Consumer Reports home and garden holiday wish list

Consumer Reports
Experts at Consumer Reports dish their holiday wishlists
The experts at Consumer Reports test and write about hundreds of products each year, including coffeemakers and 3D TVs, mowers and refrigerators, treadmills and toilets and much more. Given their hands-on experience in the labs, we asked our technicians and editors what they covet for the holidays, putting price and practicality aside.

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Mark Allwood, Product Specialist, Appliances
Mark Allwood, Product Specialist, Appliances
Huge appliances to handle a houseful of boys

I have five boys, and there are two things that would make my family’s life easier—a refrigerator with a separate door that makes it convenient for my kids to get drinks and snacks. And a huge washing machine.

The Kenmore Elite 7206 Grab-N-Go refrigerator features a door-in-door. It did well in our tests and offers the convenience of easy access to frequently used items such as juice, milk, cheese, and snack items without needing to open the refrigerator’s French doors—a waste of energy. And at 31 cubic feet, it’s family sized.

The huge LG WM8000H[V]A front-loading washing machine looks like it could stand up to a lot of punishment. It’s top rated and the largest capacity washer in our tests. It also offers excellent energy efficiency, which will save me money.

(See also: Five large appliance features that are worth it)

Dan DiClerico, Senior Editor, Home & Garden
Dan DiClerico, Senior Editor, Home & Garden
A newborn excuse for a pricey blender

I’ve coveted the Vitamix 5200 blender ever since I watched a Vitamix rep demonstrate its prowess at a trade show. As a journalist, I’m trained to be skeptical of what goes on at press events, but later in the Consumer Reports labs, the Vitamix 5200 lived up to the hype by beating out more than 50 blenders to become our top-rated model.

Granted, $450 is a princely sum for a blender, especially when several recommended models in our Ratings cost between $60 and $100. But I know our home will get enough use out of the machine to justify the cost. For one thing, I like to start each weekday morning with a smoothie. Our current blender does a decent job, but it’s a pain to clean and store. For another, my wife and I recently had our second child, so we’d save a lot of money on homemade baby food, thanks to the Vitamix’s superb puréeing.

Beyond making smoothies and purées, I’m sure there are many unexpected uses I’d discover for my Vitamix. It’s one of those products with a fervent fan base, so there’s no shortage of online recipe sharing. I recently discovered one for almond milk (a key ingredient in my morning smoothie) on Vitamix’s Facebook page. Hopefully I’ll be liking both—the almond milk and the Facebook page—before too long.

Michael DiLauro, Product Information Specialist, Appliances
Michael DiLauro, Product Information Specialist, Appliances
A beefy pro-style range for a guy who loves to cook

When I was asked which product I’d put on my wish list this year, my mind went directly to products I could use when I cook. I love to cook. I could do it all day long if I had to. In fact, I did, back when I owned a restaurant.

I'm lucky to be the one here at Consumer Reports who goes out and finds all the latest and greatest cooking products for our testers. Once the products are in the lab, I'll usually spend some time with them. The one product line that stands out when you see our range lab, which is usually packed with upward of 20 ranges at various stages of testing, is the pro-style ranges.

Clad in shiny stainless steel, topped with full-width thick cast-iron grates, big beefy knobs, and ovens with high-powered infrared burners, these things make a Top Chef wannabe drool. Since this is a dream wish list, I'd forgo the smallish 30-inch size and go straight for the 48-inch (a size we don’t test). The high-powered burners would prompt me to go out and add a full-sized wok to my array of cookware so that I could take full advantage of the range top.

KitchenAid is at the top of our Ratings, but the brand lacks the commercial-kitchen street cred I’m looking for. Besides, KitchenAid makes dual-fuel ranges, and my kitchen is set up for gas.

So, at the top of my wish list? Wolf, which harkens back to the range I had in my restaurant. Specifically the Wolf R484DG, which has two ovens, four burners, and a huge dual griddle that’s 22 by 18½ inches, or 407 square inches. The range is similar to the Wolf R304 in our ratings, sharing the same cooktop burners and 30-inch range, but that’s where the similarities end. The price: a hefty $10,000.

Claudette Ennis, Product Analyst, Appliances
Claudette Ennis, Product Analyst, Appliances
A single-serve coffeemaker that looks as good as it brews

My wish list item is The DeLonghi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Circolo. It’s on my list for a number of reasons.

