Monthly Archives: January 2011

Appliance and Fixture News from IBS

Fire and Ice, Tub Gates, & More

At the recent Home Builder Show in Orlando many new product introductions seemed to contradict the current state of the economy. In fact, the power of invention seemed to be energized, as if companies have decided that now is the time to rethink for allure, efficiency, and flexibility. Here’s a quick round-up of appliances and fixtures that caught my attention.

The Solaris 36 MR from Heat & Glo is a see-through direct-vent gas  fireplace. I saw it installed in Professional Builder magazine’s  “Sea Breeze” Idea House, which was erected in the parking lot beside the convention center.

The two-sided fireplace is circular — it was set at eye level in a partition between the upstairs family room and sitting room.

It can have different surrounds and mounts to a typical 2 by 6 interior stud wall. The “razor burner” creates a single flame in a line across the face for a very sculptural effect. Fireplace as moongate? Washer-Dryer as art piece? The hottest new digital camera??!! It definitely “ignites conversation,” as the press material says. Perhaps something to consider for your media or play room — Fire it up when you want to watch a dvd of The Lord of the Rings to set an appropriate “Eye of Mordor” mood.

Or, for something colder, how about the new GE Monogram 30-Inch Fully Integrated Refrigerator.

Fully integrated here means that the refrigerator doors are equipped with an articulating hinge, “enabling them to be completely out of sight behind surrounding cabinetry.” There are three compartments: upper for fresh food; shallow middle drawer for frozen foods and ice; and a lower tall drawer with a uniquely flexible function: its temperature can be set from 5 degrees below zero to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, if you don’t need a lot of freezer space you can use the lower drawer as your mini-wine cellar. Ingenious — and a good solution for smaller kitchens.  Glass doors are also available for top and bottom compartments.

GE was also demonstrating their “Home Energy Display” (part of their “Nucleus energy manager with Brillion technology”), which will be available later this year.

When connected to a smart meter it can show consumers how much energy they are using in real time. A very good idea.

For aging gracefully in place, Kohler is now offering its “Elevance Rising Wall Bath.” (The names of these new products are becoming more and more linguistically and subliminally inventive — “elevance” cleverly makes you think of elegance and lifting at the same time and yet is totally made-up and GE’s “Brillion technology” makes you think of “brilliant” without actually spelling it…).

The ADA-approved bath has a chair-height seat and a foot well. You sit on the seat and then swing your legs into the bath.

Then lift the lightweight wall until it latches — that’s when the seal inflates to make the wall watertight. It also comes with a hand-held shower arm and optional bubble massage.

Squeaky floors are a common problem in new construction and so I was interested in attending the debut press conference on Paslode’s new TetraGrip fastening system.

It’s basically an 8-penny nail with a “barbed helix design.” It is driven with a spiral movement like a screw — with a special pneumatic nailer, also invented by Paslode.

According to Paslode the system has been tested on 200 new houses so far and there have been no call-backs to fix squeaky floors. Someday these hybrid nails might be just the thing to silence our own ancient and reverberating stair. Next week: more product and idea house reviews.

Martha Stewart and the 2011 Home Builder Show

With apologies to Charles Dickens, the International Home Builders Show (IBS)  in Orlando last week was the worst of times and the best of times. Worst because of an economy that meant fewer exhibits and lower attendance and snowstorms in the southeast that closed airports and highways. Best because the smaller  size — only one vast convention hall

and a thousand exhibits to cover — made it easier to see everything and find time for several especially interesting show homes, like the net zero energy concept home produced by KB Home and Martha Stewart. The 2,667 square-foot, 3 bedroom, 2  bath subdivision house is slated to sell for $380,000. As you would expect from these folks, it’s full of great ideas and products, from the invisible glass-front, gas living room fireplace (Montebello by Lennox)

under the elegant round mirror that brings the entire room into focus (showing the media tour in progress), to the kitchen at the opposite end,

where cabinets, open shelves, and cubbies by Merillat allow for multiple storage and display options to make the rear wall both functional and visually compelling. The Dupont Zodiaq-topped island, 7 feet 6 inches by 4 feet 6 inches,

includes a wide, deep Kohler apron-front farmhouse sink, a convenient “drop-in” stainless steel compost canister by Blanco (want it!) instead of a disposal, pull-out recycle bins (to right of sink, not visible here),

and ample room for books. Nearby is the pantry,

accessible through glass-fronted double doors beside the microwave and wine storage. A built-in desk to the right of the pantry has space for a laptop.

Ten foot-tall sliding glass panels by Windoor open the kitchen/dining area to a spacious lanai,

with its own fireplace,

allowing the house to expand for entertaining in good weather.

