24 February 2010

Why Won't Anyone Clean the Refrigerator?

The Wall Street Journal

Most Americans Tidy Their Refrigerators Only Once or Twice a Year; Manufacturers Try New Ways to Combat the Mess

For its new fridge, Whirlpool Corp. spent months inventing a shelf with microscopic etching so it can hold a can of spilled soda.

The technology is just one weapon against a dirty kitchen secret: Most Americans clean their fridges only once or twice a year.

Now, appliance makers like Whirlpool, Viking Range Corp. and Sub-Zero Inc. are tackling the messy fridge problem with a host of new features including souped-up shelves, bacteria-killing devices and better lighting. General Electric Co., for example, says it is rolling out new refrigerators in May with 10 lighting sources inside instead of its usual three—so food that might be forgotten in a corner and spoil will be easier to spot. The new GE models sell for $1,599 or $1,799 for stainless steel.

Manufacturers aiming to create a cleaner, tidier fridge are likely facing an uphill battle: Currently, most Americans don't clean their fridges until something triggers them to act, such as a spill or a pungent odor. They also don't devote much effort to the task, even when they come home with bags of new groceries. In Whirlpool's 2005 refrigerator habits survey of 2,571 consumers, 33% said they don't spend any time cleaning the refrigerator before grocery shopping. In order to make room for items just purchased, 27% reported shoving everything in and not worrying about organization.

Whirlpool hopes that increasing the amount of storage space might help. The company's new shelves—to be released later this year—are 25% roomier than previous models. And the microscopic etching creates surface tension, causing liquids to bubble up around the perimeter instead of spilling over, it says. Currently, shelves in Whirlpool's refrigerators have a plastic rim to help contain spills. Unfortunately, the rims have "the side effect of crud getting stuck in there," says Carolyn Kelley, brand manager of Whirlpool refrigeration. The new shelves—available on new Whirlpool models that cost from $1,199 to $1,499—would eliminate that problem because they don't require a rim to stop leaks.

But having more room won't necessarily limit clutter. People often don't store things properly anyway. Four years ago, in an effort to understand how people organize their fridges, Sub-Zero bought a week's worth of groceries and asked a group of 12 customers to put away the items in refrigerators at the company's research facilities in Madison, Wis.


    * Milk and eggs are on a shelf on the door. This is the warmest part of the refrigerator and shouldn't house highly-perishable items.
    * Raw meat is on the top shelf and isn't securely wrapped. Dripping meat can contaminate the food below.
    * Apples and carrots are next to each other. Apples produce ethylene, a substance that can cause some foods (including carrots) to spoil sooner.
    * Spills abound, creating a breeding ground for bacteria.


    * Only condiments (salad dressing, ketchup etc.) and other items that don't perish quickly are on the door's shelves.
    * Vegetables are wrapped in plastic and placed in the crisper drawers. This is one of the coldest parts of the fridge and the humidity is set to keep vegetables fresh.
    * The fridge isn't too tightly packed, allowing for good air flow, which helps keep food cold.

What ensued was chaos. People put meat and soda cans in the crisper drawers, which have a temperature and humidity meant for veggies. They put their milk in shelves on the door. While the door shelves seem to be a perfect fit for a carton of milk, Sub-Zero says the area is the worst place to store dairy products because it's the warmest part of the fridge.

And most folks had no clue what to do with the special cheese compartment. "What we found is that most people don't know what they are doing when they pack the refrigerator," says Paul Leuthe, the company's corporate marketing manager.

Sub-Zero decided education was the next step. The company started including with its latest built-in models an instructional card that shows the various regions of the refrigerator, from "coldest" to "cool," and gives tips on how long certain foods should be stored. It also indicates which foods should be allowed to ripen on the counter before being placed into the refrigerator (pears and avocados are examples).

Since people tend to throw out appliance manuals without reading them, Sub-Zero placed the card in a prominent spot in the fridge: the inside of the door. "It's not in your face, but it's pretty conspicuous," Mr. Leuthe says.

Indeed, when consumers are told how to organize their fridges, they tend to tidy up. In a 2005 study, Pennsylvania State University researchers inspected fridges in the homes of 28 consumers in Centre County and Huntingdon County, Pa. They found temperatures were on average about three degrees higher than the recommended 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Fridges were also packed so tightly that air flow, which is necessary to keep food cold, was impeded. And then there was the "ick" factor: In one home, researchers found that a study participant's dog was licking the bottom shelf when the door was open.

During that first visit, researchers told study participants about harmful bacteria that could exist in the fridge and gave tips on how to keep it clean. When the researchers returned to the same homes a month later, they found that things had improved markedly. People had spread out their items, and air flow had improved. People also said they intended to clean their fridges more often.

But the hassle factor can override even the strongest good intentions. "It's a pain" to clean the refrigerator, says Catherine Cutter, associate professor and food safety extension specialist at Penn State. "It is a daunting task to get in there, clean and sanitize."

And the task is too easy to avoid, says Debra Johnson, training manager at Merry Maids LP, a cleaning service headquartered in Memphis, Tenn. The mess is "out of sight, out of mind when the door is closed."

