31 December 2008

2008's greatest hits, volume one

2008 was a really good year, all things considered. This blog took over a bigger part of my life about half way through and it's a welcome outlet for my energies. Although I don't consider every post on Kitchen and Residential Design to be a showcase of my writing skills, there are a couple pieces I've written this year that stand out in my mind. Just in case you missed them, here are some 2008 posts I'm proud of:
Well, there's the first half anyway. I doubt the Blogosphere's equivalent of a Pullitzer is heading my way any time soon, but I think I do a fine job with this thing.

Kitchen and Residential Design

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30 December 2008

Gaggenau's rethought the wall oven too

Yesterday, I wrote about Gaggenau's Vario modular cooktop system and their cool downdraft options. Well, my pals at Gaggenau do some really cool things with wall ovens too.

Wall ovens are pretty cut and dry things, most of them work pretty much the same way and they look pretty similar, regardless of the brand. That is, except for the wall ovens offered by Gaggenau.

Here's a 24-inch wide single oven with steam and convection. Now a 30-inch is the typical size for an American wall oven, and Gaggenau has several models in that size. What's important here though is the position of that handle. Pretty much all ovens have bottom hinges and a door that drops down as it opens. That's probably a throwback to the days of wood-burning stoves, but it doesn't make much sense in 2008. It's pretty much how people expect an oven door to open despite the fact that it's pretty inefficient for them to do so, but a lot of times tradition trumps efficiency. This inefficiency is particularly noticeable in a wall oven.

Gaggenau 200 Series BS271630 24

Think about it, retrieving anything from the oven involves reaching out over a really hot piece of metal. Then, in order to pick something up, you have to do it while your arms are fully extended and at their weakest. Now imagine what it would be like to have an option.

Well, you do. Check out the location of the handle on that single wall oven up there. The handle's on the left side of the appliance and that makes it a right-hinged wall oven. If you were to stand in front of that wall oven and pull something out of it, you wouldn't be reaching or extending and to me, that makes an amazing amount of sense.

Here's the same idea in a double:

Gaggenau 200 Series BX281630 30

In this appliance, the handle's on the left, making this one right-hinged as well. In appliance land, we refer to the side the hinges are on as the identifier, not the side the handle's on. That sounds pretty inconsequential until you go to order one of these things. It's the kind of expensive mistake that keeps me awake at night. But anyhow, what's cool about Gaggenau's built-in ovens is that you can specify the hinge location when you order one. Pretty cool and so far as I know they are the only manufacturer in town with a right- or left-hinge oven door.

Once again, the images I'm running today came from AJ Madison, your online appliance one-stop-shop.

29 December 2008

Nobody does downdraft ventilation as well as Gaggenau

Gaggenau is a brand of exquisitely designed luxury kitchen appliances, and their 2009 catalogs arrived for my library last Tuesday. Now, I enjoy talking about and specifying appliances as much as the next guy, but Gaggenau's offerings fire my imagination like nothing else on the market.

Gaggenau makes a series of modular cooking components called Vario. Vario started with a 200 series and has been joined by the Vario 400 series. The Vario series approach to cooking appliances is fantastic and though there are other component systems out there, no one does it better than Gaggenau. The 200 series consists of eight, 12-inch components and the 400 series offers 10, 15-inch components. You combine as many or a few of these components together as you like for a truly custom approach to cooking.

Gaggenau 400 Series AT400700 Downdraft Ventilation System with 465 CFM Internal Blower, 3 Fan Levels, Intensive Mode, Delayed Shut-Off and Recirculating: 42 in.

The image above shows a 400 Series, 15-inch wide, large, single induction burner; a 15-inch double induction burner and a 15-inch Teppan Yaki grill. Vario components are only 20 inches deep and in the case above, they've been placed in front of an AT 400 Backsplash Ventilator.

Another ventilation option that works int he Vario series is their telescoping downdraft ventilator shown here.

Gaggenau Vario 200 Series VL051707 7

I've seen on of these things at work and trust me when I tell you that there is nothing else like it available anywhere. I swear, it's like something you'd see in a movie. The Gaggenau VL051707 is fully motorized and it comes to life as it rises into position. Once extended, you can swivel it a full 360 degrees and position the downdraft blower precisely where you need it. Downdrafts are notorious for not working as promised, but in the skilled hands of Gaggenau, downdraft technology actually works.

