The Chillerator by Gladiator, a division of Whirlpool, designed to run efficiently in the extreme heat and cold of garages.
Gladiator The Chillerator by Gladiator, a division of Whirlpool, designed to run efficiently in the extreme heat and cold of garages.

  What were the hot product trends at this year's International Homebuilders' Show (IBS)? Karrie Jacobs shares her highlights. 

I noticed them over and over again at IBS. The official show guide lists 20 fireplace companies, but it seemed like there were more. Every other booth had an eye-catching, gas-fed fireplace, typically very thin and enclosed on two sides with glass. The fireplaces can come in any shape. I noticed one in which the flames were sandwiched between two large, circular sheets of glass and a round, torch-like tabletop model (from a company called EcoSmart Fire) that burns bioethanol. The flames ripple up from a layer of rocks or oversized marbles. The effect is hypnotic, like a re-thinking of the lava lamp. The discussion I heard a number of times during the three days of the event was: How do you position your flat-screen TV in relation to the flat-screen hearth? The answer, per Angela M. Harris, a model home designer from Denver: “You want the flat-screen on the same wall so you don’t have multiple focal points.”

While deep soaking bathtubs took on a life of their own a few years ago, showers are catching up. At IBS (and the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show being held next door) the hydra-headed shower that has grown popular in recent years, often coupled with electronic controls for temperature and spray pattern, has joined forces with the barrier-free shower. High-end companies like Toto displayed their latest fixtures in luxe shower enclosures that tastefully incorporated grab bars and seating. The relevant buzzwords are “aging in place” and “multigenerational home.” The message to baby boomers: You’re not getting any younger. Overheard: “You can’t even tell it’s a grab bar. It could just be a towel rack.”

My one real revelation at IBS was this: The garage is competing with the kitchen to be heart of the American home. I kept hearing comments such as, “People don’t like entering the house through the laundry room.” And I kept picturing a home that had a laundry room positioned near the front door. Slowly it dawned on me that the reason that people enter through the laundry room is because they come in through the garage. You drive up to the house, you open the garage with a remote control, you drive in, and then you enter the house from inside the garage. Only a New Yorker would be surprised by this. As a result, home builders are focused on designing that experience. (Consider the addition of the Drop Zone, a vestibule situated between the garage and the main part of the house where kids can leave their book bags and adults can plunk down their keys and charge their cell phones.) And then there is the interior of the garage itself. I was impressed by products from Gladiator, a division of Whirlpool, including a Chillerator with a textured steel surface designed to be efficient “in the extreme heat and cold of most harsh garage environments.” And, better still, there were metal storage cabinets in vivid kindergarten colors designed specifically to jolly up garage workshop and storage areas.

Every aspect of the home you can possibly imagine will soon be managed—if it isn’t already—by a tablet or smartphone app. My favorite example is the Nana Wellness system exhibited by the folding glass door manufacturer NanaWall. An air quality monitor linked to an iPhone app measures the level of indoor pollutants and tells homeowners when it might be advantageous to open the door.

More from IBS: Karrie Jacobs's letter from the show.