Weekly home rail with items on the latest kitchen trends, backyard pond safety and outdoor living spaces.
Kitchens cry out for a perfect balance between beauty and practicality. Nowhere is the marriage of form and function more important than in the room where most American families spend the majority of their at-home time together.
Now, advances in tile manufacturing and the endless creativity of both homeowners and designers are driving new trends in kitchen design.
"Cabinets and countertops were once the main focal point of a kitchen," said Patti Fasan, a ceramic tile consultant for Tile of Spain. "Today, open wall space is demanding more attention."
Drawing on European influences, designers are now limiting the use of upper cabinets. Instead, they devote an entire wall of the kitchen to a floor-to-ceiling cabinet, similar to a wall unit, which easily replaces the storage space lost by eliminating upper cabinets.
The remaining three walls are either cabinet-free or boast open shelving units. The open wall space above the countertop becomes a blank canvas for a design focal point. Another hot trend is sculptural stainless-steel range hoods.
Woods of wonder
A trend toward open floor plans, with the kitchen as a focal point of an entire living space, has led to some homeowners installing hardwood floors in the kitchen. While the appeal of an uninterrupted expanse of hardwood is undeniable, the material may be exposed to moisture, food stains, heavy traffic and water spills.
Ceramic tile that is available in a variety of plank-like widths and lengths uses advanced digital printing technology to deliver the beauty and variability of wood pattern and grain.
Ceramic tile is fireproof, does not absorb odors, contains no volatile organic compounds, is low-maintenance and requires no toxic cleaners or sealers. It can also be installed with minimal joint lines, making it look even more like a real hardwood floor.
Homeowners are opting for more personal and even eclectic colors and finish materials in their kitchens. Bold pops of color in the kitchen often match accessories or art in an adjoining room. A ceramic tile wall is a great opportunity to draw into the kitchen your favorite colors from other design elements around the home.
"This approach is especially popular mixed with ultra modern white, black and stainless steel designs," said Fasan. "Larger format tile in square, rectangle or even a unique water-jet cut shape (one color, one size and one shape) over the entire tiled wall creates a ‘wow’ experience and rewards this color courage every time."
Home-Selling Tip: (Don’t) smell the roses
During an open house, there should be no noticeable odor (i.e. pet scents, cigarette smoke or stale cooking smells). Likewise, scented candles, air fresheners or potpourri are not appreciated. The best way to freshen your home is with a thorough all-around cleaning, which means the carpets, walls, bathrooms and even the air vents.
How To: Save the green
There are simple things you can do around your home to save the environment and your money:
Replace light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights.
Turn off power strips or unplug electronics when they are not in use.
Replace your standard water heater with an energy-efficient unit (options include gas tankless, electric, solar or heat pump water heater).
Ask your local electric utility company about a Smart Meter, which helps you monitor your electricity consumption.
-- U.S. Department of Energy
Did You Know… Homeowners move indoors outside
The popularity of “staycations,” which were spurred by the recession, has paved the way for functional, resort-like outdoor spaces. Weather-proof furniture, flat screen TVs, carpets, freestanding fireplaces and even kitchen appliances are now gracing the backyard, allowing homeowners to relax in the autumn outdoors.
Home Improvements: Feeling spa-tacular
You can create a soothing spa-like environment in your own master bathroom. Choose an achromatic color scheme and enhance natural light with large mirrors. Always keep knick-knacks hidden in cabinets or vanities, but leave candles out on display around the tub or on shelves. Keep hand towels rolled up in a basket and add a plant, like an orchid.
Garden Guide: Childproof your tranquility pond
Ponds or reflecting pools promote relaxation, offer a beautiful backyard feature and can house small critters. However, you should not only ensure that your waterscape adheres to city code, but that the proper precautions are taken to protect small children.
It’s impossible to make a water garden 100 percent childproof, but there are ways to reduce the risk. Plan for a 1-foot-deep ledge around the edge so a toddler can step out should he or she fall in the pond. Also, place boulders around the perimeter of the pond and inquire about fountains built for safety.
Backyard Buddies: Slugs help scientists understand evolution
A slug may be a slimy, annoying creature that will eat your vegetables, fruits and plant leaves, but Scientists from the University of Tubingen in Germany have found that they are also an important illustration of genetic mutation.
Researchers reared Marisa snails in Petri dishes and exposed them to platinum. At certain exposures, 80 percent of the snails survived and 100 percent of them developed shell-less, like slugs, giving researchers a glimpse into the dramatic changes of evolution.
GateHouse News Service