New gadgets for the house - from high style to high tech

You have to respect a guy who demonstrates fans in the middle of winter - especially hours before a snowstorm. "We're getting into fan season, it'll be here before you know it," said an optimistic Dan Guglielmi of fanmaking company Lasko, at a housewares show in New York recently.

With an eye to ginning up interest in what's new this year, the International Housewares Association offered a sneak preview of the latest colors and designs that will be on display at the 2004 International Home & Housewares Show next month in Chicago.

Based on the exhibitors in New York, the show will feature everything from adjustable beds to wheeled pet carriers, from $140 stainless-steel garbage cans to $10 silicone kitchen tools. Even the daughter of the inventor of chocolate-covered espresso beans was on hand, showing off her company's latest packaging: tins with viewing windows.

"With chocolate, you can write a lot of words, but there's nothing like seeing the product," said Leslye Alexander of Koppers Chocolate.

If you like to keep up with trends, a preview such as this gives you insight into the latest habits of Americans. How they are living ("cocooning" at home, where they are entertaining more and trying to maximize space and limit clutter), the colors they're attracted to (red, yellow-green), and how they like their countertop appliances (professional quality, but decorative).

When the economy is iffy, people tend to buy couches and carpeting in neutral tones - nothing too wacky, because they know they'll have to keep them for a while. They offset that by using flashy colors in other rooms, according to Lee Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.

"Consumers today are far less intimidated by using color in the home," she said, partly because of TV shows such as "Trading Spaces," where "outrageous" colors are repeatedly used. "The more people see color being used this way, the more open they become to the possibility of using it," said the color guru.

Sprucing up the kitchen might be as simple as buying a new red food processor or knife set, both of which were on exhibit. Even a local Crate & Barrel window features a Kitchen Aid mixer the color of a fire engine. Red, according to Ms. Eiseman, is a safe color to use if trying to attract male shoppers.

"[Men] are gadget people like you would not believe," says Anastasia Mickelson of kitchen-tool maker Zyliss.

Perhaps the most blatant appeal to men at the preview were products from the Harrisburg, Pa., company L'EQUIP. Their new blender is industrial looking, with a metal, sharp-cornered square base - but it also features something usually found in a car: a tachometer for measuring r.p.m.

If that's not manly enough, the company's latest food processor has a visor on it that closes when it's not in use, making it look like a motorcycle helmet, pointed out John Forry while explaining the product. "All your friends are going to ask, 'What is that?' "

Both men and women may be intrigued by the Trilobite automatic vacuum cleaner from Electrolux, which costs nearly $2,000. The round, metallic-red robot scoots around a room vacuuming while you are away (assuming you've picked up items like loose socks, and blocked the doorway so it knows what the parameters are). It's a more expensive alternative to another product on the market already, the $200-$250 Roomba. Roomba was first in the US market, but Trilobite has been cleaning floors in Europe longer.

For the extra $1,800 you basically get a smarter machine, according to Electrolux - one that has better navigational and computing abilities (it maps out the room first, computes the size and how much power it needs to do the job, and recharges itself when necessary).

It's a modern way to multitask, and a step closer to "The Jetsons." But $2,000? "Not everyone will choose this cleaner," says Dan Hinrichsen, an assistant brand manager at Electrolux. "It's a lifestyle choice."

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