Ms. Johnson has seen all levels of refrigerator nastiness. "It could be things that have been left in there that look like a science project because it's covered with so much mold," she says. Broken eggs can be a pain to clean, too. The yolk hardens and can be tough to scrub off.

Ms. Johnson recommends that people explore the depths of their fridges once a week for food that needs to be tossed. She suggests cleaning one shelf at a time so that the task is less overwhelming. People should also be sure to clean what is often the dirtiest part of the fridge: underneath the bottom drawers where spilled liquid usually ends up. "It's going somewhere," she says. "It doesn't just evaporate."

A dirty fridge isn't just an aesthetic problem. Spills and food residue can carry health risks, too, says Penn State's Ms. Cutter. Consumers especially have to be careful with leaks from packages of raw meat, which can contaminate other food. If the meat contains E. coli, for example, the bacteria in the drippings could end up on food like fruits and vegetables, which are often eaten raw. Ms. Cutter also advises cleaning places that may harbor bacteria, such as the door handle and the drip tray located under the ice and water dispenser.

At least one manufacturer of kitchen appliances is rolling out bacteria-killing technology. Last year, Viking Range released a built-in model (priced from $6,600 to $8,800) that contains Sharp Electronics Corp.'s Plasmacluster Ion Air Purifier. The device, located at the top of the fridge, generates positive and negative ions that break down bacteria, mold and mildew, says Sue Bailey, the company's director of major appliance product management. In a test conducted by an outside firm hired by Viking Range, the Plasmacluster killed 99% of the bacteria in the fridge.

Even the most high-tech solutions can be thwarted by consumers who have a hard time throwing away food. Jennifer Smith, a digital marketing director in Bronxville, N.Y., says her husband, who grew up on an organic farm, has tried to salvage everything from moldy cheese to old salad dressing. "He doesn't like to throw things out," Ms. Smith says. "I think we should."

She says, "I have to go behind his back and look at some of the condiments and throw them out." Luckily, he doesn't notice.

22 February 2010

Coffee Planet Introduces Fastest Espresso System in the World

AME Info

Coffee Planet LLC, the region's leading provider of automated self-serve espresso systems, announced today the launch of the Concordia "Integrated Beverage System 6+" (IBS6+), the fastest commercial espresso system available on the market.

On exhibition for the first time at Gulfood 2010 in Dubai, Concordia's latest innovation was developed specifically for applications where consistent café quality and speed of service are critical. In a single step, the IBS6+ pumps milk from the integrated refrigerator, steams and foams it to the perfect consistency, and infuses flavours all at the rate of one ounce per second.

Richard Jones, Managing Director of Coffee Planet, said:
    "Customers want to purchase café quality espresso drinks in locations other than the traditional café. Speed of service, beverage quality, and equipment reliability are critical. The new IBS6+ gives the operator the speed of service that they demand. We have been using Concordia coffee systems for 5 years and know them to be the best in the world, so this is a great new addition to our portfolio and a great pleasure for us to be the launch market for Concordia's latest machine. They are light years ahead of anyone else."

The technical aspects of the machine were explained by David Isset, President of Concordia Coffee Systems USA, "At the same time, we have simplified the milk preparation process, and that leads to increased reliability, provides additional control over drink temperatures and milk foam, and provides whisper quiet operation. We are really looking forward to people's reaction at Gulfood 2010."

The IBS6+ features two fresh espresso bean choices stored in high-capacity hoppers; and a solid-state, on-board refrigerator that holds two standard one-gallon containers of fresh milk. The system uses six, all-naturally flavored Torani syrups and sauces that are infused into the beverage during the milk preparation process. The infusion process is accomplished using the company's proprietary, patented EspressJet Flavor System. The microprocessor controlled IBS6+ manages portion control and the precision brewing process, and provides an automated cleaning system to deliver predictably consistent product and complete process control. The IBS6+ creates both hot and cold beverages at the touch of a button.

"Ten thousand people every day are drinking Coffee Planet coffees through the Concordia coffee and espresso makers in the UAE - with the additional flavour and cold coffee options from the new IBS6+, Coffee Planet continues to lead the market of self-service in premium fresh bean, fresh milk coffee," added Richard Jones.

Matthew Yorke Smith, Operations Director at Coffee Planet said, "Our customers continuously comment on the high quality and consistency of the drinks from Concordia machines. At the same time the amazing speed of the IBS6+ will provide staff increased opportunities to interact with customers and to sell add-ons."

To experience the IBS6+, visit the Coffee Planet stand at the Gulfood 2010, Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre Show from the 21 -24 February in Hall 2, Stand B2.

17 February 2010

EU Smart-Home Concept Shown Off

BBC News
How everything in your house could be controlled by one device

"Smart-home" technology that allows people to control household appliances via their mobile phone or other gadgets is being shown off in Germany.

The EU-funded i2home project is aimed at giving greater independence and freedom to older and disabled people.

It uses so-called "middleware" to allow heating, air conditioning, lighting, and other gadgets to be controlled by a user's chosen interface.

It is the result of research between EU industry, universities and user groups.

