2010 KBCULTURE Awards

I'm extremely pleased to present the recipients of the KBCULTURE Awards. From cabinets and surfacing to appliances and bath fixtures, the products featured here passed muster of expert judges who evaluated entries for technological innovation and aesthetic design.

A word to early adopters: A few of these items aren't yet in stores or showrooms, or represented on manufacturer websites. Patience is encouraged; by the competition's eligibility stipulations, all will be available by year's end. 

Joining me at the judging table was Bill Partsch. Bill was a colleague of mine at Kitchens & Baths magazine; in addition, he's been a senior editor at the trade publication Kitchen + Bath Business and the webmaster for kitchen-bath.com.

In reviewing the submissions, it's been exciting to learn about and ultimately acknowledge both the brains and the beauty of these new products. Congratulations to all.
—Leslie Clagett, Editor

Winner: Lignum et Lapis by Arclinea
Designed by Antonio Citterio, the Lignum et Lapis kitchen pairs together two compelling materials and textures—smooth marble and grooved wood—to create a dynamic look. The thin outer edge of the island cantilevers to accommodate seating, while on the working side, the stone top deepens to five inches so as to house a cooktop and integral sink that has LED lights set into its walls. Cabinets are available in larch, mahogany and lacquered finishes.

Honorable Mention: Stealth Kitchen Modules by YesterTec 
Do these modular cabinets [shown in the open position in the above photo] comprise or compromise the ultimate open plan? Whichever side of the perceptual divide you take, the 29-inch-deep units conceal every fixture and appliance in the kitchen, including built-in electric cooktops and ovens—which is a singular, patented achievement. 

Winner: M Collection by Wetstyle
Such a simple, smart idea: Point-of-use storage that wraps around the tub, rather than out-of-reach on a wall. Providing surface space, as well as shelves [which can be either open or behind doors], the cabinet creates an architecture even in the most barren of bathrooms. It's available in a variety of materials and finishes.

Honorable Mention: PuraVida Console by Duravit
As one judge noted, the super glossy finish on the top of this vanity glistens like water. Most appropriate, yes? With an airy rather than angular modernism, the piece is genuinely fresh. Color choices for the counter surface include ebony, deep red, black, white and brushed aluminum. 

Winner: Chef Series Microwave by Miele
It's reasonable to wonder what could be so innovative about that kitchen stalwart, the microwave, so as to catch the judges' collective eye. In a word: Control. Rather than vaguely scaled 1-10 power  indicators, this built-in model has seven unambiguous wattage settings ranging from a full-on 900 down to 80. For those who are serious about their nuking, such specificity is unique and useful.

Honorable Mention: Pro+ Range by Aga Marvel
The venerable UK brand Aga stakes a claim on North American territory with this flexible range. Thanks to a slide-in partition, the oven cavity can be divided into two enclosures. The result—a smaller oven and a neighboring plate-warming compartment—conserves energy while expanding convenience. For the fashion-conscious, it comes in several colors as well as stainless steel.

Honorable Mention: Masterpiece Induction Cooktop by Thermador
With its virtually hidden heat source, induction cooking can be a speculative venture. See the little silver circle in this cooktop's upper corner? That's the Sensor Dome: A small cylindrical gizmo that pops up to monitor the temperature of the pans, cycling the heat off and on to maintain an exact, even cooking temperature. Problem solved.

Winner: 4-Door French-Door by LG
Some might be impressed with the commodious in-door water dispenser, but our attention was caught by the freezer drawers. The upper one can be converted as needed to a fridge function—quite handy for holiday feasts. Both drawers operate via push-buttons and feature soft-open and -close action.

Honorable Mention: HWS 1800 Integrated Wine Storage Cabinet by Liebherr
Flush surfaces and eye-level installation in a cabinet-compatible 24x18 size—this wine fridge offers a far nicer package from the user's point of view than the bending and stooping required by its undercounter cousins. And should the door be left ajar, an alarm will sound, so your Pouilly-Fumé won't turn tepid.

Winner: Sapphire by Thermador
The snazzy blue interior light certainly enhances this dishwasher's cool factor, but it's the third rack—a segmented tray designed to hold oversized chef's tools—that makes it appealing to serious cooks.

