Shopping for the Best Home Insurance?

When you are going to a special event you shop around for the perfect dress. You keep looking and looking until you know you have found just the right one. Shopping around for the best home insurance policy is similar but much more important. The element that remains the same is you must keep shopping around until you have found the right insurance company. If you are a first time homeowner this whole area is unfamiliar territory. So here is where to go according to to find the best home insurance?

The first thing you might want to do is ask your family and friends who are homeowners themselves where they purchased their home insurance from. This will save you a good deal of time and money because you will get the benefit of their comparison shopping research. They will be eager to tell you about the best companies, who is the most expensive, and who did not fit the bill.

Every state has a different set of weather conditions to deal with so the property damage for each area will be different. If you are getting Washington home insurance, your coverage will be different than someone who will be purchasing home insurance elsewhere. Florida endures a good deal of water damage whereas other states have to deal with snow.

You may want to shop around on the Internet for the best insurance company. When you find a home insurance company make sure to check the testimonials from current and past customers. You will find the truth about their customer service and how well they are able to process claims. It is one thing to be accommodating when you are trying to get a customer’s business and another when they need you to help them during a stressful situation.

Look for an independent insurance agent. These agents represent more than one homeowners insurance company so they will have all the information they need to help you find the best place at the best rates. Because they represent several insurers they will always be up on the latest insurance information and can direct you to the company that is going to suit your needs. It’s like they have done the comparison shopping for you.

Once you get your home insurance, it won’t hurt to do a little competitive shopping here every year to make sure you maintain the best coverage at the best rate.

Easy Entertaining

Hosting a holiday hors d’oeuvre party is a great way to enjoy time with friends

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson
Photograph by Kate Baldwin
Food styling by Christy Nordstrom

alk to her on the phone and you’ll immediately discover Ballard resident Nicole Aloni’s passion: easy entertaining. “Entertaining is essential
to life,” says the Seattle transplant (from Los Angeles)
and former “caterer to the stars.”

Aloni, who has catered the Academy Awards four times and once prepared a state luncheon for Queen Elizabeth II, shares organizational tips, menu-planning guidelines and a plethora of recipes in her two books, Secrets from a Caterer’s Kitchen: The Indispensable Guide for Planning a Party (HP Books, $18.95) and Cooking for Company: All the Recipes You Need for Simple, Elegant Entertaining at Home (HP Books, $18.95).

An appetizer party (instead of a full-blown dinner party) is an easy alternative for holiday entertaining.

“Where you might find a three-course menu hard to execute, hors d’oeuvres offer the same adventure in bite-size portions,” she reasons.

Here are some of Aloni’s tips for the perfect hors d’oeuvres party:

  • Indulge in the decor.
  • Choose a thematic cocktail or punch.
  • Send a really creative invitation, which builds anticipation.
  • “You can even suggest the flavor of the evening before guests hit the front door by lighting the entryway with glowing luminaria, piping appropriate music outdoors or sprinkling flower petals on the walkways,” she says.
  • Focus your energy and attention on a couple by-the-piece items you make yourself, such as stuffed mushrooms or beef satay.
  • Select specialties you’ve made before and enjoy preparing, perhaps a family recipe or something from your ethnic heritage.
  • If you don’t want to make your own, bulk items are easy to purchase at the growing number of upscale grocery and specialty-food stores in the Seattle area, such as Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Central Market at Shoreline and Metropolitan Markets.
  • A good rule to follow when planning your appetizer party is to offer 12 to 15 bites per person, Aloni advises.

The holidays come only once a year—so here’s to a groaning board full of fancy, festive hors d’oeuvres.

Contributing editor Braiden Rex-Johnson is the author of the Pike Place Public Market Seafood Cookbook (Ten Speed Press).

Find more information about chef Nicole Aloni on her Secrets from a Caterer’s Kitchen Web site,

Great Grilling

Local chefs Thierry Rautureau of Rover’s and Jason McClure of Sazerac share their secrets for summer barbecues

Story by Braiden Rex-Johnson
Photography by Alex Hayden

My memories of childhood barbecues are equal parts fear and dread. Though my father was a distinguished surgeon, when it came to household tasks he refused to read instruction manuals. A big box arrived at our suburban home one day and, after a long afternoon of sweaty brows and taking the Lord’s name in vain, my father emerged from the garage with a fire-engine-red barbecue.

