasons.  And as I continue going through my laptop and purging the things I don't really need, it has dawned on me that I might not actually NEED that 500 Gb hard-drive.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Kitchen Design For Dogs

As a dog owner I am aware of how my home and my pet "fit".  Gates, water dishes and dog beds all impact how some rooms are designed.  We've recently had a couple dog "guests" in our home, which started me thinking about the number of times I've had to design a kitchen around the family pet.

By far the most common design request I receive for pets is a sleeping space.  This can be as simple as a space along the wall without cabinetry so your pooch can lie down, or something a little more elaborate with a raised platform with cushions and storage.  Remember dogs like to flake out in several different positions, some curl up, some stretch out.  Gromit used to lie on her back sometime.  Make sure you measure the actual space the dog uses when it sleeps, and also make sure there's room for it to turn around (and around and around ... ) as it tries to get comfortable.  And if you're considering a raised platform, consider the age and breed of the dog.  Some dogs (German Shepherds for example) suffer from bad hips as they age possibly making a raised bed too difficult to climb into.

Next to sleeping Gromit, like most dogs, liked to eat.  If a kitchen is large enough it's quite simple to build in a dedicated eating space.  Since dogs are creatures of habit training them to go to the same place for din-dins is simple and if designed properly the dog's dining area is a nice way to show everyone that your pet is an important part of the family.  Make sure the surfaces used are appropriate for the amount of abuse they will suffer ... anyone who's seen a hungry dog inhale a bowl of kibble will know what I mean.  The stainless steel bowls in the island shown here are a great choice, not just because they're easy to keep clean, but also because they're removable.  I'm not so keen on the painted surface around it ... let's just assume it's a plastic laminate shall we?

The biggest problem we had in the kitchen with our dogs had nothing to do with sleeping (Jacks are small and will sleep almost anywhere) but with eating ... in particular storing the large bags of dog food (thanks a LOT Costco).  We've solved the problem with a roll-out shelf in the pantry and a storage tub we picked up at some Scandinavian housewares store.  The food is easily accessible although filling the tub presents a bit of a problem for my wife (it's a height thing).

This is a solution I have used several times.  There are several pull-out waste/recycling bins on the market but I find this one from Richelieu to be one of the best.  The "Euro-Cargo" line has different configurations with different sizes and numbers of tubs.  Whichever accessory you select, be sure the tubs are removable.  You'll thank me when the tubs start smelling a little "funky".  

You may have noticed all my examples here are canine.  I am a dog person, with no experience (or desire to have any) with cats.  If you're a cat person, it shouldn't be to difficult to translate these into your world.  Cat's aren't that bright after all.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Great Design: Office Space

Back in April I received an email from Useful Spaces reader Lorena Laurencelle of Yulu Communications regarding an office project they had just completed. No, it's not a kitchen, but the design of their new 300 square foot office on Granville Island can teach us a lot about good design and the value of working with a qualified designer.

The full report can be found on Yulu's blog, but I wanted to focus on a couple aspect of the project. First, the designer had the challenge of squeezing three work stations, a kitchenette and room for a boardroom table into the small space. This wasn't just about figuring out what would physically fit, but what would work with the work flow of the office. A boardroom table isn't much good if it prevents someone from opening their file drawers while it's being used.

There is in fact a small kitchenette in their office as well. By using a bar fridge and finding space in one of the drawers for drying dishes, Katie Schomaker (interior designer and owner of Katie Kovets) was able to free up counter space and keep lunch-time clutter from the rest of the office.  This is similar to trying to hide post-dinner clutter from the dining room in an open concept kitchen.

My favourite point from Lorena's post however was her discussion of the benefits of using a qualified designer to help with your project:
Some may feel that bringing a designer on is a luxury that they can’t afford but with the savings we had access to through Katie’s inside wholesale rates, we just about broke even. 
I would add that a qualified designer can sort out a solution to your problem more quickly than if you attempted to design a complicated room like an office or a kitchen on your own.  The experience we have leads us to a design solution sooner and more efficiently.

Thanks to Lorena for sharing this!
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