24 January 2010

Grow Fenway Park Grass in Your Backyard

Boston Globe

Want your yard to look as lush and as green as the grass at Fenway Park? That gardener's dream may now be easier to achieve, thank to a new sponsorship agreement between Major League Baseball Properties and Scotts Co. LLC, an outfit known for garden-care products such as ScottsMiracle-Gro.

"Fans will now be able to purchase grass seed blends and fertilizers featured in some of the most iconic Major League ballparks," Major League Baseball Properties and Scotts said in a press release. "These products, designed by Scotts in consultation with the head groundskeeper at each ballpark, utilize the same Scotts varieties and technology used on the fields. Grass seed blends and fertilizers will debut in 2010 for fans of the Boston Red Sox (Fenway Park), Chicago Cubs (Wrigley Field), Cincinnati Reds (Great American Ballpark), Philadelphia Phillies (Citizens Bank Park), and St. Louis Cardinals (Busch Stadium)."

As part of the agreement with Major League Baseball Properties, Scotts, makers of push reel mowers, becomes the "official lawn care company of Major League Baseball."

20 January 2010

Popular Jersey Chefs and Their Home Kitchens


If you’ve ever observed a professional kitchen in action, you can appreciate the word "hectic."

Picture a dozen or so cooks under the gun, dicing, slicing, shuffling pots and pans over roaring flames, shouting orders at each other. Call it controlled culinary chaos.

This sweaty scenario made us wonder: What happens in the home kitchens of some of New Jersey’s most popular toque wearers?

To find out, we toured the kitchens of James and Nancy Laird, co-owners and executive chef and general manager, respectively, of Restaurant Serenade in Chatham; Scott Snyder, executive chef and co-owner of BoulevardFive72 in Kenilworth; and Scott Cutaneo, chef-owner of Equus Tavern in Bernardsville.

The kitchens varied greatly in size and design — from Snyder’s Colonia kitchen that’s compact but high on counter space to the expansive 800-square-foot cooking and dining area in Cutaneo’s Bernardsville home. What became clear was that regardless of space, decor, expense, or chosen appliances, the primary goal of each was to create a serene setting — a mood far removed from that of their workaday world. Each chef wanted a space that was at once efficient and inspiring. How that was achieved is as unique as the chefs themselves.

A peaceful retreat

James and Nancy Laird moved into their spacious getaway on four acres in rural New Vernon some seven years ago, attracted to the home’s clean-lined simplicity and the calmness and tranquility of its setting.

For the chef, "It’s like always being on vacation.

"It’s peaceful here, that’s why we chose it," he said. "We don’t take long vacations — if we do at all," he said. "Every morning it’s like waking up on holiday — the birds, the wildlife. I have my produce garden out back and a space to raise my heirloom chickens. And we’re only seven miles from Serenade."

Their 300-square-foot kitchen has six large windows that remain uncovered, offering an unobscured view that makes Nancy Laird feel as though she’s cooking outdoors.

"Our goal in designing the kitchen and what keeps us inspired is that we are in an uncluttered space that’s relaxing and comfortable," James Laird said. "It gets me ready for work. It’s not hectic like the job. It gives me the opportunity to reboot."

While the couple has done some kitchen remodeling, the room is mostly original. For efficiency, more spotlights were added over the kitchen island and the couple introduced their own taste with new paint, tile and mid-century modern furnishings.

"Basically, it suited us in its simplicity and feeling of calm and serenity," Nancy Laird said of the kitchen, which mirrors their home’s spare styling.

Like the rest of the house, the kitchen is done in whites and neutrals. The Hamilton Beach roaster oven is white and the Sub-Zero refrigerator is paneled in the same light wood as the cabinetry.

Spots of color come from artwork, and from a glass-front display case within the cabinetry that holds a Russell Wright pottery collection. A vibrant kaffir lime tree is kept in the kitchen over the winter.

The Knoll furniture company’s Bertoia stools are a chic but streamlined addition to the work area, surrounding the large central island that Nancy Laird says is the place where guests and family join them while they cook. Beyond the kitchen is a dining area spotlighting a lengthy Nakashima dining table and Hans Wegner chairs.