Dad wheeled his new toy into the middle of the yard and fired it up. In the days before gas barbecue grills were ubiquitous, this required rolls of newspaper, charcoal briquettes and copious amounts of lighter fluid. If everything didn’t catch fire immediately, my father and ever-helpful little brother would simply add more fuel. My male relatives’ pyromaniac tendencies seemed like an invitation to disaster.

Whenever my father announced that it was a good night for a barbecue, I stood yards away. As an adult, I continued to keep my distance from barbecues and outdoor grills. And what I’ve noticed—as I stood back and watched—is that the popularity of grilling is, well, exploding.

I didn’t have to look far to find two avid grilling fans—and professional chefs—who were more than happy to share their passion for great grilling: Thierry Rautureau, owner and chef at Rover’s in Madison Valley, and Jason McClure, executive chef at the ever-sizzling Sazerac in downtown Seattle.

Rover’s Thierry Rautureau

The gregarious “Chef in the Hat,” Rautureau turns summer grilling into a family-and-friends affair but likes to keep things simple.

“My family loves to dine alfresco and we don’t limit grilling to July 4th or Bastille Day,” he says. “Meats, poultry, fish and vegetables are on our home barbecue almost nightly. Entertaining outdoors is one of the best things about living in the Pacific Northwest.”

Rautureau likes to create a summer mini-buffet by visiting the local farmers’ market, then grilling up his “finds.” One favorite meal is Grilled Pork Chops with Dijon Mustard, Asparagus and Walla Walla Sweets. The chef marinates the chops in the refrigerator overnight in a simple rub made of Dijon mustard, olive oil and black pepper. Thanks to the marinade, the chops stay tender and juicy. Rautureau pairs the pork with Walla Walla onions and fresh asparagus spears, marinated in olive oil and fresh thyme before grilling.

Sazerac’s Jason McClure

My second grilling expert, Jason McClure, teaches a grilling class as part of Sazerac’s “Little Bit of Lovin’” cooking-class series. His next class is scheduled for Saturday, August 19, at 2 p.m. Sazerac’s summer menu will feature grilled seasonal local foods such as house-made sausage and wild salmon.

McClure generously shared his recipe for Grilled Stone Fruit Brochettes with Buttermilk Ice Cream as well as some of his “Sazy” grilling tips. The chef says that grilling is more fun if you are organized and have everything you’ll need prepped before you start.

A few of McClure’s tips:

• Start with a hot, clean, well-lubricated grill. This prevents proteins from sticking.
• Dry spice rubs jazz up simple cuts of meat, seafood and poultry.
• Soaked wood chips or chunks, such as mesquite, hickory, alder, apple, oak, cherry or pecan, flavor foods with an earthy, smoky flavor.

Pearls of Wisdom

September brings a fresh crop of oysters to local restaurants and fish markets.

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson
Photographs by Kate Baldwin
Styling by Christy Nordstrom

Over the past two years, an East Coast oyster raised in Northwest waters has won the hearts of oyster aficionados from Seattle to Los Angeles, Chicago to New York City. Crassostrea virginica, also known as the Eastern or Virginica oyster, is crisp and briny with a hit of strong, mineral-laden salt.

Native to several Atlantic regions, these oysters were once the mainstay of the U.S. oyster industry. Production here started in the early 1900s, when a large quantity was grown in Willapa Bay for the oyster-hungry San Francisco market. In 1917, for unknown reasons, the stocks died out.

Thanks to improved technology and understanding of the oyster organism itself, however, Taylor Shellfish Farms has been commercially distributing this species for the past two years. Totten Inlet oysters take three to five years to reach a minimum market size of 3 1/4 inches, which is deemed ideal for sweetness and complexity of flavor.

“Many who have tasted it say it’s the best oyster they’ve ever eaten,” Taylor says of his Totten Inlet virginicas. “They’re mild compared to the Pacific and not as crunchy as the Kumamoto. They’re not overly briny or salty, but there’s a richness and something in the flavor that adds dimension. The algaes in Totten Inlet really complement the virginicaoyster.”

The new crop of Virginicas is available this month, so September is the perfect time to sample them. Locally, you can find Totten Inlet oysters at most fresh seafood markets, as well as oyster bars and seafood restaurants such as Ray’s Boathouse, Elliott’s Oyster House & Restaurant, the Oceanaire Seafood Room, Shucker’s and, of course, Union.

Know Your Oysters

Five main species—Olympia, Kumamoto, Pacific, European Flat and Eastern—call inlets, bays and coves in the Northwest home, and most are available September through March. Because oysters vary depending on where they are raised, oysters are often marketed under the name of their home waters rather than simply by species name.

