This year's Dwell on Design home show, the nation's largest design event, attracted a record crowd to downtown Los Angeles, including your faithful correspondent (that's me!) and family. We saw loads of impressive products, some of them practical, some of them more, er, aspirational. I've rounded up the best here, putting special emphasis on consumer-friendly products. (I do read the comments, and that was one theme that emerged from commenters on our slideshow of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair: Seriously, what can the average mortal buy?) Not every product here is inexpensive, but they are all good values.
You might also be interested in another feature from the show: JCPenney outfitted an entire 700-square-foot prefab studio with its new, reasonably priced designer home products.
Nourishmat: "Paint by numbers for gardening"
This was the only product at the show that I bought on the spot. I've killed the few things I've ever tried to grow, but I love kitchen gardens, so the simplicity of the Nourishmat is right up my alley. The company's founders call it "paint by numbers for gardening." For $79, you get 82 pre-planted seed balls as well as a reusable weed-suppressing mat with instructions that map out exactly where to plant what for maximum production, pest control and pollination (via companion planting) -- and it irrigates, too, once you hook up your hose to it. All you need is a 4-by-6-foot area of healthy soil; and if you don't want to till, you can buy potting soil (you'll want a depth of 6 to 8 inches). The mat will last about five years; smaller and non-irrigated versions are also available. People who tested the product for Nourishmat reported growing $200 in produce in one season of seed balls.
You can support the project -- which has broader social ambitions as well as backyard utility -- on Kickstarter beginning July 1. Meanwhile, visit the Nourishmat website for details and ordering information.
LOFTi and Duo: Dry laundry indoors
According to the New Clothesline Company, makers of the LOFTi Laundry Drying System and the Duo Small Item Drying Accessory, air-drying three loads of laundry a week can save $10 a month. The LOFTi is on a pulley, allowing you to hang your laundry to dry above your washing machine and raise it out of the way. My family of four lives in a very small space, so I'm thinking of buying it to use over our bathtub to dry towels; if I whisk the shower curtain closed, the rack will be largely concealed (especially if I don't raise it all the way to the ceiling).
LivingPlug: "Redefining the outlet"
Electrical outlets are all over your house -- the average home has 75 -- and they aren't pretty. But the Inlet from LivingPlug aims to change that, all while adding functionality and safety.
Here's how it works: A small box, 5 inches square and a bit over an inch deep, plugs into your existing outlet. It accommodates three plugs, not the usual two, plus one USB charger, and the plugs extend from the Inlet's perimeter, not dead-center. The faceplate is customizable, so for outlets that are high on the wall (above the kitchen counter, for example), you might choose a family photo, an artwork or a simple wood square as seen here; for the typical shin-level outlet, you might choose a surface that copies your wallpaper, effectively camouflaging the outlet.
LivingPlug recently achieved its funding goal on Kickstarter. The Inlets are expected to sell for about $30.
Urbio: Endlessly configurable wall storage and display
These modular, magnetic containers from Urbio mount to your wall using baseplates (or any magnetic surface, but Urbio's weight ratings apply only to its own wall plates, since magnetism differs across materials). You can heap plants or office supplies in the containers -- whatever your heart desires. (No drainage holes for the plants, though.)
You can buy Urbio containers in kits ($75 or $175), or you can buy each piece individually for maximum customization. The smallest container, about 3.5 inches by 5 inches, can bear a little more than a pound and costs $15; the largest, about 10 by 10 inches, holds up to 14 pounds and costs $35. Each 10-by-10-inch wall plate costs $15 and comes with bracket, screws and Sheetrock anchors.
Stikwood: Peel-and-stick wood strips
If you love the rustic look of a wood wall, Stikwood peel-and-stick decor lets you install one as easily as you'd apply a sticker. It's real wood, too, and not just a paper-thin veneer -- generally an eighth of an inch thick, about the same as the wear layer on high-quality engineered wood flooring -- with options including ash, oak and reclaimed wine barrels. (Or you can opt for bamboo.) Prices vary depending on the material; you can expect to pay about $80 to $100 to cover 10 square feet. While that isn't cheap, it is a lot of bang for the buck, and at least you won't need to pay a contractor for installation. We think it'd look great dressing up inexpensive IKEA-style laminate furniture.
Careful, though: It's permanent. The adhesive is rated for 10 years. The company is working on developing a removable option.
My family can attest to both its ease and permanence: One of my 9-year-old sons was curious about it at the show and tried out a sample when we weren't watching. It adhered to the counter and wouldn't budge. Ack! So sorry about that, Stikwood. (The representative assured us that he'd be able to pry it off eventually. I make light of it, but my tearful son and I were both mortified, of course.)
Orta Kitchen Garden: Self-watering seed starters
These handmade Orta Kitchen Garden terracotta planters help keep high-maintenance seedlings alive, even when you're not able to tend them every day. You pour water into the reservoir, and the moisture slowly and steadily seeps through the permeable terracotta walls.
Engineer and designer Anne Fletcher used to make these out of her one-car garage, but she's been successful enough so far to expand to a two-car garage nearby. Her Kickstarter project is fully funded with a couple of weeks to go, but you can still support her there and get a 6-pack or 12-pack planter for your pledge. You can also buy from her site: $35 for a Sixie or $42 for a Deep Six. Personally, I'm sad to have missed my chance for a limited-edition Potato or Turnip planter!
Clei (Resource Furniture): Transforming furniture
This was by far the coolest collection I saw at Dwell on Design. Every visitor -- including my husband, our 9-year-old twin sons and myself -- walked around the booth with wide eyes and wider grins as they watched these James Bond-style furnishings go from bookcase to queen-size bed, desk to twin-size bed, and more.
(I also have a confession: I'm not showing you the very coolest items here, because I'm hoping to devote a whole blog post just to these after I visit the New York showroom. So watch this space in a couple of weeks!)
Clei is an Italian company whose incredible space-saving products are distributed in the United States by Resource Furniture (with showrooms in New York and Los Angeles). They are emphatically not cheap, with prices starting around $5,000 and ranging north of $20,000 for complete wall systems. But if you're willing to be flexible about how you view your rooms, you might squeeze double or even triple duty out of a space -- meaning that house addition you were considering might not be necessary after all.
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