Bob Vila Editors Reveal Our Favorite Home Purchases of 2021
We review (and shop) for tons of products every year, but these decorative items, kitchen gadgets, and outdoor gear were game changers for us.
It’s probably no surprise to reveal that Bob Vila’s editors are all about home gear and care: Our product reviews staff carefully researches, tests, and reports on thousands of products every year, and we’re all always on the lookout for cleaning, decor, and home-improvement solutions that suit our homes and families.
A lot happened to BV staffers in 2021: A few of us moved house, others splurged on big-ticket items and renovations (many of which we learn about in Bob Vila’s researched product guides) or became parents, but most of us made simple, modest improvements around the home. What follows are some of the products that made the biggest impact on our daily lives this year—and surprisingly didn’t make big dents in our wallets, either. We hope our favorite things inspire you to buy that one special thing you’ve been eyeing for the home, too.
1. AmazonBasics Outdoor Patio String Lights
It probably sounds ridiculous to say that a product I see at every outdoor restaurant in every town (New York, Burlington, New Haven—these things are all over the place) has had an impact on my daily life, but it’s the truth. This spring, my husband and I wanted to zhuzh up our second-story backyard deck so we stained six 8-foot furring strips, screwed the strips to our deck posts, and hung three sets of these AmazonBasics string lights from cup hooks at the top of each strip. This project has brought me so much joy. We put the lights on an outdoor smart plug timer so they come on at dusk and again just before dawn, and they cast just the right amount of light during those in-between hours. When I’m driving home in the evening I look up the hill, see our lights, and just smile. Our house looks fancy! Our neighbors must think we have parties every night. — Daryna Tobey, Deputy Editor, Service & News
2. Vitamix FoodCycler FC-50
I’ve tried composting for years, but I live in an apartment with no access to municipal composting. But the FoodCycler has been a game changer—it takes all of the mess, time, and work (and, let’s face it, smell) out of composting. I put my food scraps in the bucket and once it’s full, I put the bucket in the machine and let it run. In a few hours, food scraps are completely dried and ground into this flaky, powdery substance that I’ll throw in our garden bed outside or give to friends and family for their gardens. Even once we move somewhere where I can do traditional composting, the Foodcycler makes the process so much faster and easier that there’s no way I’m trying regular composting again. — Sabrina Serani, Associate Editor, Special Projects
3. LuxClub Eco-Friendly Wrinkle Free Bamboo Sheet Set
This past year we decided to make some upgrades around the home that were purely for comfort, and finding some new bedsheets was high on the list. Ordering sheets online is something I’ve avoided, not knowing whether they’d be too hot to comfortably sleep on or if they’d be scratchy or get pilly after only a few washings. I was looking for a particular color to match our bedspread, though, and since these sheets come in 40 different colors and were priced right, I figured it was worth it to give them a try. We’ve been using them exclusively for almost a year now, and I ordered another set for a guest bedroom. They’re buttery soft, cool to sleep on, and they come out of the dryer without a wrinkle in sight. After a year’s worth of washings, they’re still pill-free, too. — Becky Helzer, Lead Copy Editor
4. KitchenAid Cold Brew Coffee Maker
The KitchenAid Cold Brew Coffee Maker is a must-have for any iced-coffee lover like myself. The coffee maker has a removable and reusable coffee filter. I make a coffee concentrate by simply filling the coffee filter with one cup of my favorite coffee grinds, adding water, and letting it brew. Brewing takes about eight to 12 hours and the result is a smooth, full-bodied concentrate. As an all-day cold brew drinker, it’s easy for me to fill my Yeti up with about 8 oz of water, then fill the rest of the cup with the cold brew concentrate for a delicious shot of caffeine.The small footprint is perfect for storing in the refrigerator for easy-access to cold brew coffee any time of the day. — Stephanie Cronk, Executive Editor, Commerce
5. NorthCape Bainbridge Patio Furniture
This all-weather resin wicker furniture (3-seater sofa, swivel glider, and end table) lives up to its name, having endured a blistering summer, high winds, torrential downpours, and now a frosty midwestern winter. Sunbrella cushions top off the versatile taupe wicker and are just as easy to take care of. Thanks to the durability and versatility of these transitional pieces, my family enjoyed our backyard more than ever this year, and are looking forward to next year, too. — Beth Cranston, Associate Editor, Commerce
6. Universal Grow Bag Set
My Gardener’s Supply Company universal grow bag and tomato grow bag set helped me turn a small concrete patio into an urban garden full of square-foot plots this past year. Each reusable fabric bag holds 20 quarts of soil, and the sturdy fabric walls are breathable enough to aerate the soil and drain water. (Four built-in sleeves on one bag even hold stakes of my expandable tomato cage from the same kit!) Most of all, I appreciate that their colors are vibrant and uplifting, even when my backyard’s limited sunlight produces only a small crop of Roma tomatoes. — Kathleen Corlett, Editor in Chief
7. Nespresso Vertuo Coffee and Espresso Machine by Breville
After working at a coffee shop through university and living in a home that praises good coffee, I scouted for an espresso coffee machine that was up to par and came with an easy-to-use frother. For a long time, I relied on a drip coffee machine while I conducted my search. But since I purchased the Nespresso Vertuo Machine by Breville, I wake up every morning excited for my morning treat. Nespresso’s newest line offers over 30 flavors for the Vertuo users, making espresso shots to large coffees. This variety makes it convenient for guests to choose their ideal flavor and drink type. The included frother also has cold and hot functions to make an iced latte or a warm cappuccino. Though not budget-friendly, this coffee maker is convenient and well-made for a long lifespan and great coffee, every time. — Alexandra Mantella, Commerce Content Update Editor
8. Classic Wood Mirror
I moved into a new apartment at the end of 2020, so most of my shopping in 2021 revolved around hunting down furniture that was in stock, seeking out affordable accents, and picking up the miscellaneous bits and bobs like rug pads and Command strips. Decorating my bedroom is still an ongoing process (one day I’ll get to hanging artwork), but one simple item has made it feel more “complete”: this classic wood mirror from Target. I needed a full-length mirror for practical reasons, but wanted one that was stylish—I had graduated from the cheap dorm versions. However, I had a bit of sticker shock when I began my search for a large, full-length mirror, especially when factoring in the risk that it could break during shipping. When I came across this reasonably priced one from Target, it felt like a no brainer. At 18-inches x 65-inches, it fit the bill for being big enough to prop against the wall (although it does have an adjustable easel back if you prefer), and it’s light wood frame felt fresh without being too modern. It didn’t disappoint when I took it out of the box! My favorite part is how it adds dimension to my room. It makes my city apartment feel bigger and brighter. — Katie Nolan, Editor
9. Bialetti Mini Express
Coffee is essential in my household, and in the last year, it’s become even more than that. Now it’s an entertaining treat, thanks to my Bialetti Mini Express. I’ve owned two traditional espresso machines before—not the high-end, super-pricey kind, but middle-of-the-road, $200 kind—and both broke prematurely. So when I spotted the stovetop Mini Express in a TikTok video, I needed to try it. It’s simple design excludes electrical components that, in my experience, break easily. Priced at about $40, it brews two shots of espresso using the heat of your cooktop, which is as fun to watch as it is to drink. It’s easy to clean and fits inside my coffee drawer, though I often leave it out for display because it goes with my kitchen color scheme. — Jenny Stanley, Executive Editor, Service & News
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All pricing is accurate as of publication on 12/29/21.