Tuesday, April 1, 2014

DIY Failures: Bathtub Conversions

If you spend any time watching HGTV, or late night television, you've no doubt come across dozens of advertisements for DIY ideas that seem to fall just short of the mark; they do what they say they're going to do, but leave you asking "WHY"?

Bathway is one of those ideas.  Their concept, and I truly believe their intensions are honourable, is a simple, inexpensive way to convert a bathtub into a shower.  How?  Call the "tub cutting people".  I kid you not:

So what you're doing is ruining a bathtub to have the same sized shower you had before you ruined the bathtub.  I suppose there's a benefit by making it easier to enter into the bathtub ... er ... fancy new shower.  But honestly is it that difficult to sit on the edge and swing your legs in?  Call me suspicious, but what are the chances the Bathway people also own a company that sells replacement bathtubs?

If this seems like a good idea to you, call me.  Call any qualified designer.  We can help.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

KBIS 2014 Roundup - Surfacing

The "wow" factor returned to KBIS this year, nowhere more so than in the surfacing materials sector. New colours and innovations in countertops, flooring and wall cladding were everywhere on the show floor giving attendees lots to absorb and consider.  

I was given a hint this would be the case on two separate occasions:  As a member of BlogTour at last year's KBIS in New Orleans, I was shown a new product called Dekton by Cosentino.  More recently, I wrote about a similar product called Neolith.  Both products are part of a new surfacing segment currently being referred to as ultracompact surfaces.  

Vanity clad in wood grain Neolith
Neolith - BETON
I'll let you read my initial post of Neolith for background.  As for my in person impression?  I'm very excited.  Ultracompact surfaces promises to do to quartz surfacing what quartz surfacing did to granite.  Why?  Not only is this material practically bullet-proof, it has the amazing ability to reproduce natural materials like marble, concrete and even wood with ink-jet imaging and textured surfaces.


I spent most of my time with Neolith for no other reason than I had seen Dekton at KBIS last year and I wanted to give the "new kid" a fair shake ... that and the Neolith people had reached out to me and provided me with more information than any other supplier.  They're aggressive, which reminded me of when Cosentino introduced Silestone several years ago.  This is good news for the design industry and consumers ... it means there's competition and than results in innovation and superior product.

Each manufacturer has a proprietary formula for their material, so for the time being deciding between the two materials will need to be based on colours and patterns available.  I'd give Neolith the nod in this department.  Their Estatuario (shown above) is insanely beautiful and so lifelike that even close-up it's difficult to tell it's not real marble.  The image only gives you a tiny bit of the impression the real thing does. 

I have no doubt Dekton will add to their repertoire of lifelike materials, and I give them high marks for showing a very beautiful high-gloss finish (shown left).  Dekton also claims to have better sheet sizes and thicknesses than their competitor which will result in more efficient use of sheets and subsequently lower prices to the consumer.  That's likely of more interest to the fabricators because if the performance of the material is equal (and so far it appears that it is) the consumer will choose based on aesthetic first, especially in the luxury price point.  

But as I said, competition is good for everyone, and in the world of surfacing USM just made things very interesting.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

KBIS 2014 Roundup - Plumbing

The strongest impression left from my very first KBIS was of my first sighting of the Kohler booth.  Kohler easily has the largest and most impressive booth at the show year after year, and its presence is a constant reminder of the importance of the plumbing industry in our business.  Not only does plumbing have serious economic influence, I'd venture to say that no other segment has a broader spectrum in terms of design and aesthetics.

Here are some of the more interesting items I saw in the plumbing category

Swanstone is a regular participant at KBIS, but they typically don' do anything quite this "out there".  Congrats to them for trying something a little different with their solid surface material.

Swiss plumbing manufacturer Laufen was one of the few European firms at the show, which is a real shame in my opinion.  Granted, they have Eurocucina in Milan this April, but it would be nice to have a more European influence at KBIS.