Olympia (Ostrea lurida and Ostraola conchaphila)

Native to the West Coast, quarter-sized Olympias are slow growing and take three to four years to reach maturity. They are highly coveted among oyster aficionados for their sweet meat and light, buttery flavor, and, thanks to their small size, “Olys” are considered the perfect oyster for first-timers.

Kumamoto (Crassostrea sikamea)

Slightly larger than Olympias, Kumamotos are distinctive for their more deeply cupped, highly fluted shells. Native to Japan, “kumos” are noted for their delicate, fruity, almost cucumberlike flavor.

Pacific (Crassostrea gigas)

Hearty Pacific oysters are mild, sweet and rich-tasting. Originally from Japan, the Pacific is now the most important commercial oyster species in the region and constitutes 99 percent of West Coast oyster production, according to a 2004 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study.

European Flat (Ostrea edulis)

European flats were once the most widely cultured oyster in Europe and are known as Belons in France. Optimally 3 to 3 1/2 inches in size, European Flats are round, flat oysters with a distinctive salty-metallic (coppery) finish that some feel is an acquired taste.

Virginica (Crassostrea Virginica)

Native to New England, Middle Atlantic, Chesapeake and South Atlantic, these oysters were the first East Coast species grown commercially in Washington state. Virginicas combine a clean, briny, smooth sweetness with a pronounced mineral finish.

Buy and Cellar

Northwest wines to keep for 10 years or more

Story by Andy Perdue
Photography by Hank Drew

In the Old World, top-tier reds are expected to be aged a decade or more. Great Bordeaux often are so tightly wound, they’re just becoming drinkable in 10 years. In New World wine regions such as the West Coast however, grapes tend to be picked riper and flavors are plush sooner.

Aging wines can be tricky; there’s a fine line between sublime and over the hill. Select wines with balanced fruit, acidity and (in reds) tannin to give wines a better chance of aging gracefully. Avoid high-alcohol monsters or vintages whose weather patterns make cellaring a precarious proposition. For example, 2003 was an extremely hot year in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and many of the resulting wines were California-like with jammy fruit, blistering alcohol and little of the subtlety typical of Oregon pinot noirs. In Washington, while 1998 was hailed as a great vintage at the time, those reds are generally falling apart eight years later. Meanwhile, the more balanced 1999s are now becoming really interesting.

Successfully aging wine means proper conditions. Your best bet is a climate-controlled cellar. If you have a basement that stays cool year-round, that’s a good option. If your home has central air, a closet can serve you well. Or you can rent space from one of several wine storage facilities. Avoid garages and the top of your refrigerator.
Here are a few Northwest wines that should taste delicious in 2016. For some real fun, buy a case and open one bottle each year. Take careful notes so you can see how the wine progresses.

Woodward Canyon Winery 2002 Old Vines cabernet sauvignon
Columbia Valley, $75

Rick Small has been making cellar-worthy wines since 1981. A few years ago, I tasted through 19 years of the Old Vines cabs. The best of the bunch was from 1983, so Small proved his wines stand up well to the ravages of time. This red will likely be in the midst of its prime in 2016.

Three Rivers Winery 2003 Champoux Vineyard cabernet sauvignon
Columbia Valley, $50

Winemaker Holly Turner uses grapes from what arguably is the No. 1 or No. 2 vineyard in Washington. Champoux (pronounced “shampoo”) is high in the Horse Heaven Hills south of Prosser. Expect this big red to be peaking in a decade.

FidÈlitas Wines 2002 Optu
Columbia Valley, $40

Owner/winemaker Charlie Hoppes is closing in on his 20th harvest in Washington, and he knows every row of every worthy vineyard in the state. This Bordeaux-style red tends to be plush and approachable upon release but still has the backbone of acidity and tannin to help it go the distance.

Elk Cove Vineyards 2004 Windhill pinot noir
Willamette Valley, $38

The Campbell family has been crafting balanced, age-worthy wines since the mid-1970s. This elegant single-vineyard pinot noir is beautiful now and has the fruit and balance to be very interesting in 10 years.

Barnard Griffin 2004 semillon
Columbia Valley, $14

Most of the time, we don’t think of white wines as age-worthy, but semillon is an exception. One of two noble white grapes of Bordeaux (along with sauvignon blanc), semillon only gets more interesting with time. This offering from one of Washington’s biggest family owned wineries is tasty now and should be magnificent at age 12.

