Shower Basics – We’re Not Talking About Soap

Choreograph Shower Wall and Accessory Collection

Before we get back to discussing Design Trends (as we mentioned in our last post), we thought we’d take a moment to go over some basic parts and pieces of showers , specifically the wall and the base – designing a shower is  not just about the glass doors and the showerhead. In fact, Kohler has done a LOT of thinking (and designing) and they’ve come up with a system they call the ‘Choreograph’.  Here  is how KOHLER describes what goes on in most showers:

Day in day out, we navigate around the shower caddy, we contort our bodies to accommodate an unforgiving space when we shave and we cover our floors and ledges with shampoo and conditioner bottles. Why? Because it’s the way we’ve always showered.

Your shower dance, the way you move and flow in your daily shower ritual, can be so much better. Introducing the Choreograph™ shower wall and accessory collection.

Choreograph brings functionality and organization to an otherwise chaotic space. Every detail has been considered, from the shower walls in a range of colors, patterns and textures that can be customized to match your style to the innovative storage solutions that will keep any shower organized to the seating options that make showering more comfortable. This collection presents possibilities that weren’t possible before—a shower you can choreograph to your movements in a shower dance all your own.

That is actually pretty cool — we love a system that works together seamlessly, and that’s the beauty of Choreograph. When you are renovating (or designing) your bathroom, it’s great to be able to have products that complement each other and work together harmoniously. Let’s look at some of the options they offer. Here are two of their towel bar options:

Choreograph Towel Bars

Each bar is made from anodized aluminum with integrated finish-matched caps for easy cleaning and to coordinate with your faucet finishes.

The add-on teak tray snaps securely into place and provides a dedicated space for storing the shower products you use every day.

And how about shelves? And hooks?

Choreograph Shelving and Hooks

Floating Shower Shelves

These adaptable shelves can be placed anywhere in the shower. You can also install the floating shower shelves outside the shower to open up more storage possibilities.

Made from anodized aluminum, the shelves are positioned off the wall for better water drainage, making them easier to keep clean. The shelves are removable for easy cleaning.

Shower Hook

A hook is a simple way to keep robes, towels, loofas dry while freeing the bathroom floor of clutter. They are made from anodized aluminum, which makes them durable and easy to clean.

And last but not least — you might be interested in seating!

Choreograph Shower Seating

They offer two styles – a flip-down and a stand-alone seat.

Flip-Down Seat: The 26-inch-wide seat pan provides comfort and stability in the shower. Simply flip it up when it’s not needed to save space.

Freestanding Shower Stool: The unique 26-5/8” height of the stool provides a comfortable seat to carry out daily grooming tasks both in and out of the shower. While in the shower, the specially designed stool elevates you to an ideal showering position for maximum water pressure and minimal heat loss.

Any way you look at it – KOHLER seems to have made designing a shower simple and stylish. And really, isn’t that what we all want when we think of designing a bathroom?

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Looking Ahead – Kitchen Design Trends

Ann Sacks Tile Used As Backsplash Behind Stove

We don’t have a crystal ball, but the advantage that showrooms DO have is a bit of insider information on product development and styles coming down the pike. We attend industry trade shows that introduce kitchen and bath products one or even two years before they are in our showrooms.  Everyone at The Ultimate Bath Stores tries to attend as many of these shows as possible to stay on top of trends. At the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) this past winter we saw a lot!  Here is a breakdown of some of what’s happening in kitchen and bath design – if you are thinking of remodeling pay attention!

Kitchen: Luxe metallics. While silver, chrome and stainless steel are three metallics commonly used in the kitchen, next year warmer metals, like gold, copper and bronze, will have their moment to shine. The texture and gleaming finish of metallics provide a stunning accent to most palette choices.

Copper Kitchen Faucet From Danze

Here is another bold tile from Ann Sacks – their Inca collection (made with metal, which is what gives it that sheen):

The INCA collection from Ann Sacks Tile

Color is back! We saw a marked difference in backsplash designs: stone and glass mosaics are on trend, offering alternatives to the usual and expected mosaic designs. Stone mosaics will feature specialty shaped tiles such as ovals, triangles, and hexagons, with glass mosaics displaying rectangular tiles, among other shapes.

