Show stoppers

You can’t tell me the recession has extinguished America’s burning desire for glam kitchens or baths when “the perfect toilet” lands a coveted role in a movie.

Or when the opening of the doors for the trade show floor at last week’s Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Chicago looked a little like a buffalo stampede. (Final attendance figures were unavailable, but pre-show registrations were running 40 percent over last year’s, when 29,000 people attended.) Industry-types turned out for the event to ooh and ahh over such wonders as wooden kitchen sinks or bathtubs that look like firetrucks.

K/BIS is an annual orgy of eye candy for its industry, when manufacturers trot out the designs they hope will be the next big thing for homeowners to pour their money into — obviously a touchy thing in an economy that’s trying to recover from a heart attack.

But the designers, retailers and product manufacturers got a couple of shots of encouragement during the run of this show, when two unrelated surveys suggested that the home-remodeling industry, which has been whacked particularly hard during the Great Recession, is showing signs of life.


One of those, by the ServiceMagic home-services referral firm, says its requests for help with kitchen remodels spiked nearly 200 percent nationally in the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period in 2009. Bathroom-remodel requests were up 30 percent nationally, it reported.

Harvard University seconded the motion. Its Joint Center for Housing Studies’ quarterly survey of homeowner sentiment predicted that home-improvement spending would climb by nearly 5 percent this year.

From our rounds at KBIS, here are some of the most eye-catching ways we spotted to spend that money you didn’t even know you had:

The kitchen sink is everything


The kitchen sink is a rather straightforward affair, essentially a porcelain or stainless box to be filled with dishes and water — unless you make them of wood, something several manufacturers are doing these days. Lenova, based in Chicago, has crafted the classic apron-fronted farmhouse sink from eco-friendly bamboo and claims it’s sturdy enough to withstand the clanking of pots and pans. Suggested retail: $999. More information:

Purify and impress

Water purification is a growing category in the appliance business. Zuvo’s Water Purator’s five-step process includes bombarding your drinking water with ultraviolet light. Though an under-mount version is available that will put the device out of view beneath your kitchen sink, you might want to show it off: A countertop model, about the size of a blender, puts on a conversation-starting light show. Versions range from $199 to $299.

Best seat in the house


Toto is known for the pricey toilets it manufactures and the cachet they allegedly confer in certain neighborhoods. A newly released movie removes all doubt about their desirability: In “The Joneses,” staring Demi Moore, Toto’s Neorest 600 becomes an object of desire within a circle of status-hungry neighbors. Company spokesman Lenora Campos swears the toilet’s role in the movie wasn’t a paid product placement. The tech-y toilet performs such tricks as automatically raising the lid as you approach, flushing itself as you walk away, and it contains a bidet function that gives you a warm little, um, bath as you sit there. A gentle blast of air will dry you off. Prices start at $5,678.

The beauty of being green

Pendant lights can have a dramatic effect on a kitchen counter, but many of them are electricity hogs. WAC Lighting’s Quick Connect line is a nod to the replacement market, with energy-saving LED versions. The dimmable Genesis model, for example, is an orb of bubble-filled clear glass whose low-energy LED features are good for 50,000 hours of use, the company claims. $250-$350;

The vanity of envy


Kohler Co. is always a powerful presence at the show. Its Robern division, which is known for bathroom cabinets, has expanded into contemporary-styled, customizable bath vanities in four sizes. Optional features include a built-in nightlight; electrical outlets that can be integrated inside a drawer; a hair-dryer organizer that keeps cords at bay; and glass bins and hanging trays that hook onto the edge of the drawers. $1,600-$4,900;

Composting made easy

Composting only works if you remember to dump your egg shells and apple peels into the actual compost bin — which doesn’t happen in a timely manner if you first toss them into a plastic bucket under the sink and then forget (although in summer, the fruit flies always remember they’re there). Blanco, the sink company, was showing its Solon built-in recycled stainless bin that fits flush with the countertop; a sealed lid (also flush to the counter), conceals odors if you still forget to empty it. $595;

Bath time just got cooler


Used to be, it only took some bubbles and a rubber ducky to make bathtime fun. Safety Tubs has a kids’ line of bathtubs that resemble a firetruck or a pink carriage fit for a princess. They fit over existing, standard-size tubs for temporary use until, say, as teenagers they start to complain. Sized to accommodate infants (with a soft insert “chair”) and kids up to 70 pounds, the tubs’ steel frame connects to the existing water spout and drain. You can bathe the child in a recessed area at a 36-inch countertop height that doesn’t strain Mommy’s back or knees. $2,200;