Fewer people are buying new homes these days, opting instead to do home renovations – you know, just to spice things up a little.
Maybe you turn your bathroom into a high-tech spa or get some smart appliances in the kitchen. Maybe you do some green upgrades or maybe you do something purely for luxury.
So, what’s the new rain showerhead, the new infinity pool?
We talked to contractors, designers and developers all over the country and here are the 10 Coolest Home Upgrades.
By Cindy Perman
Posted 28 Oct 2010
It’s go big or go home with televisions these days – but when you bring one of these drive-in movie-sized screens home, it can often wreck the design of the room. When a guest walks in, they won’t say, “Wow, what a nice house,” but rather, “Wow, what a big TV you have!”
Well now, you can have it all – a big screen and big style. Designers are increasingly choosing to hide gigantic televisions in the wall and cover them with a mirror or artwork so when they’re not in use, you don’t even know they’re there!
When it’s above the fireplace, it can be a framed mirror or piece of art. In the photo at left, this Samsung 37-inch LCD is mounted in the closet behind the mirror,hidden by a removable panel in the closet.
You probably want a pro to do this – TVs require proper ventilation.
Fountains aren’t new and fire pits aren’t new but put them together – maybe even add some LED lighting – and shazam! Welcome to the future.
A water feature with fire shooting out of the middle can instantly remind you of that Hawaiian vacation (maybe pump some hula music into the outdoor speakers) or just ensure that you not only keep up with the Joneses but knock their socks off when they come over for a barbeque.
They can be rectangular trough-like structures with broken glass in the middle where the fire shoots out, or circular like this one in the picture at left (from Backyard Blaze.com). They can be freestanding, attached to a pool or create a big ridge of fire in a stoned wall. Have a seat because you can control it all by remote control!
OK, who wants toasted marshmallows?
Golfers have been practicing their swing at home for years but not quite like this – a floor-to-ceiling golf simulator with a massive screen to let you “play” on some of the coolest courses in the world from Hawaii to England.
A golf simulator like the one from Trugolfat left is the ultimate addition to your game room next to the pool table and pinball machine.
Not only do you really feel like you’re on the course but it helps you with your game, with sonic ball-tracking sensors and a program that gives you valuable feedback on your swing. They run from $20,000 to $60,000 or more.
She winds up the swing, good form and… Four!
Outdoor patios with full kitchens are getting even huger these days, with some nearing 10,000 square feet, said Stephann Cotton, owner of the real-estate sales and marketing firm Cotton & Co.
They’ve got the Rolls Royce of grills, outdoor wine fridges, fireplaces, sweeping views -- you name it. But guess what else they’ve got? Bugs.
Cotton said his high-end clients with penthouses in Boca Raton, Fla., are increasingly asking for these glass structures, out at the end of the patio where the best views are. They’re turning them into everything from outdoor dining areas and zen gardens to man caves and music studios.
A four-sided glass structure means there aren’t just northern views or southern views, Cotton says, there are north, south, east and west views!
So you’ve got spotlights and those little solar path lights but this is taking your backyard to the next level and doing exotic landscape lighting.
Maybe it’s uplighting on the palm trees, Cotton explained, or in the waterfall that spills over into the pool.
The cool thing is, Cotton said, you can even use solar lights – so it won’t cost you an arm and a leg in electricity! Take a solar light, put it in a spotlight and turn it upside down shooting up into your landscaping or water feature like a fountain or koi pond.
“Landscape lighting in the water is fairly easy to do,” Cotton said. “You get that constant reflection – It’s very romantic mood light. It produces a romantic and flickering light – just like a fire does.”
Check out more ideas, like the one at left, from Robert Davies landscape design.
No, we’re not talking about the kind you put next to the pool so the kids can wash off the sand, dirt or chlorine.
These are luxurious showers, usually off of the master bath, made of high-end stone and other natural materials, with lush foliage that create your own personal Eden.
You’ll already find this type of outdoor shower in resorts in Bali, Fiji and the Caribbean, but now, homeowners are bringing the resort home.
“It’s a very sexy thing,” said Walid Wahab, president of Wahab Construction in south Florida. “It’s your private shower -- you can get completely naked and take a shower outside in your private garden.”
Wahab said the construction is getting very creative – things like a shower head coming out of a tree.
You know you can control your entire house now from a laptop, iPhone or iPad. Everything from the lights and thermostat to the stereo – and even the pool. Here’s taking it to the next level – a master control for energy consumption.
“This is very, very new – people are just experimenting with it,” said Ron Rimawi, who co-owns Digital Interiors in Atlanta. “It helps make you more aware and more conscious of your energy usage, so you don’t waste energy.”
Basically, they’re small digital panels that connect with the utilities and track various appliances and systems in your home. They can tell you everything from your usage to the temperature and how much it’s all costing you!
“We have long held the belief that the promise of the Smart Grid can only be realized if the consumer is front-and-center in the design of demand-response systems,” said Control4,which makes the master control for energy consumption pictured at left.
No one wants the lingering smell of smoke and cooking fumes in the kitchen – particularly with how hot the open-concept kitchen-living area is right now. But hoods, no matter what high-end materials you use, can be clunky, not to mention they get greasy and dirty.
Enter the pop-up hood vent– You can sink it into an island or other countertop (of course, with an underground vent to the outside) and then at the press of a button, it comes up, sucks all the smoke and fumes out and then press the button again and – poof! – it vanishes again.
This is not only great for kitchen design, but also to lure other members of the family into the kitchen to help.
Make it high-tech – and they will come!
Let’s face it – kitchens are getting cool. From sleek granite to smart appliances, this isn’t your grandma’s kitchen.
One of the places where the most innovation is taking place is in the refrigerator. Maybe they have double French doors or are hidden by paneling that makes them blend in with the cabinets.
One of the coolest things – literally – is a cooling drawer, like the one shown left from Fisher Paykel. These are drawers with several different temperature settings, so you can store soda, wine, snacks for the kids – even ice cream.
They’re individual drawers, so you can have any number of them scattered around the house.
Japan’s super high-tech toilets have spawned an international craze – not only do tourists visit them as a destination when they’re in Japan but many people want to bring them back home.
Toto is one of the companies that’s tried to get out front of that, offering products like the WashletS400 that has auto flushing, automatic lid closing (that will end many a family battle!), a bidet and a warm-air dryer. But wait, don’t answer yet – you also get a wall-mounted control panel and remote.
Some models even feature seat warmers and in-bowl lighting, which says, “Yeah, that’s just how I roll.”