"The users of the technology have been the driving force in the project - all technical solutions are based on a thorough investigation of the users' needs and desires," said project coordinator, Jan Alexandersson.

Kitchen concept

The researchers worked with various groups in order to match the technology to their needs, including Alzheimer's patients, blind and partially-sighted people and young people with cognitive impairments.

The research has now officially come to an end. But the project team, and some of the users, are still evaluating the work and demonstrating how the technology can be used in the German town of Saarbrücken.

There, the technology has been installed in a mocked-up kitchen.

"Finally, something that works," said Ginger Classen, a blind, German accessibility expert.

"If this technology is adopted by many manufacturers, I could finally go appliance shopping like sighted people in a normal store, having the choice to buy cool and stylish products."

This platform requires all appliances in the home to be networked together.

The middleware sits between the home appliances and a controlling device, such as a mobile phone, and allows them to communicate. i2home has also created a variety of interfaces for control devices.

So far the group has tested touch screens, mobile phones running the Windows Mobile and Android platforms, speech input and output devices and an ordinary domestic TV set with a simplified remote control to run the UCH.

The researches say that i2home demonstrates that technology - that has traditionally been regarded as too complex for many mainstream users - can be made usable and enjoyable for older and disabled people.

In addition, because the middleware has been built to open standards, it means that anyone can use the underlying code to build their own user interface for a device to control networked home and kitchen appliances.

By the start of 2010, there were more already than 100 organisations and companies in Europe using or working with i2home technology, according to Mr Alexandersson.

09 February 2010

Remodeling Without A Home Equity Loan

Nashua Telegraph

Kelly Hess and her husband, David, spent $8,000 in April remodeling the outside of their Dallas house, and they paid for it without a home-equity loan.

They tapped their “house savings account” to replace the roof and install an 8-foot-high wooden fence in the backyard of the four-bedroom brick ranch house they bought in 2006.

The Hesses prove there are other ways to pay for home improvements besides borrowing against the equity in your property. Home-equity loans and lines of credit have provided homeowners with a reliable, usually tax-deductible, cash stream for many years. However, home equity has dried up during the nation’s four-year housing slump.

Many people don’t have the necessary equity in their properties to qualify for a home-equity loan. In fact, almost one-third of the country’s homeowners holding mortgages at the end of the third quarter have negative equity or near-negative equity in their homes, according to a recent report from First American CoreLogic, a California company that tracks real-estate data.

“Negative equity continues to be pervasive and to impact almost every segment of the housing market,” says Mark Fleming, chief economist with First American CoreLogic.

While home values have tumbled nationwide, banks and other lenders have tightened the rules for borrowers to qualify to leverage their home equity. This means people should be thinking about alternative financing for home upgrades such as outdoor decks.

Paying cash is always the best option, financial experts say. However, they acknowledge that’s understandably difficult for many who depleted their savings during the recession.

“My husband and I are both very much on the same page when it comes to money,” says Kelly Hess, a legal secretary. “We don’t like to use credit except for buying a car or a house.”

The following are alternatives to home-equity loans that financial experts suggest homeowners consider to pay for home improvements.

Anybody can open a savings account at a bank or online for remodeling projects, but experts say making regular deposits is the key.

Rebecca Schreiber, a Certified Financial Planner and owner of Solid Ground Financial Planning in Silver Spring, Md., suggests putting your two “extra” paychecks a year – if you, like many workers, are paid 26 times a year – into a separate account for home improvements. Those two paychecks are the third checks you get in two months of the year.

Since 2006, the Hesses have paid for $20,000 to $25,000 worth of interior and exterior remodeling on their Dallas home built in 1970 by tapping their house savings account.

Using plastic to buy paint or new carpeting, for example, might be tempting, but financial experts urge caution.

They suggest only using credit cards for home remodeling when you can avoid paying interest. And Schreiber says, using a card with a cash-back reward then paying the entire balance with no interest is even better. She took her own advice this summer, charging about $5,000 for electrical work, lighting and new carpeting in the living room of her five-bedroom Maryland home.

You might be surprised how much you can make selling the unwanted items in your garage or attic.

Sarah M. Place, the president of Place Trade Financial, a brokerage and financial advisory firm in Raleigh, N.C., raised about half the $10,000 she spent this summer remodeling the master bathroom, installing ironing centers, replacing iron plumbing and refinishing a staircase, among other upgrades, by selling items on Craigslist.

“I had not intended it to work that way, but … I had made so much money that I just kept working on the house,” Place says of her three-bedroom Raleigh real estate.

Doing some or all of the work yourself can save a lot. And you can learn how to do home projects by reading detailed instructions for kitchen or bathroom remodeling in a book or online. Place can attest this works.

“We probably ended up saving at least $5,000,” she says. “I learned how to do most of it by researching it online.”

Although it doesn’t work for every family, Schreiber says getting financial help from relatives remains an attractive option. An important thing to remember, she says, is to be sure to put the loan terms in writing. Then repay the money even if, say, your parents forgive the loan.

