Design


Back in 2005 came the introduction of SnapAlarm, an award-winning optical smoke detector from FireInvent, and now the same Swedish company is taking fire protection a step further with its all-in-one Fire Safety Box.

The Safety Box is designed to provide complete fire protection in a single package, and it comes in six different versions tailored to different usage contexts. But the fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, fire blankets and torchlights included aren’t just ordinary versions of those items. Rather, they have been revamped for a modern, attractive look. The Safety Box Design, for example, includes fire extinguisher and Snap Alarm in black or white; black-and-white fire blanket in a modern, botanical design; plus an extra wall-mountable optical smoke detector. The Safety Box Exclusive, meanwhile, includes a chrome option for the fire extinguisher, while the Safety Box Kid includes a Snap Alarm in pink or blue and a fire blanket suitable for children. Pricing begins at $185 and versions for cars and boats are also available.

There will always be a need for functional products like fire protection devices, but there’s nothing to say they can’t be upgraded with a splash of color and design and sold at a similarly upgraded price.

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Minnesota is already known for being “nice”, but a local company called ecoEnvelopes is bringing nice to the world and attempting to turn corporate America green by helping businesses reduce their company’s environmental impact AND save money in the process.

After working for years to perfect the design and obtain the US Postal Service’s approval, ecoEnvelopes has developed an innovative line of reusable envelopes that simply zip open, allowing users to insert their response or payment and seal them up again just like a regular envelope. With 81 billion return envelopes being sent through the US mail each year, ecoEnvelopes stands to have a great impact on the environment by helping  to reduce the estimated cost of envelope-excessive corporate America’s 1 billion pounds in greenhouse gas emissions and more than 71 trillion BTUs of energy.

Not only can everyone participate in environmental stewardship and feel good about their part in greening the mail (the envelopes are also made with up to 100% post-consumer recycled content!), but by eliminating the need to print, store, handle, insert, track and include a separate reply envelope, ecoEnvelopes can cut mail costs 15% to 45%, the company says.

Not a bad way to “green” our real estate businesses, I say! 🙂  ecoauditimage.jpg

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Green is the new black during this, the final weekend of the 2008 Parade of Homes Spring PreviewSM presented by Builders Association of the Twin Cities’ members.

This year’s Guidebook includes plenty of great Green articles to help us make sense of this growing movement and the homes in this year’s 14-home earth-friendly mini tour are built to showcase Green building practices, products and design, and many of them will host education seminars and other interesting events to give home buyers a better understanding of their Green options.  

Some of the seminars that are taking place this weekend include: “Landscaping for a Green Community”, “Light up Your Home AND Your Energy Bill” and “Geothermal Heating and Cooling: A Systems Approach.” And I’m thinking about checking out an event with eco-friendly design expert, Jackie Kanthak, who will be will answering questions, giving green design ideas, and offering advice on the the hard to find eco-friendly products for the kitchen and bathroom.

Green or not, the homes on parade cover a broad spectrum of prices to fit the needs of every buyer, ranging from the lowest priced home by S.W. Wold Townhomes, Inc. in Cambridge, priced at $119,900, to the most expensive home by Stonewood LLC, located on Loring Drive in Minnetrista and priced at $2,950,000.

So come on out this weekend to take advantage of the longer days and beautiful spring weather that’s rolled our way, and peruse the preview parade!

For more information go to http://www.paradeofhomes.org.

Happy house hunting!!! 🙂

:: Kelly ::

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t takes flexibility, communication and realistic expectations to work successfully with an architect. Here’s a round-up (by MSN Real Estate) of some tips from architects and homeowners.

Pay attention to personality. Most people hire an architect only once in their lives. Searching for one is akin to finding a financial planner, architects say. Look for an architect who has designed projects that are similar in style and scope to yours. “There’s no substitute for experience,” says Todd Strickland, a partner with Historical Concepts, an Atlanta architectural firm. Because designing a home is such a personal project, it’s important that you feel able to communicate with your architect.

Liza Nugent, 41, and her husband needed an architect to combine their apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with a neighboring unit; they got referrals from friends. The first architect they called made a snippy remark about how “unsophisticated” co-op boards in buildings on side streets such as theirs make renovations difficult. “I thought, with that kind of attitude, we definitely wouldn’t get along,” Nugent says. After calling two more architects and interviewing three others, the Nugents picked a longtime acquaintance who had creative design solutions for their project.

Enlist an architect early. Most architects will do their best to design a structure to work with whatever plot of land you have to build on. But they also can help scout prospective land purchases. With a general vision of your house and a budget in mind, the architect can evaluate the pros and cons of a location that a client might overlook, such as whether a site is big enough to accommodate the dwelling or whether a neighbor’s right to a view will preclude building the 12-foot ceilings you want.

Is the site free of utility constraints? What about topographical features that could increase the cost of building? Paying for four or five hours of evaluation is likely to save money in the long run.

Bring visuals. Pictures help an architect understand your vision, whether it’s a rough sketch you’ve made, magazine photos of homes you like, or a coffee-table book featuring interiors by your favorite designer. Snapshots of specific lighting fixtures or cabinet styles are helpful, but so are pictures that convey intangibles: the sense of place created by sunlight streaming through a skylight, or a library room with a “warm” feeling.

Dallas architect Marc McCollom, who designs modern houses, says clients also should bring pictures of things they don’t like. Architects will regard the client’s visual portfolio as a cue for whether they’ll make a good team. “If they show me pictures with crown molding and decorative wallpaper, I shouldn’t take that job,” McCollom says. “I’m not going to be happy, and we shouldn’t work together.”

