Buzz: Product News Roundup, Penny for Your Thoughts Edition

Penny tiles, composting-straw walls, wine storage for the rest of us, long-lasting cement, and other product news from around the web this week.

• Lucky indeed. These 15 projects showcase the beauty and diversity of penny-round tiles.

• You’ve heard of straw bale houses, but what about straw houses that also eliminate the need for a furnace? Students in Japan have developed a prototype house with straw walls that compost to heat and cool the space.

• Never repaint again? Harvard is working on “structural color” technology, which never fades.

• Let’s face it: Most of us can’t afford the wine cellar of our dreams. Here’s some advice and ideas for vino storage for the other 99%.

• Frank Lloyd Wright’s grandson is setting his sights on mainstream shipping container houses that are practical and beautiful.

• Breaking up may get a little harder to do: A graduate student has invented a cement composite with a service life of 120 years or more.

• New window regulations are coming. Here’s what to expect.

• The energy gurus are weighing in: Will open-cell spray foam really rot the roof?

Image: Traditional Bathroom by San Francisco Interior Designers & Decorators Kelly Scanlon Interior Design


New: Products of the Week, 4.10.14

One-handed band saws, black toilets, and three other products that caught our eye this week.

Makita XBP01 LXT 18-Volt Band Saw

Makita’s new XBP01 18-volt LXT lithium-ion compact band saw weighs only 7.5 pounds—up to 25% less than competitors, according to the company—and has a cover over the blade, allowing for one-handed operation. The saw also offers a category-leading 630-feet-per-minute blade speed for faster, more efficient cutting, and has a 2 ½-inch cutting capacity ideal for cutting conduit, Unistrut, copper pipe, threaded rod, angle iron, and channel. It includes a built-in LED light, protective bumper, tool-free blade change, and adjustable foot. LXT batteries reach full charge in 30 minutes.

Victoria + Albert Wessex clawfoot tub

The Wessex claw- or ball-foot tub offers an Edwardian look, with a transitional style and classic freestanding design suitable for a range of bathrooms. The bathtub is cast by Victoria + Albert in a single piece of Englishcast, a combination of volcanic limestone and resins that is durable, stain resistant, and naturally insulating to keep water warm longer. It measures 59 7/8 inches long by 30 1/8 inches wide by 15 3/4 inches deep.

Spark Modern Fires Fire Ribbon

Spark Modern Fires’ Outdoor Vent-Free Fire Ribbon is ideal for outdoor installations into walls without a chimney or flue. The built-in stainless steel unit, available in 3- or 4-foot models, burns natural gas or propane. Optional fire objects, media tray, and safety screen are available.

Icera Cadence toilet in black

Icera now offers most of its premium toilet models, including the modern Cadence (shown) and the transitional Riose, in high-gloss black for a bold, sophisticated, contemporary statement. The WaterSense-certified units use less than 1.28 gpf, with a fully glazed 2 1/8-inch trapway, quiet Hyperion flushing technology, precision-rim jets, large water spot, and a MicroGlaze non-staining, anti-microbial finish. They also feature silent-close toilet seats.

Feeney DesignRail aluminum deck railing kits

DesignRail aluminum railing kits offer an affordable alternative to wood or composite railings, says manufacturer Feeney, installing easily between wood posts. The pre-engineered aluminum railing system, which includes all required components and connecting brackets, is sized for 36-inch-high residential systems with up to 6 feet of spacing between posts. The railings come with a bronze matte powder-coat finish. They are suitable for decks, fences, privacy panels, and barriers.



10 Design Trends for 2014

What products and design elements are in hot demand this year? Some are surprising: quartz moving in on granite, master bath tubs falling out of favor. Others are extensions of what’s already popular: open floor plans getting more open, universal design continuing to gain ground.

