Author Archives: Joseph Williams

Father’s Day Gift Guide 2011

Inventive yet reliable ideas about what to give your father on June 19.


The annual ritual of buying gifts for Father’s Day is underway. When it comes to home products and gadgets, shopping doesn’t have to be a daunting task, especially if you know what Dad loves to do: Is he one of those hard-core do-it-yourselfers who wants the latest tools? A sports aficionado? A culinary or gardening maven? Or a dad who just likes to take it easy?

Simply browsing through the stores or internet offerings of Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Sears, Ace Hardware, and other retailers, as well as surfing the websites of The Sharper Image, Amazon, and other online-only retailers, can provide a seemingly endless number of gift ideas.

The DIY Dad
Combination tool sets, which are useful for a variety of projects, are usually a popular Father’s Day gift.  Ryobi, for example, offers various tool sets, including its Auto Hammer & Compact Drill Combo Kit, and Black & Decker offers a 24-volt 133-Piece Project Kit.  Individual tools are also available for various levels of expertise, such as a Bosch Brute Tough™ Hammer Drill/Driver.

Whether one has a large or small number of tools, organization is often an issue, and Home Depot’s Husky 10-Drawer Tool Chest is one of many available solutions.  Electronic gadgets are also an essential part of the do-it-yourselfer’s arsenal — Stanley offers various devices, such as laser leveling devices and stud locators.

The Sports Dad
For the active sports enthusiast, storing equipment is a big deal.  General organizers can usually suffice, but don’t forget to shop for specialized solutions, such as golf equipment or bicycle organizers, available at Wal-Mart, Rush Gideon, Suncast, and other retailers. With guns, adequate storage addresses both space and safety issues:  Take a look at gun storage cases from Orvis and products from GunVault, such as its MVB500 Microvault Biometric Pistol Gun Safe.

With new storage space, a well-considered gift can help support Dad’s insatiable desire to improve his game — without having to leave the backyard.  Calloway offers a variety of golf training aids, including its 6-foot Home Range Hitting Net & Mat. Discount Golf Supplies offers a Super Size Net Hitting Cage available through various retailers, including Amazon and The Greater Golf Store.  For a fairly relaxed sports experience, consider floating table tennis sets, or other games for the swimming pool, made by Swimline and Poolmaster, and available at Dick’s Sporting Goods,, Target, and elsewhere.  For an active father, home exercise equipment might be the way to go. The Power Tower Home Gym from Brookstone and Home Gyms from Bowflex are appealing options (also check out our article “Design a Home Gym”).

The Culinary Dad
For fathers who fancy themselves the Iron Chef of their kitchen or grill, the selection of Father’s Day gifts is wide.  Brookstone offers the Grill Alert Talking Remote Meat Thermometer, which will assist him in getting that steak medium-rare; bottle openers in tool shapes are made by Nambu Tekki; and Vinturi Wine Aerators help that Cabernet or Pinot Noir to breathe.

When it comes to actual cooking, you might want to investigate Eva Solo’s Table Grill from the A&R Store or a digital smoker from Bradley Smoker, just the right vessel for preparing smoked salmon, brisket, or ribs.  And for the Dad who prefers chocolate to construction, how about molded chocolate tools from The Chocolate Vault? 

The Green-Thumb Dad
Father’s Day coincides with a heavy gardening season in many areas. Fortunately, there are lots and lots of gifts to get your Dad if he likes to obsess over the lawn or the garden. The Shrub Sculptor from Hammacher Schlemmer is a wonderful tool for trimming plants, while Sonnylight’s LED Kitchen Garden is a year-round, energy-efficient system for growing fresh herbs.

Other great gardening gifts come on the low-tech side – aerator spike shoes from the Grumpy Gardener, for example — or on the high-tech side, such as Black & Decker’s PlantSmart, which will give Dad a road map to growing a healthier garden by enabling him to digitally evaluate soil suitability for more than 6,000 plants.

The Leisure-Minded Dad
After a busy work day, and sometimes at the end of a hectic Father’s Day, Dad may just want to relax or entertain buddies.  Hammocks, for example, are great for taking naps and they come in all shapes and sizes. Rope hammocks are available from, while stand-mounted versions may be purchased from Texsport.  For the environmentally conscious father, there’s the Ultimate Hammock from Alphamom, made of 100% recycled fiber.