08 February 2010

Reputable Pro is Key to Home Project Success

Dayton Daily News

Home improvement projects can either be a great experience or a terrible nightmare. Careful planning from start to finish, along with a reputable contractor, can help make your project successful.

While you may be able to handle some home remodeling tasks yourself, major projects may require professional help. Selecting a good contractor is essential to the project’s success.

When finding a home remodeling contractor, get referrals from family and friends. You also can contact the Better Business Bureau for a list of more than 500 companies in the industry or reliability reports on ones you’re considering. Visit www.bbb.org or call (937) 222-5825 for more information.

The BBB also advises you:

• Get estimates. Request at least three bids based on the same project plan, such as kitchen remodeling,  materials, labor and completion time. Keep in mind the lowest bid isn’t always the best one. Consider the company’s reputation and materials used when making your decision.

• Obtain proper documentation. Be sure the contractor meets all licensing, bonding and insurance requirements and determine whether he or she will get necessary permits.

• Don’t pay the entire amount up front. Payment arrangements should be made as the job is completed. The final payment shouldn’t be due until the job is done to your satisfaction and has passed any necessary inspections with your local officials or home inspector.

• Get everything in writing. Don’t allow any work to start without a written contract, detailing the start and completion dates, all materials, cost and payment schedule, as well as the contractor’s license number and contact information.

05 February 2010

Is the Remodeling Slump Over?

The Dallas News

Home remodelers that have been hammered by the recession can look forward to better times in 2010.

Forecasters say the home improvement and fix-up business should pick up this year after a 25 percent slide in activity since 2007.

"The downturn appeared to stabilize in the second half of 2009," Kermit Baker of the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies told builders and remodelers at the National Association of Home Builders' annual meeting last week in Las Vegas.

"We are starting to see some positives in where the market might be headed for handyman services and home remodeling."

The Harvard researchers said nationwide remodeling expenditures are likely to rise about 6 percent in the coming quarters.

Baker said the cutbacks in home improvement and repair activity during the recession were substantial but were less than half what the homebuilding business experienced.

"If you are a remodeler, times have been tough. But it could be worse – you could be a homebuilder," he said. "In this economic environment, households were spending more on home improvements like kitchen remodeling projects last year than they did on the purchase of new homes."

North Texas outlook

The outlook for increased home remodeling is good news for North Texas builders, some of whom have diversified during the downturn.

"Quite a few of our builders have expanded into remodeling," said Bob Morris, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Dallas. "Some of our more inventive small custom builders have been doing remodeling.

"There is still work out there. It's a viable market because the economy here wasn't hit nearly as hard."

Even in Dallas-Fort Worth, some homeowners have put sunrooms and other fancy fix-up projects on hold for the last year or so.

"If you think the prices of homes are going down, it makes it hard to argue that outdoor decks or bath remodels will hold their value," said Paul Emrath, a researcher for the builders' association. "People have less equity in their properties to finance remodeling.

"Even if you don't have problems there, sometimes lenders are more reluctant than they have been in the past to finance remodeling or a home addition."

Smaller projects

Homeowners in the market for a redo are taking a more measured approach. The days of over-the-top remodeling and double-size additions are mostly gone, analysts say.

"Of those that are planning to spend money, 52 percent are doing needed repairs or maintenance, as opposed to large-scale home remodeling projects." said Eliot Nusbaum of Better Homes and Gardens, which commissioned a new housing study. "The focus is on smaller projects right now like painting a room or replacing or adding flooring.

"What we are seeing in remodeling as well as new construction is practical considerations."

Energy-conserving or environmentally friendly upgrades are still on many homeowners' must-have lists.

"The focus for future projects really seems to be about saving money," Nusbaum said.

Harvard University research points to the same frugality, Baker said.

"We have seen a pronounced shift over to replacement projects in the last two years," such as energy-efficient windows or heating and cooling systems, he said. "But we are now seeing a little more life in discretionary projects – kitchen and bathroom remodeling."

The majority of fix-it fans are doing the upgrades out of their pockets, Baker said.

"This market is heavily dominated by cash financing," he said. "Households either don't want to take out loans because they are nervous about economic conditions or they can't get loans."

A Classic, but Remodeled

The Bend Bulletin

Stephanie and David Lawrence have owned their Black Butte Ranch home for a decade, but they were ready for a change. They wanted to expand and remodel their 1970s-era home to accommodate their growing extended family, which includes two young grandchildren, and another one on the way.

“For our family, this is the gathering place, and we love it there. I have four grown children; two of them are married with children,” said Stephanie Lawrence by phone from her primary home in Northern California. “We all live in different places, but we try to come together there regularly, and eventually my husband and I may finally retire in Central Oregon.”

Stephanie's husband, Dr. David Lawrence, is the former CEO for Kaiser Permanente, and during his career, the family had to move several times. But Oregon, Stephanie said, always feels like home.

David Lawrence is a native Oregonian. His father, Amos Lawrence, was a former headmaster of the private Catlin Gabel School in Portland, and his grandfather, Ellis Fuller Lawrence, was one of the founders of the University of Oregon's School of Architecture and Allied Arts. He designed the campus' original Knight Library and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

So the Lawrences know a thing or two about architecture, and were ready with a list of things they wanted to change in their Black Butte Ranch home, originally built in 1974.

