International Home Innovations
There’s little better for problem solving than the combined ingenuity of the entire planet. Everyone’s faced with a variety of problems in how to organize the home and use space, and different cultures have met these challenges in a myriad of ways. Learning how to blend these time-honored solutions with your own aesthetic tastes and needs can be a wonderful way to get the most out of your home.
The Japanese kotatsu is a type of low table. The kotatsu consists of a table frame (traditionally wooden), covered with a futon or thick blanket, which is then in turn covered with a table top. A heat source, traditionally a charcoal blazer but nowadays usually an electric space heater, is placed underneath, sometimes in a dedicated frame built into the table. The blanket traps the heat, making a toasty little bubble. Most kotatsu are meant for sitting on the floor, so that your legs are under the blanket. Usually, you’d set the kotatsu over a thinner blanket, like a throw rug, so you’re not sitting directly on the cold floor. The Iranian korsi and Dutch foot stove are similar innovations. They’re great for sitting around on cold days, and the same design philosophy, with a bit of DIY ingenuity, can be expanded to a more typical Western-style tall table. During the summer, you can turn the heater off and remove the blanket, using it as a standard table.
Also called a hot press in Ireland, an airing cupboard usually consists of open shelves, preferably with slats to encourage better air circulation, next to or over a heat source, like a hot water heater or furnace. You put wet clothing or linens on them to use the existing heat of the furnace to dry them out. Linens can also be stored in the airing cupboard. These can also be a great way to naturally humidify your house in the winter when the air tends to be dryer than usual. Airing cupboards might not be an ideal addition if your area is prone to high humidity.
Image courtesy of Don’t Tush the Stage
Mostly spotted in European laundromats, drying cabinets are machines designed to hasten the drying of any items poorly suited for a typical tumble dryer. Drying cabinets are used for items designated “hang dry,” “dry flat,” and “do not tumble dry,” for comforters, for coats, and for shoes, among other items. Most are about the size of a typical refrigerator.
Ranging from short, folding dividers to mobile walls, room dividers are common in several countries in both Asia and Africa. They’re a great way to section off parts of a larger room, making the space far more flexible. Room dividers come in a wide variety of styles, and many have gorgeous designs. Most also store easily if you want to open the space back up.
A clever Finnish innovation from the 1940s, dish-draining closets help speed up the rather tedious process of drying dishes. Quite simply, they’re a cabinet designed to hold wet dishes. The shelves are plastic-coated wire, and the cabinet is placed above the sink, with a hole so that water can drain into the sink. Wet dishes are placed in the cabinet and air-dry. They take up less counter space than a drying rack, and they’re less hassle than hand-drying. Not to mention the energy savings from not running the heating cycle on your dishwasher!
Toe kick drawers
Image courtesy of Design Basics
‘Toe kick’ refers to the baseboards under your cabinets. It’s a fairly narrow space, but it’s usually just enough for a small drawer. Toe kick drawers are great places to store less commonly used kitchen supplies, seasonal placemats, or any emergency supplies like spare candles. They’re also a good place to put dog bowls.
Image courtesy of House Logic
While they are growing in popularity in the U.S., wall-mounted ovens are far from standard, particularly in older homes. However, an oven close to waist or chest level will be much easier and safer to remove dishes from than one closer to the ground. If you are considering a kitchen renovation, a wall-mounted oven (or double oven!) can be a wonderful addition.
Common in Brazil, floor drains can also work in the kitchen, mudroom, or any fully-tiled room. A floor drain, possibly combined with very gently sloping floors so that water naturally runs into it, makes cleaning the floor a lot less of a hassle. Some bathrooms are even designed so that the entire bathroom is tiled with a floor drain (instead of just the shower), making cleanup a breeze.
Heated towel rack
Also called towel warmers, heated towel racks are currently making their way from the UK to the US and for good reason. They provide nice warm, fluffy towels, and can help towels dry out faster. They can also be a nice selling point for your home, particularly in colder climates.
Image courtesy of RH Tubs
Sometimes called a soaking tub or Japanese soaking tub in English, an ofuro is a deep, usually short bathtub. Most have straight rather than sloping sides, and they’re traditionally made out of natural wood. Many are up to twice as deep as the standard Western bathtub. Since they’re much deeper, ofuro are usually designed for sitting in, not stretching out, and as such can be a good bit shorter. This makes them great for small bathrooms. Many also have thick, well-insulated walls, so they keep heat for longer than a standard American bathtub.
Image courtesy of Carlo Bonetti
While designed by an American, dual flush toilets have never really taken off in the US, outside of RVs. They’re almost universally adopted in New Zealand, Australia, Israel, and Singapore, and they’re common in southern Spain. They’re ideal for drought conditions, since they use significantly less water than traditional toilets. One button simply dumps out any waste, sometimes with a bit of water for a flush, while the other button triggers a full flush.
Bidets come in a dazzling variety, but they all have the same basic purpose: cleaning yourself after a trip to the toilet. Some are meant to replace toilet paper entirely, while others are meant to be used alongside it. The main two broad categories of bidet are built-in and separate. Separate bidets are the traditional style, mostly used in Europe, but require altering your bathroom’s plumbing system. Built-in bidets are part of the toilet itself, and require the least hassle. However, they’re usually more expensive, and they can be less effective than traditional bidets.
Hand-held bidets, also called bidet showers, bidet sprays, bidet sprayers, and health faucets, are common in several areas, including Brazil, Finland, and Southeast Asia. A hand-held bidet is usually a trigger nozzle, similar to a sprayer on a kitchen faucet.
Japanese-style bidet toilets, sometimes called washlets, take built-in bidets to the next level, often including heated water (with an adjustable temperature), adjustable water pressure, heated toilet seats, and a variety of extra features.
These are all just a few examples of the wonderful variety of ways that different cultures have developed to meet the needs of home life, improve efficiencies, reduce costs, and increase comfort in different settings worldwide. Home design and renovations are increasingly becoming more cosmopolitan in nature, and home buyers may appreciate the use of non-traditional features such as these.
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