The sparse space works for the Lairds because all the pots, pans and small kitchen appliances (except the coffee maker) are tucked away in very large drawers. "This makes our kitchen more efficient," Nancy Laird said. "Nothing is in our way."

18 January 2010

Return to Spender

The Columbus Dispatch

Wondering where to spend your home-improvement dollars this year?

Start by thinking small.

A nice new sunroom, perhaps? Or a home-office makeover?


A new front door?

Now you're talking.

A steel front door, at an average cost of $1,172, is the only home improvement that might pay for itself when the home is sold, according to the latest "Remodeling Cost vs. Value" survey, the most widely cited attempt to measure the payback on home-improvement projects.

The report provides more evidence that, during this economy, the best investments are the frugal ones.

The biggest bangs for the buck, the study says, come from modest exterior maintenance projects that boost a home's curb appeal, not flashy renovations or additions.

"For years and years, kitchens and baths were at the top of the list, and they are still popular," said Sal Alfano, editorial director of Remodeling magazine, which publishes the study with the help of the National Association of Realtors. "This year, because of the economy, those at the top of the list are all fairly inexpensive projects."

The findings are based on a survey of more than 4,000 real-estate agents, including 52 in central Ohio. The agents were provided costs on 33 remodeling projects and asked to estimate how much of that cost would be recouped were the home sold.

Eight of the 10 best returns stemmed from exterior improvements that cost less than $14,000. A new front door led the list, with an estimated return of 128.9 percent nationally.

Other improvements that boasted at least a 79 percent return were installing a new wood deck, adding fiber cement or vinyl siding, or building a bedroom and bath in the attic.

The worst returns came from adding new space -- such as sunrooms, bathrooms, garages or master suites, all of which were expected to return less than 58 percent of the remodeling cost.

Renovating existing space, such as attics or basements, is more likely to yield a higher return because the initial expense is lower.

Central Ohio contractors weren't surprised to see that more-modest projects yielded a greater return.

"Everybody's sort of battening down the hatches," said Randy McGarvey, a co-owner of Newlook Sidings remodeling company in Gahanna. "What you're finding is rather than people increasing square footage, they're making the best use of their existing space."

McGarvey and other contractors point out that federal tax credits have helped lower the cost for improvements that reduce a home's energy use, such as new windows.

"The report is consistent with what we're seeing, as far as people repairing, fixing what they have, compared with putting on the bigger additions," said Todd Schmidt, president of Renovations Unlimited in Grove City. "The energy tax credit has been a big help for that, with replacement windows, furnaces, air conditioning, things like that."

Still, Schmidt said, homeowners should be careful about putting all their improvement money into projects that can't be quickly seen.

"Kitchens and baths are still the best return on your money," he said. "New windows and a furnace won't really impact whether the house sells."

No matter what the project, homeowners shouldn't remodel with the goal of making money. The 33 home improvements return an average 64 percent -- among the lowest rates in the survey's 22-year history.

In Columbus, the return was even lower: The projects recouped only 59 percent of their cost, ranging from 42.3 percent for a home office remodeling to 84.3 percent for converting an unfinished attic to a bedroom and bath.

The relatively low return-on-investment reflects the overall state of the housing market, which is driven by careful buyers unwilling to spend a lot on frills.

"Part of it is simply the fact that money is getting tighter," Alfano said. "These are all need-to-do type projects."

Alfano and Columbus-area contractors say the study is a valuable guide, but they cautioned that remodeling decisions ultimately depend on the owners' needs and the home's condition. If your home has reasonably good siding but a terrible kitchen, for example, your money is best spent on the kitchen remodeling, regardless of what the report shows.

Furthermore, they note, most homeowners who remodel aren't doing it with the idea of selling.

"The report is just fantastic to give to clients," said Bryce Jacob, president of the local chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. "But, when we're doing a project for someone, they're not looking to turn it around and sell it quickly.

"If you're planning to stay in the space more than five or 10 years, it really doesn't make much difference," added Jacob, a vice president with Dave Fox Remodeling in Columbus. "And there's the plus of living in the space. There's a huge improvement in your quality of life."

