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Nov 20 2014

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Tile 101: Study Up Before Specifying

Color body porcelain tile

When it comes to specifying tile for the first time, you quickly come to realize there is a lot more to tile than just squares, rectangles and neutral whites. Tiles these days come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and materials from small glass mosaics, to large-format, wood-look planks. Beyond just finding a collection that matches your design inspiration visually, there are a few terms you are likely to come across when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of specification. Here is a quick guide to help you read between the (grout) lines:

Through Body Porcelain vs. Color Body Porcelain

Through body porcelain (sometimes referred to as unglazed porcelain) tiles are produced using colored raw materials that permeate the entire tile, incorporating uninterrupted color and pattern features seen on the surface all the way through the tile body. The surface design is evident in a cross-section of the tile body, providing outstanding abrasion resistance and durability.

Color body porcelain tiles (above) are created with continuous colored stains from the glaze surface throughout the body of the tile. Synchronizing the color of both the glaze and body lessens the visibility of any impact chips that may occur. The color remains consistent throughout the tile, but any surface design does not continue through the tile body.

Through body porcelain tile

Through body porcelain tile

Wall Tile vs. Floor Tile

Generally speaking, any tile designated by the manufacturer as floor tile can be installed on vertical surfaces and countertops. The reverse is not true, however. Wall tile is not suitable for use on floors. It is usually non-vitreous, i.e., not manufactured to withstand excessive impact, abrasion or freeze/thaw cycling.

One caveat when considering floor tile for wall or countertop installation is the abrasiveness of the tile. A highly abrasive product would be more difficult to clean on a wall or countertop since commercial floor scrubbers could not realistically be used for maintenance. Otherwise, continuing the chosen floor tile on walls adds great cohesion to an installation and continuity of design flow.

Rectified Tile

A tile that has been “rectified” has had all its edges mechanically finished to achieve a more precise facial dimension. This allows for installation of tile with very narrow grout joints, creating a more seamless look across walls and floors. Thanks to rectified edges permitting minimal grout lines, the latest large-format, wood-look porcelain planks are even more difficult to decipher from natural wood. If your tiles are larger than 15 inches, however, there are certain precautions to take when installing, and it is recommended that you consult a contractor experienced in large tile installations for a sure fit.

Rectified tile

Rectified tile

Shade & Caliber

A tile’s shade (dye lot) refers to the coloration and reflectivity of a tile. A tile’s caliber refers to its facial dimension (size) and is measured with a tool called a caliper (often the terms are confused). Since natural materials are used in both the body and glazes of the tile, slight variations in shade and caliber are normally inherent from one production run to the next. Typically, tile shades (dye lots) are indicated by either an alpha/numeric combination or a three- or four-digit numeral (A16, 3408, 250, etc.), while caliber sizes are normally shown as 07, 08, 09, 00, 01, 02, etc.

It is important to purchase tile that has the same shade (dye lot) and caliber, if at all possible, to ensure a pleasing aesthetic appearance as well as consistent grout joints. This is especially important for larger tiles. Normally, two adjacent calibers (i.e. 07 with 08 or 08 with 09 – not 07 with 09) can be used in an installation if the installer is aware of the variation before the installation is begun because the slight difference can be adjusted within the grout joint.

Even with these terms under your belt, don’t hesitate to ask questions when working with a tile dealer or distributor – they may have ideas for unique applications you never imagined possible.

- By Marianne Cox, Marketing Manager for Marazzi USA

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Oct 15 2014

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Designers Discuss Favorite Trends & Products

October is National Kitchen and Bath Month, and we thought it would be interesting to ask designers what they thought were some of the most significant trends and products in kitchen and bath design today.

Outdoor Living Environments on the Rise

“There is growing interest in bringing the comfort and hominess we love indoors outside,” said Grace Kelly of Kitchen Designs. “At Kitchen Designs we are also noticing a major upswing in demand for creating outdoor environments, especially outdoor kitchens.” When you specify for the outdoors, it’s important to consider quality components that can withstand the elements.

The Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet and BLANCO kitchen sink and faucet are featured in this outdoor installation by Kitchen Designs.

The Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet and BLANCO kitchen sink and faucet are featured in this outdoor installation by Kitchen Designs.