Find a listener. A relationship with a designer is like a marriage: Go with someone who listens, cut your losses with someone who doesn’t — or risk getting a house you don’t want to live in. When Jim Jenkins began a $1.5 million renovation of his Alamo, Calif., home, he hired a local who had designed other houses in the neighborhood. But 18 months into the process, the architect still hadn’t produced a design that the Jenkinses liked or that could get past the local homeowners association.

“He wouldn’t design what we were looking for,” Jenkins says. “My wife’s looking for something Caribbean and he kept thinking California Ranch.”

Jenkins pulled the plug on that designer and hired a Berkeley architect, Robert Nebolon. “He read the codes, had some creative ideas and within six months I got what I was looking for,” Jenkins says.

Clients need to listen, too. Telephones, faxes and e-mail aren’t the best ways to communicate about home design. Avoiding in-person meetings will delay construction. A good architect won’t act on any part of a project without clear approval.

Talk money upfront. A flat fee may be appropriate for projects whose scope is very defined. But construction projects often include unforeseen challenges, and for that reason most architects prefer to charge by the hour or by a percentage of building costs. Some architects charge by the hour in the concept stage and then charge fees ranging from 8% to 18% of construction costs after hiring. For projects costing $1.5 million plus, expect fees to range from 12% to 18%, says James P. Cramer, chairman of Greenway Group, a design-industry consulting firm.

Some architects ask clients for a wish list of features, fixtures and qualities along with an estimated budget. “Sometimes people’s expectations aren’t realistic, given what their budgets are,” says Manhattan architect Darby Curtis.

Consider full service. Architects will be as involved as you want them to be. They can simply do design conception and deliver drawings. Or they can visit sites, coordinate contractors and observe construction. Many architects advise clients to retain a designer through construction. “In the long run you’ll save yourself from headaches and extra construction,” Curtis says.

Have a strong marriage. Architects offer this last bit of advice in all seriousness. Money tends to cause stress in a relationship, and building a home involves a lot of money. Building a house together, McCollom says, “is not going to save your marriage.” Full Story

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Donating money to charitable causes is all very well and good, but there’s usually an abstractness about it that makes one wonder if the funds are really helping those who need it. According to the folks at Springwise however, a new project by California eco-urban design firm LJ Urban aims to make giving more concrete—quite literally—by matching its sales of homes domestically with funds to build homes in the impoverished African nation of Burkina Faso.

LJ Urban has designed a new eco-urban community of 35 LEED ND Certified homes in the urban core of Sacramento, its home town. The community is suggestively named Good, and for each home within it that gets sold, LJ Urban has committed to funding the complete training of a West African mason to build sustainable homes for families in Burkina Faso. By partnering with the Association La Voûte Nubienne (AVN), which has already trained about 60 local masons to build durable homes out of earth bricks and mortar, LJ Urban aims to go beyond just providing homes to impart enduring skills and jobs to the local community. Taking the notion a step further, LJ Urban has also opted to skip the expensive marketing campaign to promote its Good community, and to use that money to train more African masons instead. So, for every 100,000 people who visit LJ Urban’s new, dedicated website by July 1st, the company will fund the complete training of another local Burkina Faso mason—up to 20 in all through this viral approach.

The Good project was inspired by Toms Shoes, a project that donates a pair of shoes for every one it sells. “[That] approach captivated us because it broke through the ‘charity fatigue’ all of us have felt at one time or another,” LJ Urban’s team explains. “The question then became: ‘What if we could do something like that with our houses?’…” The project is also reminiscent of One Laptop Per Child’s (OLPC’s) “Give One Get One” campaign last year through which consumers could donate a laptop and get one for their own use at the same time.  www.dosomegoodnow.com

America’s most celebrated architect, Frank Lloyd Wright pioneered the idea of “organic architecture”-structures that would promote harmony between human habitation and the natural world. Today his buildings host hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

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Fallingwater (above)

Stewart Township, Pa.: Perhaps Wright’s most recognizable design, Fallingwater perches over a waterfall whose sound resonates throughout the home. More than 120,000 visitors see this renowned home each year. The proximity to water and the ambitious design have forced extensive renovations-they also prompted the home’s first owner, Edgar K. Kaufmann Sr., to nickname the structure “Rising Mildew.”

Click here to see the full slideshow of “The Stunning Homes of Frank Lloyd Wright, American Visionary” from MSN.com.

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Over the past few years, swapping clothing, books, music and movies has taken off around the world, with groups meeting for swaps offline and online. Now, according to the kids at Springwise, flat-pack behemoth IKEA is organizing a furniture swap at its Amsterdam store: a husselmarkt. The swap, which will take place on February 9th, will let up to 250 people bring in furniture—which doesn’t have to be made by IKEA—and swap it for items brought in by others. IKEA will also add 12.000 euros worth of furniture to the mix.

The event is part of a marketing campaign that encourages customers to think like designers, which includes experimenting by rearranging furniture they already have (roughly translated, husselen means to shuffle, or move around). To help people redesign their living spaces, IKEA offers a tool on husselen.nl that lets users draw a room as it’s currently arranged, and then move around pieces on-screen. Any furniture that no longer fits their rearranged room can be brought to the husselmarkt.

It might seem contradictory from a business point of view: if people swap, they’ll buy less. But IKEA knows that once a consumer rearranges a room, or gets a new couch (even if it isn’t strictly new), they’re likely to want a new rug, lamp or table to complete the makeover.

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