These were among the trends shared by Denise Dersin, editor-in-chief of Professional Builder magazine, during a presentation at the International Builders’ Show Feb. 4. Based on her discussions with builders and what she observed among the winners of Professional Builder’s 2014 Design Awards, here’s what she sees dominating wish lists this year:

This floor plan from Professional Builder's Show Village offers a fresh approach to the open floor plan.

This floor plan from Professional Builder’s Show Village offers a fresh approach to the open floor plan.

1. Open Wide(r)
The demand for open floor plans is here to stay—and getting bigger. The kitchen, great room, dining areas, and workspace are more and more essentially the same room. Kitchens are shedding their upper cabinets, with open shelving and larger pantries making up the storage difference.

2. Flex Appeal
It’s no secret—with the rise in open floor plans has come an abandonment of the formal dining room and living room. But families still need those spaces a couple times a year. Flex areas—rooms that serve multiple functions and can shift over time—are taking a more prominent place in the home, Dersin said. Minimal changes allow the space to morph from den to dining room to mother-in-law suite.

3. Islands: Large and in Charge
Busy homes revolve around the kitchen island, which now must serve as cooking prep zone, eating area, and homework station. Naturally, this means they’re getting bigger. To keep larger islands from becoming “aircraft carriers,” Dersin sees designers employing elements such as varied heights, contrasting colors, and fold-down leafs.

Pardee Homes uses transom and clerestory windows to bring in plenty of natural light to its Alta Del Mar model in Del Mar Mesa, Calif.

Pardee Homes uses transom and clerestory windows to bring in plenty of natural light to its Alta Del Mar model in Del Mar Mesa, Calif.

4. Let There Be Light
Demand for daylight is a trend that’s been hot for some time, particularly as energy costs rise. Builders and designers must continue to incorporate ways to allow natural light further into the home, such as with larger window walls and through creative use of transoms on exterior and interior walls.

5. A Place for Everything
Open floor plans can lead to clutter, so storage near the door has become a must-have, whether a full-on mudroom with cubbies and laundry or a simple drop-zone with a desk, phone-charging station, and coat hooks.

6. Counter Evolution
Though granite is still in demand, Dersin sees buyers also leaning heavily toward solid surfacing, quartz, soapstone, and even paper composites. She also sees color preferences headed in two opposite directions: softer and lighter or solid black.

7. Slab on the Back
Single-slab backsplashes, such as those made from marble or glass, are replacing the once-popular subway-tile look in the kitchen.

8. Bye, Bye Bathtubs?
At one time, a master bathroom without a tub/shower combo was unthinkable. But Dersin is observing a reversal, with many new homes doing away with tubs in the master entirely (provided there’s a tub somewhere else in the house). If there is a tub in the master, it’s generally a stand-alone version rather than a built-in, she said.

This universal design bathroom by Tier 1 proves that accessibility need not sacrifice style.

9. Easier Aging
Luckily for baby boomers, universal design products such as grab bars and lever-handle faucets have shed much of their cold, industrial appearance, allowing for aging in place without losing the feeling of home. Other elements, such as wider doorways, low-threshold showers with stylish built-in benches, and drawer appliances, are hardly noticeable at all.

10. Defining Outdoors
Where the inside is getting more open, Dersin sees the outside space becoming more segmented, with smaller, dedicated entertaining spaces replacing vast expanses of lawn. Add heaters and partial enclosures to make those spaces useable nearly year-round.

To see more examples of trends, check out the winners of Professional Builder’s 2014 Design Awards.


Bottom image: Contemporary Bathroom by Leander Kitchen & Bath Remodelers Tier1 Group, LLC 

Buzz: Product News Roundup, Bridging the Gap Edition

Bay Bridge-turned-bungalow, manly walk-in closets, dramatic light fixtures, and other product news from around the Web this week.

Bay_Bridge_House_Design_front1-805x525• The old San Francisco Bay Bridge lives on: I-beams, concrete, girders, trusses, and roadways from the bridge, which was recently replaced, will be used to build a three-story house.

