Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Year in Review: Anyone Hungry?

2011 marked the year I merged my old food blog "I Could Eat" into Useful Spaces.  Food has always been a passion of mine and the connection between cooking, eating and kitchens was a natural.  The tradition of food writing continues on Useful Spaces in the form of Food Fridays ... my collection of stories about things I've cooked and places I've eaten.  Here are the most popular food posts from 2011:

Designing Kitchens for Cooks 
(August 19, 2011)

I'm really quite happy this post was as popular as it was (and still is).  It proves my point that there must be a connection between the act of cooking and the design of the kitchen, or at the very least a number of people feel the same way.  Whether you're an amateur gourmet or just happy making a daily pot of macaroni & cheese (NOTHING wrong with that) if your kitchen doesn't function properly nothing else really matters.  The kitchen continues to be a functioning work space and the more you share with your designer how you use that space, the better it will work for you in the end.

PNE 2011 - RibFest
(September 2, 2011)

Regular readers know I am a BBQ nut.  There is nothing better in this world than meat that has been slowly smoked into submission over wood an charcoal.  So it was with great joy that I discovered our annual fair was hosting an event called RibFest.  2 weeks of smoked meat was a great event unto itself, but more importantly it seriously upped the ante in terms of fair food at this year's fair.

A Spanish Feast for the Eyes - Part 2
(October 28, 2011)

I love Spain, and in particular Spanish food, and so, it seems, do you. This was the second food related post on my trip to Spain this year, and it focussed on the small town of Zaragoza during their Fiestas del Pilar.  Tapas, Serrano ham, and churros!  It was a great 4 days of eating and I was glad to share it with you.

So that's 2011 as I saw it.  I'd like to take this opportunity to say "thanks" to everyone who helped contribute and to everyone who took the time to read.  It means a lot to me and I hope to see even more of you in 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Year in Review: Guest Posts Galore!

2011 was the year of the guest post on Useful Spaces.  Rather than just re-run old blog posts while I took a little vacation time this fall in Spain and FranceI was able to call upon my friends in the design industry to add their insight to Useful Spaces.  Some of those posts are still the most viewed of all time (not sure how I feel about that, but traffic's traffic right?) and I even managed to learn a thing or two.  If you missed any of them, I encourage to follow this LINK and check them out.

In addition to receiving guest posts, I was also able to write a few myself.  While I really enjoy the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas with a wider audience, there's a bit of pressure involved with contributing to another blog.

My first guest post this year was on the extremely addictive Building Moxie.  Building Moxie's jb had asked me to write about what the 4th of July meant to me as a Canadian.  Somewhere along the way the subject turned to the subject of smoked lemonade.  Not sure what happened there.  Anyway, the full blog post is HERE.

One of my favourite all time blogs is Sketch This!, written by fellow designer Eric Schimelpfenig.  Eric is my go to guy when it comes to all things Sketchup.  He's taugh me alot over the past year or so, so I was absolutely honoured when he asked my to contribute to Sketch This!.

My post was a summary of how to use the divide and multiply functions built into Sketchup's Copy & Paste function.  The full post is HERE, although in retrospect I think I might do a video next time ... something Eric does often over at Sketch This!.

In September of this year, the gang at FloForm Countertops wrote me to see if I was interested in contributing to their new blog. FloForm is very active in the social media world.  You can read their contricutions on Twitter all the time, and their Facebook page is one of the best ones I've seen.

I decided to write about one of my favourite business philosophies (which applies very nicely to the design world too); the 80/20 rule.  The full post is HERE ... it's a good thing to read as we head into the New Year.

Next up for the 2011 Useful Spaces Year in Review ... we eat!

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 Year in Review: The Top 3

2011 was an important year for Useful Spaces.  It marked the moment I decided to "get serious" about writing about kitchens, design ... and LEGO.  I went from 2 or 3 posts a month to a minimum of 3 posts a week.  I also decided to close down my first blog, I Could Eat and contribute my food writing efforts to Useful Spaces. And while the work level increased, so did readership.  For that I am grateful.

Since this is the last week of the year, I thought it would be fun to have a look at some of the highlights of the year, starting today with the most read posts of 2011.

