New Home Products Aim to Save Space, Sanity
Forget “be it ever so humble” or “where the heart is.” To hear one architect tell it, home is nothing more than a “warehouse for our stuff.” With that in mind, manufacturers seem to be looking at how to more neatly fit all that stuff into what many of them describe as our increasingly cluttered and unorganized homes. At the International Builders’ Show last week in Orlando, Fla., some of the more talked-about products targeted the can’t-get-a-handle-on-my-stuff crowd. The show attracted nearly 104,000 builders and other industry folks interested in gawking at the displays of more than 1,900 vendors and hearing experts such as that architect, Victor Mirontschuk of New York. The offerings went beyond the closet organization systems popularized in recent years. Some manufacturers are re-examining the toilet, the microwave and even the fireplace, looking for ways to make them less bulky, more hidden, and certainly more pleasing to the eye. Innovation comes at top-of-the-line prices because upscale firms set home product trends, as they do fashion or automobile trends. And the manufacturers that create the most buzz are not necessarily the ones that did the innovating. They may simply be the ones with the bigger marketing budgets or the attention-grabbing add-on features. There’s no telling why people buy so much. Maybe it’s just because they can. Maybe it’s because they have more disposable income than in the past, because more stores stay open longer or because marketers are savvier at wooing us. Those are just some of the reasons Donna Smallin, author of several books on organizing, has to offer. And there may be emotional reasons for the growing need to put all that stuff into some type of order, she said. “We can’t control the violence and everything else that’s going on around us in the news, but we can organize and clean up our own little corner of the world.” Whatever the reason, it seems to be creating enough demand to capture the attention of big-name brands such as Whirlpool and Kohler. They see consumers looking for ways to save space or create more of it in their homes. “Organization started out as a chore, then it became an activity and now it’s a design principle,” said Gayle Butler, editor in chief of Better Homes and Gardens. “It’s all about how you like to access the things you use on a day-to-day basis.” Here are ways that some companies propose to help us make better use of the space we have: Laundry Room Some do it upstairs, some downstairs. Some on the floor, some on the coffee table. “People are sorting, treating and folding their clothes all over the house,” said Jill Dugan-Miller, a Whirlpool category manager. For more than two years, Whirlpool assembled focus groups, asked questions and even shadowed people at home to study consumers’ dirty laundry. The company learned that 80 percent of people have no designated place to perform basic laundry tasks, let alone to neatly store their cleaning products. Hence the creation of the Laundry 123 tower and work surface, to be sold separately by the end of next month. The tower is a vertical metal box that can be placed beside or between the washer and dryer. In it are two oversize drawers for detergent and bleach and a shallow supply tray for holding dryer sheets and other small items. In some models, a retractable 10-inch rod pops out above the tray for hanging clothes. As Whirlpool learned, 40 percent of what comes out of the washer does not go into the dryer. “We found that most people are hanging their clothes on every available knob throughout the house,” Dugan-Miller said. For those with front-loading washers and dryers, there’s a stain-resistant rubber surface that rests on top of the pair and provides space for sorting, treating and folding. The surface comes with a backsplash that prevents coins, safety pins and other items from falling behind or between the washer and dryer. (Because it’s rubberized, it won’t work for ironing.) A slide-out surface for stacked pairs should be available this summer. The towers sell for $199 to $329 depending on style and color, which match existing Whirlpool products. There’s also a “classic” tower with standard styling to match many other brands. The work surface costs from $199 to $299. Living Room Think of it as a decorating element that takes the chill off. The Radium by Lennox is a ventless gas fireplace enclosed in a floating glass surface that hangs flat against a wall. “The plasma TV was the inspiration,” said Robert Dischner, Lennox’s marketing director. “Just hang it on the wall and connect it to a gas line.” A ribbonlike flame runs across the unit, which is as about as thin as a plasma television, protruding roughly seven inches from the wall. The unit is about 35 inches wide and 27 inches tall. “Clearly space-saving is part of the idea for the design,” Dischner said. No chimney vents to the outdoors. Instead, a catalytic converter cleans the hot air as it leaves the top of the fireplace from the combustion chamber. Underneath the glass are an on/off dial and a turn-down feature to reduce the heat output. Even at its highest setting, the heat is not enough to warm an entire house, but it’s suitable for a room, Dischner said. “If you’re in one room watching TV, why heat the whole house?” The Radium is scheduled to be available in June at $2,499. A smaller unit will cost $1,999. Bathroom When it comes to remodeling, the bathroom often presents the toughest space constraints. Perhaps that’s why most Americans don’t bother installing a bidet, the centuries-old alternative to toilet paper. But now Kohler offers its C3 toilet seats with built-in bidets that pulsate water in three temperature and pressure settings. A soft blue light illuminates the bowl at night. In some models, the settings are chosen via remote control or a panel on the side of the seat. That kind of product originated in Japan and has surfaced in this country within the past five years, from companies such as Japan-based Toto and San Francisco-based Brondell, which won Home magazine’s 2007 American Building Products award for its most recent version. Kohler introduced the C3 line – shorthand for cleanliness, comfort and convenience – last spring. “Our research showed that if you looked at the majority of the bathrooms out there, even if someone wants the functionality of a bidet, they are not going to have the room in their bathroom to put one in unless it’s part of a new building construction,” said Shane Allis, Kohler’s senior product manager for toilet seats. That’s not the only space-saving toilet seat Kohler is selling. The Transitions seat allows adults and toddlers to use the same toilet without the hassle of adding or removing a separate “child-friendly” insert with each use. The seat fits elongated bowls. The smaller children’s ring is nestled into the regular adult ring. An adult can just lift the children’s ring and the lid lifts with it. The seats are ergonomically contoured and engineered with Quick-Release hinges for easy cleaning. The C3 toilet seats cost from $750 to $1,300 (toilets are sold separately), with some models offering a warm-air feature and deodorizer. The Transitions toilet seat costs about $57. Garage Gladiator GarageWorks will start selling a large container for large containers later this year. The Jumbo Cabinet – 6 feet tall and 2 feet deep – was created with tough-to-store storage containers in mind, such as the ones that hold holiday gift wrap. The cabinet has three adjustable shelves and two brackets that can be used to mount it on the wall. Add a third bracket and the cabinet can be lifted to create more floor space. It has optional casters. “It was lab-tested to hold up to 300 pounds, but we know it’s sturdy enough to handle 1,200 pounds,” just in case consumers overload it, said Michele Savalox, Gladiator’s senior brand manager. Gladiator, a Whirlpool brand, specializes in top-of-the line garage organization equipment. It offers a premier line for “garage enthusiasts” and a ready-to-assemble line for do-it-yourselfers. The Jumbo Cabinet is part of the garage-enthusiasts premier line, but it comes ready to assemble because of its size. Most of the products, including the cabinet, come in Gladiator’s signature tread plate, a powder-coated steel that does not rust unless it’s constantly exposed to rain. The suggested price for the Jumbo Cabinet is $369.99.
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