At the media conference I asked Martha Stewart what her greatest challenge was in shaping the interior. She said it was “to keep it gracious, with good proportions, and high 9 foot 4-inch ceilings.” I would elaborate  that her team’s simple but sophisticated decisions — such as adding chest-high, white-painted horizontal wainscoting, setting windows low in the wall, using stone-like ceramic tile floor tiles and a refined pastel color palette (with AkzoNobel’s  Martha Stewart low VOC paint) throughout — made this house feel custom-designed.

Martha also said she was excited at the opportunity to make a production home so green that it uses less power than it produces — thanks in part to photovoltaic roof tiles (by SunPower)

and a solar water heating system (from Velux).

My only reservation about the house was with the exterior — I think the important lessons about simplicity and strong indoor-outdoor connection could have been expressed on the street front. But overall it’s an exciting project that shows how to be green, gracious, and give good value. More idea houses and new product sightings from the Home Builder Show will be in my next post — so stay tuned.

Desk Design, Jefferson, and Siting Help from Don Lyndon

Looking In and Looking Out

I should have taken a “Before” photo of my desk and the surrounding area, with its sea of loose manila file folders crashing against reefs of brochures, books, magazines, and rolls of drawings. The new year seemed a good time to clean up my act: now the tide of paper has receded, if only briefly,  and the desk is visible again. So work surfaces and paper storage are on my mind, like the handsome bent bamboo  K Work Station by the innovative design firm MisoSoup:

It creates a serenely efficient corner office, though I would need space for conventional non-computer files (not to mention a waste basket).  Older desks often have more storage compartments — for a more paper-dependent age no doubt — such as this stair-stepping antique from the 1920s by designer Paul Frankl (image courtesy the very informative interior design resource Design2Share).

It takes inspiration from the signature silhouettes of New York’s Art Deco skyscrapers and is all about storage, as if Rockefeller Center were really one big filing cabinet above an ice skating rink  — which come to think of it, it is (I love those morphing metaphors!). The simplest way to deal with clutter is not to organize it but to hide it, which is what the rolltop desk does so well. The famous example by George Nelson for Herman Miller from 1964

simply pulls a tambour door across the low work surface, like a wooden blanket (image courtesy1stdibs.com and Gueridon). But I’m afraid if it were my desk the cover would never completely close. Then again some designers appear to be “embracing the clutter,” as this example does,

with built-in bins for rounding everything up (I found this image on Dornob, a website full of fascinating design and furniture ideas). Room and Board’s Eames File Drawer Desk

remains a classic and would meet some of my needs. But I think my favorite example of a great desk is the one Thomas Jefferson designed in 1776 for use while traveling between Monticello and Philadelphia:

(both images courtesy The Smithsonian). This is the original lap top/I-Pad for writing occasional notes and the odd Declaration of Independence. In the end all you really need is a wide flat surface, good lighting, storage drawers, and inspiration.

The first weeks of the year are also a good time to look outward and for me that means thinking about siting. I asked the eminent architect Donlyn Lyndon — one of the designers of Sea Ranch (and author of the definitive book about it),  co-author with Charles Moore and Gerald Allen of the influential The Place of Houses

and Emeritus Professor of Architecture at U. C. Berkeley — for advice to share with prospective house plan purchasers. Here’s what he very eloquently wrote for me: “Siting is about Making Places. Siting is about making connections — to the ground; to the sky; to neighbors; to existing vegetation; to water and its flows, both natural and channeled; to the sun and the wind; to transportation. Siting is making the most of your surroundings; finding the best places to be for various activities, inside and out.”

He wants you to think creatively about the site even before you start looking for a house plan. He continues: “The first step is to examine your site, imagine being in it in various ways and at differing times of day and season. Make careful note of levels and change/slope of the ground. Get a sense of its dimensions by positioning yourself in ways that you expect to interact with people and measuring the distances.” I would add that a way to start thinking about such connections would be to find a few plans that already show some sort of site relationship,

the way Ross Anderson’s Ranch House Plan 433-2 wraps around a courtyard;  or the way Peter Brachvogel and Stella Carosso’s Whitehall Plan 479-8

uses porches and dormers to capture views; or the way Daniel E. Bush’s Modern Living Plan 460-3

opens to a variety of outdoor spaces.

Donlyn sums up his recipe for siting success: ” Choose a house plan not just on what looks good to you, but on what plan will do three things: Make rooms in the right places on the site; Make best advantage of your site and its views, outlooks/connections; Make sense with your neighbor/neighborhood, add value to the place. Then start imagining how that plan can best fit on the site, given the findings above. Make several different arrangements of the house on the land and imagine what might eventually be added to the site.”  (You can find more detailed analysis of siting principles in his Place of Houses book.) I think Donlyn must have been using that Jefferson desk — we should hold his truths to be self-evident.