10 Competing Kitchen & Bath Innovators at KBIS 2024’s DesignBites – NKBA


10 Competing Kitchen & Bath Innovators at KBIS 2024’s DesignBites

Jake Slatnick, CEO and Founder, FreePower, during KBIS 2024. Image courtesy of Emerald/KBIS.

By Donna Heiderstadt

The 9th annual DesignBites competition attracted a large and enthusiastic crowd at the KBIS 2024 NEXTStage, as host Michel Smith Boyd, Founder of Smith Boyd Interiors in Atlanta and member of NKBA | KBIS’s first ever Design Council, introduced the field of kitchen and bath industry executives ready to present their most innovative new products. Today, at 2 pm EST, you will have the opportunity to rewatch this event as an NKBALive.

Smith Boyd explained how representatives from 10 exhibiting brands would compete for the title of “Brand With the Biggest Bite,” each having three minutes to pitch their newest innovations on the stage, followed by two minutes to answer questions. “Yes,” he joked, “it’s the KBIS version of ‘Shark Tank.’” Then it was up to a panel of judges to choose the 2024 champion.  

The competition is designed to single out the brand that offers the best combination of innovation and presentation of the capabilities and benefits of the product, as determined by judges. This year, judges included: Danielle Blundell, Executive Home Director for Apartment Therapy Media; Sandra P. Diaz-Velasco R.A., Principal Architect at Eolo A&I Design in Miami; and John McClain, CEO and Creative Director at John McClain Design in Orlando.

A People’s Pick award, introduced two years ago at KBIS 2022, also allowed everyone in the audience — which included members of the media and the Designhounds Influencer Network — to also get in on the judging via a live vote by text message.

The 10 Competitors

Signature Kitchen Suite: The brand’s innovative new Professional Speed Oven features the combined modalities of convection, bake, broil, microwave and air fry in 11 cooking modes — with no preheating required. Nick Richie, Executive Chef for Northern California-based Signature Kitchen Suite, detailed the product’s 1.7 cu. ft capacity (its dimensions are 30 x 13.5 inches), speed cook technology and picture oriented presets for ease of use. Richie even joked that the oven is so easy to use he thinks his three year old daughter will soon be able to cook a pork chop on her own. 

FGI Industries: With the promise of disaster averted, Barry Jacobs, Senior VP, Product and ECommerce for East Hanover, NJ-based FGI Industries, introduced the company’s Flush Guard Anti-Overflow Toilets. The patented system, which provides an alternative path for rising water to flow to the drain via three holes and a separate tube — bypassing a clog and avoiding a mess — “is a cure for overflowbia,” or the fear of a toilet overflow. “You can go in peace,” he promised. The overflow tube is fully washed out with every flush and the toilet uses standard plumbing and is simple to install. It is now available in a two-piece Craft + Main toilet. FGI has plans to introduce a one-piece version.

EMPAVA: Jennifer Ramirez, Media Marketing Specialist, CA-based EMPAVA, introduced the company’s Arianna Innovation Series 36-inch Induction Range, which she noted features the industry’s first 4,000W center heating zone for residential use. Its versatile burners include 1,850 watts and the product features proprietary Magnibridge™ Technology for synchronized heat distribution, with elements controlled in unison, which allows for spacious griddle-style cooking. 

Moen: Classic design and contemporary innovation combine in the new Smyth Collection by Moen, said Jessica Birchfield, Director of Industrial Design for the North Olmstead, OH-based company. Inspired by neoclassical design elements, the faucet series features grooves that provide sparkle but are easy to clean, a soft U-shaped spout and a fluted rectangular lever, with an elegantly thin wand form repeated in the faucet body and following the rule of thirds to create balance. Smyth is available in four finishes (Matte Black, Polished Nickel, Spot Resist™ Stainless and the new Bronzed Gold) and in four Moen pulldown types (Smart Pulldown, MotionSense™ Wave Pulldown, Mechanical Pulldown and Prep Pulldown).

Neolith: Daniel Sánchez Mira, CEO of Neolith America and Group COO, spotlighted the South Florida-based company’s silica-free surfaces, which contain just 0 to 9 percent silica (naturally found in 50 percent of the Earth’s crust, silica dust poses a health hazard to workers when inhaled during the fabrication process) as opposed to 95 percent for quartzite, 15 to 35 percent for granite, 15 to 30 percent for porcelains and 5 percent or more for marble. He touted Neolith’s surfaces as silica-free, carbon neutral, resin-free and plastic-free. 

LG Electronics: Sandro Ledesma, former Senior Manager of Product Management for LG Electronics, began his pitch by asking the audience if they had ever forgotten their laundry in the machine overnight and had to rewash it because it had begun to smell. LG’s solution? The 5-cubic foot WashCombo All-in-One Washer/Dryer with Inverter Heat Pump Technology, which offers a two-hour complete wash and dry cycle. It also features a go-anywhere ventless design and uses up to 60 percent less energy with every load.

Link Cutting Boards: John Rowan, Founder of Link Cutting Boards, a company that was showcased in KBIS’ Kickstarter area this year, noted that, according to the Washington Post, the cutting board is the second most-used item in the kitchen, used by 92 percent of U.S. households. His invention, which locks into place to the side of the kitchen sink with a patent-pending mount, offers stability, features a built-in drain and vent, doesn’t block sink usage and is available in several interchangeable boards for different purposes. It is installed during or after undermount sink installation.

Keeler Brass Company: The innovative product was pitched by Knikki Kennedy Grantham, creative director of Belwith Keeler Decor Solutions, parent company of Belwith Keeler, Keeler Brass Company and Hickory Hardware. She spoke about a kit available from Keeler Brass Company, which offers benefits for both the designer and the client. It’s a combination of tactile (an old-school tool kit for Keeler’s Anthology Series with samples of brass fixtures and leather accents) and high tech (a tablet that allows the designer to instantaneously show clients mix and match examples of different finish and color combinations).

FreePower: Jake Slatnick, CEO and Founder, FreePower, pitched his Phoenix-based wireless charging company’s beneath the surface technology that turns everyday surfaces into wireless charging stations. It comes with a handy control feature so users can turn off the halo on the countertop that indicates the charger’s location. He said installation can be performed by fabricators who receive certification via FreePower’s learning portal and that the product comes with a five year warranty and works with all phone models and most phone cases. “You’ll never think about charging again,” he added. 

FORNO: Jacques Houle, founder of Montreal-based appliance manufacturer Forno, highlighted a novel device designed to offer safety from carbon monoxide poisoning by sounding an alert when it detects a gas leak. Called the Safety Jack by Forno, the device is being installed at no extra cost in all Forno gas ranges and ovens and will soon be for sale to other manufacturers, who can also install it on their brand’s products, and in retail so anyone can use it on their range, regardless of brand. There are multiple generations currently in the works. “My goal is to help save lives,” Houle said.

And the Winners are…

And with the judges’ votes tallied, Smith Boyd was joined on stage by Brian Pagel, Executive Vice President of Business Development, Emerald Expositions, KBIS’ trade show partner.When the audience had its say, the People’s Pick live vote was announced.

Watch the DesignBites NKBALive today at 2 pm ET, and on demand on NKBA.org, to watch the finalists discuss their products and the winners accept their awards.