A Father’s Day shopping expedition is not complete without perusing the latest gadgets at Best Buy or other electronics retailers.  Mark Feldstein offers Wireless Floating Speakers for listening to music while lounging in the pool or hot tub. For the audiophile, Bose 251 outdoor speakers could  transform the patio or deck into an open-air music venue.  Then, when the sun goes down, Dad — with his friends, or with his whole family — can enjoy movies on an outdoor movie screen, like the 12-foot Gemmy Widescreen Airblown Deluxe Movie Screen or the higher-priced Open Air Cinema H-12 Projector Screen.  These products can help create your ideal home theater for Dad on his special day.

2011 Trends in Window Treatments

News from the 2011 International Window Coverings Expo

Stonewood, LLC

The selection of shades and blinds is no longer only about design, color, privacy, and sun control.

The homeowner now has to consider technology and “green” materials, which were two major themes at the recent International Window Coverings Expo: VISION 2011 in Las Vegas, where exhibitors offered a number of ways to create a healthier, more efficient living space.

Control Lighting, Blinds, and More from Anywhere in the World
“Smart home” technology was well represented at the Show.  Somfy‘s TaHomA, for instance, is  a home automation system that enables users to control window products, such as motorized shades and awnings, as well as lights and even thermostats, by using wireless technologies.  In addition to balancing natural and artificial lighting, homeowners can control, schedule and supervise their lighting, window covering, and climate-control devices from anywhere in the world.

Another exhibitor,  Qmotion, specializes in technology for motorizing shades, either manually or with a remote control, and its Home Manager ST product enables Web-based programming of shades. And Rollease presented a number of ways to make blind and shade adjustments easier, including its SilentPin motorized system.   Most importantly, technology is not just about automation — the motorized shade setups and many other shade-adjustment solutions also do away with cords, which, in the past, have either gotten all tangled up or caused safety problems with small children.

Eco-friendly Window Treatments
When it comes to green products, options for window treatments keep expanding.  Vertilux offers products with its EcoVision and Vision lines of roller, vertical, and pleated shade fabrics.  Both the EcoVision line, which is 100% polyester and PvC/formaldehyde free, and the Vision fabrics, made of  polyester and PVC, are now Greenguard Certified — a positive development for air quality inside the home  — and the 100% recyclable fabrics are treated to prevent the growth of mold, mildew, and other allergens. Vertilux also offers vertical shades from reprocessed cotton and blinds made from bamboo.

Another company, Norman Window Fashions, uses of materials without volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in its Normandy and Woodlore shutters and blinds.  Comfortex emphasizes an eco-friendly approach in marketing its Persona line of Greenguard-certified cellular shades, including recyclable, nontoxic materials; sustainable manufacturing; and energy efficiency — and, depending on your design taste, you can get shades with the logo of your favorite sports team, college, or university.

Similarly, Mariak is emphasizing “green” principles in the manufacture of its fabric shades and aluminum blinds, including the use of recyclable, PVC-free materials, antibacterial treatment, and Greenguard certifications, as well as motorized drapery tracks with a variety of control options.

2011 Kitchen Trends

The latest kitchen trends spotted at the 2011 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show.

Kitchen Trends

Photo: LG

Kitchen Trends
Even as a seemingly endless stream of cooking shows, personalities, and cookbooks inspires you to take your culinary skills to the next level, manufacturers are focusing on their own criteria for success:  providing appliances and products that look great, save time, reduce energy usage, and ensure a clean, sanitary kitchen.

These themes were prominent at the 2011 Kitchen & Bath Show in Las Vegas, where exhibitors displayed a number of cutting-edge products for the technologically up-to-date kitchen.

Time-Saving Appliances
Worried about being ready for your soon-to-arrive guests?  Need to add one more dish in a hurry?  A number of products reflect the idea time is critical.  The LG Studio Series cooktop, for instance, uses Ultraheat technology that accelerates cooking time, even if you’re just boiling water for pasta for 10 minutes, with heating settings ranging from 5,000 BTUs up to 19,000 BTUs. And the LG ovens used InfraGrill technology that reduces cooking time by 30 percent for some food, with infrared heating elements that reach broiling and other critical temperatures more quickly.