#3 - Putting GE Monogram to the Test

It seems fitting that the article about my time at the GE Monogram Experience centre would be in my top 3.  Vendor sponsored trips like GE Monogram (Louisville, KY) and Brizo Faucets (New York, NY) earlier in the year are on of the nice perks of blogging.  They also provide me with content which hopefully benefits the folk providing the trip.  Win-win.  So if any potential sponsors want to discuss the benefits of social media and having a group of design focussed bloggers on your side ... let me know.

#2 - Grohe LadyLux3 - Kitchen Faucet Innovations

You all really seem to LOVE plumbing fixtures!  Any time I post about anything to do with sinks, faucets or bathtubs the hit counter goes crazy!  This article came about after having my first hands on look at Grohe's new LadyLux3 kitchen faucet.  What I like best about this article is it illustrates how manufacturers can really improve their products if they simply listen to the people who design with them and INSTALL them.

I think the fact that this post included a video featuring yours truly only slightly inhibited the hit count.

#1 - Labour Day: More Than "Just a Mechanic"

This was my tribute to the worker, in particular, my father, for Labour Day.  The people who's ability to do amazing things with their hands makes our lives possible.  I simply could not make a living without the tradespeople I'm fortunate to work with.  Without them I'd just be a guy with mad Sketchup skills.

Tradespeople have the skills to turn my ideas into the kitchens my clients enjoy.  I'm quite proud that this post garnered the attention it did; not only because it means that readers are enjoying what I write, but because it shows me that you feel the same way.  Nobody is "just" anything.  Whoever you are and whatever you do, be proud.

Next up in the Useful Spaces Year in Review ... guest posts!

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Christmas Wish List

As a child I would create a wish list to help the adults in my life avoid the embarrassment of buying me socks for Christmas.  I continued the tradition with my kids (who got socks anyway) and today, I'm continuing it with you!  Partly as a guide for any of you wanting to make a really splashy purchase for yours truly (Aww shucks, you shouldn't have!) and partly to look after blog posts up to Christmas weekend (because who's kidding who, if I'm writing blog posts on Christmas Eve I'm in serious trouble), I present to you a brief list of some of my favourite finds over the year.

AGA makes one of the most envy-inducing range on the market, but apparently that wasn't enough.  They've introduced the AGA Total Control this year.  Now in addition to the great design, precise cooking surfaces and an array of colours, you can control your AGA with a remote control!  Yours ... er, mine ... for just $15,400.  And yes, I want the guitar as well.

Regular readers of Useful Spaces know I love LEGO. So when Ford and the newly opened LEGOland in Florida teamed up to create this Explorer I was seriously considering overlooking my dislike for SUV's. It's made of just over 380,000 bricks and weighs 2,654 pounds, or a bit more than half the weight of a real Explorer. I don't even want the actual vehicle .... just the plans. I'll spend Boxing Day building it myself!

I found this gorgeous carpet at the 2011 IDS West show in Vancouver this year.  For those that don't recognize it, that's a map of Downtown Vancouver, BC. From Salani, this "map" is part of the "Where Are We Going" collection ceated by Canadian designer Tracey Sawyer.  Carpets are available in Chalk, Graphite or Charcoal, either in all wool, or in combinations of wool, silk or cashmere.  I'd just find it useful to find my way home after too much rum & eggnog.

Here's a great little mechanical pencil I found on the Designboom store.  I really like a writing instrument that has some weight to it, and this one should have it in spades since it's made from cast concrete.  I just think it's a good looking pencil, and for $50 it's a perfect stocking stuffer.

Merry Christmas from Useful Spaces!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Flatware That Will Hang Around

If you're spending any time entertaining (or being entertained) over the holiday season, you'll no doubt be faced the challenges of eating while standing up.  It's the single reason I'm a fan of one-bite appetizers.  Nothing ruins the holiday spirit more than holding a plate of food in one hand, a glass of wine in the other and being forced to stuff your cutlery in your pocket.  It's clumsy and could lead to embarrassing questions like, "Is that a spoon in your pocket, or ..."

Industrial designer Ivan Erkic has taken the age-old design of flatware and given it a clever twist or rather a bend, to help make it more useful.  It's all about looking at part of a design and asking, "what else could we do with this."  Re-imagining the handle of the typical knife, fork and spoon doesn't hinder it's original purpose and extends their use into many other areas.