• Batting zero? A New Zealand study found that 100% of batt insulation installations have failures.

• Men need a place for their clothes too. Here are 30 ideas for walk-in closets with masculine appeal.

• The U.S. government is throwing its muscle behind tall wood buildings.

• 15 ways to create drama with light fixtures.

• That giant tarp? You’re folding it wrong.

• 10 tips to help your clients choose the right windows.

• Scientists are developing “microstructural lightweight construction materials” that have a stability relative to their weight that exceeds materials such as steel.

New: Products of the Week, 3.13.14

An elegant tub, durable demo blades, a shearwall solution, and two other products that caught our eye this week.

MTI Baths Parisian Tub

The Parisian tub from MTI Baths captures the glamour of 1800s Paris, boasting an oval shape with flowing curves and exaggerated rounded areas. Inside, softly curved backrests promote relaxation. The Lucite cast acrylic tub is available as a soaker or an air bath, and also can be specified with the MTI Radiance heating system or chromatherapy. It is available in two sizes.

Diablo Demo Demon Reciprocating Saw Blade

Diablo Tools has enhanced its Demo Demon carbide-tipped reciprocating saw blade with an improved tip design for more efficient plunge cutting, an optimized carbide tip bond for better performance and lifespan, and enhanced grinding geometry for durability. The first carbide recip blades designed for nail-embedded wood, they offer double the cutting speed for those applications and last 10 times longer than standard blades. A 1-inch oversized blade body contributes to straighter cuts and less vibration, while a Perma-Shield non-stick aluminum alloy coating reduces heat, gumming, and corrosion. Three sizes are available.


The new field-trimmable, pre-fabricated Strong-Wall SB shearwall from Simpson Strong-Tie provides greater lateral-force resistance for a range of installations, including garage portals and large openings. It comes in sizes from 12 inches by 7 feet to 24 inches by 20 feet for standard, portal, two-story stacked, balloon framing, and rake-wall applications. The wall, which is code listed to the 2012 IBC, includes drill zones for easy fastening to headers and a wire chase.

Therma-Tru Fiber Classic Mahogany

Therma-Tru has expanded its Fiber-Classic Mahogany fiberglass door collection with a two-panel square-top door, a two-panel plank soft arch door, a two-panel Craftsman door, a flush door, and a flush sidelite. The doors feature a deep grain and high-definition panel embossments for an authentic wood look. A range of decorative, privacy, specialty, low-E, and clear glass options are available.

Skil wet-tile saw

Skil’s new 7-inch Wet Tile Saw 3550 features a HydroLock System that keeps water splash to a minimum, reducing mess and allowing tiles to be cut indoors. The saw features a rust-resistant aluminum table top, with a sliding side extension that can be used on the right or left side to support tiles up to 18 inches by 18 inches. It also includes an adjustable aluminum rip fence and miter gauge, and a built-in cord wrap.

Buzz: Product News Roundup, No More Burnt Popcorn Edition

Kernel-caressing microwaves, awesome lighting tricks, paper houses, and other product news from around the web this week.

Whirlpool microwave• Office workers rejoice! A new microwave from Whirlpool has sound sensors that will adjust popcorn-cooking time for optimal results.

• When a simple sconce or spotlight just won’t do, try one of these 18 cool lighting tricks.

• 4 steps to squeak-free floors.*

Top 10 truck trends for 2014.

• From spiral stairs to fiberglass doors to insulating housewrap, here’s a look at 38 more products from the Builders’ Show.

7 tools made right here in the U.S. of A.

• Walk-in closets and low-E windows—expected. Laminate countertops? Not so much. See “what’s most likely to show up in single-family homes in 2014,” according to an NAHB survey.

• We’re feeling a distinct urge to doodle. Check out these 10 houses made with paper.

• Have a gorgeous project featuring Marvin Windows? The manufacturer has opened its sixth annual Architects Challenge design contest.