Something European manufacturers do better than their North American counterparts is collaborate.  Whether it's with other designers or other firms, there's always some way to benefit from a partnership.  The above items are the "Tuna" basin (left) and toilet (right) from Laufen's IlBagnoAlessi line, the result of a collaboration with Alessi designer Stefano Giovani.  The playfulness of this line is unlike anything I saw elsewhere in the show.

Laufen also featured it's new collaboration with Kartell.  The Italian manufacturer of whimsical plastic furniture fit in perfectly with the clean lines and crisp edges of Laufen's sinks.  For this line, Laufen developed a new ceramic called SaphirKeramik.  This new material is extremely light and strong which allows the sinks to have very thin walls and tight corners (1-2mm radius compared to 7-8mm standard in regular ceramic).

Native Trails also introduced NativeStone, a concrete and jute mixtures than creates the "concrete" look without the weight normally associated with concrete.  This Trough vanity sink was extremely popular at the show.

Brizo is a design favourite of mine, and for 2014 they managed to deliver yet again.  On the left is their new Sotria line.  The triangular motif in the spout and the handles is quite unusual in plumbing fixtures, but what really struck me was the use of a matte black finish.  On the right is Brizo's answer to the popularity of "Mid-Century-Modern" in the kitchen world.  Artesso will be available in various formats, including a very retro looking bridge faucet.  More on that once they're available.

What do you think?  Is the plumbing industry in North America making advances, or are the Europeans leaving us behind?  Is there anything that is missing, or anything you saw at KBIS (or Eurocucina when it arrives!) that struck you as exceptional?  As always, I welcome your comments below.

Monday, February 10, 2014

KBIS 2014 Roundup: Appliances

I've just returned from Las Vegas and the 2014 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) and am starting to go through the photographs, literature, and notes.  Thanks to digital media rooms and USB drives I didn't exceed my luggage weight limit with all the information, but there's still a lot to sift through.

On the whole, KBIS was a huge success this year.  Over 75,000 visitors wandered the halls on the Las Vegas Convention Centre over 3 days, significantly up from last year.  Of course, being paired with the International Builders Show provided a big boost for KBIS (and vice versa), but there was a noticeable buzz on the floor this year that had been missing since the first KBIS I attended in 2007.  There was still the remnants of "recession" talk from some of the vendors, but for the most part the mood was quite upbeat.

Having said that, I still find these shows can be a bit disappointing.  We are so connected these days through the Internet that it's difficult to be surprised anymore.  The latest product offerings are sent to our inboxes every day so by the time we get to a show like KBIS we're faced with a show that lacks a "wow" factor.  Fortunately, this year's KBIS had a number of surprises that kept things interesting.

Rather than look at the show chronologically like I've done previously, I've decided to break everything down and examine what turned heads in specific categories.  Today, it's all about appliances and electronics.

Even though Sub Zero & Wolf were absent from the show floor (I've been told they will participate in the 2015 show when it returns to Las Vegas) they managed to show off their redesigned lines at a private event held at the Mandarin Residential Suites.  3 luxury suites were decked out by Bruce Anderson Interiors and each of them featured live kitchens with the New Generation line of appliances from Wolf and Sub Zero.

Not only did I have a chance to see the new product installed, but I could see each of them in use by the catering chefs.  The chefs (not surprisingly) had nothing but great things to say about the new lines, and if the food coming from the kitchen was any indication they also enjoyed cooking on them.

The re-tooling of the Sub Zero line is long overdue.  Their fridges have always been very well made, but seemed to lack some of the modularity present in other lines.  Thankfully that has been remedied.  The biggest change in the Wolf line has been in the appearance of their wall ovens.  I've shown the Transitional double oven here.  There's also a Modern series, and Professional that sports the iconic red knobs.  I'm not a fan of the Professional series, but think the other two are a huge aesthetic improvement over their previous lines.

Lifestyle appliances were also well represented.  Wolf has added an integrated coffee maker, which I have to admit I find a bit odd considering other manufacturers are dropping the category.  Having said that, Wolf's coffee machine has the nice design feature of a separate milk system.  Rather than having to clean milk residue out of the plumbing as has been the case in most coffee machines, Wolf's allows you to remove the milk system and wash it easily in the dishwasher.