Summit Appliance is displaying an induction cooktop that, like competing products in this growing category, uses magnetism to generate heat that is confined to the cookware, providing for faster cooking times and greater energy efficiencySummit’s SINC424220 model offers a bonus for dwellers in apartments and tight spaces:  The 24-inch-wide induction cooktop fits into a 23-inch-by-20-inch cutout, with its four burners, 10 power settings, and easy-to-clean Schott Ceran glass ceramic surface.

Energy Efficiency
The theme of energy efficiency was widespread at the show, and that is welcome news, given the threat of higher utility bills in many communities.  For instance, Dacor showed its new 24-inch Renaissance dishwasher, which are Energy Star-qualified because of effective electricity and water usage.  While design aficionados might focus on the stainless steel finish and hidden ergonomic controls, reduced electricity and water usage are the name of the game, thanks to 6 wash cycles, 7 wash zones, and 2 drying levels that accommodate small loads up to the dishes and silverware from a large dinner party.

Faucets & Sinks
For those who have had one of those multitasking kitchen (or bath) moments where a third hand would have been useful, solutions are being offered by Muirsis and Danze , in the form of hands-free faucets, with a variety of functions, such as automatic water dispensing and easy temperature and flow adjustments.  These no-touch faucets also contribute to a cleaner, more sanitary environment, especially when one has been handling foods like poultry and meats.

While function is a big deal for kitchen product makers, design is still a top focus.  Rohl , for example, offers Perrin & Rowe® Filtration faucets that provide filtered water, with contemporary styling, as well as the Pull-Down faucet line emphasizing ergonomics and design.  For homeowners seeking unique design solutions, JSG Oceana presents what it describes as the only glass sink on the market, with a hygienic surface that is available in several colors and marketed as resistant to scratches, stains, and temperature changes. And Quadro SRL showed Scandinavian-design Ottavo products that complement a line that includes several high-end product families.

2011 Bathroom Trends

Read for trends from the 2011 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show.

2011 Bathroom Trends


Cleanliness, conservation, and comfort—welcome to the 21st-century bathroom, which was highlighted prominently by many new products at the 2011 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas.

For those seeking an enhanced shower experience, an array of new products were on display.  For instance, Jason International’s new Zero Threshold-TZ3260 shower base is designed for new and retro-fit installations, with easy, barrier-free entry, a seat where one can rest while showering, and a slip-resistant floor.  Another company, Jet Pro Shower Spas , offers a unit that replaces the existing shower valve with a unit that provides a rainfall-type shower experience. And Moen ’s Flushmount body sprays feature adjustable spray faces that can pivot the water up to 20 degrees in any direction, providing a multidirectional, full-body shower experience, with a design that fits against the shower walls to facilitate installation and servicing.  QuARTz by Aco is one of the shower manufacturers that aims to balance design and function considerations, with its linear drainage systems that allow level shower designs and, in some cases, provide water-activated lighting.

And when you think bath, think “micro bubble.”  Cashido Corporation ’s Cabozi system, which installs under your bathtub, provides a whirlpool function at the touch of a button.  The company describes the product as a body-friendly experience in which billions of micro bubbles cleanse, soften, and smooth your skin and aid relaxation.  Jason International , meanwhile, promises similar benefits for mind and body with its Microsilk™ system, offered on 53 of its bathtub models, promising the therapeutic effects of billions of micro bubbles.

The bath massage experience is also the focus of several manufacturers, including Kohler , CG Air Systems and Foshan Korra Bath Ware .  Kohler’s Elevance Rising Wall Bath, which comes with a Bubble Massage option to supplement its main features, including easy entry and chair-height seating.  CG’s installations allow the upgrading of an existing bathtub with its electronic Integrated Air Massage System, while Foshan offers a line of computer-controlled massage bathtubs, featuring a modern acrylic/fiberglass design and six or eight massage nozzles.

It would seem that efforts to build a better mousetrap have been overtaken by the attempt to build the ultimate toilet—a toilet that never overflows, conserves water, eliminates bathroom tissue, cleans easily, and, in some cases, offers entertainment.

