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Monday, January 30, 2012

NIM: Retro LED Bulb From Panasonic

LED lighting is certainly the way of the future, but as has been the case with other low voltage light sources the tendency in the lighting community has been to redesign everything ... bulb, fixture, etc.  If you're starting from scratch this isn't necessarily a problem.  But in a retrofit situation you're looking at a lot of cost and waste to replace outdated technology.

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Panasonic has the answer for this, at least in terms of the good old A-type light bulb.  Their new LED bulb works in the old type lamp base, but uses only a fraction of the energy to produce the same amount of light as the old style of bulb.  At 4.4W it also has an extremely long life span ... in the region of 40 years based on just over 2.5 hours of usage a day.

But what I like best about it is that it simply looks right.  The clear glass of the bulb and its familiar shape are simply comforting.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

TopBrewer - Blending Great Coffee with Great Design

This post is published at 6:00am PST, right around the time when I'm starting up the espresso machine in my kitchen.  Later the same morning I'll go into the office and start up another coffee maker.  Coffee, and in particular caffeine has become a daily part of many of our lives.  The trouble with many of these machines is they are pretty bulky and quite honestly unattractive.  I know my Oscar (pictured here) bothers my wife to no end.  That is until I use it to make her morning lattĂ©.  It's all about compromise.

But there's no compromise when it comes to the TopBrewer from Scanomat.  The TopBrewer is one of the most elegant coffee machines I've ever seen, and based on reviews from some of the top baristas in the world it brews a damn fine espresso.



Amazing isn't it?  The iPhone/iPad integration alone would cut my productivity by an easy 20%.  Granted, this isn't going to replace a countertop espresso maker, but in your office or a kitchen large enough for another water cooler, the TopBrewer may just be the answer.
But before you go rushing out looking for a TopBrewer, distribution in Canada is still in the works.  It's very new on the market.  Check with their website for details about distribution in your area.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Kitchen Design That Provides Relief

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The first design firm I worked for was a factory outlet for a big cabinet manufacturer.  As such, they were interested more in selling boxes than creating kitchens.  So as a young impressionable designer I also became focussed on filling every kitchen I designed with as many cabinets as possible. But after visiting one such project, I was struck by just how choked the room felt with all those cabinets. There was no relief; no chance for the room to breathe.


Today I've learned that what isn't in a design is just as important as what is.  This philosophy really translates itself into kitchen design in two ways.  The first is simply about leaving wall space in a kitchen so there is relief from the visual mass of a lot of cabinets.  If you ever find yourself in the foyer of a turn-of-the-century home with lots of oak wall panelling you know exactly what I'm talking about.  Sometimes leaving a wall without cabinetry makes more of a statement than with.  And having a blank wall affords you the opportunity to personalize your kitchen with a favourite piece of art.

Often when I'm discussing this philosophy with clients, concern is expressed that by leaving out cabinetry I'll also be leaving out storage.  As I've said numerous times in this blog the kitchen is a work space first and foremost.  Sacrificing storage for aesthetics is not an option for me.  However, there are many ways to provide storage without overwhelming the room with great masses of cabinetry.

The simplest technique is to change the door style or finish of a section of cabinets to something that contrasts the primary style.  In our firm, the most common example of this is a kitchen with an island.  The perimeter cabinets are typically painted, and the island is done in a dark wood and styled to make the island appear like a piece of furniture.

Or, rather than simulating a piece of furniture there's also the opportunity to use an actual piece of furniture.  Perhaps an antique that's been in the family for generations, or just a baker's rack that allows you to keep supplies out for easy access.  The relief provided by furniture can will also add personality to your kitchen.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Help Me Help You: The "B" Word Revisited


This is not the first time I've written about project budgets, nor will it be the last.  But as we stumble our way into 2012 facing more economic doubt I thought this was a good time to remind ourselves of a few things before we start chasing the almighty dollar into places we really shouldn't be going

One of the first serious questions I will ask a prospective client is “What budget have you put aside for your kitchen remodel?”  Let's be honest, talking about money is scary! (for the client at least).  Clients have told me after the fact they were afraid I would "spend to their budget" or I would think less of them that their budget wasn't sufficient ... that I would think they were poor.

A designer I've worked with over the years uses the automotive industry to illustrate the importance of the budget question:
"If I walked into a Porsche dealership and told the salesperson I had $25,000 for a new car, the salesperson would politely show me the door.  Why? Because he would have nothing to offer me.  
But if I took that same budget and walked into a Hyundai dealership, the salesperson would have several models to chose from, and may even have something suitable for less than my budget. 
Sometimes we want a Porsche, but can only afford a Hyundai. That's not a bad thing.  It's just a fact"
Once I know a client’s budget I can see if what they're shopping for can be achieved within that budget. I have often suggested a client needs to re-think their budget because their expectations cannot be met by their budget.  Sometimes the solution is substituting a less expensive material that achieves a similar effect.  Sometimes the answer is waiting until the budget is there.  Investing too little into a project is often worse than not investing anything at all.   But unless I know the budget I can't help. I can only guess.