Made with Love

Holiday gifts are extra special when you create them yourself

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson
Photograph by Kate Baldwin
Food styling by Christy Nordstrom

This holiday season, forget the flowers. Fling the fruitcake. Forgo the Godiva.

Instead, as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa approach, consider making one-of-a-kind food gifts. For both creator and recipient, homemade holiday gifts warm the heart and satisfy the soul.

They are the perfect solution for people who like to put on an apron, dust off the food processor, crank up the iPod and get cookin’. Giveable goodies rival the treats you see (and often covet) in specialty-food stores and online catalogs—and are packaged with a personal touch.

Homemade gifts provide a memorable way to get the kids or grandkids involved in fun, educational kitchen activities that may turn into holiday traditions. And small, easy-to-make items are good tokens for hostesses, hairdressers, co-workers and other acquaintances when a more extravagant store-bought gift seems like too much of a good thing.
No run-of-the-mill shortbread cookies or banana-nut loaves will you find among my giveable goodies. Chocolate-hazelnut butter rivals Nutella, the famous cocoa-hazelnut spread, originally from Italy, that is used as a sandwich spread or crepe filling in 75 countries worldwide. Candied pecans are great to eat out of hand or sprinkle on salads.

Homemade coffee liqueur serves as a perfect after-supper sipper, easy topping for vanilla ice cream, or warming addition to mugs of steamed milk. Old-fashioned pumpkin butter finds its perfect partner with fluffy buttermilk biscuits or the Thanksgiving turkey, and the addition of three forms of ginger (fresh, ground and candied) and two forms of lemon (zest and juice) raises the flavor to new heights. Homemade cranberry sauce spiked with dark rum and dried sour cherries is a tangy-sweet addition to any hostess’s holiday table. And an authoritative spice rub turns everyday chicken breasts into an international experience.

Executive pastry chef Jessica Campbell, of the Yarrow Bay Grill in Kirkland, is such a fan of giveable goodies that she’s taught a cooking class on the subject for the past two years. During the hands-on class, Campbell not only helped us prepare five food gifts but showed us inspiring ways to package our creations.

The chef scooped candied pecans into cellophane bags, which she tied with colorful ribbons and tagged. Jars of chocolate-hazelnut butter were decorated with die-cut holiday stickers and tied with sumptuous satin or velvet ribbons.

The act of giving homemade goodies shows family, friends and acquaintances you took the time and cared enough to prepare something with your own hands from your home kitchen. This year, why not say “Happy Holidays” to one and all in the most delectable, heartwarming way possible?

Contributing editor Braiden Rex-Johnson is the author of the Pike Place Public Market Seafood Cookbook (Ten Speed Press).

Striving for Imperfection

Laidback living at its finest in this Bainbridge Island beachfront kitchen.

Written by Allison Lind
Photographs by Brian Francis

Emotions run high in Kimber and Jeff Wysong’s Bainbridge Island beachfront kitchen. In planning the remodel of this room, the couple opted not to take the conventional approach of collecting fabric swatches or photos of rooms they loved. Instead, they collected things that evoked feelings—a picture of a screen door with the word “slam” scribbled underneath, for instance.

That’s all designer Belinda Thornburg and her husband, architect Jeb Thornburg, needed to begin the remodeling project. With those sights and sounds in hand, “we wanted to capture the essence of life at a beach house,” Jeb says, taking into consideration the foreseeable sandy feet and, yes, even a squeaky, slamming screen door.

The resulting design does just that, fusing fun with function, classy with comfort.

For starters, the original hardwood floors of this early 20th-century home were given a dark, ebony finish to provide a “no fuss, no muss” palette for the inevitable wear and tear bestowed by Sam, 8, Max, 10, and the family’s St. Bernard, LuLu. The rest of the remodel followed suit, with the homeowners unconcerned with perfection and the designers happy to abide by that approach.

“Perfect is passé,” says Belinda, adding that things with character—i.e., bumps and bruises—add so much to a home’s personality and reflect the lives that are lived there.

An imperfect oak table—a yard-sale find—serves as the breakfast table, while barely there lime-green walls frame the verdant backyard view. By the same token, stainless steel counter tops, chosen because the material is “hard to wreck,” complement the custom “European farmhouse-style” hood and the industrial-style appliances.

A white marble-topped island brightens the kitchen, offsetting the dark wood floors. It’s a great gathering spot as well, providing the perfect place for the boys to do their homework, watch mom cook or just hang out. (The new marble has already been chipped, happily described by Jeb as “a testament to the time spent here.”) With turned legs at all four corners, the island seemingly floats in the center of the room like a casually placed piece of furniture—a spot where mom and dad can serenely enjoy a cup of tea as sandy feet pitter-patter toward the screen door.