These Vario components are but a fraction of the innovative appliances developed and available from Gaggenau. Wait 'til you see what they do with a wall oven!

Depending on the market where you live, finding Gaggenau appliances can be a challenge. Mercifuuly, that what the Internet's for. The images above are from AJ Madison, an online appliance dealer who ships nationwide. They stand behind what they sell and their prices are the best I've seen. Check them out!

28 December 2008

Movie of the Week

Since it's the Sunday of a long holiday weekend, and since I don't feel like writing about kitchens or design today and since I found the incredible website Hulu.com, I'm going to have today be movie day. Yes, a movie day on my blog and it's all perfectly legal.

Hulu.com is a website run as a joint effort by NBC and Newscorp and what it is is a library of current and classic TV shows and movies that you can watch for free. Check it out. It's the future of entertainment and I'll bet the cable industry's keeping an eye on this thing.

Anyhow, what I'm presenting today is a 1992 remake of the classic John Steinbeck novel, Of Mice and Men. The movie stars John Malkovich and Gary Sinise and Roger Ebert called it a quiet triumph.

And now, our feature presentation:

It's gone too far. Officially.

It's the Sunday of a holiday weekend and I'm due a good Sunday morning rant. Here goes.

As if convincing people that tap water's somehow unhealthy weren't enough, the good folks at Pepsico are now getting into the skin care racket. It's strangely appropriate that the bottled water industry should snuggle up with the skin care people though. The skin care industry has been misleading the public for more than a century by preying on most people's scientific illiteracy and wrapping itself in a cloak of medical respectability. It's all a load of crap. 

Save your money. It's true that skin can dry out in a dry climate, and the best substances on the planet to remedy this are mineral oil, petrolatum and glycerin. Mineral oil and petrolatum are byproducts of oil refining and glycerin and its derivatives are a byproduct of the breakdown of plant or animal fats. Not really very glamorous sounding, are they? Glamorous or not, they are the foundation of every cosmetic moisturizer out there and they cost pennies a pound. The rest is marketing. Period. Things like lavender extract, elderberry extract, sage extract and my favorite; olive fruit oil (spare me) make skin preparations smell better and that's about it. Using these plants' Latin names doesn't make them any more effective; and unfortunately, too many people stop asking questions when they see terms they don't understand.

I love how the good folks at Pepsico slapped an Rx to their logo to make the whole thing seem scientific and medical but it's a lie --a marketing ploy.  Rx is medical shorthand for the the Latin recipe, the singular imperative of the verb recipare. Recipe means take and it carries with it the weight of a doctor's orders. "Here, take this." No doctor not in the employ of Pepsico is ordering you to take this or any other overpriced reformulation of mineral oil, petrolatum and glycerin.

Save your money folks. Drink tap water and buy a tub of Vaseline to soften up your dry spots. And please, for the sake of humanity Pepsi, stick to making soda. 

27 December 2008

Cheap Fixes: lampshades that don't look like a craft project

Eddie Ross is a Senior Style Editor at Martha Stewart Living and he writes a blog that's chock full of his hyper creative ideas on how to elevate the everyday. In keeping with my series on cheap fixes from a couple of weeks ago, I'm going to turn Mr. Ross loose on some lampshades.

Lampshades can cost a fortune and I've never figured out why. I'm not one for fussy interiors and I've always looked at lampshades with suspicion. They seem to me the first step down a slippery slope that leads to the land of too too. Lampshades are a stepping stone to the harder stuff, like shirred draperies. Ugh. Even with that said, they're pretty necessary and his posting from 6 November, Eddie had a great idea for them.

Here's a pile of shades Eddie found at a Salvation Army in Hell's Kitchen. These things probably cost him two or three bucks a pop and he pointed out that Target's also a great place to find plain, inexpensive lampshades.

Anyhow, Eddie spray painted a couple of these shades and then embellished them with spike tape. Spike tape is a cotton fabric tape that stagehands use to make temporary marks on a stage. I'm amazed how some spray paint and spike tape transformed these shades. I'm equally amazed by how these three different cheap fixes alter completely the room they're place in.