Honorable Mention: 800 Plus by Bosch
This appliance takes water conservation to a higher level. Only two gallons are consumed per wash and rinse. Worrywarts, rejoice: A patented leak-protection feature shuts the machine down if an undue amount of water is detected in the system.

Winner: Vantage by Whirlpool
Are you ready to download your laundry-load preferences? USB ports in this washer and dryer enable instant performance upgrades and cycle customization. The stodgy styling of the traditional top-loader has been revamped, too, with touch-screen controls, a glass lid for the washer and a contemporary door design that leaves the porthole window firmly in the past.

Honorable Mention: Tandem by Amana
By zeroing in on basic wash and dry functions—in other words, esoteric settings have been eliminated—these machines bring front-loading efficiency to market at a noteworthy price point. Each appliance will sell for around $699.

Honorable Mention: Performance by Maytag
This is a laundry duo that responds to daily demands on a task-specific basis. Clothes need a serious cleaning? Borrowing from the manufacturer's commercial laundry technology, the Power Wash setting takes care of that. Can't wait for a conventional drying cycle? Pick Rapid Dry to get the job done in 23 minutes flat. These are no-nonsense, get-it-done appliances.

Winner: Humidity-Sensing Recessed Fan/Light by Broan-NuTone 
Here's an aesthetic alternative to conventional, clunky surface-mounted bath fans. Incorporating an exhaust fan—a smart one, no less—into an inconspicuous canister light resolves ventilation, illumination and cosmetic issues in a single stroke. A rise in humidity triggers the fan, which has an automatic shut-off that's adjustable from five to 60 minutes. And while we're talking numbers, the judges were impressed by the unit's pulling 70CFM at an ultra-quiet 1.5 sones.

Honorable Mention: Victoria by Elica
This pendant-style range hood adds a dash of fabulousness to the kitchen while cleaning the air of cooking grease and odors. The fan's filter, as well as the tiers of faceted-glass crystals, can be popped in the dishwasher as needed. Both lighting and ventilation functions can be operated manually or via remote control.

Winner: Avado Work Bench by Elkay
The central saddle of this sink—the 'work bench' of its name—corrects two scenarios often encountered during clean-up tasks. One: Pots and plates no longer block the drain, as they can rest on the elevated divider. Two: Sheet pans and long-handled vessels fit into the sink because there's not a full-height dividing wall between the basins. The sharp, drawn corners of the boldly textured bench give the sink a distinctive style, too.

Honorable Mention: Cascade Compact by Elkay
Scaling this sink down from its original oversized format to this 36-inch version arguably makes it more useful, as now the entire unit is within easy reach. Still constant are designer Fu-Tung Cheng's functional flourishes: adjustable open-grid shelves, artfully concealed drain, integral rinse basin and a host of add-on accessories.


Winner: PuraVida by Hansgrohe 
The split finish on this suite of bathroom faucets is impeccably rendered; no tactile seams mar its white and chrome surfaces. The form, too, is original, combining flat planes with fluid, yet controlled curving elements. A quote from the judges' notes sums it up: 'Truly unique and inspired design work.'

Winner: Pilar Waterfall with Touch2O Technology by Delta
The convenience quotient of this faucet earned high marks from our reviewers. A light tap on the spout or handle of this faucet starts and stops the flow of water. [A four-minute auto shut-off thwarts unsupervised use.] As far as battery life is concerned, cooks won't be left high and dry at the sink; an indicator light at the base of the faucet warns when the four C batteries need replacing, and the single-lever faucet can always be used manually.

Honorable Mention: Venuto with SmartTouch by Brizo
Sporting similar tap-on/off technology as the Pilar Waterfall, the Venuto also offers a pull-down spray head that snaps securely into place through a magnetic docking feature—no more bad connections coaxing the hose back into the faucet.

Winner: Raindance Rainfall by Hansgrohe
There's a considerable amount of hydro-engineering magic behind this sculptural showerhead, which offers a drenching torrent spray, an air-assisted rain mode and a massaging jet experience—all from a right-angle wall connection. Equally impressive is the fitting's elegant appearance: minimalist, yet solid and substantial.

Honorable Mention: Rainshower Icon by Grohe
Its slim profile, open-ring design and upbeat color scheme are visually invigorating and a happy departure from the cumbersome forms of traditional handshowers. Functionally, we're impressed by the switch-button flow control, which cuts water consumption by 40 percent.