Monday, December 19, 2011

NIM: The Gift of Pure Water

The middle of winter probably isn't the time year you spend a lot of time thinking about purifying your drinking water.  But considering we're only a couple weeks away from Christmas, I saw this as an opportunity to present a gift idea for the back-woods camper in your life ... or perhaps even someone who's going to be going through a remodel soon and will be getting their water from dodgy sources (it's stretch I know, but I had to find a way to fit this into a kitchen design blog!).

This is the SteriPEN® Freedom, a portable yet effective water sterilizer.  Simply immerse the Freedom's lamp into 1/2 litre (16 oz.) of water for 48 seconds (automatically pre-timed) and the watrer is ready to turn into coffee or used to boil Kraft Dinner.  Have 1 litre of water?  Simply run the treatment twice in the same container.  It's cordless and a single charge will last you about 40 "treatments".  It's available for about $120 from REI, MEC or their online store.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Golden Ears Cheeseworks in Maple Ridge

It's been a while since I've written anything about the culinary goings-on in Ridge-Meadows.  Since my sons are older and have more going on in their lives, my trips across the Pitt River Bridge have become more about catching up with their busy lives and then letting them get back to them.  So when I had an afternoon available this week, and a son available to spend it with, I jumped at the opportunity.

My eldest son has been working at a great little bistro called Big Feast.  The chef/owner, Mike Mulcahy, focusses as much as possible on using local ingredients.  As a result my son has a pretty good knowledge of who is producing what in the area.  So while we were enjoying a sandwich at the Pitt Meadows airport, he mentions a new cheese shop that has opened in Maple Ridge.  Cheese?  Do tell!

Golden Ears Cheeseworks was opened in August of 2011 by Kerry and Lynn Davison.  With the help of their two daughters, cheese-maker Jenna (ex of Farmhouse Cheese in Agassiz) and milk from Kerry's brother Kevin's dairy farm next door they have put together a perfect example of how to do things locally.  The store is right on the Abernathy connector and is filled with a variety of locally produced items.  There's also a nicely laid out demonstration kitchen.  They've already hosted a number of cooking classes with more to come.

As for the cheeses, they're currently offering a Cheddar, a Brie and several varieties of  Gouda ... some flavoured, some not.  There's also cheese curds for those craving poutine, and (what was the biggest surprise of the afternoon) butter!  Apparently Big Feast is using their butter now, and it's no wonder.  This is butter the way it's supposed to taste ... in all it's milk fatty goodness.  There are other products listed on their website, some only available as they're made.  How fresh is that?

I picked up some butter, along with a small wheel of Brie and a wedge of Cheddar.  The cheddar in its current state is more of a farmer's cheese ... creamy and a little but nutty.  You can taste the beginnings of a really nice cheddar bite.  Both the cheeses were excellent, if not a little young.  That's to be expected since Golden Ears hasn't been around long enough to do any proper ageing.  We were told there are proper ageing facilities on site, so it's really just a matter of waiting. But based on my initial taste tests I'm really looking forward to what is yet to come.  If the cheeses from Farmhouse in Agassiz are any indication, Golden Ears will soon be on the cheese-lovers map in BC.

Golden Ears Cheeseworks
22270 128th Avenue
Maple Ridge, BC V4R 2R1

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Help Me Help You: Good Job-Site Communications

It's been said part of a designer's job is to act as a marriage counsellor for their clients. Not by me mind you.  I've actually had a couple divorce before we started the remodel … so either I missed the “save their marriage” day in design school, or it’s a silly idea.

That doesn’t mean your designer can’t help you negotiate a remodel with as few disagreements as possible. Kitchen remodelling is as much about communications as it is about colour choices. The trick to keeping it all running smoothly is to find the best way to communicate your ideas clearly with everyone involved.

Job site communications in particular is critical with any large project like a kitchen remodel. Couples often have schedules that prevent both from being on the job site at the same time. Something that is discussed with one spouse in the morning is not communicated accurately (or at all) to the other spouse, and the next thing you know the kitchen is wallpapered in plaid … and nobody wants that.