*Disclosure: The author of this article is a client of this blog’s parent company.

New: Products of the Week, 12.2.13

5 new products that crossed our desks this week, including a retro wine panel, a curvaceous kitchen faucet, and high-R-value insulation. 


Elmira Stove Works is expanding its line of retro appliances with the Model 1946 Wine Cellar Panel, allowing homeowners to optimally maintain their wine collection while adding vintage style to the kitchen. The panel is designed to fit the Jenn-Air Model JUX24FRACX wine cellar, which offers a 46-bottle capacity on six pull-out racks, LED lighting, dual-temperature zones, and a UV-resistant thermal glass door. The panel comes in nine standard “by-gone-era” colors, including mint green, flamingo pink, and buttercup yellow, or in custom colors.


The contemporary-style Antioch pull-out kitchen faucet from Danze features a 7-inch-high spout with a 9 ¾-inch spout length. For easier handling, the spout offers an ergonomic, organically curved design and conveniently placed, two-function spray/stream trigger. The faucet includes a ceramic disc valve, operates at 2.2 gpm, and comes in chrome, stainless steel, or tumbled bronze.


New from Ronbow, the Jenna vanity features a modern design, with clean lines and open shelving, along with a hidden, soft-close drawer for additional storage. The vanity boasts dovetail construction and comes with a ceramic, glass, TechStone, or Wideappeal top. Blush taupe, slate gray, and glossy white finishes are available.


CertainTeed has added an R-20 insulation to its Sustainable Insulation line. The batts will allow contractors to meet 2012 IECC requirements, in which wood-frame walls in climate zones 3 through 6 must have at least an R-20 thermal performance, without needing to add exterior insulated foam sheathing. The Greenguard-certified insulation is made from recycled and renewable content, including a plant-based binder, and contains no formaldehydes, dyes, or acrylics.

Weather Shield

Weather Shield’s new line of steel and fiberglass entry doors offer a range of options to appeal to virtually any taste and budget. The high-definition fiberglass panels offer the look of wood without the maintenance, and they absorb sound and insulate six times better than most wood doors, the company says. The three new fiberglass styles comprise the Deluxe, which features a deep woodgrain in oak, fir, cherry, and mahogany; Textured, which offers a distinctive, rich grain in oak, rustic, and Craftsman; and Smooth, for an upscale, painted look. The 22-gauge steel collection comes in a Stainable Steel style with a deep grain embossment for the look of wood or Smooth Steel with a steel-wrapped edge for a superior security rating.

Showcase: 6 Retro-Style Kitchen Appliances

Retro-style appliances can provide a unique pop of color and flair to an otherwise simple decor or add the perfect touch to a vintage-leaning kitchen. But a nostalgic design doesn’t mean old-world performance. Here are six fun and funky options that skimp on neither looks nor features.

big chill bungalo hood

Hood Ornamental
The Bungalow vent hood coordinates with Big Chill’s retro-style stove. The 30-inch stainless steel hoods feature welded seamless corners, stainless steel baffle filters, dimmable halogen lights, and variable blower control. In addition, the hoods offer the largest filtered capture in the industry, the company says.

Color Wonder
Smeg’s 50s Retro Style refrigerator offers 9.22 cubic feet of capacity and includes three adjustable glass shelves and one fixed glass shelf, a bottle storage shelf, a fruit/vegetable container, and a dairy box; the freezer compartment includes an ice cube tray. The line comes in a range of retro colors, including red, orange, lime green, pink, cream, and silver.

la cornue

French Connected
Part of La Cornue’s line of artisanal French ranges, the 1908 range features a natural convection vaulted gas oven, which creates natural convection to cook without drying food, unlike fan-driven convection ovens. The unit’s five high-performance gas burners includes a 17,500-BTU central burner. The range comes in gloss black, matte black, stainless, Provence blue, dark navy blue, ivory white, and pure white, with three trim options.


