Monthly Archives: February 2012

Top New Products at 2012 Home Builder Show

Winds of Change in Kitchens, Bathrooms & More

The current economy has certainly made the annual product showcase that is the International Home Builder Show smaller but it has not dampened the spirit of invention — in fact it may have had the opposite effect. Take the range hood, a fairly prosaic appliance. That is, until the Italian designers for Best S. p. A. blew

cooking odors into a galaxy far far away with models like their space ship-shaped Fusion, above, which is wall-mounted and made of stainless steel and glass. Or

how about their racetrack-curved Shelf, or their ceiling-mounted Sphera,

 which is camouflaged as a pendant globe light from the 1950s. The website for another Best line, the Sorpresa collection, offers a “Visualizer” that shows how different models look in the same kitchen, which is very useful. All these products dominated the Broan-Nutone booth (Broan, Nutone, and Best are subsidiaries of Broan-Nutone, and produce their own lines of range hoods.)

The Vault drop-in apron front stainless steel sink from Kohler caught my eye.

I like the way it updates the farmhouse sink with a crisp modern outline. Kohler is also expanding its array of enameled cast iron sinks with the Bellegrove

Double-Equal” version, which includes two reversible racks and a sponge caddy that fits over the saddle. For the bathroom, Kohler introduced the Hydrorail

shower column (two versions are shown above). It includes an integral two-way diverter, and allows you to convert your existing fixed shower head to a spa-like shower. Also the column, which is insulated, functions as a grab bar. Sterling, a

Kohler subsidiary, introduced its Accord 60-inch Seated Shower, a very practical solution for aging in place since it can replace a typical bathtub for an easy retrofit.  The seat can change position and there’s ample shelving.

Mainstream manufacturers are improving their website functions. Lumber Liquidators, a large flooring supplier, has a new Room Designer tool that lets you see how various flooring choices might look in typical rooms — such as a cork floor in a kitchen

or a bamboo floor in the living room. You see the floor choices in each setting.

There are three versions or decorating styles for each room, which limits you to Lumber Liquidator’ taste, but it’s a good start. I wish you could upload pictures of your own kitchen or family room and see how they look with different floors. Maybe that’s next.

You’ve heard of key-less entry for your car – how about for your front door: it’s

the Simplicikey remote control door lock. If you prefer the digital lock, lift up the

escutcheon and type in your code; or you can still use a key! A clever idea, and they are working on a wider range of hardware styles.

Leviton, a major manufacturer of electrical devices, debuted its new universal

dimmer. The switch is unremarkable looking but does a lot: it includes a microprocessor that allows it to regulate current and emerging incandescent, dimmable compact flourescent (CFLs), and dimmable light emitting diode bulbs (LEDs). According to Leviton, the device can properly dim next-generation lighting sources “while remaining backwards compatible with current bulbs.” I love that phrase “backwards compatible” — it could be another term for an architectural historian like me. 

While at the show I toured three forward-thinking Builder Concept Homes sponsored by Builder Magazine and built by Centerline Homes, which cleverly target three demographic groups: Gen X (1966-1985), Gen Y (1986-2005), and Gen B — Baby Boomers (1946-1964).

Interestingly, they occupy a decidedly retro subdivision layout — a cul de sac — perhaps another example of “backwards compatible.” But each house aimed for flexibility with guest suites for in-laws or other relatives. The Gen X house by designer Tony Weremeichek of Canin Associates even has a full-fledged “Granny Suite” complete with kitchenette. I was struck by how the Gen X house, and Gen Y and B, designed by architect Mike Woodley of the Woodley Architectural Group, all made use of 90-degree corners defined by telescoping sliding glass patio doors (by WinDoor) to allow spaces to expand

or contract depending on needs and weather. Above is the corner of the Gen Y great room when opened up so that it blends with the pool patio. And here is a

corner of the great room at the Gen B. house. Woodley used sliding barn doors in

a similar way to open up or close off the study in Gen Y. The same idea was also used in The New American Home, mentioned in a previous post. I guess one good corner slider deserves another! For more on the three Concept houses and the products they showcase, see the Concept Home website.


