Housewares Show Woos Buyers With Color

The International Home and Housewares Show under way in Chicago is the largest event of its kind in the world. Despite the economic doldrums, the show offers splashes of color to perk up dispirited consumers with little appetite for spending.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. Buying a house may be out of the question for many Americans in today's economic doldrums, but a new set of dishes, well, that could be an entirely different matter. At the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago, thousands of items from kitchen classics to new hi-tech gadgets are on display. We asked NPR's Cheryl Corley to do a little browsing.

CHERYL CORLEY: The housewares show was this huge global market with exhibitors from more than 35 countries. There are thousands of retail store buyers and more than 13 miles of aisles filled with everything imaginable.

Mr. STEVE JOHNSON (President, M.E. Heuck): Probably the most important new item is called half time turkey.

CORLEY: Steve Johnson, the president of M.E. Heuck, shows off a couple of flat aluminum devices, the end of one has a fanned out turkey tail, the other, a turkey's head.

Mr. JOHNSON: You put it inside the turkey, you know, the head end goes into the head and the tail end goes into the tail and it transmits the heat inside the turkey. So it actually will cause the turkey to cook in about half the time that a normal turkey would cook.

CORLEY: The head of the International Housewares Association, Phil Brandl, says about 10,000 new items are on display this year. Some entirely new, others are old standbys with a facelift, think brightly-colored pots and pans, for example. And with a rocky economy, Brandl says…

Mr. PHIL BRANDLE (President, International Housewares Association): Consumers are spending more time in their homes, and they're doing little fix-up projects that may have been put off for a while.

CORLEY: And cooking more. In tough times, there are a few things that are key for housewares: innovation, sustainability and design. Adam Cornell works for Catskill Craftsmen.

Mr. ADAM CORNELL (Catskill Craftsmen): People are still interested in buying things, but they want to be wowed.

CORLEY: Cornell says his company sells cutting boards with a different look. There's one shaped like a guitar on display, another like a piano.

Mr. CORNELL: This gives a little novelty to the kitchen. People are tired of the old rectangle cutting boards and so now they can have something a little novel to look at, as well as being functional. I think they really enjoy it and appreciate it.

CORLEY: The housewares show's most prominent design theme is color - bold and bright. At the Alice Supply Company booth, co-owner Maria Barnes shows off a dazzling collection of toolboxes, garden hoses and kitchen brooms and dustpans. They're bright orange, lime or rainbow-colored. Even the lowly bathroom plunger looks festive. No closets for these items.

Unidentified Woman #1: I actually have four toilet plungers hanging in my bathroom on the wall, like, in a row.

Unidentified Woman #2: This is a rainbow-colored - the stem to the plunger is rainbow-colored. The plunger itself is really bright, bright green.

Unidentified Woman #1: Right, yeah. And I mean it's like a piece of art. Would you, I mean, come on, right?

CORLEY: Now, what's art, what's beauty, all in the eye of the holder, right? More innovation down another aisle at the inventor's review.

Ms. LEILY KADDISSI (Inventor): Do you have this problem - residue inside your toothbrush holder?

CORLEY: Leily Kaddissi calls her invention the Hygienic ResidueFREE Toothbrush Holder. A cup with a small flat surface on two sides with indentations, a place for toothbrushes to lay with the brushes facing down over a sink to drain.

Ms. KADDISSI: So it's a very hygienic design. It prevents this germ and bacteria build-up.

CORLEY: An entire section of the housewares show is devoted to sustainable products or packaging.

Ms. CARRIE PARKER(ph): This is the Bissell hard floor cleaner. It uses water. It turns into super-heated steam to clean all hard floor surfaces, including your sealed hardwood.

CORLEY: That's Carrie Parker demonstrating the Bissell steam mop. She picks up all sorts of sticky spills using just steam created from tap water.

Ms. PARKER: No waste, nothing going to the landfill, no chemicals to wash down the sink, it's a super eco-friendly way to clean your floors.

CORLEY: Plenty of testimonials and hope at the International Home and Houseware Show.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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