Panel Pleaser
Northstar offers the 1957 dishwasher panel to convert an integrated-panel dishwasher into a vintage look. The panels, which coordinate with Northstar’s retro-style ranges and refrigerators, work with 24-inch-wide dishwashers that accept panels approximately 30 5/16 inches by 23 inches.

GE Artistry

Sleek Silhouette
GE’s Artistry Series includes a 20.3-cubic-foot bottom freezer refrigerator with high-gloss doors and bold stainless steel handles. The Energy Star-rated refrigerator includes upfront temperature controls for the fresh food and freezer sections, two adjustable and two fixed shelves, and four drawers. It is available in black or white.

Viking wall oven_cinnamon

Hot Hues
Viking offers its ranges in a variety of colors reminiscent of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, including cinnamon, shown here. This 27-inch electric oven includes TruConvec convection cooking with a convection element in the rear and fan-forced air instead of direct heat on the top and bottom. Other features include full extension racks, an infrared broiler, and concealed bake element.

Buzz: Product News Roundup, Pulled Out a Plum Edition

Colors of the year, toxic-material buzzwords, top green products, and more product news from around the industry this week.

Exclusive Plum• We’ve entered that fun time when paint manufacturers begin releasing next year’s signature colors—those hues that reflect our current culture, state of mind, and style choices. Sherwin Williams’ pick for its color of the year is “Exclusive Plum,” described as a dusky, silky violet.

• Also releasing its color report is Pittsburgh Paints, whose “Book of Now” compilation of 2014 color forecast stories highlights keywords such as “versatile,” “optimistic,” “dynamic,” and “elegant.”

• This is also the time of year when magazines compile their favorite finds. One of the most respected is BuildingGreen’s Top 10 Green Products, which this year includes CLT and mineral wool.

• Broadening the scope, here are This Old House’s Top 100 favorite new-home products from the year.

• If your pickup’s past its prime, here’s a look at three truck models rolling off the lines in 2014.

• Our reclaimed-material-loving hearts are pounding over these bike chain chandeliers.

• Trying to keep toxic materials out of your projects? Memorize these 4 red-flag product descriptors.

• If there’s no room in the bathroom but plenty of room in the budget, try a wall-hung toilet on for size.

• 6 fun-and-functional products from the Remodeling Show.

• USGBC and UL are teaming up to increase building material transparency.

8 unique range hoods.

New: Products of the Week, 11.4.13

Whimsical pendants, modern bath furniture, and three other products that caught our attention this week.

Duravit X-Large_RGB

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In Practice: Fabric-and-Glass Backsplash

Amid a sea of tile and stone kitchen walls, design and architecture studio Incorporated took a different approach for a client’s remodeled Manhattan kitchen: combining glass and fabric for a unique and low-maintenance backsplash.

Bendheim glass-and-fabric backsplash; Josef Frank

Manufacturer Bendheim created the backsplash by laminating the translucent fabric—a cherished piece of the homeowner’s that was designed by renowned architect Josef Frank—between ultra-clear, low-iron glass. Though seemingly straightforward, the manufacturer had to perfect the interlayer binding the fabric to the glass and work closely with Incorporated to ensure the desired pattern and look.

The effect is a unique, bright pop in the otherwise understated white kitchen, providing a bit of delicate whimsy in what is normally is busy, grease-spattered environment. Continuous and non-porous, the float-glass surface is low-maintenance and easier to clean than tile, says Bendheim, shows less dirt than stainless steel, and will stand up to kitchen rigors over time better than stone.

Along with fabric, Bendheim also can create glass pieces using rice paper and other decorative elements.

Photo by Annie Schlechter, courtesy of Incorporated

Buzz: Product News Roundup, Approach the Bench Edition

Product news from the past week, including stylish shower benches, finds from the Remodeling Show, smokin’ chimney caps, skyrocketing solar, and more.

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