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Monday, April 26, 2010

Sustainability a Major Theme at Chicago Kitchen and Bath Expo

Medill Reports Chicago

Innovation, sustainability and high-end amenities were themes of the 2010 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show at McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago April 16-18. Nearly 700 vendors hawking leading industry brands Dacor, Kohler, GE, Moen and many others presented the latest in kitchen and bathroom trends.

Debuting the latest trends in sophisticated, contemporary designs for the home, exhibitors displayed affordable luxuries as well as products that might be out of reach for the average consumer.

“Consumers are more conscious of where their money goes now,” said Bob Quasius, head of exhibits and displays for Kohler Co. “They come looking for high quality but value as well.”

Cast iron baths with chromatherapy and bubble technology, tankless toilets, etched bronze sinks, undercounter refrigeration units, electric cabinets, water-saving rain shower heads, ironing centers, and mirrors with built in televisions were some of the eye-catching items on display.

Though official attendance figures won’t be available until next week, Wagstaff Worldwide, Inc., public relations for the show, projected a 40 percent increase compared with last year’s show in Atlanta. Brian Pagel, vice president of Kitchen and Bath Group at Nielsen Expositions, the show’s production company, said there was a positive buzz on the show floor.

“We believe that this is a sign that the market has begun to stabilize and hope that it is an indication that market conditions will continue to improve,” Pagel said.

The jump in attendance might be due to more movement towards sustainability in renovation as the economy begins to recover from the recession, according to Sarah Barnard of Sarah Barnard Design, a Los Angeles firm specializing in eco-friendly design.

“In years past, we really had to promote these ideas to the clients and beg them to get on board,” Barnard said. “Now everyone is asking for them.”

Barnard said she is seeing a lot of what she calls “piecemeal” home improvements now, rather than “whole house attacks,” mainly from people who have been in their homes for some time and are finally ready to invest in renovations.

“Frankly, they’re tired of not spending and not having,” Barnard said.

For average consumers, the goal is to buy the best they can afford in a remodeling project, and that creates “a lot of pressure to make the right choice,” according to Barnard.

Although homeowners can sometimes get caught up in that, it’s important to be realistic when making a plan to remodel, she said. Barnard advises consumers to look to shows like this one more for inspiration, and not necessarily splurging on the high-end luxury items displayed. She gave the example of a high-tech toilet with buttons, a heated seat and motion-sensing lid that lifts automatically when someone enters.

“On the show room floor with a smooth-talking salesman, it seems like something that your dream bathroom can’t live without,” Barnard said. “But really, it’s a toilet. You have to keep it in perspective.”

The average household in the Midwest spends about $10,600 on kitchen appliances and bath remodeling jobs, according to a 2009 research report issued by the show's sponsor. However, the Midwest lags behind other regions including the West, where average spending per household tops $18,000.

The same research found that just over 6 percent of households in the region are planning a kitchen and bathroom remodeling job this year, ranking second only to the Northeast with about 8 percent planning remodels.

“Financing is just not as readily available for new construction, so most people are just upgrading the homes they have,” said Keresa Richardson, national president of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing.

Typically, homeowners can expect their home value to rise by 80 percent to 90 percent of the amount they spend to remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, according to Richardson.

“Most people want to know, is it worth the money to remodel my home? And most of the time, it is,” Richardson said.

She went on to say that it's also worthwhile to invest in energy-saving products for the home because they bring a lot of value that people want, including savings on energy and water bills.

Next year’s Kitchen and Bath Industry show will be held in Las Vegas April 26-28. The show was held in Chicago in 2006, 2008 and 2010 and Atlanta in 2009. It was at the Las Vegas Convention Center in 2005 and 2007.