Colorful Kitchen Tiles

The beauty of tiles is that a little can go a long way – if you don’t want to do an entire renovation of your kitchen – you can always add or change your backsplash.

Ann Sacks Beau Monde Glass Mosaics

Textured Materials Kitchens in 2015 will feature more textured and tactile materials. Natural marble and granite with honed finishes, along with fabricated stones made to replicate raw finishes, will be seen again and again. Incorporating these materials adds a touch of luxury to any kitchen. Countertop choices will depend primarily on budget but the point is that there are many choices that are less expensive than granite and still provide a design bang!

Caesarstone Island Countertop

Caesarstone is an engineered stone which many homeowners find fits their budget.

Engineered Quartz Island Countertop

What else are we seeing as far as trends?

Open Shelving! With all of the beautiful cups and dishes available, you have to wonder why we were hiding them all along? If you are remodeling, you might want to consider some open shelving. It not only provides instant eye-candy, it also lightens the room.

Open Shelving Option

As always, home design trends come and go, so the most important thing to remember is that any design should feel good to you, the homeowner. Never let a trend dictate a style that doesn’t seem to work for you. In fact, maybe we shouldn’t be using the word ‘trend’ at all…let’s call these style options and ideas.

In our next post, we’ll talk about bathroom options.

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The Shower Door – The Unsung Hero of the Bathroom

Vonse Curved Glass Shower Door from RODA by Basco

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times – good design is in the details. Amen to that we say!  If there is one thing that we know….it’s which details are important versus which are more decorative. That is not to say that decorative details are ‘less’ important – don’t get us wrong. But we have ALL experienced products whose pieces fell off, or were loose, or rusted out, or began leaking…we could go on. Which is why we are focusing this blog on shower doors.  A seemingly simple idea that could be all manner of wrong if you choose anything but extremely well-made products.

Infinity Frameless Sliding Shower

Classic Frameless Pivot Shower Door

At The Ultimate Store, we’ve been working with Basco shower doors for many years. Precision engineering and premium materials are just two of the reasons we trust Basco. Like any manufacturer which focuses on a specific product type – they have thought of virtually everything:  Frames are made of hardened aluminum that undergo an exclusive heat treatment for lasting beauty. Basco’s unique Sta-Kleen track is standard on all sliding doors. The mechanism prevents dirt buildup while keeping water securely within the enclosure. Door pulls, handles, and towel bars are 30 percent heavier than other brands. Basco offers the industry’s largest variety of glass options. They’re offered in a variety of styles from the open look of clear to the distinctive patterns of rain, etched, fluted or beveled glass.

Dresden French Doors with Inline Panels

They even have a very useful tool to help you ‘Build Your Door

Rolaire Fixed Panel Sliding Enclosure

Between Basco and RODA by Basco – this seemingly ‘invisible’ bathroom product will help define the look of your bathroom while delivering the ultimate in reliability.

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The Value Of Showrooms

We DO Feel The Music!

Given the multitude of DIY shows and big box stores that make it seem as if it’s SO easy to renovate your home, we wondered why homeowners would and should choose to work with kitchen & bath showrooms at all. Can’t everyone just ‘Do It Themselves’?

We spoke with Sarah Bride, a salesperson in our Concord, New Hampshire store to find out from her what customers appreciate about working with a showroom rather than a big box store.

Sarah Bride

Q: Hi Sarah, can you tell us how long you’ve worked at The Ultimate Bath store?

SB: I have been working at the Ultimate Bath Store for 1 year.

Q. Do you have a background in design?

SB: I have an associate’s degree in Interior Design as well as 7 years’ experience in the construction/design industry.

Q. Are you finding that homeowners are more involved in the renovation process now, then they were before all of these DIY shows? Have these types of shows helped? Or do they give people an unrealistic sense of how easy it looks to renovate?