“We love the windows; there's a lot of large windows that look out to the golf course, and it's beautiful,” explained Stephanie. “But the kitchen was small and cramped. Basically only one person could work in there at a time, and most of my family loves to cook, so we wanted to open up the kitchen.”

The remodeling puzzle

Whenever home designer Kathleen Donohue of Neil Kelly comes to a home remodel project, she asks her clients two questions: what they love about their home, and what they most dislike about their home, and from there her work begins.

Donohue likens home remodeling projects to a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces include trying to work within the confines of the building footprint, incorporating clients' wishes and ideas, and working with a set of givens, like existing support beams. Doing all of this, and coming within budget.

“It is like a puzzle, because it's a challenge or a mystery,” said Donohue. “But I love solving mysteries. You can take any existing home and make it what you want, completely changing a look or style, but you still have to work within a framework, which you don't have with a new-construction home.”

With Donohue's work, the Lawrences were able to add 804 square feet to their 4,700-square-foot home, including two additional bedrooms, one bathroom, a little office and playroom.

Because of strict development guidelines, Donohue didn't want to extend the footprint of the home. Plus, cutting down any existing trees would have cost $3,000 per tree. Donohue says she's pleased the Lawrences got everything they wanted, and not one tree had to be felled.

The windows, which originally drew the Lawrences to this home, all stayed, but they were updated to more efficient windows.

The kitchen was completely revamped.

“The kitchen was U-shaped, and not open at all,” said Donohue, pointing out a wall they took out. “Now the kitchen opens up to the living room and the sun- room.”

Because cooking is a big priority for the Lawrences, they requested a pot-filling faucet, which has a long enough neck to fill a pot with water while it's on the stove. Donohue felt if the family was going to have this type of faucet, it should also have a service sink next to the stove.

Underneath the service sink is a glass-fronted wine refrigerator, which was another request from David Lawrence, a wine and beer aficionado.

Stephanie got professional kitchen appliances, and instead of going with stainless steel appliances, she opted for gray-colored glass on her oven and main refrigerator, which Donohue notes may be the next new kitchen trend.

Another trend in kitchen remodeling, which the Lawrences used in their remodel, is the use of an antique finish on their black granite.

“This is easier to maintain than shiny granite; it's not at all fussy,” said Donohue, running her hand across the smooth, muted Cambrian black granite island. “We also used antique copper-colored fixtures throughout the kitchen.”

On the opposite side of the island, Donohue used a salvage company to resurrect a beautiful piece of madrona butcher-block countertop.

For the backsplash of the stove area, Donohue had small, stacked- slate pieces, known as “falling waters” (after a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design), interspersed with small copper tiles, and a center area made of all antique hammered copper.

The Lawrences opted for dark- stained cupboards with an arts and crafts/mission look with small square cutouts at the top, filled with golden mica. When the cupboard lights are on, the little mica windows cast a golden glow over the kitchen, adding visual warmth.

Updating the classic

Updating the house also meant taking out the wooden deck on the front porch. Taking inspiration from the living room fireplace, which is surrounded by a wall of rock, Donohue was able to find matching rock for the porch and entryway, which gives the home visual continuity.

Behind the living room fireplace wall was an old wood shed next to the house. Donohue used it to fill in another piece of the puzzle.

“I thought this would make a great little office area,” said Donohue, opening the door to the new office. The door is covered in a product called Lumicore, which allows natural light in, but creates some privacy, with a natural leaf print subtly veiling the window of the door.

Taking out lots of beige carpet on the main floor and using natural wood in the living room, kitchen and sunroom also updated the classic look of the house.

“I'd say this house was built as a Northwest modern contemporary, and it was originally built very well. So when you take a custom home that's built well in the first place, it makes it much easier to do these remodels,” said Donohue, who feels the house overall has stood the test of time, but just needed some updating and the expansion the Lawrences desired.

Donohue says with any remodeling project there's always at least one surprise, and this home was no different. When taking out an old bathtub during the master bathroom remodeling, they found raccoons had a made a nest under the tub.

“Yes, the raccoon family made quite a little condo underneath that tub,” said Stephanie.

After the raccoons found another home, Donohue had a large air bath installed in the master bathroom.

“With an air bath, you have hot air in the pipes blowing into the water, instead of jets of water in a spa tub,” explained Donohue. “We used travertine in the shower area, and porcelain tile floors to match the travertine, and it's all easy care.”

To keep within budget, the same bathroom cupboards were refinished and new hardware was added. In the master bathroom, one small aesthetic cost paid off in big visual dividends.

“I love the way the stacked rocks came out in the master bathroom, it adds so much to the look in there,” said Stephanie, an artist, referring to two medium-sized beams that were covered in stacked rocks by artistic masons.

On the main floor, Donohue walks down a small hallway from the master bedroom and shows off the big new playroom, which she's sure will get plenty of wear and tear when the grandchildren visit. She says it also serves as an art studio for Stephanie.

