CHICAGO, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Gone were the red, white and blue dishes, serving pieces and decorations that dominated the aisles last year in a show of patriotism after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
In their place were shades of sky blue and lavender, and lots of chrome and stainless steel.
The International Housewares Show -- a celebration of consumerism featuring everything one needs, doesn't need but wants, and can't fathom why someone else would want -- ended Tuesday at McCormick Place. Some 60,000 buyers from the United States and 40 countries examined the wares of more than 1,700 exhibitors spread over three showroom floors during the convention's three-day run.
Utilitarianism is out and design is in.
"The designed item will be purchased ahead of the non-designed if the prices are close," said Perry Reynolds, vice president for marketing and trade development for the International Housewares Association. "There's a strong move toward adding design to almost every functional product -- everything from color-appropriate to being designed more functionally.
"For example, ergonomically designed kitchen tools -- that design does carry a premium in consumers' minds. There a collapsible and molded laundry basket that molds to your hip. It's not just the consumer demanding (design), it's the retail world as well as it becomes more competitive."
Among the more interesting items on display was a new type of long-stemmed champagne flute. The delicately shaped glasses rest on stems, some of which measure 18 inches long. What makes these different is there is no base on the end of the stem, making it impossible to rest them on a table. Instead, the glasses come with a vase, so the glasses resemble a bouquet of tulips. The sets retail for $49 to $69. There also was a version with martini glasses.
Libbey Inc. has a new spin on the venerable martini glass, perching the part that holds liquid off center on a curved stem. The glass looks like the imbiber feels after a few too many.
Then there were Gaston and Gina. Magestic's line of Koziol products gives personality to the routine kitchen items. Gaston is a pizza cutter; Gina a spaghetti spoon. Also meet Pit the paper towel holder, I-Scream the ice cream scoop and Eddy the vegetable peeler.
A number of the more innovative items will do double-duty for the disabled market.
Chief among them was the FlipFold laundry folder, which would allow someone missing the use of an arm to fold T-shirts, towels and polo shirts like a pro.
Inventor Debbie Barker said the device was born of necessity.
"I couldn't stand the way my girls folded their laundry. It was a mess," she said. So Barker went out to the garage, cut three pieces of cardboard, taped them together and, voila -- a perfect template for folding things to specific measurements. Eventually, she figured out she'd have to cut the middle piece in half again to make the final fold and then put holes in the two outside panels for air flow.
"One day my daughter came home from school and said they had been studying patents and I really should get my device patented," she said. At first, she made the folders by hand and sold them just to department stores and hotels.
"We were making them by hand and I couldn't make more than about 60 a year," Barker said. Now, injection molding is allowing for mass production. Barker began advertising her FlipFold on television at the end of the summer and already has sold more than a half-million units at $14.95 apiece.
Another gizmo that would help those lacking a limb is the Pizza Fork -- a regular fork with a little pizza cutter in the handle, just behind the tines. The Pizza Fork actually debuted at last year's show but was still in the development stage.
This year, Innovative Products Inc. of York, Pa., began distributing the device. Spokesman Mark Frankel said he was at a party and was sitting at a table with a man who was unable to cut his own food -- a caregiver was performing the task.
"It just so happened I had one of these with me," Frankel said, "and I gave it to him. He was thrilled. He said the feeling of independence it gave him was indescribable."
For the wine connoisseur whose arthritic hands can no longer yank a cork out of the bottle, there were a number of devices to make the task easier. E-Z Cork by Burlington Basket Co. pokes a long pin through the cork and then uses compressed air to force the cork out. VacuVin Innovations introduced a huge contraption that extracts a cork easily using two pair of levers. Something Special S.L. has yet another cork extractor, this one using nine ball bearings to power the cork out.
Creative Industries of Allendale, Mich., introduced the Bracelet Buddy, essentially a stick with a clip on the end to allow one to hold one end of a bracelet, watch or necklace in place to make it easier to clip shut.
Remember the military's $700 toilet seats? Great Ideas of Highland Park, Ill., has an $800 version -- but at least these are heated, with built-in bidets that squirt warm water. The devices are for those suffering from hemorrhoids, constipation and other conditions that make wiping difficult.
Other new items:
For those who want a cold beer but keep forgetting to put a can in the fridge, there were two devices: the $19.95 AmaZin' Beer Chiller, which does cans, and the $89 Cooper Cooler, which will chill or warm anything from baby bottles to wine bottles.
Both devices work on the same principle. To chill a can or bottle, ice and water are put into a compartment and then a can or bottle is locked in place and then rotated for a minute or two. Both devices do one container at a time. To warm something in the Cooper Cooler, warm or hot water replaces the cold water and ice cubes.
Revolutionary Cooling Systems' Mike Feltault said he's taken the Cooper Cooler to parties. Not only does it chill a bottle of wine in no time, it makes a great conversation piece.
Silicon oven mitts and cooking utensils also dotted the show as did various devices for keeping the fizz in soda. The AIM Group LLC introduced the two-piece Bottle Caddy, which makes it easier to handle two-liter bottles.
Perhaps the most fascinating product on the floor was Qulex "Superfabric," which can be made into anything from gloves to aprons. Nothing penetrates this stuff, including sharp knives, and its great for scrubbing off burned on food without scratching the surface. One of the people working the booth for the St. Paul, Minn., fabric-maker spent her time hitting a bed of nails with her gloved, open palm.
Diversified Concepts of Canton, Ohio, introduced a honeycomb storage system. The containers are see-through and come in three sizes.
Tired of parting hair into quarter-inch rows to apply hair color? The Comb-A-Color hair color applicator will be available in March for about $5. The product includes a four-ounce mixing bottle and top that looks like a little comb with little holes in each of the teeth to allow hair color to be combed into hair.
Pouring catsup is no longer a problem now that Bigfoot is on the case. Larien Products has two versions of the bottle cap -- a round, white "Decofoot" and a four-toed, red "Hairyfoot" -- that allows catsup to be stored upside down.
Just to show there were no dummies on the floor, Aunt Beth's Cookie Keepers of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., introduced Homemade Cookies for Dummies cookie mix. The packaged, just-add-butter-and-an-egg mix comes with or without matching cookie jar.
Perhaps this correspondent's favorite item really wasn't new, but it was cute. Numatic International of Somerset, England, is offering its line of vacuum cleaners to the general public for the first time. These brightly colored canister vacs are decorated with two eyes and a big smile (the vacuum hose is the nose) and answer to the names Henry, James and Charles.