Function figures most strongly in Penguin Toilets ’ Model 524, a Water Sense-rated unit that features built-in overflow protection and, in language that a plumber would love, “good bowl rinse.”  Inax USA offers eco-friendly toilets for a variety of budgets and design schemes, including its Eco-X series, with a powerful flushing system that minimizes water usage and has an easy-to-clean antibacterial finish.  The Regio integrated toilet takes toilet technology up several notches:  a sound system, heated seat, double power deodorizing, automatic flushing, and dual nozzle bidet, and antibacterial finish can be yours for $7,000 and above.

The universal presence of toilets is clearly an invitation for add-ons.  Brondell ’s Swash 1000 advanced bidet toilet seat, which fits an estimate 98% of toilets, offers varied nozzle positions, wide spray option, and nozzle oscillation for optimal cleansing and hygiene.  An adjustable heated seat, warm air dryer and automatic deodorizer complete this “ultimate bidet seat experience.” And  Jon-E-Vac offers its Toilet Ventilating System as an easy-to-install product that uses fans and antimicrobial agents to remove bacteria and odor directly from the toilet bowl.

The “Ultimate” Experience
For the “ultimate” bathroom experience, Electric Mirror offers its Visionary™ LED & TV Medicine Cabinet, which has LED lighting, an audio system, a 15-inch television, and a waterproof remote.  Anyone want to watch the news?

2011 Trends in Eco-Friendly Kitchen & Bath Products

News from the 2011 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show

Eco-Friendly Kitchen and Bath Trends


Most new models of toilets, showers, and kitchen appliances reflect eco-friendly manufacturing and design principles these days, and now the homeowner seeking a total “green” solution is able to choose from a growing number of lighting, heating, plumbing, and floor products, like those displayed at the 2011 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas.

Matrix Lighting, for instance, exhibited its Viribright LED light bulbs, which are mercury free and energy efficient, providing an alternative to standard incandescent and compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. These bulbs use 80 to 90% less energy than an incandescent bulb and significantly reduce power consumption, helping to achieve global energy conservation goals, and can last more than 20,000 hours at an average use of five hours per day.

Another industry leader, Kichler Lighting, has introduced a new task lighting system, the Design Pro LED Modular 2.0 and Disc System, a 24-volt DC product that uses 75 percent less electricity than incandescent lighting and has a 40,000-hour life.  This lighting system is designed to deliver a warm, powerful task lighting under kitchen cabinets, inside a bookcase, and in a variety of other areas.

Task Lighting’s newest product combines a closet rod with energy-efficient light-emitting diodes  (LEDs) to provide an ultraviolet-free lighting solution that lasts nearly 50,000 hours at 70% lumen output.  This company has built a reputation for innovative products, like the Sempria Illumarod, that use LEDs to minimize energy consumption.

Heating & Ventilation
On the heating and ventilation side, the LAVA Designs Infrared Glass Heating Systems, marketed by WarmlyYours, was awarded Best of Show for new products at KBIS 2011. These heating systems are based on the principle of solar radiation:  Infrared heat warms not only the air, but also the ceiling, walls, and furniture.  Since these systems do not provide air circulation, they make dust a non-issue and are an ideal solution for allergy sufferers.

Panasonic is exhibiting its Whisper Green ventilation fans, which have an Energy Star rating and are designed to comply with Green building standards.  The Whisper Green exhaust fans operate quietly, incorporating highly energy-efficient DC motors, and have a light fixture that includes one Energy Star rated 32-watt CFL bulb and one 4-watt night-light. Available options include a motion sensor and variable 2-speed and delay timer controls.

Clean Water
In the area of clean water, Everpure is exhibiting its Countertop Drinking Water System, which can be simply fastened to a kitchen faucet, providing commercial-grade quality filtered water. The system used Everpure’s proprietary MicroPure® technology, which is designed to reduce a host of contaminants, from chlorine to lead.

When it comes to “green” flooring, Eldorado Stone is a longtime leader. Its Manufactured Stone Veneer adheres easily to a variety of structurally sound surfaces and works effectively in installations where natural stone would be too heavy or too costly. As a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, Eldorado Stone has documented the various categories where its products can help earn LEED points, including the use of recycled materials and reduced fuel usage by minimizing factory-to-site distances.

2011 Trends in Outdoor Entertaining

From the cooking experience to the guest experience, the 2011 Kitchen & Bath Show in Las Vegas offered up numerous innovations in outdoor entertaining.