Going up the stairs, Donohue said the remodel included enclosing the staircase, as Stephanie was worried about young toddlers falling through the original iron grating of the stairs.

The two new bedrooms, each with generous walk-in closets and ironing centers, share a center hallway bathroom. Donohue explained the walk-in closets were important to the Lawrence children because they can double as a makeshift nursery while the grandchildren are babies.

Downstairs, Donohue pauses and looks at four dream lists that the Lawrences had given her at the beginning of the six-month remodel project.

“Here's mom's list, dad's list, the kids' list, and my original notes — I think we were able to get everything in that everyone wanted,” said a satisfied Donohue.

04 February 2010

House Hunting in Amsterdam

NY Times
995,000 EUROS (ABOUT $1.4 MILLION)

This 187-square-meter (2,000-square-foot) open apartment is on the Brouwersgracht (brewers’ canal) in central Amsterdam. It is one of nine units in a 1631 building that at one time was a brewery and at another a fire station. The apartment is on the second floor, overlooking the canal and its houseboats.

According to the listing agent, the building was occupied by squatters in the 1980s and last renovated in 1998. The floors are of polished concrete, and original wooden beams rib the ceilings.

The entry, an old steel door, opens into the kitchen, which has a wall of cabinets and kitchen appliances by Bosch and Siemens, as well as a dining table that seats 12. There is also a separate galley-style utility kitchen off the main kitchen, with a refrigerator, a freezer, a dishwasher, a washer/dryer and a second sink.

The living room runs the width of the building, about 11 meters (36 feet), and has doors that open above the Brouwersgracht.

Both bedrooms have en-suite bathrooms and slanted walls.

The apartment is at the edge of Amsterdam’s central canal area, the Grachtengordel, and within the Jordaan neighborhood, known for its art galleries and boutiques. The house is a short walk from Haarlemmerdijk, a commercial strip with bakeries, cafes and boutiques. The Amsterdam Centraal train station and tram and Metro lines are also a few blocks away.


Prices have come down in the last few years — even in the pricey and coveted Centrum area of town — although real estate agents in Amsterdam disagree on the exact percentage of the drop.

In general, said Charles Grayson, owner of a realty agency called 27 Huis Makelaars, prices have dropped around 10 percent since the height of the market in 2008. “This year,” he said, “they’ve pretty much stabilized. People expect it to be a bit better starting in the springtime.”

Gernant van Alphen, an agent for Anna Sprenger Makelaardij, the Amsterdam brokerage for the apartment featured here, said that in the canal area there were still houses selling “at or even over the asking price in the first week.”

“But then,” he added, “you have houses that are on the market for a year.” Most of the time, he said, properties stay on the market for 8 to 10 weeks.

“It’s a good time to be a buyer right now,” Mr. Grayson said. “Things have been sitting on the market quite a while.”

In central Amsterdam most units sell for around 4,500 euros a square meter, or about $584 a square foot. Single-family homes rarely come on the market, and when they do, they typically sell for millions of euros depending on condition. Canal-front properties are a premium.

Since Amsterdam is roughly six and a half feet below sea level, many buildings rest on wooden piles. Before a purchase, an home inspector should be hired to examine the state of the property’s foundation, which can be several hundred years old; inspections cost 500 euros ($700), but repairs can cost up to 1,500 euros per square meter (about $195 a square foot), said Rik Bisschoff van Heemskerk, owner of De Nederlanden real estate brokerage.

“If the poles are rotting,” he said, “within five years, you’re not going to be able to live there anymore.”


The property market has been popular among German, Irish and British expatriates, Mr. Grayson said; he also cited some Americans and other Europeans. However, Mr. van Alphen says a large percentage of Americans who come to the city for work live in apartments rented by their companies.


Real estate transactions operate somewhat differently from those in the United States, Mr. Grayson said. To start with, down payments are not typically required. Banks lend the entire value of the house plus the closing costs, and even on occasion money for renovations. Even so, there are lending restrictions.

Until recently, the loan maximum was set at seven times the gross annual salary of a borrower. Now, in this tighter mortgage market, Mr. Grayson said, banks are lending only four to five times a borrower’s gross annual salary. There are of course exceptions; the amount can be higher (or lower) depending on individual circumstances. But basically banks have become much more reticent about mortgages these days.“If you’re from the E.U.,” Mr. Grayson said, “it’s much easier to get a mortgage. If you’re an American like I am, it’s a little bit harder, but of course it’s possible, especially if you work for a reputable company.”

Closing costs can be as high as 12 percent of the sale price but are more typically 10 percent. Six percent of that amount covers transfer fees; the rest is split between the notary and the broker. In the Netherlands, buyers pay their own broker fees.


Owner association taxes: 248 euros ($342) a month; property taxes: 425 euros ($587) a year; sewer connection charge: 145 euros ($200) a year.

03 February 2010

LG Launches 'Conceptualife' Kitchen Design Competition

AME Info

LG Electronics (LG), the world's leading innovator of home appliances, will hold the Grand Finale of its inaugural kitchen design competition on February 15th at the Zayed University Auditorium, Dubai.