Design Ideas

This marble-topped island gets high marks for aesthetics; its creamy hue blends quietly into the backdrop while the gray veining seemingly takes its cue from nearby stainless steel elements. There’s plenty of function packed in, too. The cold marble surface is ideal for rolling out pie dough. Plus, it’s a great place for the kids to spread out their homework.

Architect Jeb Thornburg refers to it as “a still life of real life.” On open shelving and behind windowed doors, everyday items—even canned goods—can be displayed in an artistic way. There’s never any guesswork, either, as to what’s located where. Behind the shelves, classic white subway tile serves as an attractive backdrop, adding depth to the wall without overpowering it with an abundance of color or pattern.

An Urban Archaeology hanging fixture floats above the kitchen island, providing task lighting for cooking, cleaning, casual dining and—of course—homework. The casting of the traditional fixture is slightly imperfect, in keeping with the home’s theme of “perfect is passé.” Schoolhouse lights from Pottery Barn are a good partner for this lighting plan, casting a soft glow over the entire room while letting the hanging fixture take center stage.

Once solely considered an industrial appliance, this windowed Traulsen is right at home in the Wysong kitchen. The refrigerator places a person’s edibles (and drinkables) prominently on display, making it less a detached domestic device and more an artistic arrangement of everyday life. Its stainless steel finish echoes that found on the counters and range hood while complementing the stove’s commercial quality.

A built-in chalkboard in this room has plenty of versatility going for it. On an everyday basis, it’s a handy place to keep a running grocery list. But it can just as easily be transformed into a work of art. Although this drawing was done by artist John Rozich, the chalkboard’s primary appeal, says Jeb, is that “it’s not precious. It’s not a Picasso hanging above the mantel; it encourages people to engage in art and be a part of the home.”

In spite of several remodelings over the years, the Wysong kitchen still had its original c. 1906 floors. Comprised of a mishmash of old woods, the 100-year-old floor had some character but didn’t quite suit the current incarnation. An easy fix? The homeowners had the original floor stained to maintain some of that 1900s character, while giving it a new look and saving some money in the process.

A high shelf is a great place to display a collection, especially one of the breakable kind. This assemblage of ironstone—in variations of the same creamy hue used for the backdrop—adds some three-dimensional interest. Because it draws the eye upward, the room seems taller in the process, too.

The kitchen’s built-in desk is command central, providing a place to pay the bills, look through cookbooks or come up with a grocery list. The desk and adjacent storage drawers are painted a soft shade of green, making them look like freestanding furnishings. Meanwhile, the dark surface tops visually connect with the newly stained floors. By contrast, the desk’s cubbyholes and small chalkboard are trimmed in off-white, giving the desk even more importance.

For Earth’s Sake

A Bainbridge couple goes that extra (green) mile to better the earth–and their interior.

Written by Allison Lind
Photographs by Brian Francis

When you enter Susan and Robin Boone’s Bainbridge Island kitchen, one theme stands out: green. But it’s about more than accents that convey the color or Susan’s eye-catching collection of glass in the same hue. It?s also about the green you can’t see.

Because the Boones care about the environment, they wanted the update of their 1980s kitchen to be Built Green certified. They enlisted the help of interior designer Sandy Campbell and contractor Curt Shuck to give them their dream room–a modern space that still retains “the feeling of Grandma’s kitchen.”

That goal was achieved with a combination of certified-green or recycled details, which evoke a sense of coziness while reflecting the couple’s respect for the environment. The red oak cabinets, for instance–constructed of FSC-certified wood with Europly interiors–are finished with white, green and natural low-VOC stains, colors that all warmly coordinate with the sunshine yellow wall paint.

The green color of the cabinetry was specifically chosen to reflect a similar hue found in the cork floor: a deep evergreen mixed with a rich neutral (cork’s conventional shade) to create a mottled effect. To balance the intricate pattern of the floor, the Boones installed gray linoleum counter tops that are more sedate in nature; to add just a touch of sparkle, though, they’re banded with aluminum. In turn, a stainless-steel Wolf stove and Amana refrigerator echo the silver tones; one counter top was even created from reclaimed Boeing aluminum–a nod to the family’s love for aviation.