The same feature can be found in Dacor's WineStation.  The WineStation allows for four bottles of wine to be kept at four unique temperatures, with each bottle attached to it's own removable pouring head.  The system charges each bottle with Argon gas; preventing the wine from oxidizing and preserving the flavour for up to 60 days, making it a perfect appliance for those who like to entertain.  No disrespect to the coffee market, but this is what I would add to my kitchen.

Dacor also became one of the first appliance manufacturers to enter into the "connected technology" marketplace.  You'll find their "iQ" interface available in their 30" wall oven (single & double) and 48" pro-style range.  The Android based interface allows the user to control the appliance with an app (Android or iOS).  Download recipes directly into your range? Pre-heat your oven from the grocery store?  Receive a text message that your roast is approaching the desired temperature?  All possible with iQ.

I'm still not convinced this is a real "game changer" in the industry.  I'm more of the "simpler is better" approach, and believe the further we are removed from the cooking process the more likely it is that we'll end up with burnt turkey.  Having said that ... it's on your handheld device.  These days that seems to sell.

To illustrate the "simpler is better" approach, I'd like to introduce you to the Docking Drawer.  The Docking Drawer allows the installation of a single gang outlet into a drawer box creating a convenient (hidden) place to charge your portable devices.  The flexible cable shield ensures electrical connections won't be compromised, and (more importantly) will pass electrical inspections.  UL approval is pending, and they've started the CSA approval process.

Finally, I present my favourite appliance find for KBIS 2014.  The Mare hoodfan (from Italian manufacturer Falmec) addresses a common issue for me, and does so in a very stylish way.  The Mare uses Falmec's E-Ion technology to clean the air so does not require a duct.  This is a perfect solution for the concrete condominiums I deal with, and since the Mare can be used in either wall or island applications it frees me up to design the kitchen in the best way possible.  And if the Mare doesn't fit your project aesthetics there are several other designs available.  The E-Ionic component of the fan is replaceable (est. every 5 years) as is the grease trap.

Was there anything you saw at KBIS that caught your eye?  Let me know in the comments below, on Google+ +Useful Spaces  or on Twitter at @ArneSalvesen.  Next on the KBIS Roundup: Plumbing Fixtures.

Friday, January 31, 2014

An Exclusive Club: Selling Luxury

It was Lamborghini Day at Inform Interiors as our showroom was selected as the exclusive Canadian presentation site for the the Huracán; the latest model from Lamborghini, and the replacement for the hugely successful Gallardo.  I was invited to attend one of the presentations, and as I'm relatively new to the luxury sales experience I thought it was a great opportunity to see how the legendary automaker handled it.

The simple answer appears to be to make you feel fortunate to be involved with the product.  Today's Lamborghini viewing was by invitation only.  The entrance to the garage was decorated with lights, and the garage itself was set up as a waiting room (furnished by Inform Interiors of course).  Guests had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and cell phones (confiscated to prevent photography) were securely stored in miniature lockers.  Once inside guests waited in the lounge area and were offered lattés and biscotti (branded with the Lamborghini logo).  Every detail had been carefully thought out to make the experience feel exclusive.

After the presentation I spoke with one of the local Lamborghini sales staff about how they converted the participants at events like this to serious leads.  He explained that being permitted to test drive one of their vehicles had a cost to it.  Not just anyone can have the experience; a Lamborghini test drive meant you were part of an exclusive club.  It seems that many want to be a part of this club too; I overheard two guests discussing a financial commitment to drive the Huricán, and to be the first in Canada to do so.

The Gallardo also made an appearance.
There is also an inherent exclusivity achieved by price.  That's not to say that a Lamborghini isn't an expensive car to make.  Simply based on my limited experience today I can tell you the fit and finish of this vehicle is beyond compare, and that has a cost.  But if the price of an item is taken to the next level, that adds to the prestige of the item.