Small Home Survey Results

Less Is Not Little

Last week I was on a panel about small home design at the Builder Show in Orlando organized by Gale Steves, author of Right-Sizing Your Home and former editor-in-chief of Home magazine. I talked about how our understanding of what is small — and what a small house should contain — has changed, from Gothic Revival cottages of the 19th century — like the

one in Eldon, Iowa (photo courtesy State Historical Society of Iowa) made famous by the painter Grant Wood — when clients had pitchforks and a small

house meant two or maybe three bed chambers and no bathroom in well under 1,000 square feet (painting image courtesy Art Institute of Chicago) to Craftsman style bungalows of the early 1900s, when middle class commuter suburbs burgeoned and pitchforks gave way to briefcases, and one bathroom per house became the general rule. Larger small houses of the 1920s might have had three or four bedrooms but only one bathroom and perhaps a powder room in roughly 1,600 sq. ft. A profusion of plan books like

this one by Los Angeles architect Paul Williams targeting the small home appeared right after World War II. In the early 1950s popular designer/developer Cliff May compressed the sprawling ranch house concept into his Low-Cost Ranch House idea, which was typically 3 bedrooms and 2

bathrooms in 1,675 sq. ft. See how the carport storage wall and the planter define the entry, and how living room and breakfast area open to the courtyard. The galley kitchen is still somewhat removed from the main living space but opens easily to the breakfast area. The master bath is minimal, with just one vanity. The design was simple, contemporary, and incorporated outdoor space to create a feeling of spaciousness. These and similar modern ranch house plans took off, helping to shape post war suburban America. In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, rising land costs and higher expectations – i.e. more bathrooms, double vanities, three car garages — led to smaller lot sizes and the need to maximize space by building two story plans packed with amenities. A burgeoning interest in luxury amenities, fueled by expanding credit, led to the over-built McMansion phenomenon we all know. Lots shrank and houses grew. According to census data the average American home grew from 1,660 sq. ft. in 1973 to 2,392 sq. ft. in 2010.

We surveyed a targeted group of our customers earlier this year and asked what they considered small. More than 1,000 prospective plan purchasers responded. Seventy percent of them defined small as 2,000 sq. ft. or less.

They want their largest spaces to be the Great Room, Kitchen, and Master Bedroom. The Dining Room is essentially extinct as a separate room. Most respondents feel they can minimize space in Other Bedrooms and Baths.

Other spaces that are important to them are Useable Rear Porches or Decks, Laundry/Mudrooms, Open Floor Plans, and Energy Efficiency. Surprisingly, nearly half are interested in One-Story Plans.

So, have we come very far from the early 1950s, when industrial designers Charles and Ray Eames first put into practice their famous phrase “to make the best for the most for the least” ? Yes, I think so. Because we are re-appreciating  and re-learning that concept. Today’s small house has improved. It’s a little larger but also more flexible, energy-efficient, and comfortable, like Plan 537-3

by Concept Home, with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths in 1,636 sq. ft. But now the pitchfork and the briefcase are accompanied by an i-Pad!

One last note: real estate columnist Katherine Salant reported on the panel  in The Washington Post. I hope you can check it out.