Entitled "Conceptualife," the competition gives young and upcoming designers a chance to unleash their creativity and present their vision for the future of kitchen design and appliances.

The three-month hunt, that saw universities from around the region register and submit their innovative and futuristic creations, will conclude next month with twelve shortlisted finalists from South Africa, Iran, KSA and the UAE battling it out for top prizes.

Mr Ki Wan Kim, CEO of LG Electronics Middle East & Africa Company stated: "We want to tap into the youngest and brightest minds across the region and offer them the opportunity to show off their skills to the greater public. This competition will provide us with invaluable insight into where the next generation of consumers perceive product designs and features to be heading."

On the day, the twelve participants will be required to present their designs to a panel of four judges and explain their creative thought process and vision for the kitchen. Contestants will be judged according to five main pillars; uniqueness of design in terms of layout and individuality from current kitchen designs available; use of innovative kitchen appliances, their features and functionality; use of space, storage, areas and worktops; environmental solutions including the use of recycled material and durability and finally; practicality of the overall design. All these factors will weigh in on the judges decision as they look at the realities of bringing the ideas to market.

Joining the LG judging panel will be Penny McCormick, editor of leading UAE home furnishing publication, Emirates Home and interior design aficionado, June Hawkins. Emirates Home will be the competition's official media partner; with Penny bringing a wealth of experience as well as insight into design trends like ironing centers and what to expect from kitchen designs of the future. Her expertise in identifying and fostering new talent means that uniqueness and individuality will be highly valued throughout the judging process.

In addition, interior designer June Hawkins' lifelong passion and success in all things interior will be an excellent addition to the judging table. Bringing not only a unique perspective on what clients want and use, her eye for detail will mean that contestants will not only be judged on creativity but their business sense too.

Mr Ki Wan Kim, CEO of LG Electronics Middle East & Africa Company added: "The level of entries that we have received so far has been outstanding. The judges are going to have a tough time choosing between the highly creative kitchen solutions and the effortlessly practical options. We look forward to celebrating our contestant's innovations and awarding prizes for their hard work."

The total number of participants in the Grand Finale will be twelve, made up of two university candidates from KSA, four from Iran, two from South Africa and four candidates from the UAE.

A Hot Business in Old Stoves

Chicago Sun-Times

Business is heating up for Jack Santoro, owner of a company specializing in antique stoves.

With the economy teetering toward a recovery, many consumers are more likely to salvage their old stoves and other kitchen appliances rather than shop for replacements.

Others just treasure their old stoves, touting the superior quality to modern ovens. They're "built like a tank" and designed to last a lifetime, said one industry expert.

But when they do break down, finding replacement parts for the kitchen dinosaurs can be aggravating and time-consuming.

Santoro, owner of Ventura, Calif.-based JES Enterprises, has simplified the process by establishing the Old Appliance Club. It is an antique-stove and -appliance clearinghouse for obsolete stove parts, service and free information. The club has grown to more than 6,000 members since it was formed in 1995, connecting stove enthusiasts from around the world.

The idea is to minimize downtime and help consumers find parts they need by sending out one e-mail, instead of making tons of calls.

Before starting a free search, Santoro asks people to e-mail pictures of the stove and parts needed as well as the part's measurements and model number. He then circulates the picture to warehouses across the country that stock, repair and sell antique stoves.

If the part cannot be found, a replacement sometimes can be fabricated. Although manufacturing a part can be costly, it might be the only way to save a stove.

That was the solution for Jacqueline Shedden, a private chef in New Jersey. She "fell in love" with a Chambers Stove, so much that she designed her kitchen cabinets around it. After the stove was installed, an inspector told her it did not meet code and that she couldn't use it until it was equipped with a safety valve. This is a common problem among older ranges that are match-ignited in the oven section, Santoro said.

Shedden thought she was out of business. But then she found Santoro, who crafted a safety valve for her for $400. He got it back to her in less than two weeks.

"It was amazing," she said.

Shedden said she will never buy a new range again, only antique stoves. At work, she uses Viking equipment.

"I'd like to take it and throw it in the garbage," she said. "I don't find it big enough, it doesn't heat right. It's like working with a Teflon pan compared to a black iron skillet that has been taken care of and has been used for many years."

Many share Shedden's enthusiasm for vintage stoves. Santoro receives 10,000 to 12,000 e-mails a month from people requesting information. To handle so many requests, he relies on specialists throughout the country, a network formed through the Old Appliance Club.

Queries have increased each year as people try to save money by fixing old ranges instead of buying new roaster ovens, and as stoves are inherited and the new owner wants to keep a piece of family history alive, Santoro said. There's also been an uptick in demand for old stoves as more people with rentals opt for "period" mid-century style.

Others obtain ranges and refurbish them as a speculation project for extra money, he said.

"Some people buy them and keep them like they're a bank account, because they don't go down in value," Santoro said.

Andreas Fresh of Ojai, Calif., was reluctant to put his 1920s Magic Chef up for sale on Craigslist for $5,000. It was passed down to him from his father, who purchased it new.

"If we don't sell it for what I want to get for it, we will keep it because I love it so much," he said. "It's the stove I grew up with."

