Cool, clever and just odd products featured at the International Home and Housewares Show

A mug that floats. A bag-free vacuum that compresses dirt into "bales" so you don't get a face full of dust when you empty it. A window garden that never needs tending.

The recent International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago featured all sorts of innovative and just plain odd products, any of which could be poised to hit the big time. Can you envision any of these in your home?

Spaces' Ilyce Glink was at the show; read her coverage in our post on the robots that are taking over our world, or at least cleaning it: the window-cleaning Winbot, the barbecue-cleaning Grillbot and the gutter-cleaning Looj.

The Floating Mug by Tigere Chiriga.
The Floating Mug by Tigere Chiriga.

Moisture ring stains on the table? Not anymore. The porcelain Floating Mug incorporates a coaster into its design, catching slight moisture in the little dish where the handle ends. The brainchild of Tigere Chiriga (and his wife's complaints about ring stains), it launched on Kickstarter last year. It's now available for preorder online at for $36.

[Note: I deleted a phrase above and added the following paragraph to address comments about the mug design. Yes, I do read the comments! Right after I put on my ego armor.] Skeptics and naysayers might say -- indeed, do say in the comments on this very post -- that the collected moisture would spill on you as soon as you take a sip. My fault! I said earlier that the bottom dish catches moisture, but in fact, the disc seems to simply elevate the mug so that tiny drips slide under the mug to evaporate. Here's Chiriga's Kickstarter explanation to another critic's misapprehension last year: "In my experience, some sips result in a very small drop or two sliding down the side of the mug. Sometimes that amount will evaporate well before it makes it to the bottom of the mug; other times, it's enough to make it to the base of the mug creating a ring on your coffee table." As he says: "If I spill enough coffee that a pool of it collects on the coaster, then my wife is going to be giving me a sippy cup." (P.S. Alas, I can't address commenters' complaints about the mug cost. I can only point out that products often cost more at launch. If the products are lucky enough to go into mass production and sell well, the price often comes down.)

"Is this the best vacuum cleaner ever?"

That's what the U.K. Daily Mail asked about the Gtech AirRam Cordless Vacuum, ultimately rating it a 10 out of 10.

It weighs only about 7 pounds, it can fit into spaces as shallow as 3 inches high and -- my favorite part -- it doesn't have a bag or "cyclone" action. Instead, it compresses debris into bricks or, as the manufacturer calls them, bales. No dust cloud! It's available in the States at Brookstone for $350; visit the Brookstone link to see a video of the vacuum in action.

The Click and Grow garden needs virtually no tending -- great for the black thumbs among us who love plants but can't seem to get greenery to stay green.

The two-part system works "just like a printer and toner": A "smart" flowerpot contains electronics and a water pump and reservoir; the plant cartridge contains seeds, nutrients and software. All you do is pop in four AA batteries, fill the reservoir with water, and place the kit in good light. If the reservoir needs water -- as it does every month or two -- you'll see a blue light blink. After about a year, a red light will indicate that the batteries need changing.

A starter kit with smart flowerpot and cartridge is $79. Refill cartridges are $20. Cheap? No. But if it's really as foolproof as it seems to be, maybe the price is worth it. After all, the founder was inspired by research that says the world throws away more than $20 billion in houseplants every year because people don't tend them properly.

Every time. Every single time I go to the store, I forget to bring a reusable bag, even though I shop places where disposable bags are banned or cost extra. But I don't (usually) forget the shopping list on the refrigerator. The Shopping List Bag combines the two, with magnets that attach the list and the folded bag to your fridge. When you're ready to go, you tuck the list notepad into the bag's pocket. It also has clips for store reward cards and coupons. Find it on for $11 (warning to those who follow the link: a product video auto-plays).

This last item is one of those so-kitschy-it-hurts designs: a "fireplace" you can carry around from one room to the next. The portable electric space heater mimics the look of embers yet stays cool to the touch (and if you like, you can leave the ambient glow on without the heat). It's 15 inches high and 12 inches wide. Buy it for $90 from Crane, a company you might know as the maker of those adorable humidifiers.