It has already been a big year for oddball housewares.
Do fruits and vegetables spoil too quickly in your refrigerator? Now there's a product for that. Do your kids' messy dresser drawers make you want to tear your hair out? A simple invention could solve the problem.
At the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago this week, big brands and basement inventors introduced their latest products, offering solutions for struggles consumers face throughout the home.
Organizers at this year's show saw continued growth in the number of "smart" Internet-connected devices, from a robot vacuum you can control from your phone while you're out of the house to a pet feeder that allows you to have a two-way video chat with Fido, said Lisa Casey-Weiss, a consumer lifestyle consultant with the International Housewares Association.
Many companies are also offering gadgets tailored to the trend of tiny living, which has consumers downsizing their lives into smaller spaces, Casey-Weiss said. Items like washer/dryer combo units and KitchenAid's new Artisan Mini stand mixer are designed to take up less space.
Among these practical solutions are some more out-there solutions for problems you didn't know you had -- like not being able to turn any liquid into caviar-like pearls.
What's new (and weird) in the housewares industry? Click ahead for 10 of the strangest items featured at this year's show.
This gadget will turn any liquid into caviar-like pearls that burst in your mouth. First, you mix your chosen liquid -- the IHHS demo used Coca-Cola and Fanta Orange -- with sodium alginate, a compound that helps the liquid turn to gel. Put it in the Spherificator, and press a button to release tiny drops of the liquid into a bath of water mixed with calcium chloride, and then rinse the resulting pearls in water.
The Spherificator could help molecular gastronomy enthusiasts add an unexpected texture to entrees, cocktails and desserts.
The starter kit retails for about $130. It includes the Spherificator and enough sodium alginate and calcium chloride to make up to 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) of pearls.
This over-the-shoulder holder for baby bottles could help parents keep one hand free while feeding infants. The flexible bottle holder squishes to fit bottles of different sizes.
Inventor Martin Hill created the Beebo so he could hold a book and read aloud to his son during feeding time, he said.
The gadget is available in three colors and retails for between about $30 and $40.
The Tidy Snap
Children aren't known for their great organizational skills, so Alison Tringale created the Tidy Snap to organize her kids' drawers and keep them that way.
The starter kit comes with a folding board, rolling rod and 25 snap bands. Kids can fold an item of clothing on the board, roll it up with the rod and snap a band around it for a neatly folded garment that won't come unfolded when they go rifling through the drawer.
The starter kit retails for about $40 and add-on packs of 10 Tidy Bands are $10.
If you don't want to carry a bottle of water and a water bowl on your next adventure with your dog, you could try this water bottle with an attached bowl.
The bottle is made from BPA-free plastic and is designed to fit in the cup holder of a car. Squeeze the bottle, and the bowl on top fills with water. Release the bottle, and the extra water drains back down.
The full-size bottle retails for $20. A smaller version -- the AutoPupCup -- is $17 or $18, depending on the print.
This slim space heater hides in plain sight.
Hot Art uses infrared heating technology to warm about 100 to 150 square feet of space for about 6 cents per hour, less than half of the 15 cents per hour it costs to run a traditional space heater, according to Brian Szott, CEO of BRX Brands.
The heater can be customized with almost any image -- from a favorite painting to a family portrait -- and custom frames.
Hot Art units retail for about $579.
Plastic baggies are great for storing leftovers, but getting the food into the bag can be a messy business. The Baggy Opener has clips on adjustable arms that attach to the sides of a baggy, holding it open hands-free.
The gadget folds flat for storage and retails for $5.
Pettion P-Touch feeder
The Pettion P-Touch pet feeder offers a way to communicate with pets while owners are away from home. The feeder can be programmed to automatically dispense food, or owners can initiate impromptu feedings via the accompanying phone app, which tracks pets' eating habits and alerts owners when they need to refill the feeder.
The feeder also is equipped with a camera and video screen, allowing owners to have two-way video chats with their pets from wherever they are. The makers also hope to make the feeder compatible with DOGTV, a television channel designed for dogs, Pettion representatives said at their IHHS booth.
The feeder will be available for purchase sometime this summer and will cost between $249 and $299.
Butter is making a comeback in American kitchens, and the Biēm butter sprayer could help evenly distribute fresh butter on your toast, vegetables or cooking pans.
The rechargeable gadget turns on when it's picked up and heats butter to 95 degrees, melting it and spraying it out of a clog-resistant nozzle. While you could put a whole stick of butter inside, it melts as you go and doesn't melt the whole stick at once.
A Kickstarter campaign for the product went live on March 1 and surpassed its $42,000 fund-raising goal in 36 hours, according to a company representative at IHHS.
Biēm will cost between $99 and $145 when it hits the market, the representative said.
This Z-shaped gadget looks like two horseshoes stuck together and could serve several purposes in your kitchen. First, it's a holder for the hot lids of pots and pans. It can also be used as a display stand to elevate plates or trays above the table or counter surface. Trivae can also fold down into a single or double trivet.
This metal version retails for $80, but the creators are working on a plastic version now that would come in at a lower price point, said co-inventor Rebecca Brei.
Tired of your strawberries molding before you can eat them? This little gadget promises to fix that problem.
The BerryBreeze circulates activated oxygen (otherwise known as ozone) throughout a refrigerator, removing odors and killing the bacteria and ethylene gas that cause food to spoil. This keeps food fresh up to three times longer than normal, according to the company.
The BerryBreeze requires four D batteries and retails for about $40.