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If you're considering a kitchen remodel, or are simply looking for products that will make your life easier, then be sure you check out the latest - a refrigerator that talks, one that cools faster than ever, and one that doubles as an oven. One thing though - don't forget your credit card.

Hundreds of manufacturers recently showcased their latest and greatest in Atlanta, Ga., at the International Builders Show, an annual event attended by thousands in the homebuilding industry.

Consider Whirlpools' latest offering, the Polara. This is an oven that does double time as a refrigerator. You know the scenario all too well. Race out of the office as fast as you can. Pick up your 8-year-old from his afterschool program, then shoot over to pick up the little one at the daycare center. It's baseball practice night and it's your turn to bring drinks, so you make a quick stop at the convenience store. You make it to practice just in time. By the time practice is over, you're left with the dreaded decision - a fast-food dinner or microwaving the frozen, pre-packaged entrees.

With the Polara, you can prepare a meal the night before or over the weekend. Before you leave the house in the morning, pop the casserole into the Polara in the refrigerator mode. Then program the time you want the oven to come on and for how long. Once that amount of time elapses, the oven will stay on warm for two hours. If you're delayed, the refrigerator mode will kick in.

How does it work? Cold air is generated from a compressor that feeds through a vent at the top left of the oven cavity, circulates through the cavity and exits through a vent at the rear.

The Polar, which is slated for availability this fall, runs about $1,800.

Meanwhile, Amana also has the busy family in mind with its Messenger "smart" refrigerator. You can leave voice messages for your family and the refrigerator will talk to you and let you know if it's time to change the water or air filter. If the power goes out, it will let you know - once power is restored - how long the outage lasted. And it will let you know if the door has been left open.

The messenger is available now and sells for $1,800 to $2,200.

And GE continues to tout its Arctica side-by-side refrigerator, perfect for procrastinators. Wine chills in minutes, not hours - perfect for those dinner parties when you forget to throw the white wine in the refrigerator. Meats thaw in half the time, dessert sets up fast and GE says the speedy refrigerator can make ice 40 percent faster than a regular cycle.

The model also complies with 2001 energy standards and most meet with 2003 clean air requirements, GE says.

The price ranges from $1,700 to $2,800.

Technology and convenience are common themes among many of the new appliances hitting the market. Other kitchen trends reported include:

  • Cool hardware in unique shapes and objects used for pulls and knobs for cupboards and drawers.
  • Islands with built-in cooktops and/or an informal eating area.
  • Countertops in stone and solid surface materials. Concrete is also gaining popularity and colors are getting bolder and brighter.
  • Increasing size. Kitchens are the hubs of the house, the place for the family to congregate. Builders are taking this to heart and creating spacious kitchens.
  • Sinks are becoming one with countertops, especially in solid surface materials in which a seamless meld is a natural.
  • More attention to architecture - whether it's archways, moldings, ceiling cutouts, or kitchens designed compartmentally.
  • Ceramic tiles on the floor. Decorative, colorful tiles on the backsplash - especially browns, greens and coppers.

    One of the biggest overriding themes in both kitchens and new homes in general is a focus on individuality and customization, even in entry-level production homes. Homebuilders - spurred by customer demand and an ever-increasing supply of products from manufacturers - are providing more options than ever.

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