And the recycled items don’t stop there. Throughout the room are backsplash tiles made from recycled glass, a former schoolhouse door that now fronts the pantry, an eclectic collection of old cabinet knobs, and even recycled cotton insulation in a newly constructed wall separating the refrigerator and fireplace.

Each aspect of the Boones’ kitchen was chosen with the big picture in mind, a purpose beyond a simple room remodel. “Redoing my kitchen green is my small way of contributing to this earth,” Susan says. “Whatever I do–gardening, the clothes I buy, redoing my house–it’s for the birds outside my window, the animals, the next generation here.”

That same sentiment guides designer Campbell, too; she approaches each project with the “betterment of the earth” in full view. “We have to change the way we do things,” she says. “Green built is not a trend; it’s something that has to be done.”


The Boone kitchen received a two-star rating from the Built Green Home Builders Association of Kitsap County for the many green aspects of its construction. But even if you’re not planning a complete remodel of your home, there are any number of ways to make your space more environmentally friendly.


Susan hand-selected each backsplash tile at Bedrock Industries, a local company that turns recycled glass into useful household items.


The Boones chose this cork pattern for its green hues, which complement Susan’s extensive glass collection. But the floor has other benefits as well. Not only is it a renewable natural resource and a sustainable material (so it’s great for the environment), cork also has a softer quality underfoot than hardwood, vinyl or ceramic floors. Plus, it’s a natural thermal insulator, so bare feet stay warm during winter.


Vinyl and linoleum are two very different products, though few recognize the difference. Vinyl, essentially a plastic product, is less environmentally friendly than linoleum, which is made from natural resources. Linoleum is also credited with having a longer lifespan than vinyl?30 to 40 years, compared with 10 to 20. Plus linoleum can be shredded and turned into compost when it’s time to remodel. For a good linoleum product, check out Marmoleum by Forbo, available at Greener Lifestyles, 5317 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle, (206) 545-4405.


The worst thing in your kitchen may be your cleaning solutions, some of which contain harsh chemicals that are tough on your health and rough on the environment. Stop by the Environmental Home Center for a variety of earth-friendly products, such as Bioshield Floor Milk, $10.09 for 1 liter.


Looking for an easy disposal of your old cabinets? Call Sandy Campbell at 1 Earth 1 Design (206-418-8120). Campbell donated the Boones’ old cabinets to a local needy family–something she does with all her projects.


If you’re thinking about remodeling your cabinets or hardwood floors, your best environmental bet is wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a nonprofit group that promotes responsible forestry by accrediting and monitoring certification organizations to ensure compliance with requirements designed to protect natural habitats and conserve resources. FSC-certified woods come in a variety of species, so your remodel options are nearly endless. For more details, visit


Often used in cabinet construction in older homes, MDF (medium density fiberboard) slowly releases formaldehyde gasses into the air. Campbell recommends feeling underneath your cabinets; if you have exposed MDF, stop by the Environmental Home Center for an easy fix: a sealant, such as Safecoat Hard Seal, $30.90 for a gallon. If you’re constructing new cabinets, go the same route the Boones did: Have them made with a Europly interior, a sustainable, formaldehyde-free material also available at the Environmental Home Center. Beneath counter tops, ask your contractor to use a wheat board substrate; it’s a natural, renewable resource that is formaldehyde free.


Less is better when it comes to volatile organic compounds. If you’re looking to repaint a room or stain a surface, it’s worth your time–and health–to use low- or no-VOC products. They contain reduced levels of compounds that emit smog-producing pollutants into the air and have been credited with preserving both indoor and outdoor air quality, as well as reducing eye or respiratory irritation from exposure to VOC fumes.

Low-to no-VOC paints can be found at the following:

Rodda paint carries an extensive line of earth-friendly paints. For a location in your area, call (800) 452-2315.
To pick your new color, try the Ultimate Paint Chip, a paint sample the size of a poster, 18 by 24 inches, by C2, a low-VOC paint. Available at Daly’s, 3525 Stone Way N., Seattle, (206) 633-4200.
Environmental Home Center, 4121 First Ave. S., Seattle, (206) 682-7332.
Winslow Paint, 937 Hildebrand Lane N.E., Bainbridge Island, (206) 842-2227.

What’s Next

Your first look at new products for the kitchen and bath.

Just back from the annual trade show for kitchen and bath professionals, industry expert Clinton Ross Smith offers up his take on 20 new products and trends that might just change your life, or at least make it a bit easier. Look for products to arrive in Seattle-area showrooms during the next few months.

As of press time, not all products had been priced. If available, suggested retail prices are shown.


