Finally, although the weather still seemed more like winter than spring, the 2005 International Home and Housewares Show bloomed in color.

Most of the major appliance manufacturers introduced new color options for their appliances. KitchenAid ( mixers are now available in nearly every color of the rainbow. Hamilton Beach introduced a concept called “counterscaping” (and a new website to go along with it at, which boils down to buying a new set of colorful appliances for less than $1,000 instead of redoing your kitchen for a whole lot more cash.

But if you decide to redo the kitchen anyway, and perhaps your bathrooms, living rooms and other areas of the house, you might want to buy a copy of Cheryl Howard’s E-Z Decorator Design and Decorating System (

The book is actually a huge binder to help you recreate your house. The binder contains the tools you need to recreate the room you’re redecorating, and then play around with plastic furnishings, appliances, and even wall textures in a way that reminds me of a child’s dress up doll books — where you peel off various outfits and stick them on to the flat doll and they’d stay there.

You can look at your rooms from top down (and rearrange furniture to suit) or front to back. You can put in hard elements, like windows and fireplaces, and then dress them with curtains, moldings, chair rails, and any other type of design. The furniture and appliances stick-ons have all been hand drawn in dozens of different furniture styles. In fact, some of the furniture looked as though it came straight from the catalogs of different companies.

The E-Z Decorator system isn’t cheap (each system can cost upwards of $250, depending on the add-ons), but when you consider the price of a single sofa these days ($1,200 from Pottery Barn to more than $20,000 for a custom-made sofa), it’s a small investment that will help you more easily understand the power of putting a room together. For those of you interested in creating outdoor rooms, the E-Z Decorator system for garden rooms will be published this May.

Of course, once you have your fabulous new rooms, you’ll want to keep them clean. Two innovative products can help.

First, from the Fuller Brush Company, comes the Gel Window Cleaner. If you spray some Windex onto a window, it drips down and you wipe as quickly as possible to keep the blue stuff from running onto your window sill. But with the Gel Window Cleaner, no matter how much you spray on, it doesn’t run or drip.

Even after watching the demonstrator do this, I had to try it myself several times. The product didn’t drip and did clean the window reasonably well. The downside is price: At $5 per 22 ounce bottle, it’s nearly twice as expensive as regular glass and window cleaners. Also, it comes in two flavors: citrus, which smelled nice, and spearmint, which made everything smell like gum that had been chewed too long.

If you’ve got stone countertops or floors, you’ve probably been cleaning them with soap and water or — horrors! — a countertop cleaner with ammonia. If so, you’ll begin to dull the shine off what you probably were told was a nearly indestructible surface.

Unfortunately, although marble and granite have survived for millions of years in mountains, they deteriorate quickly in modern 21st century kitchens and baths.

The Sciarrino family, which has been cutting stone into countertops for decades in San Diego, decided to test which cleaners actually protected their countertops and found, much to their surprise, that nothing worked. So they invented a three-spray system known now as Granite Gold (

The sealer spray ($9.99) should be applied every 12 to 18 months, and is designed to protect the stone from any kind of staining. The polisher ($6.99) is applied weekly, and it helps to protect the sealer and resist fingerprinting. The daily cleaner ($5.49) replaces any other type of cleaner you were using on your countertop.

In addition to these products, the company also makes a Stone Soap ($6.99) for floors. The three sprays are available at Costco, online and will soon be available in local grocery stores.

Does the product work? When we renovated our house nearly six years ago, my husband and I put granite countertops in our kitchen. We had been using mostly soap and water to clean them, although I’ll admit to an occasional spritz of an ammonia-based product. I thought they looked pretty good.

After using the Granite Gold system they looked better. The downside is that it takes a lot of elbow grease to apply the sealer and then to buff out any of the cloudiness that appears on the surface.

A word of warning: When you installed those granite countertops you were probably told, as I was, that they were heat resistant and it was okay to put hot pots right down on the granite because it wouldn’t stain.

Not true, says the Sciarrino family. While it might not stain from the heat, the granite could easily fracture. Your best bet? Get a couple of those silicone trivets to protect your countertops.

April 1, 2005.