So here's one he spray painted green and then trimmed in black spike tape. You'd never know that this was a five dollar plus a half hour of your life project. It's interesting and kind of fun. If I saw this in some one's home I'd think they spent real money on it.

This black shade with gray trim is more formal and looks even less home made than the green shade.

Here's my favorite. He didn't even paint this one, he just applied some tape in a kind of modern-ish way. Who would have guessed? What can I say Eddie? I'm impressed. So check out Eddie Ross' blog and if you need some spike tape for a project of your own, you can find it at Good Buy Guys.
1800flowers.com (Martha Stewart)

26 December 2008

America's Cheapest Family. Hmmmm.

Meet the Economides family from Scottsdale, AZ. The Econimdeses are a family of seven who live comfortably on an income of around $44,000 a year. Well, that was their income before their book became a bestseller at any rate. 

From everything I can tell, this family lives firmly in the 21st century. They are not part of some movement to turn their backs on modernity and live off the land. I mean, the Economideses paid off their home in nine years, they buy cars with cash, feed seven mouths every month on $350 and don't have any credit card debt. Impossible? Well, it has to be tough to get used to living that way, but it's hardly impossible.

The Economides family has published a book and a website called America's Cheapest Family, and in both they espouse a philosophy of frugal living that is far from joyless and cold. They appear to approach the whole thing as a game and they certainly look to be a pretty happy bunch in the video above.

Look, it's the day after a day that's become the apogee of American consumerism. This is also a time of tremendous economic uncertainty if you haven't noticed. This message of joyful frugality is exquisitely timed, and the Economides family has a thing or two to show anybody who's willing to look at American life in a different way. For the sake of my own economic security, I hope like crazy that the people who call on me don't become adherents of what this family embodies. Yet as I'm fond of saying, times is hard; and I get it. On a personal level though, I'm intrigued. I didn't go bonkers at Christmas this year the way I usually do, but that's a function of my own concerns about the coming year. Maybe 2009 will be the year I discover the humble coupon. I live within my means though I still think I spend too much money on day-to-day stuff. I plan to spend some time with the Economides gang and see if I can't pick up some pointers.

25 December 2008

A mistletoe-y Christmas to you

24 December 2008

I won! It's a Christmas miracle!

Tula, over at Whorange, had an essay contest last week and the grand prize was this stunning, signed print by the Portland master, Matte Stephens. The print came originally from Velocity Art and Design and they're another cool source for cool stuff. I love Matte Stephens' work and I love Whorange, and I did so even before I won this contest. Hurray! This is the best Christmas ever!

Read Tula's blog and keep an eye on Matte's too.

The most wonderful time of the year

Christmas Eve is the big day for food in my book. Over the years, I've taken the square peg of my family's Christmas Eve dinner and shoved it into the round hole of a southern Italian Vigilia. The traditional, old-country Vigilia has grown into the Feast of Seven Fishes in the US. Since Christmas is a holiday that lends itself to changing traditions, my version consists of whatever exotic foods I can get my hands on at the specialty grocers in St. Pete in the lead up to Christmas Eve. I'm crazy for cured meats, real cheeses and anchovies in as many forms as I can find. My skill at throwing together a cheese course has led my friends to refer to my Christmas Eve shindig as "What a Friend We Have in Cheeses," and I find that hilarious.

Last week, the delightful women over at Design Boner clued me into a new source for next year's Vigilia victuals. Check this out:
Mostarda d'uva
Snow cone sauce.
From the villages of the Italian Piedmont, where it's been around for centuries, 
mostarda d'uva (grape mustard) is a thick, savory-sweet condiment that's eaten extensively with polenta, boiled meats or cheese. I'd be content to put it on a piece of toast or a grilled cheese sandwich, too. One look at the ingredient list will tell 
you this is special: Barbera wine grapes, freshly cut quince, sugar, cloves, dried pears, orange and lemon peel, and an array of spices, all simmered till it's the texture of chutney. Roberto Santopietro, who makes it, told Ari, "You know, it's excellent with snow." Thinking he'd misunderstood, he said, "You mean with granita?" "No," he responded firmly." With snow." You see, in the mountains they go out and gather freshly fallen snow, then serve up a cup of it topped with a spoonful or two of this.

