2015 KBCULTURE Awards

Sound the trumpets, please: It's time to present the sixth annual KBCULTURE Awards! In evaluating this year's entries, it quickly became apparent that a driving force in recent product development is the boom in apartment construction. Manufacturers are responding to this not only by scaling down appliances and fixtures to fit smaller spaces, but by innovating the ways in which they function. A more compact footprint simply can't rule out the high quality, high performance features consumers have come to expect.

Returning for her second turn as a judge was Alice Liao, whose rigorous appraisals and comprehensive knowledge of the field were honed during her tenure as editor of Kitchen + Bath Business magazine. My sincere thanks to her for sharing her time and expertise so generously.

Some may notice that the awards are being announced later in the year than was done for our previous competitions. There's a reason for this change. In the past, when the contest results were revealed during the second quarter, I felt it was important to include a caveat about some items not being available until year's end. By holding off until December to release the results of the program, readers can be assured that all the featured products are on the market now. I hope you agree that it's worth the wait—congratulations to all!

—Leslie Clagett, Editor

Winner: Stainless Steel by Wood-Mode
Whether in a mirrored finish or a brushed one, the workmanship on these stainless steel cabinet panels is unsurpassed. Corners and contours are tight, fronts are even and flat. The design isn't limited to solid doors; glass inserts can be accommodated, too.

Honorable Mention: Pet Parlor by Wood-Mode
We'll do anything for Fido, right? Of course we will. So this pet-centric cabinet set-up—with its hideaway food-bowls, small drawers for leashes and toys, and roll-out storage for kibble—is just a small token of appreciation for our loyal companions.

Winner: 30-Inch Pro Harmony Range by Thermador
This five-burner range checks all the expected boxes—convection cooking, broiling, powerful burners—with a little something extra. Thanks to an innovative venting technology, the range can be installed with zero clearance, flush against the back wall. Despite the burners' combined output of 59,000 BTUs, the stove is approved for low-CFM or recirculation applications, bringing pro-style performance to installations subject to strict ventilation codes or that have no exterior venting options.

Honorable Mention: Flush Gas on Steel Cooktop by Fisher & Paykel
Not only does this brushed stainless steel cooktop sit flush with the surrounding countertop, but its burners are deeply recessed, keeping the profile of the appliance ultra low. Its performance, however, is high: The central burner, made for wok cooking, delivers a powerful 18,500 BTU.

Honorable Mention: Dual Fuel Downdraft Range by Jenn-Air
While the downdraft ventilation [with a duct-free installation option] is a major draw [ahem] of this range, its design has two other elements that impressed the judges. One is the large huge window in the door: no wishy-washy, mid-sized glass panel here. The second is the controls. Their placement at the top and front of the appliance makes them instantly readable and easily operable.

Winner: HCB 1060 by Liebherr
A good choice for smaller kitchens, this 24-inch appliance boasts big performance: a sophisticated technology which allows individual storage compartments to be fine-tuned to maximize food freshness and minimize food waste. BioSafe drawers can be set at the ideal temperature for preserving the shelf life and nutritional values of their contents, while the HydroSafe and DrySafe bins are designed for storage with high- and low-humidity settings, respectively.

Honorable Mention: 42-Inch Built-In French Door Refrigerator with Obsidian Interior by Jenn-Air
Foods really pop against against the elegant rich charcoal interior of this French-door design. LEDs heighten the metallic sparkle of the dramatic finish even as they illuminate the refrigerator's contents. Soft-close drawers add another unexpected touch of luxury, and the TwinFresh dual-evaporator system, which ensures moist air circulates in the cooler compartment and dry air is directed to the freezer, makes this appliance as technologically innovative as it is visually striking.

Winner: Pro Dishwasher by Big Chill
If none of this dishwasher's 12 standard colors—which include a vivid orange, french blue, and cherry red—suit your décor, you can select a shade from more than 200 custom color options on offer. But it's not all about aesthetics; with an EnergyStar rating and a stainless steel interior, this appliance delivers a brilliant performance, too.

Winner: Activewash Top-Load Washer by Samsung
Here's a two-for-one laundry design: Under the lid of this top-loading washer is a built-in glass sink. It can be used for pretreating and soaking heavily soiled garments, and its ridged surface acts as a modern-day washboard for scrubbing. Tilt the basin backwards to drop both clothes and water into the tub, then proceed with a full automatic wash cycle.

Winner: Cattura Downdraft by Best
Downdraft vents are enjoying a bit of a resurgence now, as contemporary, open kitchen designs are all the rage. At the touch of a button, the Cattura rises to a height of 18 inches, and can capture steam and particulates from tall pots on the front burners—and it does so stealthily, up to 35 percent quieter than other models. Its FlexBlower system accommodates nine different ducting configurations.

Honorable Mention: Ventilation Fan with Sensonic Stereo Speakers by Broan
Here's a look inside this Bluetooth-enabled, 110 CFM bathroom ceiling fan. Even when it's in operation, music from the high-quality wireless speakers can be clearly heard, as the fan itself is extremely quiet, emanating a mere 1.0 sone.

Winner: STō Pulldown Faucet with MotionSense by Moen
Two sensors—in addition to manual controls—make this hands-free faucet a true friend to the busy cook. A wave of the hand over the top of the curved spout starts and stops the flow of water, while holding an object underneath the spigot activates the stream, too. The pulldown sprayer invisibly docks inside the spout—no more telltale [and unsightly] seams mar its surface. Choose between chrome and a spot-resistant stainless finish.