Before you start visiting showrooms, have a good idea what your project budget is. It doesn’t need to be cast in stone. Even a range is fine ($40,000 to $50,000). If you really have no idea, think of it in terms of investment (i.e. how much you want to invest in your home). You can even ask friends or family who have done similar projects recently. The more information you can provide your designer, the happier you’ll both be in the long run.

Monday, January 16, 2012

NIM: Fog Free Shaving Mirror

I shave in the shower.  That's probably more than you needed (or wanted) to know, but I tell you this because it's one of those little things that's important to know when you design a bathroom for the man of the house.  The issue for shower-shavers is not where to put the shaving cream or hang the razor whilst showering, but how to deal with a mirror that's constantly fogging up.

I use a simple wall mounted mirror, which conveniently also has slots to hang my razors.  But several times while I'm shaving off that manly stubble every morning I'm forced to swing the shower head across the mirror and wash the condensation away.  As long as that mirror is able to cool down that's always going to be an issue.

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This is the Reflect and it's a great example of a design idea so brilliant in its simplicity.  The mirror doubles as your shower head, allowing the warm water to run behind the mirror, thus preventing condensation.  The only issues I have with it are A) it means I couldn't use a hand-held shower head without some major re-plumbing, and B) there are no cool little hooks for my razors.

It retails for $295 (USD) and is conveniently available from the Reflect website.

Friday, January 13, 2012

NKBA Guidelines #1 & #2 - Entryways

This is my CKD (Certified Kitchen Designer) stamp.  It may not be as prestigious as an engineer's or architect's stamp, but I worked hard to ear it and work hard to maintain it.  Why am I a CKD?  I may be a bit biased, but I feel the best way to tackle a new kitchen project is to hire professional, and in this industry, a CKD is that professional.

As a CKD I can look at a room, the appliances and material wishes and desires and somehow turn them into a functioning kitchen.  Part of the CKD training is based on a series of guidelines set out by the NKBA.  Over the next few months I'm going to have a closer look at these guidelines; find out what they're really trying to get at and how to best implement them in your design.

Today we'll start at the beginning ... or rather NKBA Kitchen Guideline #1.

For a minimum standard, the clear opening of a doorway into the kitchen should be at least 32’’ wide. This would require a minimum 2’-10’’ door.

That's just fine if you're looking for the minimum standard.  But if at all possible, what we really want is a clear opening of at least 34’’. This would require a minimum 3’-0’’ door since we're measuring the actual opening with door open to 90 degrees (door to frame).

If the passage into the kitchen is deeper than 24" (for example, you have cabinetry on either side of the opening) that doorway increases to 36".

Now that we have all the doorways handled, we still have one more thing to consider;  interference (which turns out to be NKBA Guideline #2).  Nothing is quite as annoying as having a kitchen door open, only to have it block access to the wall oven, or if the dishwasher is open and you cannot open the oven door.  In addition, we should also consider what's going around an open door.  If the dishwaser is open for example, it's important to allow space to stand, move and put away the dishes!

The important thing to remember with any of the guidelines is that they have been designed for optimal situations.  Proper access into the kitchen just makes life better, preventing doorway collisions with others and helping you enjoy your new space.  However, in some kitchens it's just not possible to achieve a 36" opening.  Don't panic.  Your design professional will help you decide what's best for your particular project. 

Illustrations (C) NKBA.org

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Designing With a Wall-Mount Faucet

The use of wall-mounted faucets is not new.  It's true I'm seeing more of them thanks to the rise in apron front sinks (aka Farmhouse sinks), and to a lesser degree pot-filler faucets near cooking surfaces.  But the idea has been around for a long time.  In the bathroom, this is a given ... most faucets associated with bathtubs are wall-mounted.  But if you look at older kitchens, laundry rooms and you'll also see quite a few.  If you've ever worked in an institutional environment you'll have noticed them as well.

I'm a fan of them for a number of reasons.  Aesthetically they stand apart (quite literally) from a deck mounted faucet, almost demanding your attention.  And because they're up on the wall there's the added benefit of not having to clean the countertop around them.  But before you run off to your local plumbing fixture showroom and choosing a wall-mount for your next kitchen project, there are a couple things to keep in mind.

If there's a window behind the sink, you'll need to allow sufficient space between the countertop and the window sill to allow not only the faucet to fit, but the plumbing as well.  With a typical faucet installation, the plumber will typically have the entire space in the sink cabinet to fit the water lines.  Not so with a wall mounted faucet.  In addition to fitting the water lines, there's also the valves that the faucet needs to attach to.  And let's not forget the backing required to make the faucet secure.  