Man! That sauce sounds incredible and it's right up my alley. The sauce and the illustration come from an online food emporium called Zingerman's. Zingerman's is an actual store in Ann Arbor, MI; but their online catalog will have to hold me over until I find myself in Ann Arbor. Their website is this food-lover's idea of heaven. They have everything from salt-cured capers, salt-packed anchovies (!), and Finocchiona (a fennel and pork cured sausage) to fresh breads of more varieties than I could count. These people carry the sorts of things I'd live on if I could. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I stumbled upon this:
Garum Colatura
Ancient Italian fast food.

This is one of those foods for folks looking for something both old and new – and flavorful. It’s an ancient convenience food that gets deep flavor without much work.
I’d never heard of garum colatura until I visited the Italian coast south of Naples. There I discovered it’s the liquid that’s drained off the barrels of traditionally cured anchovies. Made much the same way it was 2000 years ago, it’s used as a quick way to give great anchovy flavor to a dish without having to fillet, soak and chop the fish. Locals still use it regularly, mostly on pasta.

The best meal of my Neapolitan trip was a bowl of pasta cooked al dente that had been tossed quickly with garum, some very good olive oil, chopped garlic and a touch of dried red pepper. Our accountant, Jim, likes to mix it with olive oil in a 3:1 ratio oil:garum. He uses it as a dipping sauce for raw vegetables. Jim isn't your everyday accountant

Garum is what the Ancient Romans used as an all-purpose seasoning. I suppose it was the Roman equivalent of ketchup. Now that I think of it, American ketchup evolved from garum to begin with, so I think that's a pretty accurate analogy. Whether or not it's accurate is immaterial however because these people sell garum! Amazing! My God, the further into their site I dig the better it gets. They have a section of licorices for die hard fans too. Guilty as charged on that count! Give me real licorice any way you can imagine it and I'll be a happy man. This website is the stuff of my sugarplum visions. Licorice, salami, anchovies, real cheese and crusty bread, life doesn't get much better. Check them out.

23 December 2008

Rounding up the blogs

Kelly Morriseau, kitchen designer to the stars, writes a blog I read religiously called Kitchen Sync. She's a woman of vision and talent and her topics always give me plenty to think about. I respect her opinion and when she published a list of predictions for 2009 and beyond, I paid attention. Read Kelly's predictions article on Kitchen Sync here. She gives me ample reason to remain optimistic. Thank you Kelly!

Laurie Burke's blog, Kitchen Design Notes, is another source of inspiration and information for me. Last week, she ran a piece on some revised regulations regarding lead in paint. Renovators everywhere need to take note. Earlier the same week, Laurie ran a piece on Codding Cottage, an LEED Platinum-certified house in Sarasota Florida. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and a Platinum certification is as high a rating as there is. I haven't been down to see it yet, bad me, but it is on my list for the next week or so. I promise to send you photos Laurie!

Alessi S.P.A. US

22 December 2008

And it feels just like I'm walking on broken glass

Last week, Ben Popken at Consumerist ran a piece on the dangers of glass-topped tables. Under ordinary circumstances, I leave the product safety stuff to other people but this item gave me pause.

What prompted the Consumerist piece was the news that an 11-year-old girl in Rhode Island had recently died from lacerations sustained when she fell into a glass-topped coffee table. Here's the story from the Providence Journal. I mean, I've seen Kill Bill and Kill Bill 2 and I know that glass coffee tables shatter when fights break out in movies, but it never occurred to me that they could do real harm in non-movie situations.

Ben linked to a Consumer Reports article on the same topic where I came across this:
Each year an estimated 20,000 people, most of them children, are treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained from glass furniture. In an average year, three children die. The injuries can turn critical in moments. These grim statistics prompted Consumers Union to make a presentation to ASTM-International in late 2005 recommending that a safety standard be developed to address the hazard posed by glass in furniture. Three years later, a standard is currently under development.

This issue has escaped the attention of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an agency that could easily fix this problem. A requirement to use tempered glass in furniture would virtually eliminate all serious laceration injuries. The CPSC currently requires the use of safety glass in shower doors and storm doors, but not glass tables.
Who knew that there were no regulations in place regarding the use of tempered glass in furniture? I'd always assumed that since things like shower doors and oven fronts had to use tempered glass, that furniture would have to as well. It doesn't surprise me that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been asleep at the wheel about this either. They've more or less been in a coma for the last eight years. This really stinks.

