Every year at the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), one manufacturer comes up with an over-the-top sensation that offers little utility but garners lots of media attention. This year’s over-the-top item — a whirlpool bath for a dog — actually makes some sense if you’re a dog owner.

Offered by MTI Whirlpools, the Jentle Pet Spa fits onto a stand about the size of a crib, so that you can bathe Fido without wrenching your back. Other owner-friendly details include a lower, rounded front so that the tub edge won’t poke your midriff as you administer the bath, and a wide rim on three sides of the tub that’s a handy place to put the shampoo and other dog bathing paraphernalia you’ll be using. For Fido’s benefit, the faucets and hand-held shower are attached on the rim, up and out of his body area, so that he can’t bang his head on them should he get soap in his eyes and squirm.

Even though the Jentle Pet Spa makes the dog-bathing task easier, it still may strike a non-dog owner as indulgent because, after all, how often do you bathe a dog — three times a year? In fact, to maintain a healthy coat and reduce shedding, you should do it once a month, explained Gail Meyers, a professional dog trainer and groomer who demonstrated the finer points of MTI Whirlpools’ pet whirlpool by bathing a Jack Russell terrier in it at KBIS. An even more compelling reason for the monthly bath is dog “aroma.” With a monthly bath, “frankly, a dog smells better,” said Meyers, who has three dogs herself.

In fact, some dogs must be bathed more frequently than that. Dr. Pat LeBlanc of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., said that some dogs can have allergies that require frequent bathing (for a dog this means several times a week). The whirlpool feature may provide some benefit to dogs with arthritis, but LeBlank stressed, “As with human arthritis sufferers, a whirlpool may help some dogs and not others.”

To keep a dog in good condition, however, LeBlanc recommended an underwater treadmill. Dogs in our society, he said, tend to lead sedentary lives, and obesity is as much a problem for dogs as it is for people. The canine aquatic treadmill can also be used to recondition a dog after surgery. LeBlanc has one for the patients in his clinic, and his own dog that always accompanies him to work, uses it for 10 to 15 minutes two to three times a week.

The Jentle Pet Spa comes in 50 colors, but MTI Whirlpools charges extra for any color besides white. A white spa with a hot and cold single-lever spout and a hand-held shower is $1,700. The whirlpool system, which includes a flushing feature that cleans and drains the whirlpool plumbing lines after every use, adds another $1,200. A crib-sized stand for the Jentle Pet Spa is an additional $800.

Moving from the over-the-top to the merely unusual, the bright red, green and purple hand-blown glass, vessel-styled sinks displayed by the Seattle Glassblowing Studio were a definite departure from the latest and the greatest in appliances, cabinetry and countertops offered by the other 900 exhibitors at KBIS.

The Seattle Glassblowing Studio’s hand-blown sinks — as well as hanging pendant shades and wall sconces — are made by a collection of 12 glass blowers, four women and eight men. The sinks can be translucent or opaque, in one color or multicolored, with patterns that range from “clouds” to spinning vortexes.

As interesting to me as the sinks is their manufacture. Having seen a few glass blowers make smaller pieces such as bowls or bottles, I imagined the sinks to be the work of a single artisan. But, I learned, the Seattle glass blowers’ 21st century iteration of a 2,000-year-old craft — a 15-pound, 1-inch-thick, 16-inch-diameter sink — requires the careful coordination of an eight-person team.

Cyrena Stefano, herself a glass blower and a member of the sink-making team, explained that only one person actually blows the sink, while each of the other seven, in a carefully choreographed sequence, prepares and adds as many as four colored pigments at precisely the right moment, shields hands and arms from the 2,400-degree molten glass, turns the blow pole, shapes the piece into a large oval that looks as big as a dinosaur egg, and guides it onto a punty (in layman’s parlance, a stand). Then, using an instrument that resembles giant tweezers, the seventh team member punctures the oval and, with a few quick circular turns, opens it into a finished sink.

At this point, the sink has cooled off to a mere 960 degrees. It is then placed in the care of the eighth team member, the “cold worker” who hovers over it for the next two days until the sink has cooled to room temperature and the drain can be installed.

The entire process from molten glass to finished sink takes about an hour, Stefano said. Acquiring the requisite expertise to make the sink, however, takes about 10 years. Even then mishaps are not uncommon. On the days they blow sinks, they plan on eight starts, but if they end with five sinks, “it’s been a good day,” she said.

The studio offers seven different sink “collections,” each one in different colors. They can also match the color of a cloth swatch or tile. The sinks range in price from $1,900 to $2,600. A matching soap dish is $150.

Of all the things I saw at KBIS, however, the most interesting was the wonderfully un-categorical work of Martin Pierce, a woodcarver, sculptor and furniture maker based in Los Angeles.

Pierce does not create pieces especially suited for the kitchen and bath, although they would be a happy addition to either room. Instead he creates the kind of “environments” that were common a 100 years ago when elaborate craftsmanship was central to architectural design. Architects not only designed the house itself. They also designed all the furniture, floor tiles, door handles, window latches, cabinets, doors and leaded glass windows because they could tap a huge work force of craftsmen who could execute almost any type of architectural design — whether it was somewhat spare and linear a la Frank Lloyd Wright, or the wildly curvilinear, stylized trees, leaves and animals that characterized the art nouveau architecture of Spanish, French and Belgian architects and the American Green and Green brothers in California.

Although many architects today design complete interiors, very few have access to skilled artisans who could create anything close to the exuberant celebration of nature that characterizes Pierce’s door handle and drawer and cabinet pulls. For example, his ergonomically comfortable door latch, on closer inspection, is a curved tree branch, the surface that your hand grasps its leaves. There is also whimsy — a door latch is a lizard eyeing a moth below for lunch; the moth is actually a door bolt

The lizard reappears on a rounded doorknob; this time it’s crouching on a lettuce leaf. Or, you could find yourself clasping a bunny rabbit that is reminiscent of Beatrix Potter, an author whose children’s books have been staples of childhood on both sides of the Atlantic for the past 100 years. That his customers might make this association is not surprising, Pierce said, because Potter was part of his own childhood. A native of Worcester, England, he said, “Her ceramics (child-sized plates and bowls with decals of her most famous characters) are everywhere in England.”

For most people, Pierce’s work will seem very familiar, like a lost link to childhood. For designers, it offers aesthetic possibilities considered impossible to achieve today because it has long been thought that the craftsmen who could produce them had passed from the scene.

Pierce’s metal pieces are either cast bronze or stainless steel with an antiqued patina. Each piece is individually cast, using a somewhat laborious, multi-step lost wax process that allows him to produce a startling level of detail. For example, the lizard that is wrapped around the door handle has realistic-looking skin scales and the lettuce leaf on which it sits has veins.

Pierce’s furniture is not as detailed as his door hardware, but it is squarely in the vein of the arts-and-crafts style of 100 years ago. For example, a single, round, 24-inch-diameter base that is carved to simulate a tree trunk supports his 60-inch, round dining table. The table surface is burled myrtle and walnut, edged with a 3-inch carved walnut lattice that resembles a stylized cross section of a hedge. The same motif is repeated in the dining chair backs.

The intensive hand labor of Pierce’s work makes it expensive. The retail price of the dining table is $10,000 and the chairs are $2,000 apiece. The prices for the door and cabinet hardware were not available at press time, but the firm’s press materials indicate that a single handle and latch plate is several hundred dollars. 

Questions, queries? Katherine Salant can be contacted at www.katherinesalant.com.

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