There are many ways to help ensure proper job-site communications:
  • Email & Text - How did we do this job before text messaging, email and smartphones? A quick email or text to all parties involved can keep everyone in the loop. 
  • Cloud Clipboards – Programmes like Evernote and Dropbox allow you to set up folders that can be accessed with a password. Photos of proposed materials, links to websites, etc. can all be stored on one place. 
  • Message board – I sometimes keep a clipboard on the job site, and have the clients and contractor (and myself) check it every time they come on site. Questions are written, and subsequently answered in one place. Especially good for the not-so-tech-savy. 
Of course, there's always the good, old fashioned method of simply making time for your project.  Making the relationship with your designer and contractor a priority, just like you would for your spouse.  

Wait a second ...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Losing A Best Friend

I’d wanted a dog even before I met my wife, Janine and her Jack Russell Terrier, Ringo back in the fall of 1999.  The companionship and feeling of being needed that a dog provides was something I'd been missing since my first marriage ended and my sons went to live with their mother. While I saw the boys regularly, there was something missing during the times in-between.

The fact that Janine was also a “dog person” helped our relationship along to be sure, and after Janine and I married we decided that Ringo also needed a companion. We bred him with another Jack Russell, and brought Gromit into our family in March of 2001. She was my first puppy and would quickly become so much more.

Gromit was unlike any Jack Russell we’d ever known, especially compared to Ringo. Where most Jacks are high strung and solitary, Gromit was meek and would spend hours wedged up against your leg as you sat on the couch. She wasn't as clever as Ringo, but she had the faith of a child. Ringo knew when our dinner was over and would whine incessantly because he knew it was his turn to eat. Gromit would just sit and wait. She knew dinner was coming, and was happy to have it whenever it showed up.

Her meek nature didn't mean she didn't exhibit typical jack Russell traits. Given some open space she would run for hours, yet never ventured very far from my side. She and Ringo also loved to wrestle, gnashing teeth and nipping at each other’s ears to the point where bystanders thought they would injure each other. It never got to that point.  Ringo may not have liked sharing the spotlight with Gromit when she was a puppy but the soon became inseparable.  Neither would have done a thing to harm the other.  

She also had the uncanny ability to know when someone needed cheering up.  One winter, my eldest son stuck his foot through the ice at lake by our cabin.  Upset, he returned to the warmth of the cabin to, as he put it, “pout.” Sitting on the couch under a warm blanket, my son was soon joined by Gromit who cuddled up against his wet foot as if to say “Don’t be upset. I’ll make it better.” As my son would often say, “You just can’t be sad around Gromit.” And if you tried, she would come along to lick up your tears until you smiled.

We had to put Gromit down last week. 11 years old is quite young for a Jack Russell, but her liver said that her time with us was over. To say that we’re heartbroken is an understatement.  Her absence has left a heaviness in our home.  Even Ringo wanders the house looking for her.  Each day is a little easier, and I know that soon the sorrow will be gone and we’ll look back at our time with Gromit with smiles and laughter. But I'll never forget my little Gromit. She brought a lot of joy into our lives and I just wanted you to know her too.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Capstan Table - An Entertainers Dream

Now that we're in the thick of the Christmas holiday season, thoughts turn towards putting kitchens to full use and feeding friends and family.  Yes, it's the entertaining season, and in my house that means bringing out the table leafs to expand the dining room table to its full potential.  Even as a kid that was my job, a job that would have been a lot easier had the Capstan Table from DB Fletcher been in my home.

I know this piece of craft art (because that is what it truly is) has been around the inter-web before, but after my wife and I hosted our annual Cookie Exchange gathering last weekend, I thought how great it would be to have a Capstan table in our dining room ... better yet, an automated Capstan table.

Honey, if you're reading this ... I know what I want for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Soaking It All In - Traditional Bathtubs with a Twist

As we head into what is supposed to be a harsh Winter in British Columbia, my thoughts started turning to luxurious ways to keep warm; namely a good long soak in a big tub.  My natural tendency is toward a modern aesthetic, but I've found some more traditional looking tubs that would easily get you through a snowy afternoon.