Apparently some manufacturers use tempered glass for their table tops and some don't. You cannot tell from looking at a sheet of glass whether it's tempered or not, so you have to ask. Don't buy anything until you have a solid answer, and even then I'd err on the side of caution. Be careful with the things, tempered or not. I mean, who knew?

21 December 2008

My latest marble counters went in the other day

I've been working on this job for the last couple of months and the marble counters went in earlier this week. This is Carrera marble with a honed finish and it's turned out really well. I have to say that I've never seen Carrera this beautiful so kudos the Rick and the Gang at Custom Marble in Tampa for finding the slabs this counter was made from. This Carrera has veins of a taupe color in it and it reminds me of its sister stone, Statuary marble. To give you an idea of the scale of this counter, the peninsula in the foreground is made from a single, whole slab. That's a pretty big counter.

I think it's all beautiful and my homeowner's ecstatic about her renovation. There's a chunky stainless steel shelf going on the wall to the left of the hood, so that corner won't be as out of kilter as it looks now when it's completely done. The contractor's goal is to be out of there by Christmas, so if the stars align for him I'll have some photos of the completed room next week.

The cabinetry is a non-beaded inset door with an exposed, black final hinge. I used cherry with a really dark stain called espresso. The cabinetry came from Medallion's Platinum line and if you go to their website, the door style is called Craftsman.

Here's the door in a light-stained oak so you can see the details of it. I loved using this traditional door in a nontraditional and clean way. All around, I'm pretty keen on this room  and it's as close to something I'd want for myself as I've worked on in ages. But man! I wish I would have found out about those Bocci 22s  in September when this whole thing started.

20 December 2008

Notes on orchid husbandry

My philosophy of orchid cultivation is what's called benign neglect. I'm fortunate to live in a climate where all I have to do is put them in a good spot and let nature take its course. If I try to care for them they die and when I ignore them they're fine. Well it's not quite so simple as that, but it's close. I mist them during the dry season and repot them every two years or so. Aside from that, they are on their own.

It's a good thing they're around and I get reminded of that from time to time. I think yesterday was the worst day in human history.  I swear, people formed a line for the chance to be mean to me. Horrible day. Horrible day! I came home late and paced and growled like a caged animal. I went out onto my patio and something happened to make all of that drift away.

I walked out the door and stepped into a cloud of the most delightful fragrance on the planet. My Brassavola nodosa is in bloom and nothing I've ever encountered comes close to the scent of these otherwise nondescript white and green flowers. B. nodosa blooms in the winter here and it's fragrant only on warmer, wind-free nights. Last night was one such night. I stood under a waning gibbous moon and inhaled a scent of such complexity I had to sit down to process it. It's almost as if it's a combination of the blossom of a key lime with a flutter of vanilla and a black pepper end note. If I stand farther away, it's kind of caramelly and chocolatish with a whiff of nutmeg thrown in. At mid range it's a buttery jasmine with a hint of damson plum. Man, I could spend an hour circling the thing and inhaling, dreaming of moonlit nights in exotic lands. Ahhh. One good whiff and I was transported to a cliff side terrace in Grenada, a balcony in old Rangoon or a moonlit night in the same highlands of southern Mexico where B. nodosa originated.

Having a bad day? Stick your nose in a blooming Brassavola nodosa and it won't matter anymore.

19 December 2008

Here's a real-life design dilemma from my in-bin

I was asked this week to come up with a display in the showroom of a natural stone wholesaler I do a fair amount of business with. It's an honor frankly and I'm about to present him with some concept drawings. I'm in a real quandary about this because the man who asked me to come up with a display was somewhat vague about what he wanted.

Here's the space:

Now, this is in a new facility that's still under construction. This vignette I'm putting together is not a real kitchen, so it doesn't have to function as one. It needs a sink and they need to be able to store things in the cabinetry. It also needs a large island where blueprints can be rolled out and worked on. I was told that they wanted it to be clean, uncluttered and contemporary. The cabinetry needs to get out of the way and show off the stone that the counters and island top will be made from. They are after all, a natural stone wholesaler. I am going to use this slab door in either a light maple or a dark, nearly black stain on cherry.