Honorable Mention: Vela D in Onyx by MGS
This new finish—a lustrous, rich black—is applied to the stainless steel fitting using a physical vapor deposition process, which bonds with the metal rather than simply coating it. It ensures the faucet is impervious to scratches; quite an important property in the active kitchen.

Winner: Continuum by MTI Baths
In his ingenious reimagining of this everyday object, designer Matthew Quinn creates an illusion. While it looks like the bathroom sink is merely a two-inch-tall ring resting on the surface of the vanity, what we're actually seeing is the top edge of a deep basin that's been recessed into the counter. The cut-out has been placed into the bowl of the sink, and made level with the surrounding surface.

Winner: Industrial Console by Stone Forest
At 64 inches long, this marble-topped console can hold two vessel sinks [or one, with an indulgent amount of counter space]. Inspired by the design of 1920s factory work tables, a few turns of the gear at the bottom of the cast-iron base adjusts the height of the vanity.

Honorable Mention: L Cube by Duravit
This vanity, part of a complete collection of bathroom furniture, is an understated complement for sculptural basins and fittings. Designed by Christian Werner, the modular units range from 24 to 48 inches in both wall-mounted and floor-standing styles, and are available in more than 30 surfacing options.

Winner: Cape Cod by Duravit
Made of a new, matte-finish material called DuraSolid, this curvaceous design by Philippe Starck brings a welcome lightness to the freestanding tub. But there's more to the soaker than elegant lines: the rim is sensibly sized to fit the hand, making it easy to grip while entering or exiting the tub.

Honorable Mention: Oak Hill Freestanding Soaking Tub by DXV by American Standard
This soaker's chunky oak feet and updated silhouette revitalize the stuffy image of the slipper tub. The well-balanced design is more of a modern lounge, albeit one that immerses its occupant in water.                                                    

Winner: Subway DirectFlush by Villeroy & Boch
Wall-mounted with a spare oval design, this toilet occupies space as lightly as it consumes water. Thanks to a splash-guard along the upper edge of the bowl and the elevated position of the water jets, the entire interior rinses thoroughly, without any annoying over-spray. Using only 0.8 or 1.6 gallons per flush, the commode is WaterSense-certified.

Winner: LampShower by AXOR
Designer Oki Sato of Nendo calls this fitting 'a magic trick'; we'll call it a winner. A low-voltage LED illuminates the 120 spray channels, putting bathers in a most flattering light. Available in several metallic finishes as well as black and white, the 2.5 GPM shower is offered as a wall-mount as well as ceiling-mount model.

Winner: Métamorphose by THG
Designed by Olivia Putman—yes, the daughter of Andrée—this elegant bath faucet has a geometry that's both subtle and strong. Rising from a circular base, the spout gradually tapers into a square, then reverts to a round water outlet. The handles are offered with a variety of accents, including carbon fiber and ceramic inserts. 

Honorable Mention: Bolsa 12 Series by California Faucets
There's something particularly pleasing about the composition of supply lines, handles, spigot, and handshower in this contemporary tub-filler. It's much more visually satisfying than the strict, one-pipe minimalist designs, which have a hard time holding their own against the bulk of a freestanding bathtub.

Winner: Grafik T Dimmer by Lutron
We live in a swiping, pinching, and tapping world, and this elegant light 'switch' fits right in, with its touch-control operation. LEDs on the bar indicate both system status and light levels. Intuitive to operate and stylishly unobtrusive, the dimmer has a faceplate that seems to float slightly off the wall. It's available in 41 colors and finishes, including metals and glass.

Honorable Mention: Sky Fall by Studio Italia
The fluid shape of this hand-blown Murano glass pendant gives a tip of the hat to midcentury design, while its dimmable LED lamping is wholly contemporary. The judges were partial to the chrome color option, but never fear: clear and copper versions are offered, as well.  

Winner: Seaside Pine Laminate Flooring by Armstrong
Sporting knots, checks, and sun-bleached colors in keeping with reclaimed pine, there's one detail missing from these 5-inch-wide planks: splinters. Made of click-to-install laminate, the floor will never need waxing or refinishing; a damp mop keeps it clean.

Winner: Hold by Sabi
Although this grab bar was principally developed for easy installation, its sculptural appearance is a happy byproduct of the design process. The powder-coated aluminum circle is easy to grip at any angle, by hands both large and small. In grey, yellow, or navy blue, it's part of a collection of like-minded bathroom storage accessories.

Honorable Mention: Twig Pull, Aspen II Collection by Top Knobs
It's the ambiguity of its design—part naturalistic, part abstract—that gives this cabinet pull its cachet. Handcrafted from 90 percent recycled bronze, it's available in a range of finishes and sizes.

Winner: Boston Brick by Natucer
Uniting the advantages of porcelain tile—durability and easy care—with a meticulously detailed rendering of the colors and textures found in real vintage brick, this tile is rated for use on walls and floors, both indoors and out. Made in Spain, it's offered in nine colors and three sizes.

Honorable Mention: Sterling Row Collection by Walker Zanger
This indoor/outdoor tile collection takes a close-up look at men's suiting fabrics for inspiration, and then gets creative with material combinations. Patterns such as Houndstooth (shown), Argyle, Wingtip, and Tuxedo pair marble with wood-finish porcelain in a go-with-everything palette of greys, blacks, and whites.