The Toulouse from Victoria & Albert is a terrific spin on the classic French boudoir tub.  Made from V&A's ENGLISHCAST® composite (volcanic limestone and resin) the Toulouse is cast as a single piece measuring 72" long, 31 1/2" wide and a relaxing 28.5" deep.  ENGLISHCAST® is also a natural insulator, so all that water stays warmer, longer.  

The Grandtour from Rapsel is a great example of blending traditional shape with modern design.  While the outside of the tub reflects the profile of some very detailed crown moulding, the inside features gentle curves creating a relaxing bathing environment.

At the 2011 IDS West Show, Vancouver, BC
At the recent IDS West Show in Vancouver, there was a lot of buzz over this new tub from BLU Bathworks.  Made from their proprietary Blu-stone composite, this free-standing oval tub may not be traditional in shape, but the detailed embossing on the side certainly is!

From Lapicida comes this ode to "old-school" limestone carving.  Yep, it's carved out of limestone.  And if the tub doesn't bring enough stone into your ensuite, there are matching vanity basins available as well!

Monday, December 5, 2011

NIM: Compact Kitchen - Kitchoo Kitchoo Koo

Kitchoo Compact Kitchens & Baths is a French based design company that (as the name suggests) specializes in small kitchen and bath configurations.  When I first heard the name Kitchoo (which means "good omen" in Japanese) I was intrigued as I specialize in small space design and have written about compact kitchens before.

But when I was shown the picture of their K1 model, I was a bit confused. I could easily imagine a number of kitchen components hidden inside this unit.  But this more of a sideboard than a fucntioning kitchen.  Yet Kitchoo has been the recipient of two Red Dot Design Awards, and one of them was for the K1, so there had to be something more.

Well colour me impressed!  Open a few doors and you'll find a sink, a cooktop, a small refrigerator and even a small dishwasher.  That's a lot to fit into a box that's only 1300 mm x 1000 mm x 650mm. (51 1/8" long x 39" high x 25 5/8" deep).  That size doesn't meet your needs?  They will do custom design as well.

The K1 lists at € 5390 and currently retails in the France and the UK.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Kitchen Design And Weight Loss

You’re no doubt familiar with the phrase “You are what you eat.” But how about “You are WHERE you eat.” The foods we eat undoubtedly have an impact on our health, but do the places we cook in have any influence as well?

In an article on, Registered Dietician Sally Kuzemchak discussed 9 areas where the kitchen itself may play some part in weight gain. The areas Kuzemchak cites can be grouped generically into 3 categories: Size, Visual and Enironmental.

Would a smaller pantry help you lose weight?
In the Size category, influencers like large plates and glasses, large pantries and refrigerators, and large overall kitchens are leading us to over-consume. If our plates are bigger we’ll add more food; if our pantries are bigger we’ll store more food and eventually want to eat it; if the kitchen is bigger we’ll move things like televisions into it and spend more time in leisurely activities … like eating in front of the tube (you already know how I feel about that!)

Visual influences in the kitchen are a bit more obvious. If cookies are kept in a clear jar they’re more likely to be eaten. Conversely, if fresh fruits and veggies are hidden they are less likely to become an after school snack.

Environmental issues that impact eating can range from lighting, to how cluttered you keep your kitchen. According to studies, bright lights can raise our stress levels which can lead to over-eating. Lights too dim? This reduces our inhibitions making it more difficult to resist that cupcake … amongst other things. A cluttered countertop makes it more difficult to prepare foods. Apparently if you’re not inclined to keep things tidy, you’re more likely to reach for a frozen pizza.

The difficulty I have with studies like this is they look outwards for the reasons we gain weight … it’s the size of your plate; your kitchen is too bright; it’s too easy for you to see the cookies. There are some really excellent ideas in this article, many of which I have already discussed on Useful Spaces and will continue to integrate into my designs.

The fact is none will help you lose weight if you can’t do one simple thing … quit eating so much!  Use these ideas to help you to that end.  Ask me to help with your kitchen design ... I truly believe that an efficient kitchen will help you eat better.  In the end, the responsibility belongs to each of us.  Not to your plates, not to your fridge.  Not even to your designer.  Trust me, I have a tough enough time resisting that bag of Reese's Pieces myself!
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