SB: Homeowners are definitely more involved.  The builder or plumber used to select products and install them, but now the homeowner is spending time to make the product selections that reflect their personality and lifestyle.  With all of the DIY shows, consumers are getting great design ideas that help them to hone in on their style, as well as showing them some of the unexpected issues that can happen during a project.  Homeowners have a better understanding of the remodel and construction process, however the shows don’t show all of the time spent selecting, ordering, installing, etc.

Another Contemporary Bath Vignette

Q. If you had to name one reason above all else as the reason people should work with showrooms – what would that be?

SB:. Whenever someone embarks on a new construction or remodeling project they should work with a showroom.  The staff has superior knowledge of the quality products and the process of construction and remodeling.  We can explain all of the parts and pieces that are needed, what makes one product a better quality than another, and assist with the overall design of the space.

Q. Do you find that homeowners do a lot of comparison shopping and how does the online world affect your showroom?

SB: People comparison shop all types of products before they buy, whether it is a car, a new fridge, or a lawn mower. At the Granite Group we work very hard to be competitive in the marketplace while still offering beautiful showrooms where the homeowners can see and touch the products while having their questions answered by knowledgeable associates.

Q. How much training does your staff get and how often?

SB:  The showroom staff is constantly receiving training so we are up-to-date on the newest technology and products in the market.  Some of the training is done in the showroom by the manufacturer’s reps, while other times it is a trip to a factory to see how a faucet, tub, toilet, etc. are made from scratch.

Showroom Salespeople Receiving Training From Kohler

Q. What do you do to keep up with trends in the design world?

SB:  To stay up-to-date with the ever changing trends I read design magazines, keep in contact with local design firms, peruse websites like Houzz and Pinterest and of course watch the DIY shows.

Q. What are some trends that you see happening in bathroom design?

SB:  Bathroom designs are becoming simpler with clean, sleek lines, but that doesn’t always translate into “contemporary” as many may envision. Traditional styled homes are using these designs as well as modern or contemporary homes.  Bathrooms are a place to escape, they are used as an oasis from the day.  The simpler designs help to set the stage to unwind and relax.  One of the biggest changes in the products are the use of freestanding tubs.  There has been a great increase in freestanding tubs versus a drop-in tub that has a tile surround.

Q. And finally – if there was one thing you wished homeowners knew, when it comes to bathroom or kitchen design – what would that be? Now’s your chance to tell them!

SB:  I would tell them to really think about how they live and what is important to them.  Taking the time to look through design magazines or talk to family and friends about what they like best or wish they had done differently in their own homes will give homeowners some great ideas to incorporate into building their dream home.  Does a single bowl kitchen sink fit their lifestyle better than a double bowl sink like they have always had?  Would they love to have a big soaking tub to help relieve the stress of the day or maybe a steam shower to improve health and wellness?  Knowing what is most important to you will help make the decision-making process easier.

Sarah, thank you so much for your time and your thoughtful answers.

Need A Faucet? You'll Find It Here

Posted in Uncategorized, bath accessories, bathroom design, bathroom faucet, bathroom furniture, bathroom sink, kitchen & bath industry, showers (heads, values & controls) | Leave a comment

Everything and the Kitchen Sink – Part Two – Faucets

Brizo Belo Kitchen Designed By Allison Bergamo

Unless you are living under a rock – you are probably aware of our Nation’s and the World’s concerns about the environment and water conservation. While the forecasts might seem dire, we do live in a time where technology has been implemented to help with water conservation while making it seem as though nothing at all has changed. Low-flow faucets are now the norm; most faucets are fitted with aerators that keep the pressure strong, while at the same time reducing the GPM (gallons per minute). You’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

As with every other home design product – choices are plentiful. Beauty, brains and reliability are the cornerstones of virtually every product these days.  Here are our choices for some of the best:

Kallista's Jeton Pull-Down Faucet in Nickel Silver

Kallista’s Jeton design is inspired by the classicism of early 20th century architecture, French interiors, and the haute couture of fashion, designer Bill Sofield crafted the Jeton collection to reflect chic sensibility and sophisticated presence of line. This faucet has it all:

  • Pull-Down functionality
  • High Arch for easy clearance
  • Aerator
  • Solid Brass construction

Plus it’s available in four finishes. It’s a beauty!