I'm throwing this out there because I'm looking for reactions. I'll work out the  finishes and the function part later, and what I'm looking for now is a reaction to the shapes I'm throwing up on the wall. Anyone? Anyone?

So here's what I came up with:

This is concept one. The cabinets in the wall are equipped with flip-up doors and each row of them grows deeper the farther into the corner they get.

This is concept two, as well as a concept I don't like at all. All of the wall cabinets in the top row have glass inserts in them.

Concept three is a variation on concept one. In life, it won't appear to be as broken up as it does here in a black and white line art. The wall cabinets remain the same depth, but they grow shorter as each row moves up the wall. The design savvy out there will recognize that as forced perspective.

Concept four is an idea that might actually appear in some one's home some day. It's the shortest (at 102") of the four concepts and would be the most functional.

So what do you think? Do I have anything here or should I start over?

Hakatai's having a sale

Hakatai is a great source for mosaic tile for the trade and also for individuals in the market for some off the beaten path stuff. Got a project in mind? Spend some time with the fine folks at Hakatai before you make any decisions. Hakatai's custom blends blends are currently on sale for 30% off and they're offering up to 45% off on their Classic series.

Hakatai's website has two great planning and playing tools anyone can use to design his or her own custom blends and gradients. While you're playing around with the colors in your dream shower or backsplash, Hakatai's working in the background and pricing everything as you go. Scattered around this posting are some blends I whipped out with their blend tool the other day. Pretty cool stuff and far more reasonable than you'd expect. No one has to settle for cookie cutter solutions. Ever. Remember that.

Hakatai does some really exquisite custom mural and mosaic work and their website has a gallery filled with hundreds of photos of their work. Look through their galleries and see for yourself what's possible. Bravo!

18 December 2008

I'm a glass is half-full guy

But just because I am doesn't mean the rest of the souls who people my life are. I came across this when I was Christmas shopping on the Internet last weekend.

This mug and a whole host of smart-aleky, anti-corporate merchandise are available on the website Despair, Inc. The website's laugh-out-loud funny and subversively dead on. It's almost as if the editorial staff of The Onion took over the HR department at IBM. I think the difference between this stuff and the pablum I used to have to suffer through when I was a cubicle dweller is that Despair's mugs and posters are actually communicating something.

I think it's funny funny funny and oh so appropriate for a couple people on my list. Now, if only I were in the habit of giving coffee mugs as Christmas gifts.

17 December 2008

Outlet covers? We don't need no stinkin' outlet covers

Check this out:

That's a plate-less electrical outlet in some one's home believe it or not. Oh man, if it's possible to fall madly and deeply for an outlet, I think I just did. This is the 22 from Bocci and I've never seen anything like it.

Bocci is a Canadian design company and this 22 outlet is part of a system that includes similar minimalist outlets for data, phone, cable and more. Check out Bocci's website.

These outlets are actually plastered into the wall during construction and can be accessed later for service through the face of the outlet itself rather than by removing a plate as is usually the case. It may sound odd, but "what color outlet covers should we get?" is a refrain I hear regularly. Well, the fine folks at Bocci remove that question from the table completely and the result is absolutely beautiful.

Creede Fitch has a design blog called Grassroots Modern and he's actually installing a series of 22s in his own home. You can see his progress here. Bravo Creede; I'm curious to see how he makes out with them.

I found a video that discusses how this plate-less outlet system works and it's made a believer out of me.

16 December 2008

Here's a lamp to love

Craighton Berman is an industrial designer based in Chicago and this is his Coil Lamp. What a brilliant interpretation of a table lamp this is. Who would think to make a fixture out of a power source? Craighton Berman, obviously. Berman designed a laser-cut, clear Plexiglas frame that supports the wound chord invisibly and the result is the elevation of an everyday object to the lofty heights of modern design.

Berman's Coil Lamp will be available for sale in early 2009 and you can register for updates on his website. Thanks to the kids at Apartment Therapy for the hot lead on this one. And bravo to Craighton Berman for his brilliance.