Timeless Elements Inspire a Sense of Permanence

“In new construction, there is a movement toward traditional kitchens, with an emphasis on quality that inspires a sense of permanence,” said Drew Lang of Lang Architecture, designer and developer of Hudson Woods. “Today’s homebuyer – whether it’s their first, second or third purchase – doesn’t want a trendy kitchen that will need a refresh in five years; they are looking for timelessness, and Hudson Woods evokes precisely that sentiment. Our kitchens are built to last with handcrafted finishes and cutting-edge accouterments.”

Hudson Woods architect Drew Lang sought a timeless look with SMEG appliances.

Hudson Woods architect Drew Lang sought a timeless look with SMEG appliances.

Blending Traditional and Modern Elements

Many clients are looking for the comfort of classic styles but at the same time seek to be fresh and contemporary. “I look for something ‘different’ that has not been over used and is on trend yet [with a] classic style,” said Cheryl Kees Clendenon of In Detail Design. “Just the right blend of traditional and modern.”

Tile of Spain manufacturer Porcelanosa offers just right blend of traditional and modern for this In Detail Design bathroom.

Tile of Spain manufacturer Porcelanosa offers just right blend of traditional and modern for this In Detail Design bathroom.

Another tactic to blend old and new: Use contemporary finishes with traditional hardware patterns by Top Knobs as featured in this In Detail Design kitchen.

Another tactic to blend old and new: Use contemporary finishes with traditional hardware patterns by Top Knobs as featured in this In Detail Design kitchen.

Layered Conversations – Designing for Multi-Uses

”Kitchens these days are all about a layered conversation,” said Christopher D. Martinez, Poggenpohl Paramus, N.J. “How are all the individual pieces working together as a whole for the end user and their guests? The kitchen should communicate both functionally & aesthetically.”

Clients want spaces for storage, cooking and entertaining. Defining workspaces for each, homeowners can prepare meals and remain part of the conversation with guests and family.

Defining workspaces helps homeowners to prepare meals and remain part of the conversation for this Poggenpohl kitchen.

Defining workspaces helps homeowners to prepare meals and remain part of the conversation for this Poggenpohl kitchen.

Baths Are a Calming Getaway from the Stress of Daily Life

Michael Adams recently designed a bathroom space for the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island. While he was designing for the many families in crisis who will be using the space, the need for a calming getaway from the stress of daily life is certainly a trend today in everyday bathroom design.

“I wanted to create a contemporary space that was serene and calm for the families who are staying there,” said Adams of Michael Adams ID. “Kartell by Laufen offered me the look and the functionality for this space where so many families just need a clean environment and a pampering break where all their needs are met in this time of crisis. The fixtures are pure, simple and highly designed. They rise up to meet the need while maintaining the clutter free and calming space I was hoping for.”

The need for a calming getaway from the stress of daily life is certainly a trend today in everyday bathroom design, according to Michael Adams of Michael Adams ID.

The need for a calming getaway from the stress of daily life is certainly a trend today in everyday bathroom design, according to Michael Adams of Michael Adams ID.

 

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Sep 17 2014

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Sustainability in Kitchen and Bath Fixtures: The Next Frontier

Image by Dan, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by Dan, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just a few years ago, it seemed as if everyone was talking about reducing the water usage of plumbing fixtures and fittings as being the best way to conserve water. We still hear this from time to time, mostly when a particular region is devastated by drought, but mostly those concerns have dissipated.

Critics may assume this indicates that consumers no longer care about water efficiency, but those of us in the center of the water industry have seen a shift in – not a lack of – concern. Let me put it this way: When was the last time you saw someone shop specifically for a non-Energy Star home appliance? They don’t. Consumers don’t look for Energy Star-rated appliances; they expect that the appliance is Energy Star-rated. It is just that commonplace.

We’ve seen this shift with WaterSense-labeled and water-efficient products – homeowners want a great faucet or toilet and they simply expect it to be as efficient as possible without having to think about it. The 2014 EcoPulse Survey, conducted by The Shelton Group, shows that consumers expect that leading brands are designing great products, and efficiency is just one aspect of greatness. Choosing a water-efficient product used to be considered the “better choice” but with this shift in consumer mindset, “better” takes on a different meaning.

What has replaced efficiency in this discussion is a more holistic take on what it means to be an eco-friendly product. There is a groundswell of consumers demanding to understand more about the products they purchase and consume – they expect manufacturers to provide that information in an easy-to-understand way.

We see this first in products that are consumed (food and beverages), then in products that are applied (cosmetics, personal care products) and finally in products that people buy for their homes (furnishings, building products). Consumers want to understand where the product came from, how it will affect them while it’s being used and what to do with it when its useful life ends. Professionals helping consumers make the choices in their product selection need suppliers to provide information on those products, with some hard data behind it.