3 LEG BRIDGE COUNTRY KITCHEN FAUCET WITH SIDESPRAY

If your kitchen has more of a country, rustic feel — Rohl has wonderful faucets. Their 3 leg bridge faucet with side spray is also all brass construction, available in five finishes and it’s flow rate is 1.5  GPM.

If you are looking for something a bit more contemporary — Brizo’s got you covered. Their faucets are elevated to the level of art; sculptural and sensuous. We love Belo:

Brizo Belo Single Hole Kitchen Faucet

Water efficient, equipped with a four-button spray wand, Belo is even ADA compliant. Plus it’s just downright beautiful.

And don’t forget pot fillers! If you are renovating your kitchen, pot fillers have certainly become the ‘must-have’ product. You will thank yourself for installing one – never again will you struggle with filling up your pasta pot.

Kohler’s Artifacts collection of faucets and potfillers is an excellent transitional design – not too contemporary, nor too traditional. The wonder of potfillers is that they work FAST – they fill up the pots very quickly so you aren’t holding a heavy object for too long.

Kohler Artifacts Potfiller

  • Ceramic disc valves exceed industry longevity standards, ensuring durable performance for life.
  • High spout with 360-degree rotation offers superior clearance.
  • Articulating swing spout for filling pots on cooktops and ranges.
  • Single lever handle with main lever shutoff.

Technology + style = fantastic choices for homeowners!

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Everything AND the Kitchen Sink

Mid-Century Kitchen From Kohler

This mid-century kitchen image from Kohler is an excellent visual of just how far we’ve come.  Or have we? The need for good, efficient workspace in kitchens remains the number one priority for most people, when asked what they want.

Efficiencies drive most innovations because time is the most important luxury – even more so now – in that way we have changed. Even though many families are so busy they aren’t able to sit down together for dinner – people still congregate in kitchens and the kitchen remains the heart of every home.

So what innovations have been made? Let’s start with kitchen sinks. Stainless remains the number one material for sinks; it’s stain-resistant, virtually indestructible, and reasonably priced. When it comes to stainless….you only need to know that 16-gauge is the best. The rest is personal design choice; single bowl, double bowl, undermount, accessories.

Kohler has an amazing amount of stainless sinks to choose from. Here are a couple:

Kohler's Strive Series of Stainless Steel Undermount Sinks

These sinks comes in all manner of shapes and sizes…it’s about as well-rounded a collection as you’ll see. It even comes in a ‘Farmhouse’ style, apron-front model.

Kohler's Vault Series Stainless Steel Apron Front Sinks

If you want to use a different material – depending on your budget, you can use marble – as with this lovely Farmhouse sink from Kallista. It is not inexpensive – but again – it sure is lovely and like stainless, it’s virtually indestructible.

Kallista For Town Collection Of Marble Sinks

Fireclay is another material option – according to Rohl, Fireclay  sinks are made of a unique clay capable of being fired at extremely high temperatures. These high temperatures cause the clay and glaze to fuse together, virtually creating an entirely new form. This clay is found in limited regions around the world, making true fireclay sinks some of the most durable sink options. Resistant to acid, alkali, scratches and impact many fireclay sinks outlive the very spaces for which they were created. Here is one of theirs:

Rohl's Allia Fireclay Sink

Once you’ve figured out if you want stainless or engineered stone or marble or fireclay, your next decision will be which accessories to choose. Never before have there been so many options for devices that help keep preparing food and cleaning up efficient. Check out these integrated cutting boards and drain racks!

Kohler Prolific Stainless Sink With Accessories

This innovative stainless-steel sink features three graduated ledges in the basin, so you can place the bamboo cutting board, multipurpose grated racks (two), colander, and washbin exactly where you want them for maximum efficiency as you work. The sink comes with all five accessories included. Sounds good to me!