Note: All of the top 10 bathroom products in this section are available in Seattle, or will be in showrooms in the near future. Unless otherwise noted, all bath products can be purchased at Best Plumbing, (206) 633-1700.

1. The most beautiful toilet in the world? The Hatbox toilet from Kohler may be just that. Available in six colors, its tankless design (achieved by an electric pump enclosed within the toilet bowl that makes it work) is breathtaking and makes one rethink what a toilet is supposed to look like. The Hatbox features chair-height seating, making it easier to sit down and stand up. Plus, it’s easy to clean—and you can’t ask for much more than that.

2. Kohler’s WaterTile shower sprays may revolutionize the shower experience. In addition to its streamlined design, the direction of each spray is adjustable. As for the number of configurations you can install? It’s almost unlimited—as many as you and your plumber can dream up.

3. If you like singing in the rain or in the shower, you’ll love Dornbracht’s RainSky M, which, according to the company, simulates nature’s own shower from the sky. We found it mesmerizing to watch and fell under its spell. For those who may not be remodeling or building from scratch, Dornbracht offers the Big Rain and Just Rain, which are recommended for retrofit and can be easily installed to upgrade nearly any existing shower.

4. Barbara Barry’s new Tuxedo collection of faucets looks so good you could eat them. In fact, Barry was inspired by sterling flatware when she was designing the collection. Available in three finishes: chrome, nickel silver and brushed nickel.

5. The Moxie lavatory from Kohler is a showstopper. With its cast iron design and shimmering decorative curtain trim, the Moxie would be great in a powder bath in either the orange (shown) or indigo colors.

6. Whirlpool’s new portable Fabric Freshener does the work of a steamer and traditional clothesline without the manual labor. Simply place up to two clothing items inside the garment bag, fill the reservoir with water, zip the bag and press the button. The Fabric Freshener uses no chemicals or detergents—just steam and heat to remove wrinkles and odors. Available exclusively at Best Buy, $249.

7. Ann Sacks’ new line of custom mosaics was inspired by 20th-century graphics, vintage textiles and bold prints. Ann Sacks, (206) 441-8917.

8. Designer Laura Kirar’s Vir Stil Collection for Kallista is neither traditional nor modern, yet could work in either setting. Trying to put a label on the collection to define its style, including this vanity, is fruitless—Kirar finds inspiration from Danish Modern, the Bauhaus and Japanese design, and somehow all of it shows up in her work and makes sense.

9. Jacuzzi’s Morphosis Sigma whirlpool tub was designed by a leading design house, Pininfarina. The soft and organic shape is not only sensuous but also ergonomically smart. (Pictured to the left).

10. Grohe’s new F1 line of luxury bath faucets and accessories was developed in a unique partnership with the F.A. Porsche Design Studio. The levers of the faucet glide in a horizontal plane and may be operated either separately or with a single movement of the hand to set the desired water temperature.


Note: All of the top 10 kitchen products in this section are available in Seattle, or will be in showrooms in the near future. Unless otherwise noted, all kitchen products can be purchased at Albert Lee, (206) 282-2110.

11. Zephyr’s Om ventilation hood looks more like a piece of art than an appliance. On the hood’s glass surface is a silk-screen painting by Piet Mondrian that represents the era of “Neoplasticism”—a belief that art should not be the reproduction of real objects, but the expression of the absolutes of life.

12. They’re minimal, but not quite modern. We’ve been seeing this simple style of cabinet hardware in kitchens and baths—and now we know who makes them: Atlas Homewares. A Better Bath & Kitchen, (425) 881-1133.

13. Steam-assisted cooking, the professional chef’s secret weapon for creating everything from crusty French breads and succulent roasts to perfectly cooked fish, hit the market for home cooks in August in the newest model of KitchenAid’s dual-fuel range. From $4,099.

14. Fisher & Paykel has added refrigeration to its lineup of appliances in the U.S. Features include tempered glass shelves that are tested to hold up to 220 pounds.

15. In a tight space? Thermador debuts a line of appliances, including this range, with a 24-inch depth.

16. You could call it the Hummer of refrigerators—it’s big, brawny, and it’s made by Sub-Zero. The PRO 48 offers advanced food preservation through the company’s exclusive dual refrigeration system.

17. Get your pots and pans ready! Viking’s new 36-inch induction cooktop changes everything—even how you boil water. It’s super fast and super safe, always cool to the touch.