The report suggests that buyers are more concerned with maintenance-free and energy-efficient homes than larger homes that boast flashy details.

But Alfano cautions about reading too many long-term trends into the report: Home remodeling and buying habits change with the overall economy.

"For some people, it's a no-brainer: They want to live smaller; they want energy efficiency," he said.

"But for a lot of other people, when they feel comfortable with the economy, we'll be right back where we were."

06 January 2010

Small Improvements That Sell


With very little effort, you can transform an average house into an above-average property that is sure to get second looks from buyers. Follow these guidelines to make sure your property stands out above the rest:

Paint inside and out

Fresh paint is the most cost-effective and profitable improvement you can make, even if your home doesn't need a new coat. Paint the interior walls a neutral color and the ceilings white to make rooms look bigger.

New lights
Replace outdated fixtures. This inexpensive improvement can update old decor that might have discouraged buyers.

New flooring
Install new carpet, linoleum, or tile, and refurbish hardwood floors if needed. Choose a neutral color for new carpeting. New flooring will increase the market value of your home, while shabby floors can kill a sale.

Planted landscape

Attractive front and back yards boost the value of any property. Mow the lawn, trim shrubs, and plant new bedding flowers. Clean up perennial beds. Plant some trees if the yard is barren, especially in the front parkway. Sweep the patio or deck and decorate with potted plants and flowers.

At a cost of $200-$300, it could be worth it to hire your own home inspector to give your entire home a thourough going-over before any potential buyers do. This is especially true if you have let any routine maintenance fall by the wayside for a number of years.

Completed repairs
Before listing your home for sale, make all minor repairs and catch up on maintenance. If you've deferred maintenance, get a professional home inspection. If the inspection reveals problems, make the repairs before listing the home. If you don't, the buyer will probably discount the offer price for more than the cost of repairs or replacement.

A clean garage

If you use your garage for storage, clean it out and rent a storage space. Paint the interior white. If your garage is unfinished, install wallboard or build storage shelves on the back wall. A clean garage will help solidify a buyer's impression of a home in move-in condition.

As you can see, there are many small improvements you can do yourself on a limited budget without venturing into an entire home remodeling project.

04 January 2010

The Voice-Activated Kitchen Of The Future

Tech News World

A core group of companies banded together in the Magic Kitchen Project will debut computer-embedded kitchen appliances Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show as a forerunner of technology consumers may be able to purchase by year's end.

The Magic Kitchen display is the result of four years of collaborative research by Whirlpool, Texas Instruments, Verizon, Tyco Electronics, Sensory and several other members of Continental Automated Buildings Association's Connected Home Research Council. The group, formerly known as the "Internet Home Alliance," developed the first phase of the project.

The Magic Kitchen display showcases several concepts, including clutter-free technologies that allow users to control content using voice and gesture commands.

"The kitchen is the nerve center of the entire house. Home builders need to wire the kitchen so data flows seamlessly. The issue is that the kitchen countertop is unrealistic for a PC," Debasish (Ron) Nag, director of business development at Texas Instruments, told TechNewsWorld.

Sensitive Choices

Traditional computing solutions accepted elsewhere in the house are not so cooking-friendly in the kitchen, according to research the group conducted.

"We found that consumers are not happy with having their laptops on the counter top. It's too risky that the laptop will fall or liquid will spill on the keys. So the ability to project displays onto flat surfaces is a better solution," Carol Priefert, senior manager of global consumer insights and technology for the global product organization at Whirlpool, told TechNewsWorld.

What people do in their kitchens and on their couches is different, she said, and each room has its own computing environment.

For example, laptops in the living room are used for work or supplementing the entertainment system; however, they're awkward and less convenient for kitchen-based chores. The idea is to provide what consumers say they want in their kitchens that is not now available, said Priefert.

New Kitchen Design

Kitchens have more than one common screen area, just as they have more than one work zone. Work zones gravitate around the center island, the stove area and the refrigerator, she said.

Those zones are least user-friendly when it comes to setting up computing displays with traditional hardware. How can kitchen appliance makers use these existing surfaces? The solution is to use the counter top to receive images from a projector, Nag said.

