It won't be long until March 20 is here "” the first day of spring, when winter will only be a memory as we welcome in the flip-flop and BBQ season, right?

Wrong. At least not here. Don't pack away the parkas and puff coats just yet. Winter has a bad habit of wearing out its welcome in the Ohio River Valley and returning for one (or more) last goodbyes.

But you can get a taste test of the season ahead Feb. 10-12 at the Home and Remodeling Showcase by the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky, where more than 150 expert remodelers, contractors, artisans, designers and food pros will showcase what's new in entertaining, design and updating your home, including:

-  A more contemporary approach to design for all areas of the home.

-  A new composite decking that, finally, stands up to mold and fading.

-  -Dueling kitchens with contrasting designs, cooking methods and presentations.

-  A "beverage garden" theme outdoor bar.

-  Eight rooms from area pros and designers of tomorrow.

-  -Live seminars and demonstrations from Remke bigg's, Busken Bakery, Oriental Wok, Dee Felice, The Sweet Tooth Candy Co., Dietz & Watson, Servatii's and other food stars.

The show "is a great place to get project ideas, make business contacts and find the right expert for your job," says Jessica Gibbs of the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky. And with deck additions, major kitchen remodels and basement remodels the top three projects nationwide for return on investment (according to Realtor magazine's 2010 Cost vs. Value Report), this year's show is on target with what today's homeowners are after.

IN THE KITCHEN

Last year's demonstration kitchen by Legacy Kitchens of Newport "added a lot of theater to the show," says Connie Flynn of Remke bigg's. "The kitchens really came to life through the demonstrations and people could really see how all the kitchen features worked.

"This year we thought it would be fun to have dueling kitchens, so we're working with Legacy and Hagedorn Appliances of Erlanger and other Northern Kentucky partners. It's a pre-Valentine's Day weekend, so it would be great to highlight sweets if possible. It's a nice time for all the business partners."

"One kitchen will be electric and the other will be induction," she says. (Induction cooking uses magnetic coils below the ceramic-glass surface to generate heat in the pan rather than on the cooking surface, and cookware must be made of magnetic metals such as cast iron or enameled steel, according to Consumer Reports magazine).

The design of the two kitchens will contrast as well, says Cheryl Stegman of Legacy Kitchens.

"One will be a transitional design with cherry cabinetry, quartz countertops and stone-and-glass backsplash," Stegman says. "We decided to do something a little different for the second kitchen. It's very contemporary."

Says Steve Simiele, Legacy designer: "We are starting to see more people asking for modern kitchens, so it made sense to do one for the show. It's really a mix of younger and older people choosing a more contemporary style throughout the whole house. Maybe people are just looking for something different "¢ and you are seeing a lot more of it everywhere "¢ people watch HGTV and they do show more contemporary designs."

Everyone wants the same level of functionality in the kitchen, says Simiele, but the contemporary fan is looking for sleek, cleaner lines, simple details, not a lot of embellishment.

"We're using a lot of stainless steel and still using granite and marble for countertops but with less pattern," Simiele says. "And we're definitely seeing a lot more quartz, which gives you a clean look without so much pattern." Contemporary cabinets are often flat panel with simple detailing, maybe just a beveled edge or a rounded radius edge. And though people are still doing deep, dark espresso colors, they are straying now into gray tones and stains in the wood, he says.

DESIGNER'S CHALLENGE

Four professional designers each get a chance to flex their muscles at transforming a three-walled bare space into an example of their creativity in the show's Designers' Challenge. And designers of tomorrow from Antonelli College will get a stab, for the second time, at building another four rooms using furniture and accessories from Value City Furniture. Look for a "surprise" room from the students plus a dining room, sitting room and bedroom, says David Oeters of Antonelli College. "It's a good experience in planning and keeping calm in the face of unexpected surprises," he says.

Show guests will vote for their favorite room from the pros "”Thomas Kordenbrock, Karen Sacksteder, Jill Neverovich and Rachel Seibert "” and get a chance to win a $1,000 gift card from Value City Furniture at the same time.

"I want drama," says Thomas Kordenbrock of Kordenbrock Interiors, Crescent Springs. His casual room will reflect today's trend of streamlined sofas with coffee colored walls, a coffee sofa and loveseat combo on a creamy silvery porcelain tile floor with an area rug and occasional chairs in a strong print splattered with color. "I want to keep it simple, give them something they'll remember," Kordenbrock says.

Look for artwork in Sacksteder's casual great room. The O'Bryonville and New Trenton, Ind., designer says artwork is a smart starting point for a room. "I think people have a hard time with artwork because they get intimidated," Sacksteder says. "Some start with choosing a sofa instead, then get so overwhelmed by all the choices. If you pick a piece of artwork and find something you really like, you can start with those colors and things will just flow." Look for a neutral palette in her room with black and ecru accents and faux finish walls "” a soft contemporary room that fits with today's more casual, eclectic lifestyle.

Neverovich of DJN Design Services in Hebron chose a master bedroom for her project because that space often gets overlooked. "I wanted to show a space so people can see that they can do a lot without spending so much by combining ready-made bedding and custom accents," Neverovich says. She also sees a trend to more contemporary furniture with cleaner lines and less carving and detail in casegoods. And she likes metallics in gray and silver tones with a lot more textures in fabrics and wall finishes.

GREAT OUTDOORS

Folks are still looking to the backyard for relaxation and the "beverage garden" theme at the show will showcase good news for deck-lovers, according to Andy Loschiavo of Andy Loschiavo Custom Decks in Union, who is working with Cru Cutters Lawn and Landscaping Services of Florence.

Though composite decks have been billed as low-to-no maintenance in the past, anyone who has one in a shady or damp area knows that mold can be an ugly problem, and some can fade. Now there's a composite decking with a polymer shell designed to stand up to mold growth and make it easier to clean with soap and water if mold does rear its ugly head.

"I've been building decks 23 years, and there are a lot of products out there," Loschiavo says. "This one is excellent. And you can install it with a clip from the side instead of having a screw show, giving it a more finished look."

Trex and Fiberon have each introduced the product, and Loschiavo likes the Trek product called Transcend. "It also has an anti-fade formula, so its warranty is 25 years not to fade or stain," he says. The cost is about 60 cents more per foot than a regular composite "¢ about triple the cost of wood decking.

In design, Loschiavo is seeing more decks installed with boards at an angle and those with "picture frame designs" using two colors "” a tan deck, for example, with two boards of a reddish board trim around the edge.

"My advice is always to do some research, get a professional's opinion and check warranties," Loschiavo says. "Every site has the potential to be its own little monster with differing sun and tree exposure, closeness to the ground, etc. I look at people's houses, find out their needs and give them something that meshes with their overall design."