Not every accessory has to be integrated into the sink. There are many that you can buy separately, and here is one that falls under the ‘why didn’t we think of that’ – who doesn’t need this sponge caddy?

Kohler Reset Sponge Caddy

In our next blog post, we’ll tackle kitchen faucets – because surprise, surprise — the options there are as plentiful as they are beautiful.

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Tubs And Tile – What You Need To Know Now

Kohler Freestanding Tub

Are bathtubs soon to become a thing of the past? We asked around, and the answers we’ve found make us believe that the answer is a resounding no! Families with small children, athletes, even the ageing population all love tubs.  Is there anything more soothing than a good, long soak? We think not!

If you are remodeling, and you have the space, you should consider a tub. Space is really the main consideration. For the sake of this blog, we are going to assume that you do have space so we can discuss the various types of tubs. If you’ve learned anything in the design field – it’s that there is never “just one type” of anything!

Here is a quick rundown on the various types of tubs:

Alcove, drop-in, freestanding, integral and undermount. If you want a more in-depth description of each of those, American Standard has a great website with drawings to help you understand.

Once you’ve decided that your room can support the size of a tub, you need to decide on the style. If your home is more traditional and you love the look of those claw-footed tubs – you are in luck. They are still quite popular and easy to find. Kohler has a number of versions of this particular style.

Alcove tubs might still be the most popular, given the sizes of bathrooms. You don’t have to settle for ‘just’ the tub however – there are wonderful tubs with built-in whirlpools to give you a spa feeling at home.

Kohler's Clawfoot Tub (person not included)

Here’s a great example of an alcove tub with integrated whirlpool – from American Standard:

As far as the tub materials – here is a little bit of information about the most popular:

Enamel On Steel/Porcelain

Enamel-on-steel tubs (or porcelain-on-steel as they’re sometimes called) have a similar look to cast iron tubs except that they’re lighter. Their surface is easily cleaned and maintained and their lighter weight means they’re easier to muscle into a remodeled bathroom than a heavier cast iron tub.

Acrylic

Acrylic in simple terms is a form of plastic and is another material used to make bathtubs. Benefits include its high gloss finish and lighter weight. It can be scratched more easily but these scratches can also be repaired more easily than a porcelain enamel surface.

Fiberglass Gelcoat (FRP)

Another material used to make tubs is fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) that’s covered in something called “gelcoat”. You’ll find some whirlpools and air tubs made from this material because it can be shaped easily. The gelcoat provides the smooth, glossy surface of the tub and offers an easily cleaned surface. It’s a lot like acrylic but usually not as durable, as it can be scratched and/or cracked if it’s struck hard enough.

Composite

Many brands now use composite materials. These tubs are made with proprietary engineered composite materials that form the backing of the tub itself. The finished surface of the tubs are enameled. The intent with these kinds of tubs is to achieve the benefits of cast iron, like heat retention and a durable surface finish, without the weight associated with cast iron. These composite tubs can weigh about 1/3 as much as cast iron, something to think about if you’re replacing a 2nd story bathroom tub.

And now tiles –

So now that you’ve chosen your tub – let’s move on to tiles. The possibilities here are as plentiful as you would imagine! From subway tiles to glass, porcelain, wood-look and metallic-infused, tiles have come a long way from the horrible pink and black of the 50′s.

Daltile Skybridge Glazed Ceramic Tiles

The best bet when looking at, and choosing tile for a bathroom is to make sure you choose products that will last a long time and need little in the way of maintenance. Porcelain and ceramic tiles come in so many variations, and are so easy to maintain that your main concern will be choosing the colors! Many people choose subtle colored tiles for floors and add accent colors to the borders or they choose to make a mosaic pattern on one wall.  Here are some images to give you inspiration – from Daltile.

Daltile Aria Ivory and Peridot

Here is a bolder use of tile:

Random Mosaic in Silver Shore

If you want a strong, bold look – you can use tiles that give the look of slate – like these field tiles:

Deep Grey 20 x 20 field tile in a brick-joint pattern

We hope we’ve given you some food for thought (and not overwhelmed you). As always – your best solution would be to visit showrooms and speak to experienced salespeople.