Outdoor Entertainment

Kalamazo Outdoor Gourmet Kitchen. Photo: Joshua J Phoenix, Owner HD Estates

When home entertaining moves outdoors with the warmer weather, the gourmet cooking experience doesn’t have to be confined indoors, helped by a variety of products shown at this year’s 2011 Kitchen & Bath Show in Las Vegas. From the cooking experience to the guest experience, the Show offered up numerous innovations.

Outdoor Dishwashers & Range Hoods
Now there’s no need to sacrifice enjoying the outdoors when it comes time to clean up.  Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet has expanded beyond its grills and outdoor refrigerators to offer the first outdoor dishwasher, specifically designed to deal with dishes that have been sitting outdoors or hard-to-clean pots and pans used over a grill.  Built to withstand extreme outdoor conditions, hot and cold, the dishwasher offers many features for big-time entertainment, including capacity for 12 full place settings and special supports for wine glasses.

Another exhibitor, Air King , specializes in customizable range hoods, which keep barbeque smoke and odors from ruining your backyard event.  Bringing Air King’s professional expertise to the consumer, the Outdoor Kitchen Professional Range Hood series, which are Energy Star qualified, comes with a range of size and blower options. 

Outdoor Entertaining
Outdoor entertaining is, of course, all about ensuring a great time for your friends and relatives.  Eldorado Stone , with its Eldorado Outdoor products encompassing stonework and cabinets, has focused on adding luxury to backyard spaces.   The company displayed a complete outdoor living space at the Show, using its “building block” construction, which allows installation by either a contractor or, to save time and money, an experienced DIYer.

For enjoying TV or listening to music outside, why not a fireplace, too?  In addition to its range hoods and shelving products, Raw Urth Designs offers a number of eco-friendly outdoor fireplaces made from recycled steel, using green manufacturing techniques.  Or if you’re having a group of beer drinkers over, True Professional Series ’ Beverage Dispenser might be for you, an Energy Star rated product that keeps your brews at the perfect temperature, and features a lock to keep out minors.

Even outdoor pests have not been overlooked.   Danver Stainless Steel Cabinetry , a top manufacturer of outdoor kitchen equipment, exhibited a perimeter insect control system for backyard cooking and entertainment areas.  It automatically sprays a fine mist of insecticide, two or three times a day, to zap the mosquitoes and other biting insects that could disturb your guests.

Mother’s Day Gift Suggestions

Find a home-related gift for mom's special day.

Mother's Day Gift Guide

A garden on house tour in Brooklyn, NY; experiences like garden tours can make good gifts

The days, and hours, and minutes to Mother’s Day are winding down, but you still have time to find a special home gift for mom. 

Give the Gift of an Experience

Consider going  beyond the usual small appliances, flowers, and restaurants, and giving the gift of an experience.  Breakfast in bed is always a way to get the day off to a great start, perhaps prepared using environmentally friendly pots and pans from Ecolution Cookware, GreenPan, or Bialetti.  And if you have kids, kitchen serving trays or handpainted gardening gloves are a way for them to provide a very special present for grandmother.

If you want to do something together with mom, many historical associations, like the Capital Hill Restoration Society in Washington, offer special house and garden tours on Mother’s Day weekend, sometimes combining the tour with a Sunday brunch and entertainment. 

Some of the most memorable gifts come on a small budget, with just a little bit of elbow grease.  Try helping mom reorganize her recycling area, or reducing  her energy bill by switching her bulbs to energy-efficient CFL lighting, or checking out her air conditioning system before summer.  You could also take on that long-needed painting job in a room or outdoors. 

Outdoor Gifts

For a reasonable investment, you can buy and set up a hammock for the deck or backyard from Plow & Hearth and other retailers. Also popular are porch swings, which you can buy from a local retailer — perhaps inspired by designs from Cedar Swings N Things in Texas — and assemble pretty quickly.  And the mood can be enhanced with wind chimes made from recycled metal or glass, sold by online retailers like

You can dress up her backyard with a solar-powered umbrella light from LampsPlus  or perhaps you could string up a set of solar-powered lanterns from Uncommon Goods.   You can take a quick trip to the local nursery to buy new trees or flowers to plant in mom’s yard.

Does your mother live in an apartment?  At Trees Instead, you could have a tree dedicated to mom, planted in any state, Israel, or Africa.  Or go small with a flowering bonsai tree from ProFlowers or a local store.