In the situation pictured here, not only did we have to get the water lines and rough-ins into the cavity behind the sink we also had to be pin-point accurate with the location.  You'll notice the sink has an integral splash and the faucet mounts through holes in that splash.  What this means for the plumber is he has zero room for error in locating the rough-ins for the faucet.  We were fortunate on this project because we had a closet on the other side of the wall.  We simply cut an access panel on the other side of the wall and were able to locate the faucet after the sink was installed.

But with wall-mounted faucets, like any fixture, appliance or material that is not typical (i.e. very familiar to you) it's really important to do the planning well in advance of the installation.  Installation headaches will erase the joy of your new faucet, no matter how good it looks.

Monday, January 9, 2012

NIM: Secret To A Successful Dinner Party

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Dinner parties are designed to share time with your friends, but also to introduce those friends to each other.  But getting those friends to mingle while seated around a dinner table is often a challenge.  My solution is to serve food buffet style, but that introduces the challenge of eating while standing up.
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Designer Marco A. Guadarrama has looked to the Japanese for inspiration, and come up with this terrific idea for a hand-held tray that holds a bowl and your wine glass.  Clever design also means that the trays are suitable for left or right handed guests.  Removing a table between guests allows people to mingle better ... and that's what dinner parties are all about.  Besides, they look damn cool.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Tile With Texture

We are introduced to a lot of new tile at Useful Spaces.  Suppliers bring in the latest colours and shapes, manufacturers send us press releases showing of the latest additions to their catalogues.  There's so much coming at us all the time that it really all starts to blend together.  So when a new tile comes along that's really unique, we sit up and take notice.  Today, we'd like to share with you some tile that's really grabbed our attention.

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From Kutahyah Seramik (Turkey) comes a line called Versatile.  Versatile features 2 geometric shapes (the Arc & the Axis) each in six colours.  Each shape can be installed in a variety of patterns than resemble something like a Chinese Tanagram puzzle.  The good news?  There are distributors throughout the world, so this isn't a case of look, but can't touch ... and these tiles really beg to be touched.

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Mosaico+ has really blurred the lines as to what is "proper" material for tile by mixing stone, glass, metal and wood ... yes wood ... for something truly unique.  What wood warms is made precious by metal; what glass reveals, stone conceals.  This series is all about the "dialogue" between materials, so it's no surprise that Mosaico+ has named it Dialoghi.  And before we receive any emails about wood not being a suitable choice, the wood used in these tiles is dried and treated to prevent any damage.

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This last tile is almost a combination of the previous two, combining unique materials and adding a touch of geometric style. This is the Dune series from Toronto based Urbanproduct. Each batch of tiles is hand made based on the project, and is currently offered the tile in gypsum, wintertone, concrete and solid North American hardwoods.  Have some other material in mind?  Just ask.  The beauty of this tile is the way it uses material and shadow to alter the texture.  I would use this as a wall covering rather than the large sheets of horizontal grain white oak we've been seeing lately. Much more interesting.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

SketchUp: Follow Me to EASIER Crowns

I'm confident enough in my SketchUp abilities (or lack thereof so it seems) to admit when I've got something wrong, or at the very least to admit there's a better way to do something than the way I've done it since the beginning of time.

Back in October of 2011, I wrote about how I use SketchUp's extremely useful "Follow Me" tool.  Essentially, I told you to select the face to extrude with the tool, and then drag it along the path you wanted it to follow.  No sooner had that post gone live than Google put up a post with how to properly use the Follow Me tool.  I'm talking 2 days!  It's like the SketchUp guys were all laughing amongst themselves, saying "Let's let that Useful Spaces post sit up a little longer, and then let the world know how wrong he is!"

So, with my ego still in tact, here is the correct way to use the Follow Me tool, courtesy of the SketchUp blog.

1) Make sure your extrusion profile (a face) and your extrusion path (one or more edges) are set up the way you want them to be.


2) Select (with the Select Tool) the edges that make up the extrusion path you want to use.

 3) Activate the Follow Me Tool by clicking its icon or choosing Tools > Follow Me. When you active Follow Me, the edges you selected in Step 2 will appear to deselect; they won't be highlighted anymore. Don't worry, though -- they're still selected.


4) Click (with the Follow Me Tool) the face you want to extrude.

5) Everything happens in a flash. VoilĂ !

Now, in my defense, I still think my way looks much cooler, but if you're doing a lengthy extrusion this is most definitely the way to go.

All pictures from Google

Monday, January 2, 2012

NIM: Piggy Power!

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I believe that the first post of a new year really should set a tone.  So with that in mind, I'd like to introduce you to the Power Bank from Art Lebedev Studio.  I know they've designed it to look like a piggy bank, but who's kidding who?  This is all about using electricity to roast our little swine into porky submission.  In fact, I think this would be the perfect power supply for my office if it would slowly emit the odour of bacon throughout the day.

Happy New Year everyone!
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