The stove is the "heart" and "warmth" of a home, Fresh said. He called newer stoves soulless, "made to be disposable and not to be fixed."

Modern appliances aren't built as solidly, said Edward Semmelroth, founder of AntiqueStoves.com. Semmelroth, a Michigan resident, teamed up with Santoro on the site, which directs people to the Old Appliance Club for help locating parts.

The site garners about 1.5 million hits a month, and offers how-to manuals. Santoro is building a large library of technical information for antique stoves available in hard copy and as a PDF download. He also published a magazine about old appliances for 10 years, "The Old Road Home," but put that on hold because he's so busy.

When people buy a modern appliance, they might expect it to last 10 years, Semmelroth said. An older stove seldom breaks, he said.

Santoro agrees.

"Most of the antique stoves hold up really well," Santoro said. "A lot of stoves are heirloom stoves -- they've been passed on from generation to generation. Our focus is to keep these stoves running."

Most people don't want to tear out their stove and counters, which is typically much more costly than repairing an old stove, said Erika Santoro, Santoro's wife who helps run the business.

"First of all, they usually like their stove," she said. "They function well, and they were made well."

After 50 or 60 years, the stoves might need a little TLC, but once a part is rebuilt, a stove will probably last a "very long time," she said.

Recycling is great, but remanufacturing is much better because it saves tremendous amounts of energy, Santoro said.

Those in the industry see customers with strong attachments to their vintage stoves. For some, "it's the most dependable thing in their house" and has served them through generations, Semmelroth said.

"It's like a family member," he added. "These things were built to never be hauled to the dump."

He compared an antique stove to a car that a consumer could be happy with for the rest of his life -- it's efficient and never breaks down.

Vintage stoves start around $3,000, Semmelroth said. He thinks it's a better long-term investment than buying new, which could cost about $1,000 to $2,000 for a "mediocre piece."

The Old Appliance Club has made Semmelroth's job of fixing vintage stoves much easier.

"It's like a plumbing job," he said. "You always need the parts you don't have."

Santoro and Semmelroth, who have been in the business for decades, typically know how to help customers immediately because they hear similar problems every day -- like mice making a nest inside the stove's insulation, causing a nasty stench.

The good news, Santoro tells them, is that they don't have to throw out stoves and ovens. The customer can remove panels and replace the ruined insulation.

Santoro's business began locally but grew as the Internet created a global marketplace.

For years, he had a shop in the San Fernando Valley, which he closed in 1995. He now operates JES Enterprises out of his Ventura home.

He found that the amount of space required to store parts and stoves was cost-prohibitive. With the Internet's growth, the core company expanded from a restoration shop into an online clearinghouse.

"When you have just one shop, you're limited to the work you can do," Santoro said. He noted that his office is the "nerve center," and the warehouses across the country are "like a big supermarket."

Having affiliates throughout the nation makes shipping quicker. Every move is streamlined to cut downtime to a minimum.

"The key to a niche antique-based business like this is being connected," he said. "That's where we come in. With a telephone and a connection to the Internet, that's just about all we need to make most requests happen."

01 February 2010

Winter and Spring Lawn Care - What to Do Next

All About Lawns

Wondering if you're off the hook yet with your lawn? This helpful list includes a few simple guidelines for what maintenance steps you can still take with your lawn (unless winter has come early--hello, Denver), and what things on which you should hold off until spring.

There is still time for:

    * "Clean" your lawn in preparation for winter. Removing leaves, branches, and any debris from your lawn before colder temperatures and/or snowfall is a great idea, and in most areas of the country, you still have time. (Sorry, states like Colorado; hopefully your lawn was ready!).

    * One last meal for your lawn, in warmer climates. Seeding in late fall is called "dormant seeding." This practice enables seed to take root while your lawn is dormant during the colder months. If your local temperatures have already begun to sip into the 40s, hold off until spring. You can keep opened bags of fertilizer, too, if sealed and stored properly.

    * Tackle those weeds. Some kinds of weeds grow healthily during the winter, so if snow and cold temperatures don't keep them away, you can continue weed killing all the way until spring.

Wait until spring to:

    * Install new landscaping elements. Unless you live an area like the Southwest, where winter temperatures may get cool but never cold, and you have plenty of sun, wait until spring to install new landscaping elements like edging, trees, ponds, and more.

    * Seed patchy areas. Chances are, those pesky patches in your lawn won't get worse during the winter. Your lawn will be preserved beneath snowfall or simply by the colder temperatures.

    * Start a new lawn. Processes like soil testing, seeding, and even hydroseeding are best done right before prime grass growing season in the spring and summer. When you do plant a new lawn, plan ahead for next winter if you like rich, green grass. Rye and Kentucky bluegrass are great grass choices for their deep color.

Remember, in order to get the most from your lawn come springtime, it's best to let it rest during the winter. Most grass grows when temperatures are above 46 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in an area where temperatures will never get this low, feel free to continue light maintenance like mowing. If you are using reel mowers, keep your setting high. You want to give your lawn the best chance to rebound and thrive again in just a few months.