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.

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