Retro Modern Showhouse in Orlando

Water Tables, Flame Throwers, and Other Novelties

Splash and Sizzle seemed to be the watchwords of the latest show house sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders and Builder magazine. Designed to be a “reinterpretation of the classic white box of the 1960s and ’70s,” this so-called “New American Home” (the program, now in its 29th year, is a design and new product showcase for manufacturers) occupies an infill lot in Winter Park, just north of Orlando, Florida. I toured it earlier this week while I attended the International Builders Convention in Orlando.  The modern two story, 4,183 square-foot home wraps around three sides of a square

pool flanked by decks, effectively turning the water — and outdoor living — into  glamorous sculptural features. The pool sharply edges the lanai, shown above, which means you better not have that second martini unless you fancy a dip. Probably not a space for toddlers, either, come to think of it. Electrically controlled screens by Phantom Screens glide down from the ceiling (where they are hidden) to keep

insects away. (Photos above courtesy James F. Wilson.) There’s no denying the resort-style theatricality: in one corner of the deck there’s a riff — or is it a ripple — on the Renaissance idea of the “water

table” — though here the water runs under a glass top to form a cascade at one end. It looks wildly impractical  and is pretty noisy but would be a great spot to sip a margarita on a hot and humid summer day. Or is this where you check in! Fire is the other element that gets a lot of play, from the stainless steel “Bellagio

Patio Torch” by Napoleon Fireplaces on the deck, to the glass flame cube placed on the outdoor kitchen counter. Australian fireplace manufacturer Eco Smart is especially

inventive — their other designs beside the Mini T, above, include the Cyl,

the Bulb,

and Styx. All of the Eco Smart products use bio-fuel.

The house is clearly designed for a very specific client in mind — an art lover who enjoys taking advantage of the balmy Florida climate. The plan shows how

everything opens to the outdoors; in fact the front entry is actually into the lanai, which seems appropriate in Orlando. The restricted palette of white stone,

white solid surface, glass, and chocolate brown cabinetry (as here in the kitchen) is too slick and boardroom/penthouse for my taste, but it was fun to explore. I

think my favorite spot is the upstairs lounge with its deck and partial street view, shown above. (Two previous photos courtesy James F. Wilson.) I was encouraged to see a modern design approach instead of yet another reworking of a Mediterranean style. And anyway, the house showed off the products very well, which is what it was designed to do. The house was designed and built by Phil Kean, LLC/Phil Kean Designs.


Contemporary House Plans from Estonia

Talent — and Modern Living — from Tallinn

I am excited to introduce house plans by Andrus Elm and Oliver Kangro of Concept Home, a company from Estonia on the Gulf of Finland with wide engineering, architecture, and development experience across Southern Europe and Scandinavia. Concept Home is the newest member of our International Exclusive Studio, which also includes plans by architects from Australia, Brazil, India, Ireland , and Italy. I’m drawn to Concept Home’s open and adaptable layouts, wide range of plan types, and warm contemporary style. Plan 537-9, for

example, which has 1,487 sq. ft., would work well for a ski chalet or a country getaway, with its strong

indoor-outdoor connections (terraces on two sides) and upstairs balcony leading

to two bedrooms, which lets the upper level share views out the tall living room window wall. Plan 357-13, below, has 4 bedrooms, three baths in 2,300 sq. ft.

boasts a handsome extended hearth in the living area and a generous covered

dining terrace off the kitchen. With its shed roof, vertical board siding, and

window wall, Plan 537-17 recalls classic modern designs like the Sugar Bowl Ski

Lodge of 1939 designed by architect William Wurster (photo courtesy 2729

Hyperion.com) and a mid 1960s house like this one at Sea Ranch by Joseph Esherick (photo courtesy Sea Ranch Escape).The layout of Plan 537-17 is

carefully thought out with a multi-functional island — for cooking and dining –

separating the kitchen from the living area, a large storage closet near the kitchen, and terraces at front and rear on the ground floor and deck above. The aim of Concept Home is to design houses that are flexible, functional, full of

natural light (this is Plan 537-4), and inexpensive to build. They feel natural and warm. And, according to Concept Home: “Most of our houses can be adjusted to passive house principles in a great variety of geographical locations. We believe that a modern house must be energy-efficient.” Bravo.

So welcome home, Andrus and Oliver — or should I say it in Estonian: Tere tulemast kodu!!