The kinds of information fed to the projector pattern what family members already have in the kitchen from old-fashioned methods. Instead, they will have LED lights under the cabinets and from the ceiling beaming down.

"The concept involves people using computers instead of recipe books, index cards and Post-It notes that litter refrigerator doors," said Nag.

No Standards

The features embedded into the first phase of the Magic Kitchen will lay a foundation for the overall concept of the connected home.

Past Connected Home Research Council pilots include Laundry Time, which tested the laundry room of the future; and Mealtime, which tested a variety of high-tech, meal-preparation technologies. However, the kitchen appliances could potentially serve as a proving ground.

The display at CES makes it clear that the Magic Kitchen is a futuristic concept, but one that's nonetheless feasible. What makes this particular look into the kitchen appliances of the future different from others is that all the functionality in the kitchen is within reach. Every concept in the kitchen is based on affordable technologies that exist currently in labs around the world but haven't yet been widely commercialized, noted Nag.

"It's not about setting standards. The vendors are pushing the concept of the connected home today. No industry standards yet exist," said Priefert.

What to Expect

Texas Instruments embedded mini computers that output to digital light projectors under cabinets, on appliance doors and on counter tops. A ceiling-mounted product contains an array of small projectors, LED heating lamps and an Internet connection. The device is a rectangular box that closely resembles a Black and Decker appliance affixed under a cabinet or a range hood, Nag explained.

Consumers can configure the system to display information according to their needs. These displays can be directed onto cooking surfaces, tables or counter tops.

"But keyboards and mice are not natural interfaces. People use hand gestures and voice. So our challenge was, could TI work with Whirlpool and others to do this?" Nag said.

As far as the Magic Kitchen assembled for this week's CES 2010 show, the answer is yes. A number of kitchen appliances offer working proof that the concept is possible.

Cool Stuff

One cool feature the kitchen touts is the ability for users to place a mobile device such as a cellphone on the counter in a bowl-shaped receptacle that functions as a connection zone. A hidden kitchen computer reads the user's individual food preferences and menu restrictions.

Other way-out stuff lets consumers use hands-free appliance controls to juggle multiple tasks in the kitchen. For example, someone standing near the sink could use the Wii-like sensor bar to control the burner height of an about-to-boil-over pot. Another task could involve answering the phone while working on food preparation in the kitchen without having to scramble to wash and dry your hands.

The images consumers choose to project onto surfaces could be anything from table-settings to informational labels for wine tasting parties to step-by-step instructions for homework or crafts. A counter-top device provides comprehensive product information for any bar-coded product, minimizing the risk of contamination or illness.

More to Come

After this first phase, the participating companies will conduct focus groups to learn more about what consumers think about the concept. Based on the results of the focus groups, the CABA Connected Home Research Council will explore conducting a multi-month, real-world test of the concept in three to five homes.

"Our hope with The Magic Kitchen is to inspire developers worldwide to commercialize these available technologies and bring them to market. This collaborative research shows that demand for these kitchen applications Click to learn how AT&T Application Management can help you focus on the growth and profitability of your business. is strong and growing," said Todd Mozer, CEO of Sensory.

Subsequent phases will include a variety of cloud computing applications, advanced speech recognition grammars, 3-D imaging and gesturing technology. A myriad of front projection devices and sensors would enable the kitchen computer to recognize individual family members when they walk into the kitchen.

Meet George Jetson

This would allow family members to access their personal content, such as calendar entries, news and email, simply by entering the kitchen. For example, the system could greet a family member with: "Good morning. Your coffee is ready, and you have a dentist appointment at 9 A.M. Would you like cream and sugar with your coffee?"

This future vision will be affordable for mainstream consumers in a three-step pricing process, according to Nag. It normally takes white goods manufacturers 18 to 24 months to develop new product lines.

"We can do it in 12 to 16 months, depending on the sense of urgency," he added.

The marketing Download Free eBook - The Edge of Success: 9 Building Blocks to Double Your Sales goal is to offer the technology at an acceptable price point. The first generation units will probably sell for $499. That price will drop to $299 and eventually drop to the consumer sweet spot of $199, Nag predicted.