Posted in Uncategorized, bath accessories, bathroom design, flooring, kitchen & bath industry, tile, tubs | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

So You’ve Decided you DO want to Remodel Your Bathroom


Contemporary Bathroom Design From Kohler

We’ve all been there – looking at old, cracked wall tile and stained grout, or perhaps you are still using the vanity/sink/faucet that was in place when you bought your home. It’s hard not to want to upgrade when you know that there are products that are not only beautifully designed but energy efficient and perhaps even healthier for the environment. When you’ve reached that point where you just HAVE to remodel – take a step back and breathe. Then take a step forward and start doing research. US News & World recently published a trends report, with information from respected industry experts like Ilyce Glink, author of numerous real estate books, including “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask.” Glink has found that trends in bathroom design now include “larger shower spaces with all the trimmings, such as aromatherapy steam showers and more.”We are seeing a trend toward incredible shower experiences, with big, round rainwater showerheads. We are seeing places to sit in the shower and more elaborate shelving. Lots of glass tile and multispray heads,” Glink says. These shower spaces can include built-in containers that allow you to preload your shampoo and conditioner.

All of that being said, let’s break down some of the product choices that abound in the world of bathroom design. Since the report mentioned steam showers, let’s begin there.

ThermaSol's Steam Showers Have Many Benefits

Steam Showers:

Steam has been shown to have many benefits aside from post-exercise relaxation. We’ve come a long way in the understanding of what a true steam shower can do for your body. The heat helps aching muscles relax and open the pores for detoxification and skin rejuvenation. Those with respiratory problems enjoy steam therapy because it has been known to help soothe throat irritation, loosen phlegm in the lungs and loosen mucus in the nose. If you are remodeling your bathroom, you might think about adding a steam shower unit for the reasons mentioned above. ThermaSol is one manufacturer that works very hard to make figuring out what type of steam shower unit to purchase very easy!


ThermaSol's MicroTouch Controller

ThermaSol’s product offerings also include aromatherapy oils, and they’ve made sure to produce their controls in finishes that complement virtually every faucet/shower finish on the market – so you don’t have to worry about your steam controller looking out of place. They also offer Bluetooth capability and their MicroTouch controller works in the same way as a smartphone – technology continues to advance!

Faucets:

The array of faucets on the market today is enough to make anyone dizzy – so before you become overwhelmed, it’s best to try to narrow things down using a few criteria:

  • Contemporary styling or Traditional? Or somewhere in between (called Transitional)

Kallista One Basin Gooseneck Faucet

Kallista Tuxedo Faucet from Barbara Barry

  • Do you want low-flow aerators to ensure that you are being kind to the environment? Most faucets do have aerators, and in fact a ‘Low-flow’ faucet today is made so well you would never be able to tell that you are saving water.

Kohler Cruette Single Hole Faucet

  • Single-hole or widespread. Do you like having ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ handles separate or would you prefer a single hole faucet?

Once  you’ve narrowed these criteria down in your head (and perhaps by looking through magazines or online), you will be better prepared and less likely to become frustrated or overwhelmed by the choices.

Toilets:

The average toilet gets flushed nearly 2,000 times a year. And in the U.S., one-half of all toilets are older, less efficient models that waste up to 1.6 billion gallons of water every day. That data is from Kohler, the manufacturers of some of today’s most efficient  (and stylish) toilets.   Here again, as with faucets, you’ll want to do a bit of research first:

Kohler's Adair One-Piece Toilet with Elongated Seat

  • One-piece versus Two-piece toilets
    One-piece toilets integrate tank and bowl into a seamless, space-saving design that is easy to clean. Some low-profile models can be installed under a vanity extension when space is at a premium. Because of their special design detail, most one-piece KOHLER toilets ship with a complementary Quiet-Close™ toilet seat with Quick-Release™ functionality.

Two-piece toilets feature the traditional design of a separate tank and bowl. Two- and three-bolt installation systems provide a sturdy, level connection between the tank and bowl, making installation easy.