18. A thousand bucks (or more) for a cup of coffee? You bet! I’ve always thought built-in coffee systems were a little indulgent, but having never before tasted an actual cup of coffee from one, I now see that my bias was unfounded. They offer up the closest thing to a European-style cup of coffee this side of Paris.

19. Dacor’s new coffee system features customizable settings to set grounds, milk, water and beverage temperature. It also offers the tallest dispensing area available in built-in systems, making it ideal for travel mugs.

20. Cambria’s new Yorkshire color captures the warmth and natural look of limestone. The quartz counter top is also available in a “honed” version, which features the same color with a subtle matte finish. Best Plumbing, (206) 633-1700.

Counter Culture

About counter tops

Story by Allison Lind
Photography by Hank Drew

Granite, marble, soapstone and even butcher block have become counter top classics. But recently a new class of materials has been making waves on the design scene — offering innovative and creative options for counter tops that defiantly break the bounds of predictable design. Give them a little time, and these surfaces may become classics themselves.

Hit the Pavement

From underfoot to under food, concrete has found new purpose. Though it’s been used for commercial counter tops for about a decade, concrete is a relative newcomer in the residential market. In recent years its popularity has soared because it can be tailored to fit the fancy of each individual homeowner.

Endless color options, customized built-ins such as soap dishes or cutting boards, and inlays of marbles, crushed granite, glass and rare gems are a mere sampling of what can be done with concrete.

“There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it — you have literally unlimited options,” says Tommy Cook, principal artisan for Absolute Concrete Works, located outside Seattle in Kitsap County (360-297-5055 or “With concrete, we’re able to add customization options at the higher end that just aren’t available with other mediums.”

Get Your Own

For the custom-concrete look in your kitchen, contact one of these experts:

Absolute ConcreteWorks, 5795 NE Minder Rd., Poulsbo; (360) 297-5055,

Dogpaw Design, 1416 NW 51st St., Seattle; (206) 706-0099,

Or, if you’re interested in the do-it-yourself route, try Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel Co. (5228 Shilshole Ave. NW, Seattle; 206-784-1234,, which has a great selection of concrete color pigments.

Enter a New Ice Age

If you love concrete but aren’t interested in a custom counter, you’ll want to check out a new material to hit the design scene that takes concrete to a whole new, prefabricated level. Cement is combined with 75 percent postconsumer recycled glass in an environmentally friendly process to create IceStone®, a certified green material that offers a striking variety of smart color options—from Ivory Cloud to Tuscan Sunset — while quietly paying homage to Mother Earth.

The finished product resembles terrazzo but with more radiance and depth, and it is currently carried exclusively at Ambiente European Tile Design (227 NE 65th St., Seattle; 206-524-2113,

Icestone has quickly become Ambiente’s fastest selling product, according to Udo Reich. “Its green aspect combined with its appearance makes it so appealing,” he says. “The glass lets light go deeply into the product — it’s stunning. And there’s not a lot of good-looking green products out there right now.”

The material is most commonly used as a kitchen counter top surface, where Reich says its perfect match is a glass-tile backsplash. “They just complement each other well,” he says.

See the August issue of Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, on newsstands through August 2006, to see an image of an IceStone counter top and great materials to pair with it.

Dazzle with Shine

Not to be outdone by concrete and glass, quartz, a primitive mineral typically used in jewelry, has pushed its way to the surface and is bedazzling counter top design.

Leading the quartz-counter top movement is CaesarStone® (, a visually striking surface that comes in colors such as Apple Martini, Tequila Sunrise and Pacific Reflections, as well as many beautiful neutral colors with pigments made of actual limestone.

“It’s the big news right now — quartz is really happening in counter top design,” says Brian Balmert, co-owner of the Seattle contemporary kitchen showroom Urban Ease (2512 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-443-9546,

Even more impressive than its appearance is its function. Because it’s nonporous, quartz is impervious to stains, scratches, cracks and burns. Made of 93 percent crushed natural quartz and polymer resins and pigments, CaesarStone is even more durable than granite or marble.

“There are so many different colors and visual textures to choose from — you can literally put it with anything from a classic wood kitchen to a high-gloss lacquer kitchen,” says Urban Ease co-owner Paul Nadolny. “No matter what, there’s going to be something that will fit.”

Bold colors require careful placement, however, Nadolny warns: “Something like the Apple Martini is great for a small accent, such as a bar top; it won’t dominate but adds sparkle and pizzazz to the kitchen.”

Don’t be afraid to step out of the classic counter-top-design box and experiment. With the creative looks possible from this new class of materials, maybe it’s time to change your counter culture.