First, it's a single-serve coffee, cappuccino, espresso, and beverage maker that ensures a hot cup of coffee at all times. I find it fun and easy to operate, and with it I can prepare a variety of coffeehouse-quality drinks. The fact that there is no measuring makes it all the more convenient.

I like the thermoblock technology that heats the water fresh every time, the custom control lever that allows you to customize beverage strength, and the removable water tank and capsule container that makes it easy to clean. There is also a blue LED light that illuminates each cup of coffee.

This single-serve coffeemaker is great for entertaining because you can make your guests any beverage they want. And beyond that, I like the ultra-modern look, and the trendy red color works well with my other small appliances. Plus, at $150, it's affordable.

One drawback is that the capsules are a bit expensive, but for the ease and convenience the Circolo offers, it's still on my list.

Mary Farrell, Senior Project Editor, Home & Garden
Mary Farrell, Senior Project Editor, Home & Garden
Time to pink-slip my pink kitchen and the sink, too

Ever since I bought my house, I’ve been blue about the pink kitchen counters and tile floor. I hate pink and most other pastels. Still, it didn’t seem prudent to replace the counters, since they were almost new when I moved in. So, of course, I’m tickled pink that I can at least wish for a room with another color.

The countertops I crave are made of recycled glass. In our tests, it came in behind the top-rated quartz and granite, and one brand developed a hairline crack. But the shards of glass encased in a penetrating sealer were brilliantly colored, and I especially like the large pieces of cobalt blue in white. These counters scored excellent in our cutting, heat, and abrasion tests.

As long as I’m ripping out the counter, I might as well replace the sink, too. Kohler has just come out with a line of brightly colored sinks made of enameled cast iron. There’s a blue that would match my cobalt counters perfectly. In our tests, this material fared better than enameled steel under heavy dropped objects resembling a kitchen pot.

Last, I can’t wait to get rid of my impossible-to-clean pink tile floor. I’ve shattered many a plate on that floor and would love something that provides a softer landing. Since the rest of the floors in my house are oak, I’d like the Mullican St. Andrews Solid Oak Strip 10930. It resisted scratches and stains and held up better under foot traffic than most solid-wood floors.

But I won’t be getting any of those things this year. What I’m really getting is new gutters. In white.

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Erin Gudeux, Project Leader, Sensory
Erin Gudeux, Project Leader, Sensory
50 pieces of chocolate bliss in a beautiful box

I would love a box of really, I mean really, good chocolates. And not just any chocolates. I’m talking wickedly good little bonbons—you close your eyes so that you can savor the smooth, rich, melting lusciousness. The kind that are almost better than . . . well, you know. 

I grew up thinking that the standard yellow box from the drugstore that my father treated us to every Christmas was the epitome of what the cacao plant could produce. I’ve since refined my chocolate palate, sampling succulent morsels from the finest, and some not so fine, purveyors. I’ve become so saturated by these sinful little treats that I very rarely find them tempting any more. Except for one—from Jacques Torres.

These very unusual chocolates may not appeal to everyone, but they tickle my jaded palate every time. Smooth milk chocolate with a liquid golden heart of pure butter and rum caramel. A delightful riff on a treasured childhood favorite of mine—deeply roasted peanut butter sandwiched between chocolate “crusts.” Tangy passion fruit encased in a chocolate heart, combining sweet and sour in a perfect balance with a chocolate rich in complexity. Or my secret passion, a perfect blend of dark chocolate and smoky chilis, with just enough heat to bring color to your cheeks and a tingle to your tongue. Just like the best kiss.

So if I had my wish? Since I can’t have Hugh Jackman under my tree, I’d like a box of Jacques.

Kimberly Janeway, Associate Editor, Home & Garden
Kimberly Janeway, Associate Editor, Home & Garden
A 30-inch pro-style range so that I can cook like a pro

Call me a sucker for beauty, but if something looks great, I can overlook its flaws. Take pro-style ranges. They’re big and bold and wrapped in shiny stainless steel, with beefy knobs and heavy grates that can’t be ignored and make everything else look chintzy. And yet, based on Consumer Reports' tests and a recent survey, I can see the heartbreak coming. Even so, a pro-style range is at the top of my wish list.

They’re not the best performers in our tests (some are downright awful). And a recent survey of almost 2,800 of our online subscribers found pro-style ranges broke more often, took longer to repair, and cost more to fix. (Note to self: Start collecting take-out menus.) But to my eye, a pro-style range is a thing of beauty and, now that 30-inch models are available, would fit perfectly in my small kitchen.