Kohler's Cimarron Comfort Height Two-Piece Toilet

  • Bowl Shape
    Compact elongated one-piece toilet designs enable an elongated bowl to fit in a round-front space.

Elongated bowls provide added room and comfort for adults. These will have the abbreviation “EB.”

Round-front bowls require less space and are good for small children. These are also referred to as “plain bowls” with the abbreviation “PB.”

  • Flushing Types
    Kohler offers two main toilet flushing types: gravity and assisted. Gravity flushing comes in two types: siphonic, which uses the flow of water and the s-shape of the trapway to create a siphoning action, and washdown, which uses the force of gravity to send all of the water through the rim and out. Assisted flushing moves water from the tank to the bowl and out of the trapway using electricity.

If all of this seems overwhelming – your safest bet is to gather every photo you can of things you like and head into the showroom.  A trusted showroom (and the well-trained staff) should be your one-stop shop. No need to run from one to the next – a good showroom has a great selection of products in ALL categories (faucets, fixtures, furniture for the bath, tile, even lighting.)

Next time, we’ll tackle tubs and tile!

Posted in Uncategorized, bathroom design, bathroom faucet, bathroom furniture, kitchen & bath industry, toilet | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everything Old Is New Again –Building Versus Renovating

April is many things to many people and industries: to gardeners it’s yard clean-up and bulb-planting, to the fashion world it’s spring and summer fashion (a bit too soon for bathing suits but we can’t fight that tide) and for the home design and building industries it’s New Homes Month. In December, we spent a fair bit of time talking about many of the options to consider when building or remodeling. However, we didn’t touch on the economic aspects that go into such decisions. According to data compiled by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), in November 2014, the median home price of a newly constructed home was $280,900 while the median price of an existing home was $206,200.  That is a pretty big gap (36% to be precise.)  There could be many factors at work here, the biggest being the lack of new housing stock. Existing home prices continue to climb as well leaving buyers to question whether they should even consider moving or rather upgrade and renovate their existing homes.

There two primary advantages to buying an existing home are convenience and cost. If you are pre-approved for a mortgage you can take your time and see what’s out there.  The drawback would be having to make any major upgrades and renovations to an existing home, where if you built from scratch, you are able to specify the house to your exact needs (budgets  notwithstanding).  Timing may be an issue as well: 7-12 months is the average time it takes to build a house, which includes finding the land and choosing an architect and a contractor. You will need those for renovations as well – so we are back to costs, timing and availability of land (unless you buy an existing home as a tear-down.)

If you want to learn more about hidden costs, check out The Builder’s and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston (BRAGB). This trade organization has tons of helpful articles and insights.

Since we cannot make this decision for you – we are going to talk about what we know best – products! Because regardless of whether you build or renovate, you should be looking at purchasing products that not only fit your budget but will also save energy (and therefore costs) and last a long time.

Below is an interesting chart that shows the cost per hour for various appliances – you can see that the clothes washer/dryer are the second highest, after central air. Being in New England, we can guarantee that you likely use the washer/dryer a LOT more than your central air; depending on time of year. So it makes sense to invest in products that are as efficient as possible, which is where Energy Star comes into play.

Common Electricity-Consuming Appliances

Energy Star is a term that everyone has heard; you’ve probably seen their labels on many appliances. The ENERGY STAR program was established by EPA in 1992, under the authority of the Clean Air Act Section 103(g). Section103(g) of the Clean Air Act directs the Administrator to “conduct a basic engineering research and technology program to develop, evaluate, and demonstrate non–regulatory strategies and technologies for reducing air pollution.” In 2005, Congress enacted the Energy Policy Act. Section 131 of the Act amends Section 324 (42 USC 6294) of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and “established at the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency a voluntary program to identify and promote energy–efficient products and buildings in order to reduce energy consumption, improve energy security, and reduce pollution through voluntary labeling of or other forms of communication about products and buildings that meet the highest energy efficiency standards.

There are lots of options for appliances — here are some that are Energy Star rated (or compliant):

Bosch has some of the quietest dishwashers on the market. A bit pricier than some others, but depending on your budget – it might work.

