ATLANTA — The 65,000 builders who wrapped up their national convention here last week heard President Bush call for better ways to build affordable housing, economists predict a slight drop in interest rates and industry experts discuss everything from architecture to sewer fees.
But the biggest attraction at the 46th annual meeting of the National Assn. of Home Builders was the accompanying trade show. The products hawked by myriad vendors will soon be showing up in new housing tracts, as well as in stores across the nation.
The mammoth show this year took up a record 425,000 square feet of space, or the equivalent of 17 football fields. Exhibitors offered everything imaginable for the home, from simple faucets to a computerized "butler in a box" that understands four languages and operates up to 256 appliances and other devices.
It took a good two days to thoroughly tour the trade show, and sometimes the hosting Georgia World Congress Center seemed more like a Las Vegas nightclub. Many large companies, hoping to boost sales to America's $175-billion new-home industry, operated massive exhibits with singers, dancers, magicians and other entertainers to attract attention.
Kohler Co., for example, had a sprawling two-story exhibit that included a large stage and 10-foot-high waterfall. On stage, a tuxedoed young man and attractive woman sang about the company's new faucets and other items while four mini-skirted young women moved to the beat.
A trade group that represents electric utility companies had another huge exhibit, a take-off on the long-running "American Bandstand" television show. Called "Edison Ampstand," it featured Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and Madonna impersonators.
The annual show offers builders and consumers alike a chance to see what's new for the home. Some of the products are brand-new, while others are simply improved versions of items that have been around for years.
Homeowners have never had trouble giving their floors a new look. Ceilings, however, have been another matter--until now.
Cleveland-based Barrisol North America has just introduced its "stretch ceiling system." The system consists of custom-cut, flexible plastic held in place by a small rail that is mounted to the top of the room's wall.
For example, if you don't like your stucco ceiling, you can cover it up with mirror-like plastic that makes the ceiling look taller and the room appear larger. Or, if you're sick of those exposed beams, you can install a new ceiling in colors ranging from white to fuchsia.
The cost to cover a typical 12-by-20 room runs between $1,200 and $3,600, depending largely on the color and texture of the ceiling that's installed.
Meanwhile, Bose Corp. has come up with what it calls the "ultimate home theater system." It includes top-quality video and television equipment and a built-in music system with hidden speakers that surround the room, making you feel as if you were in a movie theater.
The cost of being a well-entertained couch potato varies: You can incorporate parts of your current audio/visual system into your new home theater, or you can start from scratch. At the minimum, expect to spend $2,000; a top-of-the line system with all-new equipment can run $9,000.
If you don't want to mess with drapery drawstrings, a new drapery opener system by La Mirada-based Makita USA may interest you.
The system lets you open and close drapes by remote control from as far away as 33 feet. In addition, an automatic timer can open or close drapes at preset times up to three times a day. A system that can control drapes up to 9 feet wide costs about $430.
A new, space-saving contraption by Atlanta-based White Home Products could make pantries a thing of the past.
The company's motorized "kitchen carousel" is about the size of a large refrigerator. Inside are 13 shelves that turn like seats on a Ferris wheel, which allows you to store--in a 39-inch-wide space--items that would usually take up several feet of space in your kitchen cabinets or pantry.
The carousel will cost about $6,500 when it hits the market this spring.
Granberg Superior Systems Inc. of Canada hasn't simply devised a system that moves shelves: Its new kitchen system moves everything but the floor up and down.
Geared primarily toward households that have one or more handicapped residents, the system looks like most any kitchen: lots of cabinets, a sink, faucet, stove and other standard items.
The trick is that everything is mounted on hidden tracks on the wall, and can be moved up or down as much as a foot by pushing a button linked to a silent motor.
"Let's say a husband is in a wheelchair but his wife isn't," said David Hunchak, a Granberg engineer. "The woman comes in to cook dinner, so she has the sink and cabinets at the standard height.