The improving housing market made for a robust and energetic 2015 Design and Construction Week, as 125,000 builders, designers, media professionals, and more gathered at the Las Vegas Convention Center for the industry’s largest trade show. Consumer Reports’ team of editors, market analysts, and video producers were on hand to record the hottest trends and coolest products. If you’re thinking about remodeling, about to break ground on a new home, or just curious about the latest and greatest in home design, here’s what you need to know.
Kitchens go handle-less
The clean, contemporary look that’s all the rage right now has given rise to what we’re calling the handle-less kitchen. Manufacturers are using various innovations to eliminate handles and pulls from appliances, cabinetry, fixtures, and more, for some of the sleekest, most streamlined designs we’ve seen.
Miele’s Generation 6000 line of dishwashers, available in April, uses a patented “Knock2Open” technology. Instead of reaching for a lever, you simply knock twice and the dishwasher door swings open. You still have to close the appliance by hand, but the innovation makes for an ultra-clean dishwasher design, especially since all the buttons and controls sit just inside the door. You can also program the door to partially open on its own at the end of the wash cycle to help your dishes dry.
Elmwood Fine Custom Cabinetry also had several handle-less products on display, including “touch-to-open” coplanar doors that are perfect for a kitchen pantry. The motorized side-by-side doors open and close when you tap gently or use the handheld remote control. This same handle-less technology was found on a set of handsome horizontal glass cabinets from Elmwood. And the manufacturer was pushing its latest channel cabinets, which you open and close by pulling on the recessed opening at the top of the unit.
German manufacturer Bauformat’s contribution to the handle-less kitchen is called the “Climber” glass cabinet. The custom upper cabinet, available in widths ranging from 24 to 48 inches, opens and closes when you wave your hand across a senor located under the unit. The louvers themselves are controlled by a hardwired mechanism housed in the side of the cabinet. One wave of the hand opens the louvers all the way, while two quick waves open them halfway.
Though kitchen faucets still have handles, we’re seeing more models with optional hands-free operation. Moen has expanded its MotionSense line in 2015 to its STō and Align pulldown kitchen faucets, both of which offer sleek, contemporary styling and an advanced ready sensor, which identifies when an object, like a pot or your hand, is under the spout, and runs water for as long as it’s there.
Besides their sleekness and obvious cool factor, these handle-less kitchen products are easier to operate for people of all ages and abilities. Given the aging population—there will be about 72 million elederly people in 2030, more than twice their number in 2000—we expect this trend to only get bigger.
Commercial kitchen features coming home
Appliance manufacturers have always looked to restaurants for inspiration (think steam ovens and pro-style ranges). One of the buzziest adaptations for 2015 is GE’s new Sous Vide Accessory, available on its latest GE Profile, GE Café, and GE Monogram induction cooktops ($1,600 to $2,600).
Pronounced “soo-vee,” this cooking method means “under vacuum” in French, basically cooking food in a vacuum-sealed bag in a temperature-controlled bath. GE’s version includes a thermometer that gauges the water bath’s temperature, holding even conditions over a long time. That means your steaks, chicken, salmon, and the like should maintain a velvety texture without overcooking, even if the food is sitting in the water bath for hours.
Other commercial adaptations seen at the show include blast chillers from Electrolux and Irinox, which restaurants often use to rapidly cool and freeze foods and maintain quality, fragrance, color, and aroma; the True Clear Ice Machine from True Refrigeration that cranks out crystal-clear ice cubes worthy of the finest cocktail lounge; and the Viking Professional TurboChef Double Oven, which claims to brown, sear, roast, and caramelize 15 times faster than conventional ovens.
Companies answer call for customization
Personalization and customization were among the show’s biggest buzzwords. Case in point: Thermador’s Freedom Collection of built-in fresh food, freezer, and wine columns that let you “place appliances around the home based on an individual’s specific wants and needs,” notes the news release. The tall, narrow appliances are definitely high-end, ranging in price from $4,200 to $8,800. Other premium priced appliances with personalization include pro-style ranges from Dacor and Blue Star, both of which can be finished in the color of your choice.
Among entry-level appliances, we liked Frigidaire’s new Gallery top freezer, the first of its kind that lets you choose from 100 different organization systems depending on your needs. It also comes with features not common on top-freezers, including LED lighting and smudgeproof stainless steel.
Beyond appliances, Wellborn Cabinet Inc. debuted a butcher block island countertop with an electronic lift that provides multiple height workspaces ranging from lower than a standard table up to 42 inches. If your spouse stands a foot taller than you, you can both be comfortable chopping vegetables during meal prep.
We also saw a lot of personalization in bathrooms, including digital showers from several manufacturers. Kohler’s spa-inspired DTV+ system was perhaps the most customizable, with a touchscreen interface that lets you control every aspect of your showering experience, including water temperature and intensity, steam treatment, lighting, and even sound.
Growth in outdoor living
Homeowners continue to see their outdoor living space as an extension of the home. An example of this is the rise of the open fire features, which nearly half of all millennials have in their outdoor space, according to new data unveiled at the show by Better Homes & Gardens. We saw countless freestanding fire pits and built-in fireplaces at the show. One favorite: the Wave Fire Pit from the Outdoor GreatRoom Company, with an inrteresting undulating design.
Outdoor pizza ovens are another hot product, especially if you have money to burn. Consumer Reports market analyst Michael DiLauro, our in-house pizza pro, liked the Artisan Fire Pizza Oven by Kalamazoo. He explains why in this video.
We also saw a lot of building products that provide a seamless transition between indoors and out. NanaWall, a leader in the field of operable walls, is joined by major window manufacturers, including Marvin. Check out its Ultimate Clad Multi‐Slide Door, which can be up to 50-feet wide and 12-feet tall. The door comes either with pocket door panels that disappear into the wall or a stacked‐panel configuration. California-based manufacturer LaCantina also unveiled its line of contemporary clad doors, whose narrow stile and rail profile and concealed locks maximize glass and light.
Cool stuff to take or leave
No trade show would be complete without lots of gizmos and gadgets that toe the line between novelty item and game changer. Take the PureFresh Toilet from Kohler, with a built-in carbon filter that neutralizes odors, plus an integrated fan that directs the filtered air over a scent pack located within the system.
We also liked the TechTop countertop from LG Hausys, which is basically a wireless charger embedded in countertop material. No more tangled wires taking up space on the kitchen countertop.
The SnapRays Guidelight, awarded the Overall Best in Show award by the National Association of Home Builders, looks like a standard electrical outlet cover plate, but in fact is an LED nightlight with built-in sensors that turn it on in the dark and off in the light.
The Haiku with SenseME Technology from Big Ass Fans is the first smart ceiling fan we’ve seen. It turns on and off automatically when you enter and leave the room, adjusts fan speeds according to the room’s temperature, and even learns your comfort preferences, tailoring fan speeds accordingly.
Lastly, we’d be remiss not to mention the $11,000 coffeemaker seen at the show, called the Top Brewer. The fully connected machine fits under your countertop and is controlled by your smart phone or tablet. All you see is the patented stainless steel tap, which includes, among other things, the smallest milk foamer in the world. The machine even cleans itself automatically after every brew. For that price, it darn well better.