Bosch Energy Star Rated Dishwasher

General Electric’s products are always dependable.

GE Refrigerator

Of course Sears carries a lot of Energy Star rated appliances (as do most big box stores). You can go right to Energy Star’s website and do a comparison there of many brands.

LG Energy Star Rated Electric Clothes Dryer

There are so many considerations – whether you decide to build from scratch or to renovate, using ‘green’ or Energy Star rated appliances and more efficient toilets, plumbing fixtures and electrical fixtures allows you to save on costs down the line and will make for a healthier environment in the long run.  We can’t fight Mother Nature, but we make our own homes as comfortable as possible.

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Vanity Countertop Options Are Plentiful

There was a time when people in the home design industry looked down their noses at anything that wasn’t granite or wood or other ‘natural’ materials. We think the backlash began when homeowners moved into homes that had Formica countertops left over from the 1950’s with peeling edges and colors not found in nature. Who wouldn’t shy away from that?

All of this began to change once solid surface materials were introduced by DuPont in 1963, with their product named Corian. Since then, the term ‘solid surface’ is used almost as much as any brand name – the same way we ask for a Kleenex, when we mean tissue.  Originally designed for use as a countertop, this versatile material is now being used for showerpans, shower and tub walls, floor tiles, tabletops, cutting boards…the list goes on.

We love it for exactly that – its versatility. Virtually impervious to stains or chips, it is one of the easiest surfaces to clean and price-wise it is less than granite (but then again everything seems to be less than granite!)

The palette of colors has grown as well as the design flexibility; everything from calming neutrals to eye-popping rich and saturated colors.

You cannot tell us that this countertop isn’t lovely – especially paired with that vanity.

Swan Vanity top in Crystal White

Swan is a brand that has been producing solid surface countertops for more than 40 years! You might recognize the brand name Swanstone – which they introduced in 1987. A proud ‘Made in America’ product – there are a number of reasons it continues to gain in popularity: it’s very easy to clean and is resistant to all household cleaners. Because it’s a homogenous material (that means it’s a non-porous material with color molded throughout), stains can be polished or buffed away, because the surface will be the same underneath as it was before the stain. We also love that it’s available in 35 colors!

You can use it as countertops with vessel sinks, or as an undermount sink just as easily:

Swan undermount bowl in granite gray

Terestone is another manufacturer of products designed to give you the look of cultured stone (in this case marble) but without the high cost and with better options for customization. Founded in 1968, Terestone is one of the oldest and most experienced manufacturers of cast polymer products. What IS Terestone you ask? Their product is actually named TERE-STONE® and it consists of natural stone, resin and a proprietary component (secret ingredient.) Scratches can be easily removed simply by buffing and polishing the surface.  With a material composition and consistent color throughout the base material, similar to solid surface products, damages to the surface can be repaired utilizing a consumer-friendly patch kit. As with Swanstone, TERE-STONE Vanity Tops with integral bowls will not crack or craze. Terestone offers a 10-year warranty and like Swan, the products are also made in the USA. These countertops really look like marble, don’t they?

Terestone Custom Vanity

Here is another beauty:

Terestone Vanity in Cinnamon Toast

Ceramic Countertops

Kohler excels at many things, so you shouldn’t be surprised to know that they too offer a countertop solution.  Their Ceramic/Impressions line of integrated countertops offers style and functionality in numerous design options.  Why do we love ceramic as a choice? It too is easy to clean and because of the way it’s made and finished, it is very resistant to scratches which means it will look factory-fresh for years to come. We really like their Poplin and Jute collections, each of which provides a warm feeling because of the wood tones.Of course being Kohler, they make it a point to offer a number of complete solutions; vanities,  coordinating faucets, toilets, accessories. That’s Kohler!

Kohler's Poplin Collection

Kohler Jute Vanity

Kohler even has great options for smaller bathrooms, when you need a vanity to fit (24″ is a great size)


Kohler Alberry 24" wide vanity with integrated top

The choice…or really choices…are yours.

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