The KitchenAid KDRS407VSS pro-style is a dual-fuel range, pairing a gas cooktop with an electric oven, and it's the only 30-inch model that Consumer Reports has recommended. It has four burners—three are high-power and quickly brought water to a boil. On low heat the KitchenAid was impressive at gently heating sauces and melting chocolate.

The oven turned out evenly baked cookies and cakes, and its self-cleaning feature did a fine job removing the goopy mess we had applied. The convection feature could save me time, once I got the hang of it. But here’s the deal: The oven is small and mediocre at broiling (good-bye, steaks, hello, tofu?). And at $3,500, it’s a range that is likely to remain at the top of my wish list for years to come.

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Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, Deputy Editor, Home & Garden
Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, Deputy Editor, Home & Garden
A French-door refrigerator that fits a small kitchen

Though I’d never say no to a case of fine champagne, I’d prefer a French-door refrigerator to keep my bottle of bubbly chilled. I love the fact that the food compartment is on the top at eye level. But most French-door models are 36 or 33 inches wide; I only have room for 30 inches. So when I saw two smaller-looking French-door fridges—the Whirlpool WRF560SEYM, $1,800, and KitchenAid KFFS20EYMS, $1,900—in the hallway outside our test chambers, I scrounged up a tape measure to confirm their dimensions. Yes, they’ll fit!

Both have filtered-water dispensers and full-width temperature-controlled drawers, and are Energy Star qualified. So they’ll use about one-third less energy than my current 10-year-old top-freezer refrigerator, according to the Energy Star calculator. That helps take some of the sting out of their price tags. It's going to be a tough choice. Both models got the same score in our tests. They're energy efficient, quiet, and offer fine temperature performance, but don't offer as many convenience features as larger models.

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Bob Markovich, Editor, Home & Garden
Bob Markovich, Editor, Home & Garden
A riding mower that drives like a muscle car

I may be Home & Garden Editor at Consumer Reports, but my wish lists typically involve cars like the menacing black '68 Dodge Charger the bad guys crashed and burned in the original “Bullit.” That’s why the new John Deere X310 lawn tractor caught my eye at our Florida mower tests last spring.

The Deere X310 is one of the first mowers with car-like power steering for easier turns. A supportive, high-backed seat and a foot-pedal drive system that lets you shift speeds smoothly and infinitely also say “car” rather than “tractor.” And though the 19-horsepower Deere has six fewer cylinders and some 400 horses less than a Hemi Charger, it accelerates briskly to its roughly 6-mph top speed while thoroughly mulching and bagging its cuts. Other pluses of this 42-inch tractor include effortless blade engagement via a switch instead of a lever and the ability to mow, mulch, or bag without having to change blades.

Like other lawn tractors, the John Deere X310 can also save me some shoveling this winter with an optional 44-inch snow blade (about $540). That and the fact that I’m wishing, rather than buying, help blunt this lawn tractor’s $4,000 price—which still buys a decent-running used car—and the fact that we found other lawn tractors that performed comparably for less than half that amount.

John McAloon, Project Leader, Home & Garden
John McAloon, Project Leader, Home & Garden
With this toilet, it’s good to be king

Normally I would scoff at the prospect of spending $425 on a toilet. In fact, such a basic and essential “appliance” is something I prefer to take for granted. However, if price was no object, the Kohler Highline Classic K-3493 would be my choice to replace my den toilet.

It wasn’t our highest-rated toilet, but that was largely due to the noise that all pressure-assist toilets seem to make, hence the reason I wouldn’t put it in my master bath. In all other aspects, the Kohler makes a loud (in a good way) statement. Using less water than the standard 1.6 gallons per flush, this is one formidable commode! Who wouldn’t want a toilet that can easily dispatch baby wipes, plenty of the standard fare, your kids’ deceased pets, and possibly even unwanted house guests? OK, we didn’t test for all that, but the Kohler seemed able to gulp down whatever we threw at it in one flush!

I love that it did a great job of keeping the bowl clean, moving flushed stuff down the waste pipe. It also has a sleek look with an exterior that is easy to clean and a conventional handle on the side of the tank so that I don’t have to give a how-to seminar for visitors.

It might not be glamorous, but I want this throne as my own. It’s nice to have a wish list item that can get rid of all the coal I’m likely to find in my stocking.