So how much does this luxury cost?  Well the reported price tag for the Huracán is about $315,000 CDN.  Judging by the attendance of the presentations over the past two days there's no shortage of interest.  In fact, Vancouver is the 8th best market in North America for Lamborghini.  Now if some of them are looking for a new kitchen ...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

KBIS 2014 - Looking Back to Look Ahead

As mentioned in my last post, I will once again be attending KBIS.  The annual showcase for the kitchen and bath industry will be held in Las Vegas from February 4-6, and for the first time will be held in conjunction with the International Builders Show, the annual showcase for the National Home Builders’ Association.  To say there will be a lot to cover in 3 days is quite the understatement … which is one of the reasons I’m taking 5 days to cover it (pre-show meetings, etc.)

In preparation for this year’s KBIS I have been sorting through notes and bookmarks 
from the past year to see what I should be following up with.  Amy Albert’s article from was fortunately bookmarked.  In it she discusses the top kitchen trends seen at last year’s show.  So what I thought I’d do is note them here, and then after the show in February I’ll see if these trends still hold true, or if they’ve been replaced by something else.

1) The kitchen remains the focus of most homes, custom or spec. Having a solid design from the start allows custom details to be planned for, and substantially more affordable.

2) Spend less on cabinet faces and focus more of the budget towards high quality interior fittings and accessories.  Some of the new laminates available paired with laser-welded edge technology makes this increasingly easy to do.

3) Outdoor kitchens are still front and centre … but so is including outdoor space as part of the overall plan.  Open those patio doors and let the kitchen party spill outside!

4) If space permits, let your inner Downton Abbey loose and consider a butler’s pantry that can function as a prep space and staging area.

5) Layered lighting.  Ambient, task and architectural.  Some things should never change.

6) The appliance category continues to grow. Warming drawers, coffee machines and steam ovens are being joined by the wine caddy and more induction cooktops than I can count.  What will 2014 bring?  Hint:  WINE.

7) Sleek and modern.  Considering my recent job change I’m certainly agreeing with this!

8) Banquettes are back (did they ever really leave?)

I know some of these are old news, but quite a few (3,5 & 6 to be specific) are still very strong.  What trends do you see for 2014?  Which ones are "pining for the fjords" and need to retire?

Monday, December 30, 2013

NEOLITH - The Next BIG Thing in Countertops?

Over my 20 years in the kitchen design industry, I've been introduced to many surfacing materials that tout themselves as being the next "big" thing.  Very few (quartz surfacing such as Caesarstone, Cambria, Silestone, Zodiaq, etc.) manage to stick around, the majority fail.  My recycling bin after a year of trade shows is proof of this.

So you'll understand when I'm not quite prepared to throw myself behind a new offering from TheSize called Neolith.  I've heard good things about it from people I trust, and Neolith will be at KBIS this February in Las Vegas so I hope to do some due diligence then (more on that trip later).

Neolith is available is 3, 5, and 12mm thicknesses with laminations available to make up various other thicknesses.  What I find really appealing however is the "extra huge" 3600mm x 1200mm format.  That's almost 12'!  Think of the islands that can be created without a seam.  Think of the seamless shower walls! They've also added a new 3200 x1500 format, especially helpful for wider applications. 

As far as performance goes, it seems to have all the characteristics of the higher end surfacing materials on the market:  colour fast, durable, food safe, recycled material content.  Take a minute and watch these manly men put Neolith through its paces:

Unlike quartz surfaces it's relatively lightweight; the largest sheet (3200mm x 1500mm) weights 30kg in a 3mm thickness.  This makes it a perfect material not only for horizontal surfaces, but vertical as well.  How about skinning some cabinet doors with a 3mm layer of Neolith?  Stone kitchen anyone?

I will be at KBIS 2014 in Las Vegas this year and will bring back my findings.  I'm hoping Neolith is as good as it appears because it's one of the first "new" ideas I've seen in surfacing in a while.

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