Home design often comes down to compromises. Should you choose stone flooring or a more comfortable and forgiving surface? Perhaps the earthy look of wood without the maintenance? Can your patio look just as good without the flagstone?
An array of innovative and versatile products to satisfy the most discerning tastes was served up recently at the Best of International Builders’ Show Awards in Las Vegas. We scoped out five stylish options that are among the best in their categories.
The twist? These cleverly designed products are not what you might think. Thanks to advances in technology and manufacturing techniques, the products fool the eye but save on upkeep or space.
● Rustic details. Leave it to a company named Knotwood to come up with an aluminum batten system that looks like wood. The winner of the award for best outdoor-living product features aluminum designs for fencing, gates, privacy screens, trellises, siding and decking.
To achieve the wood-like finish, Knotwood’s two-stage process involves powder-coating aluminum and fusing a wood pattern, much like a tattoo, through the coating. Benefits of aluminum include durability, easy installation, low maintenance, noncombustibility, and resistance to termites, mold and mildew.
Regular preventive maintenance is the key to keeping Knotwood looking like new. Unlike wood’s natural enemies, which include moisture, dry rot, fungus and insects, substances such as airborne salts, dirt and pollutants can harm the long-term quality of Knotwood’s powder-coated film.
To protect the finish and remove loose contaminants that can accumulate on the surface, Knotwood recommends washing with a soft brush and mild pH-neutral detergent and rinsing with fresh water. Maintenance intervals will depend on the air quality where you live. For example, if you live in a rural or urban environment where the atmosphere is considered nonhazardous, you can get away with cleaning the powder-coated surface every 12 months.
In places subject to high pollution — such as industrial areas, geothermal environments or coastal locales — the cleaning frequency should be increased to every three months. In beach-front locations or areas with severe marine pollutants, monthly washing is recommended.
All Knotwood systems have built-in brackets that hide screws and rivets.
● Something’s afoot. Rivaling the look of natural stone, porcelain and ceramic, Armstrong Flooring’s Alterna Engineered Stone Tile won the award for best bath product. Although Alterna is in the luxury-vinyl-tile category, the key to its realism is its durable, engineered stone construction, which includes more than 75 percent limestone.
The flooring is suitable for high-moisture areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, basements and laundry rooms. A comfortable surface makes the tiles easy to care for, warm to the touch and kind to feet.
Although the initial Alterna collection featured traditional slate, travertine and marble designs, newer offerings are inspired by recent flooring trends. For example, Enchanted Forest is a contemporary concrete design embedded with an intricate timber texture. Artisan Forge offers an oxidized-metal look. Unlike ceramic and porcelain tile, Alterna tiles can be installed over minor subfloor irregularities without the risk of cracking, the company says.
With proper care, it’s easy to maintain the tiles. Place a natural or colorfast mat outside entrances to reduce the amount of dirt and moisture brought into your home. When moving appliances or heavy furniture, lay a plywood panel on the floor to prevent scuffs and tears.
Use floor protectors on furniture legs to reduce indentations. Sweep or vacuum regularly, but don’t use the beater bar on your vacuum because it could damage the surface.
Plain water and a sponge mop will work fine for ordinary cleaning. Avoid using detergents, abrasive cleaners or “mop and shine” products because they might leave a dull film. For tough cleaning problems such as scuffs and stains, use floor-care products recommended by the manufacturer.
● Music to your ears. Singing in the shower has become a lot more enjoyable with Broan’s ventilation fan with Sensonic stereo speakers, a finalist in the bath category. The ultimate overachiever, the quiet fan has built-in, high-fidelity speakers behind the fan grill. The product blends in with bathroom decor, prevents clutter on countertops and frees up bathroom outlets.
If you already have a Broan or NuTone QT Series ventilation fan, a Sensonic Speaker Kit can be retrofitted to deliver the same high-end stereo performance. Both configurations provide wireless technology to connect to Bluetooth-enabled devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops.
● Counter culture. BEST’s Cattura downdraft, a finalist in the kitchen category, blurs the line between form and function. A self-closing cover hides the downdraft when it’s lowered, leaving a countertop unobstructed. At the touch of a button, it rises to a height of 18 inches. Remote control is optional.
The unit can capture emissions on any part of the cooktop, including from tall pots to skillets. Dual inlet ports on the face and top of the downdraft take in smoke, moisture and other cooking fumes. The powerful and quiet unit has an LED task light that illuminates the entire cooking surface, including pots on the front burners.
Sensors can detect excessive heat and adjust the fan speed. Optional trim kit accessories are available to create a seamless appearance between cooking appliances and the downdraft.
● Old meets new architecture. Are exterior remodeling plans in your home’s future? Coronado Stone Products’ Classics Series, a finalist in the outdoor-living category, features oversize tiles steeped in Old World charm. There are nine textures of stone veneers in the series, ranging from finely detailed, chiseled limestone to deeply eroded travertine.
Advantages of manufactured stone over natural stone include a lighter weight, ease of installation and a lower cost. Color is blended throughout the product, and there are few noticeable color changes after years of weathering. The veneer requires simple periodic washing to remove surface dust and debris.
Whether you want the look of an Italian villa or a flagstone patio, seek inspiration from these classics.
Products for your home can be found in a variety of styles, finishes and price ranges. If you prefer the look of luxury without the hefty price tag, here are some great pretenders. Your guests probably won’t know the difference.
● Crown molding: Crown molding adds character and value to a home. If you can’t afford solid wood trim, create architectural interest with polyurethane, which is less expensive, lighter weight and installs easily.
● Countertops: Choose quartz or solid-surface options as a lower-cost alternative to marble or granite.
● Flooring: Hardwood flooring is unrivaled in its natural beauty and durability, but laminate is an affordable alternative that mimics the real thing. Newer styles capture distinctive grain patterns and colors of exotic tropical species. Durability is a plus, especially if you have a high-traffic household with children or pets. Look for designs that are resistant to scratches, stains, scrapes and spills.
● Wood-paneled walls: If removing or covering dark wood paneling is not an option, paint over it with a light color to add a bright and airy cottage-style charm.
● Cabinets: Stock cabinets save money on a kitchen renovation versus custom cabinets. Look for solid wood and consistency of finishes.