Winner: Urquiola Tub by Axor
A complex geometry so astutely resolved that it seems organic—that's one way to define relaxation, isn't it? And it's so apropos of this soaking tub, which comprises a single, sinuous cast. A detail that's quickly appreciated is the integral towel slot. Even when it's in use, it doesn't detract from the whole of the design.

Honorable Mention: Ravello Tub, Victoria + Albert
A blend of volcanic limestone and resin allows the walls of this tub to be thin but strong. There's an equilibrium to the form that's soothing, and the sophisticated matte finish is calming, as well.

Winner: PuraVida Wall Mount by Duravit
The advantages of a wall-hung WC are considerable: The design conserves floor space, simplifies cleaning, and, it must be said, trumps the exposed-tank model in the looks department. The soft square-ness of this commode is thoughtful; insetting the lid helps preserve those lines.

Winner: Eco by Cosentino
Glass, mirror and ceramic wastes that are otherwise bound for the landfill find new life in this counter surfacing material, which utilizes a corn-oil based resin as a binding agent. The manufacturing process has green practices, too, using a closed water-purification system and renewable energy sources, which contribute to Eco's Cradle-to-Cradle certification.

Honorable Mention: Design & Architectural Series by BR-111
Exotic hardwood end-cuts and remnants are combined to create vibrant, mosaic-like flooring that's often animated by striking grain patterns and rich tones. The interlocking system comes in a range of plank widths up to 7-1/4 inches; residential applications carry a warranty of 24 years. 

Honorable Mention: Eldorado Outdoor by Eldorado Stone
Quite literally building blocks, this intelligent structural system streamlines the design and construction of outdoor kitchens. Glass-fiber reinforced concrete panels can be bolted together on site in any number of configurations, and cut-outs for custom features like built-in grills and sinks can be easily made. Once assembled, the units are ready for cladding.

Winner: Helsinki by Walker Zanger
Characterized by ghostly parallel stripes, the marmara variety of marble has been enjoying a resurgence in both the kitchen and bathroom. This tile comes in two formats—oblong and chevron—that emphasize the veining in an eye-catching yet subtle way.  

Honorable Mention: Zapala by Walker Zanger 
The warm, neutral tones of dolomitic limestone have a somewhat misty appearance; it looks more watercolor than mineral. Cutting the stone into plank tiles imposes a rigid frame on this cloudy pattern, a contrast in form that is worthy of contemplation.

Winner: Viktor by Kontextür
Finished in black nickel, silver and 18k gold, these razor/toothbrush holders are evocative objects in themselves; look closely and you'll see hooves, tree roots and pedestal bases, all items that have a connection to the ground. Comments a judge: 'An unexpected, artistic delight—with a practical purpose—that will brighten the daily rituals in the bath.' 

Honorable Mention: Solon Compost System by Blanco
As an increasing number of communities mandate homeowners compost their kitchen wastes, this low-profile, in-counter collector proved a timely entry to the competition. The removable stainless steel canister is topped by an odor-trapping lid whose recessed handle keeps counters clear. Available in drop-in and flush-mount styles, this would be an easy, eco-conscious retrofit.

Winner: Fairy Pendant by Leucos
The tube-within-a-tube look of these lights is both delicate and industrial. Borosilicate cylinders lit by halogen bulbs, they can be hung singly or in clusters of up to six fixtures, either in linear or circular configurations. Metal canopies are finished in chrome or polished gold.

Honorable Mention: Solar Powered Dimmer for Tubular Skylight by ODL
While this device's use is limited to products by its manufacturer, the judges were intrigued by the concept. A small solar panel located in the shaft of the skylight powers a remote-controlled shade that can close off unwanted daylight. Clever thinking.

Winner: Zero-Threshold Shower Base by Delta
The snowballing interest in universal design [thank you, Baby Boomers!] has attracted the attention of some major players in the plumbing world, who are responding by developing products that enhance accessibility without sacrificing style. This barrier-free shower base can be paired with custom wall-tile treatments.

Honorable Mention: StyleDrain by California Faucets
With four patterns ['Deco Swirl' is shown] available in 30 finishes, it might be challenging to find a shower that these drains wouldn't complement. They look particularly sharp when set into a field of rectangular tiles. Nitpickers will happily note that no screws are visible.