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Ed Perratore, Senior Editor, Home & Garden
Ed Perratore, Senior Editor, Home & Garden
A coffeemaker that’s a cult classic

Coffeemakers have been one of my “beats” for years, not because I’m a testing engineer or taste expert but because I care more than most about my daily fuel. And to my own wish list I’d add the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT-741 . . . with conditions.

You might not have heard of the Technivorm, and you won’t find it among recommended models in our Ratings. But do an online search and you’ll find that coffee aficionados speak of this handmade, $265 drip machine with a tone I can only describe as reverential.

The Technivorm didn’t score higher in our tests because it’s not as intuitive and easy to use as other coffeemakers and has poor carafe handling. Among other drawbacks, the two-part brew stop has to be positioned just right for brewing to pause when you remove the carafe. And you need to experiment to learn just how much water is needed for a given cup size—despite reservoir markings.

So why do I want this coffeemaker? Because of all the coffeemakers we’ve tested, this one seems to be about more than achieving the prime temperature and duration considered vital for great brewing. During a weekend I borrowed the machine from our labs, the first cup I made from freshly ground beans didn’t just amaze me—whatever other items my breakfast included, I forgot about them instantly.

Still, there is something to be said for convenience. So what I’d want, sacrilege aside, is the stellar brewing of the Technivorm matched with the convenience of the Black & Decker CM4000S, a recommended model. It didn’t match the Technivorm in brewing prowess, but it has a helpful digital display, automatic prompts for cleaning the machine, and a brew-stop feature that’s usable by someone who hasn’t yet had the first coffee of the day.

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Peter Sawchuk, Project Leader, Home & Garden
Peter Sawchuk, Project Leader, Home & Garden
A Little Wonder that would be a big help clearing leaves

I have lots of trees around my house and come fall I am literally waist deep in leaves. It takes many hours of effort to clear the fall leaves from my yard. So my wish is for a powerful blower to get this job done faster. Enter the Little Wonder LB160H wheeled blower. It can literally blow leaves into the next county. This is perfect for what I need . . . however with a price tag of $800 it’s a big investment.

That said, since I have been granted one wish, I might as well kick it up a notch. Even though the pneumatic tires help this 117-pound power blower roll easily, I’ll opt for the self-propelled Little Wonder LB400S-SP for a tidy $2,600.

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Pat Slaven, Program Leader, Appliances
Pat Slaven, Program Leader, Appliances
A high-tech sewing machine that fools even the quilting judges

I’d love to get a Bernina Aurora 450 sewing machine (with the optional embroidery unit and stitch regulator), the replacement for the Bernina Aurora 440QE sewing machine that we tested a few years ago. The stitch regulator makes quilting so easy; no more dings by quilting judges for “uneven” stitch length.

The machine is still a workhorse that can hem denim jeans in a flash. The embroidery unit is addictive: Suddenly it’s way too easy to customize everything with a design or a name. But the software can be a bit touchy if you don't have the most current operating system. Yes, at $3,600, it’s expensive. But my sewing and quilting friends would be the proverbial green with envy. That alone makes the machine worth it!

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Karin Weisburgh, Senior Market Analyst, Safety & Health
Karin Weisburgh, Senior Market Analyst, Safety & Health
A top-rated wine chiller filled with top-rated wine

I wish I had a wine chiller filled with Consumer Reports' top-rated wines. The wines should comprise an assortment of reds and whites from around the world. Here's my gotta-have-it list of 15 wines (all top-rated) priced at a total of $240 for stocking my new wine chiller:

Crios Cabernet (Argentina), Crios Malbec (Argentina), Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot (Washington state), Oyster Bay Pinot Noir (New Zealand), G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut Champagne (France), Yellow Tail Moscato (Australia), Chalk Hill Chardonnay (Australia), Pillar Box red blend (Australia), Black Swan Pinot Grigio (Australia), Dancing Bull Zinfandel (California), Hogue late-harvest Riesling (Washington state), Chateau Grande Cassagne Rose (France), Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand), Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz (Australia), and DeBortoli Emeri pink sparkling wine (Australia).

Optimally, the chiller should have easy-gliding pullout racks and be well lighted. I would also prefer that the chiller be built into my kitchen, since wine is such an integral part of my meal planning. In our tests of wine chillers, the Electrolux E124WC65GS was excellent at long-term storage and it fits all my requirements. But at $1,500, I know I’ll need to be extra nice to receive this gift!

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.

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