By Carolyn Weber. Before 1987, no one, except for maybe the very rich, ever dreamed they would need or want a bulky, institutional-looking, restaurant-style stove in their home. But Fred Carl, founder of the Viking Range Corp., identified a niche of serious cooks who would appreciate such an item, and he created a prototype appropriate for residential use. His new range had the power and look of a commercial stove but the ease of installation and safety features of a residential product.
Carl's innovation spawned a whole new category in the high-end residential products industry, which eventually trickled down to the mainstream, and now every manufacturer offers a "professional" line. "Seventy-five percent of the appliances we sell are stainless," says Karen Powers, public relations manager for Expo Design Center (a Home Depot company). "Consumers love the clean lines, but [stainless] also represents quality and durability to them." So now that stainless steel kitchens are a standard option, what about complementary commercial-style products and finishes to carry that look throughout the kitchen or the rest of the home?
"Lots of people really do want that [industrial] look," says builder Eric Brown, president of Artisan Homes in Phoenix. He expected that in his urban loft market but was greatly surprised when buyers at his new single-family project asked to have their concrete floors covered with nothing but a stain. "The trend is consumer driven, but we're also trying to be proactive," says Brown, whose Artisan Parkview Rowhouses feature commercial awning windows and industrial-looking interior options such as a cable stair railing. "About one-third of buyers opt for the railing," he notes.
But builders like Brown, who are willing to go out of their way to find and offer industrial options, are the exception. "Right now it's mainly in the higher price points," says Kendall Care, marketing director of Ambrosia Interior Design in Tustin, Calif. "But it would be much bigger if builders could get those types of products from their regular suppliers." With the re-emergence of strong city markets everywhere and the success of companies like Viking, manufacturers are hearing the call of the urbanites dissatisfied with ordinary products.
Floored Armstrong World Industries' flooring division is paying close attention to determine which commercial products are adaptable, appealing, and practical for residential use. Last spring, after a long hiatus, it reintroduced linoleum to the residential marketplace. (The company had stopped making it in 1974 but got back into the commercial market with the purchase of a German company in the 1990s.)
When orders for small quantities of linoleum kept coming in, Armstrong investigated and realized that architects and designers were speccing it for residential projects. To satisfy the consumer demand it introduced two products, Marmorette and Linoplan, which are colorful, easy to care for, provide lots of customization options, and are made from all-natural, renewable materials.
Karen Pearlstein, a product designer for Armstrong's flooring division, has identified and given product direction to a trend called "contradential," which she describes as "the residencing of contractor products, and the home-like environment that has crossed into the workplace." Armstrong has positioned both the Perspectives line, formerly a commercial product, and linoleum under this category. Also new in 2002 is Armstrong's Urban Settings vinyl collection, a minimalist design that mimics the look of metal, stone, and concrete.
Lighting is another relatively easy but dramatic way to incorporate the high-tech look, and many manufacturers have introduced systems to complement contemporary interiors. "Traditional lighting is falling by the wayside and being supplanted by all the cool new fixtures," says architect Navy Banvard of Van Tilberg, Banvard and Soderbergh in Irvine, Calif., a firm that focuses on the urban loft market. Powers agrees. She reports that Expo has seen a considerable consumer interest in monorail, cable, and track lighting systems.
Juno Lighting, which makes both residential and commercial fixtures, counts pendant lights with a selection of decorative shades as the most popular of the contemporary line. "Pendants already have mass-market appeal," says Peter Wachter, director of product design for the Des Plaines, Ill., manufacturer. "They're still on the up curve and will be a hot item over the next couple of years."
Experts agree that the commercial look is a long-term trend and even more industrial-style cross-overs are on the horizon. Look for commercial grade carpeting for family rooms and high traffic areas and motion sensor faucets in the near future.
Lots of manufacturers are getting on the bandwagon with lines of commercial-style products for residential use.
The sleek stainless steel and sturdy, functional design of the PRO TaskCenter and ProMaster faucet, blend commercial functionality and high residential style. The TaskCenter includes rack, cutting boards, and strainers. Cost: TaskCenter--$2,195.45; faucet--$838.
Armstrong World Industries The Urban Settings flooring collection is vinyl's answer to concrete and stone with various industrial looking textures and styles. Cost: retail $3 to $3.33 per square foot.
This modern-looking Staccato sconce from the Alum Technical Collection features a quad tube compact fluorescent lamp and a solid-steel faceplate with punched square design. Cost: $200 each.
The 48-inch duel fuel range with griddle and grill is high style with updated lines and features. The sleek temperature gauge mimics that of a luxury car and looks analog but is digital. Cost: retail $9,129.