Some 75,000 builders, designers, remodelers, and more descended on Las Vegas last week for the 2014 International Builders' Show. For the first time ever, the show shared the stage with the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show. Add in a steadily improving housing market, and there was plenty of pep on the floor of the convention center. There was also a lot of ground to cover, including 1,220 exhibitors spread across 650,000 square feet. Our editors and market analysts managed to identify the key themes and hottest products. If you're considering a move, a remodel, or a brand new home, be sure to take note.
Speedy appliances. Pressed for time during meal prep? We saw a bevy of appliances that could short cut the process, including the pricey Viking Professional TurboChef Double Oven, which uses the same high-speed cooking technology used in places like Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts. Viking claims the commercial unit can cook food 15 times faster than conventional ovens. It should be out in late 2014 for over $10,000.
If that's not in the budget, consider a new steam oven, which Bosch CEO Michael Traub called a "key ingredient of the changing American kitchen." Besides faster cooking, the roughly $3,000 Bosch Benchmark Steam Convection is being promoted as a healthy compliment to your conventional oven, one that will preserve nutrients, flavors and colors in food and retains moisture. See how other new steam ovens did in Consumer Reports' tests, as well as additional tips for creating a time-saving kitchen.
When it comes time for clean up, Electrolux has a new QuickWash dishwasher with a 30-minute quick cycle that claims to get dishes just as clean as a normal cycle. And for your laundry room, Electrolux also featured a matching washer and dryer that it says can clean two outfits in less than 30 minutes.
Greater connectivity. There were more products than ever at the show with Wi-Fi enabled remote control. Our favorites included programmable thermostats from Lennox and Honeywell that are hoping to compete with the Google-owned Nest Learning Thermostat, which is one of our picks.
The ability to monitor your home's generator remotely also makes a lot of sense (imagine a storm hits while you're away on vacation). In addition to that feature, Generac's Guardian System also offers variable-speed technology, making the unit quieter and more fuel-efficient than other models.
Home security and automation were also on display at the show. AT&T announced the expansion of its Digital Life service to 58 markets. The customizable service lets you monitor a host of products, including security systems and cameras, thermostats, lights, and even water valves so that you'll be alerted to leaks.
Shades of gray. The color gray should have a big year in 2014, according to the latest Kitchen & Bath Style Reports, presented by the National Kitchen & Bath Association. It will be the fastest growing color scheme in the kitchen, says the trade group, taking the top spot from white and off-white. Gray will also be number one in bathrooms, jumping up from its third place finish in 2013.
The prediction definitely played out on the floor of the show, where we saw an abundance of gray-toned finishes and surfaces. Among the most eye-catching were quartz countertops from Caeserstone's Motivo line with embossed patterns, including lace and crocodile. We also spotted a slate-gray countertop from Cosentino called Dekton, an ultra-compact surface that can be used both indoors and outdoors because it is resistant to UV rays, claims the manufacturer.
And there were a lot of gray cabinet finishes, including Pumice from Omega, MasterBrand's custom cabinet line. The semi-translucent, spatter gray is supposed to offer a softly weathered look that works well in contemporary and transitional kitchens alike.
The color gray was also heard metaphorically throughout the week, in reference to the aging baby boomer cohort, and the impact they're sure to have on the home building industry. A couple of compelling facts: buyers aged 55 years and older will account for 25 percent of the home-buying market this year, according to Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at research firm Hanley Wood LLC. And boomers will retire at a rate of 10,000-per-day for the next 19 years.
Smart fixtures. The term "smart appliances" is so 2008, but there was a lot of talk about smart fixtures at this year's show. For example, the winner of the KBIS Best of Bath Gold Award was Delta Faucet's Temp2O. Its digital temperature display features LED color indicators to signal different water temperature ranges for easy, visual indication. That's peace of mind for parents of young children during bath time.
Another very cool faucet innovation came from Kohler, whose sweep spray kitchen faucet replaces the familiar circular pattern spray with a wide, forceful blade of water. That makes it easier to rinse pans and other large items, in addition to spraying down the sink when the dishes are done.
Then there was InSinkErator's new 3N1 hot water faucet, which gives you hot, cold, and near boiling water in a single tap—a first of its kind in North America, according to the manufacturer. Note that the Italian-designed faucet must be paired with the InSinkErator stainless steel Instant Hot Water Tank and Water Filtration System or a new high performance (HP) steaming hot water tank.
High-tech homes. The gee-whiz winner of this year's show had to be DuPont's Corian countertop with an embedded wireless phone charger. It won't be out until the end of the year, according to DuPont, but it could be a staple of the future kitchen.
We also like the Auto Hoop, a basketball hoop that automatically retracts into the side of your garage with the press of a button. That's nice if you or the kids like to play hoops, but you're not crazy about the look of a backboard and rim hanging off the side of the garage.
Last but not least was Velux's GDL Cabrio balcony system, a roof window that opens out to create a small roof balcony, great for lofts and other tight attic spaces. That's just the kind of inventive thinking that made the 2014 Builders' Show one of the most exciting in years.
—Daniel DiClerico and Michael DiLauro