Take the food industry for example – the overwhelming demand for locally sourced food supply isn’t going to disappear overnight. In fact, it is growing exponentially, in part due to the rising interest in “Community Supported Agriculture” (CSA) programs. Restaurants and grocery stores that have embraced this trend see increased profits and customer loyalty.

And it doesn’t stop there – consumer electronics have become more transparent in the materials used and end-of-life plan for the products. This, too, will make its mark on the plumbing industry, and those who want to succeed need to be ahead of this wave. Consumers will undoubtedly become choosier about materials and products, conducting much more in-depth comparisons of products and manufacturers, and they will expect that trade professionals are just as educated as they are, if not more.

Fortunately, there’s a document that provides this information. An Environmental Product Declaration, or EPD, is a third-party-certified document that conveys the manufacturer’s understanding of the environmental impact of a product over its entire lifecycle, including raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, service life and ultimate disposal or recycling.

So rather than just talking about one feature of product, such as how much water or energy it uses, the EPD also includes information on what the product is made from, how much water and energy it took to obtain the raw materials, many other environmental impacts of those processes and what the impact is upon disposal. An EPD is like an environmental scorecard – the first one that attempts to count everything.

Further, EPDs for similar products can be compared with each other. Each type of product has its own special rules for how the environmental data is to be collected and presented. In theory, one can look at EPDs for toilets from several brands and get an idea of which ones are better overall from an environmental standpoint.

But a word of caution: Collecting all of the environmental data to produce EPDs is complicated and time-consuming. When actual process data isn’t available, manufacturers rely on published databases to fill in the gaps. Since EPDs are relatively new – at most 10 years, and much less than that for plumbing products – manufacturers are working to create and improve the data in them. It’s definitely a work in progress, and I fully expect the quality and presentation of information in EPDs to improve in the coming years.

Why is all of this important? For consumers and specifiers who strive to make better environmental choices, EPDs can help them decide. An example is building owners who are looking to earn LEED certification. While LEED has always included points for reducing water and energy use in a building, it’s evolved to be holistic about all environmental impacts.

In LEED v4, which was launched in November 2013, projects can now earn points for including products that have EPDs. The intent of this credit is to create a market incentive for more building product manufacturers to provide environmental information about their products. Transparency about what goes into a product will drive companies to eliminate the bad stuff and spur innovation in materials and process development, which will lead to products that are better for the environment while still delivering the experiences consumers expect.

So consumers today expect efficiency. And they expect manufacturers to be doing the right things for the environment. EPDs and the broader movement toward full transparency will harness the power of the market to reward product manufacturers who do both. Specifiers can aid this process by learning more about environmental issues and helping their clients make informed choices.

- By Rob Zimmerman, Senior Channel Manager of Sustainability at Kohler Co.

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May 06 2014

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Outdoor Residential Kitchens Crave Professional-grade, Specialized Equipment

Kalamazoo 01 (2000x1487)

In the wake of the housing recovery, professional-grade equipment is becoming more prevalent in outdoor kitchens. “What we’re seeing with outdoor kitchens parallels the trend we saw with professional indoor cooking equipment,” said Brian Eskew, marketing director for Twin Eagles.

Fueled by an increased interest in artisan cooking and entertaining at home, a growing number of outdoor kitchen products are now becoming more specialized with the capabilities of restaurant kitchens. As outdoor kitchens are forecast to be one of the most popular residential outdoor design elements in the coming years – according to a recent survey of residential landscape architects by the American Society of Landscape Architects – there are no signs of this trend cooling down.

Power Heating Up 

Performance is truly the name of the game. Commercial cooking equipment is designed to cook quickly, effectively and consistently at high temperatures. Homeowners want the same thing when they cook their favorite meals in their outdoor kitchens. This is driving product innovation, and more manufacturers are finding ways to repurpose commercial products for residential use.

For example, outdoor kitchen companies have brought the salamander grill – common in many restaurant kitchens – into the backyard. These can deliver intense heat overhead to help the food avoid exposure to flare-ups or charring. Similarly, restaurant-caliber burners have hit the residential market in a big way. They create external heat, giving homeowners the firepower to do everything from searing steaks at more than 700 degrees to handling lobster pots and turkey fryers.

‘Foodie’ Revolution 

Those who want to step up their outdoor cooking game know they need the right equipment to get them there. “People are becoming more adventuresome in their cooking,” said Russ Faulk, grill master and vice president of design, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. “The better your equipment is, the more easily you can try out some advanced techniques, and the more you’ll enjoy the experience.”

While enthusiasm for artisan cooking has always been at a simmer in our culture, it’s now more widespread than ever, thanks in part to the rise of food bloggers and celebrity chefs. It’s not just avid cooks who seek professional-grade equipment – it’s everyone.

“Everybody just wants to get into the kitchen, whether they’re cooking from scratch and need specialty cookware or if they’re just reheating a dish and giving it their own twist with a special garnish,” said Deborah Pankey, food editor for the Daily Herald in the Chicago suburbs. “As people travel more, read food magazines and watch cooking shows, they want to bring that into their own space.”

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Today’s Special

Happening simultaneously with the heightened interest in cooking, outdoor kitchen equipment has become more specialized. As people begin to develop a more sophisticated palate through exposure to a variety of cuisines and regional dishes at restaurants, more focus is placed on recreating those recipes at home. To cook these dishes, equipment that extends beyond grilling is often necessary.

“Specialized outdoor cooking equipment is becoming more popular,” said Faulk. “For example, we’re seeing a rise in popularity of the pizza oven – a specialized piece of equipment designed for a certain type of cooking. It has capabilities that a grill does not.”

In fact, manufacturers have discovered ways to redesign commercial wood-fired brick ovens for residential use while maintaining the same performance found in a restaurant kitchen. Along with specialization, the cooking equipment has become more functional. Added capabilities allow for both endless recipe possibilities and versatility when it comes to cooking styles. By offering multiple functions for the user, grills with options such as dual-fuel capabilities, sear burners for high-temperature cooking and rotisseries have risen in popularity.

Elevating Lifestyle

Food is only half the story, and according to Eskew, “As much as it is about food, it’s even more about lifestyle – gathering and entertaining.”

Entertaining at home has taken on new life following the recession. Homeowners enjoy staying at home more often and value spending more time with family and friends. In turn, they seek the best available outdoor kitchen equipment that will help them cook restaurant-quality meals for their guests.

“The fact is that more people are eating at home now more than ever before. Therefore the ability to be able to cook for your family or for a group of people is important,” said Jim Ginocchi, president of Coyote Outdoor Living. “Homeowners are looking for quality – both in the time spent with loved ones and from the equipment they are cooking their food on.”

As the outdoor kitchen is another center for entertaining at home, consistency is one of the most important elements of the cooking equipment, according to Dawn Whyte, principal designer and owner of Designs by Dawn. “While the indoor kitchen is the heart of the home, the outdoor kitchen is the pulse of the neighborhood – it brings people together,” she said. “And when people get together, the host wants to feel confident that their dishes will be delicious every time – just like restaurant chefs.”

Beyond Cooking

While much emphasis in professional-grade performance has been placed on cooking, manufacturers also have been bolstering other parts of the outdoor kitchen. Refrigeration and cabinetry are two areas that have become more important as homeowners want their outdoor kitchens to be completely self-sufficient – and in some cases, the primary kitchen.

Storage has become more important as homeowners are using their outdoor kitchens more often.

“Not only do we have the BTUs, different styles of grilling and cooking, built-in halogens for nighttime grilling, side burners, storage, high searing options, rotisseries and all kinds of refrigeration – cabinetry also has improved. We have choices beyond stainless,” said Elaine Markoutsas, nationally syndicated design writer for Universal Uclick. She points out that Brown Jordan, a luxury furniture manufacturer, has a line of outdoor cabinetry with classic styling in a range of colors and models.

To improve functionality, some outdoor cabinetry now has the ability to protect the contents inside. For example, magnetic gaskets that create a seal to shield dry goods from the outside elements and weather-tight designs with rain gutters around door openings are becoming more commonplace. These allow homeowners to store items such as linens, pots and pans, dishes and spices outside without worrying about them getting wet.

Looking Ahead

To predict what lies ahead for outdoor kitchens, experts suggest looking inside.

“Consumers will probably see more translation from what is popular for indoor cooking,” said Ginocchi. “Trends for the outdoor usually follow what is popular for everyday use inside.”

Experts also agree that specialized equipment will continue to flourish as manufactures push the limits of innovation. We’ll likely see more specialized professional-grade products – such as fryers, dual-fuel appliances, smokers and electric grills – become popular outdoor kitchen staples over the next several years.

- By Bradley Carlson, Communications Manager, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

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