Hosting the Real Homes Awards this year was a true delight. As in previous years, we had hundreds of entrants and a scrupulous judging panel, so calling out our favourites was tough.
This year we based the judging on 13 brilliant categories that we felt reflected all the priorities we go through as buyers when we come to choose products for our home. And we should know, as we spend the whole year testing the best products, from mattresses to washing machines, to produce our impartial buying guides.
As you will likely know we also called out to you, our readers, to settle on the winner of the 'Brand that has your back' title and we're excited to announce the deserving winner below.
As usual, our aim was to find the best products and brands out there. And this year, after the 18-months we've had, it felt even more important to recognise those standout brands and products that go above and beyond to bring more innovation, fun and efficiency into our daily lives.
For each category we chose a brand's product that was the 'Best of the best' i.e. the cream of the crop. We also awarded a 'Savvy shopper' title to entries in those categories who we thought were very impressive, especially in terms of pricing.
On the panel we had: myself, Camille Dubuis-Welch Digital Editor of RealHomes, Lindsey Davis our eCommerce Editor in Chief, Linda Clayton our resident mattress reviewer and expert in all things kitchen-related, Annie Collyer our shopping editor, and Ellen Finch our Real Homes magazine Deputy Editor.
Note the following categories are in no order of importance:
Brand that has your Back winner (voted for by readers): Dunelm
Best of the Best winners
- A great night's sleep: Nectar mattress
- Bathroom goals: Aqualisa Quartz Touch Smart Shower
- DIY life-saver: Grohe Start Basin Mixer with Quick Fix technology
- Redesign my space: Wren Kitchens
- Eco innovation: Simba Hybrid Luxe mattress
- Fabulous flooring: Amtico Form Collection
- Keeping it clean: Dyson V15 Detect
- Kitchen must-have: Cuisinart cordless collection (including hand mixer)
- Let the light in: IDSystems Vistaline Slide & Turn Doors
- Perfect paints: Graham & Brown Exterior Eggshell
- Small space hero: Sofology Islington Sofa
- Smarter living: Dyson Purifier Hot + Cool Formaldehyde
- The family favourite: Zwilling Fresh & Save
- The great outdoors: Caribbean Blinds Cuba Awning
Savvy Shopper winners
- A great night's sleep: Panda mattress topper
- Bathroom goals: Tile Giant (Alexa Hex and Magna tile collections)
- Eco innovation: Zwilling Fresh & Save
- Fabulous flooring: Verona Ribera and Morales Patterned Tiles
- Keeping it clean: VAX Platinum SmartWash Carpet Cleaner
- Kitchen must-have: Franke UK Atlas Neo Sensor Tap
- Let the light in: The Residence Collection windows
- Small space hero: Trend Interiors Home Office
- Smarter living: Ring Video Doorbell Wired
- The family favourite: Haier HTF-520IP7 Fridge Freezer
- The great outdoors: Wallbarn M-Tray
A great night's sleep
We all know the importance of sleep and what some will know better than others is that your sleeping environment plays a huge part in ensuring you get restful shuteye, night after night.
Best of the Best – Nectar mattress
Judge and sleep expert Linda says that of all of the mattresses she has tested, the Nectar is the one she returns to, again and again. It is super comfortable for a wide range of sleep positions, with zoned support and great breathability that even the hottest of sleepers can appreciate. It is also at the more affordable end of the spectrum when it comes to this type of mattress. They offer a year trial too, so you get plenty of time to decide if it is right for you, so the buying process is pretty risk-free. It scored 5 out of 5 in our testing, beating the other mattresses in this category (and some that were more expensive, too). Plus, the company is working hard to be climate neutral.
Savvy Shopper – Panda mattress topper
When it comes to mattress toppers, our judging panel were in agreement that this is one of the best and also one of the cheapest for a foam offering – starting at just under £90. It is soft yet supportive and can be used to improve the comfort or even to extend the life of a mattress that is getting a little worse for wear – something a savvy shopper who is not ready for a whole new mattress can really appreciate.
The washable bamboo cover helps inch it ahead of similar mattress toppers and Panda also offers a 30-night trial which even mattress companies that offer trials on their mattresses, tend not to offer on their toppers. The fast-growing bamboo is Fairtrade and has OEKO-TEX certification meaning there are no harmful substances used in this product. So, if you want better sleep on a budget, this is for you.
- For the curious, these were the Real Homes Awards 2020 winners (opens in new tab).
Whether it's grabbing a quick shower before work, getting kids ready for bed with bath time or relaxing after a long day, our bathrooms work hard to be truly functional and gorgeous, of course. For a streamlined experience on all fronts, we were focused on finding investment products that catered to the whole family.
Best of the Best – Aqualisa Quartz Touch Smart Shower
We moved this product over from the smarter living section as we felt that bathrooms of the future will have digital showers as standard. This option has it all: great looks, performance and value. It's not a big outlay for what could be a great investment. Those who have gone digital would not go without now and this option is perfect for making the bathroom safe and accessible for all family members. The showering profiles for different people are sure to speed up time spent in the bathroom, optimising both energy and water usage for a more economical shower. You can pair it with your smart speaker too! Need we say more?
Savvy Shopper – Tile Giant (Alexa Hex and Magna tile collections)
If you are looking to give your bathroom a makeover Tile Giant has a great range for every style and budget. The buying experience is easy with the option to order three free samples prior to your purchase. There really is a broad selection to choose from whether you are looking for something cheap for a quick refresh, a traditional tile for an older property or something striking for a contemporary space. The website is easy to use and we loved the look and quality of the Alexa Hex and Magna tiles they sent for us to look at.
Ah DIY, it's in our blood, but where would we be without those tools and materials that just take a load off?
Best of the Best – Grohe Start Basin Mixer with Quick Fix technology (opens in new tab)
Our audience loves a budget bathroom makeover, but fitting new taps is often seen as a pro job that can quickly swallow your budget. Grohe has designed these stylish taps that look great in so many settings and can be fitted and adjusted far more easily than the average basin tap. They mean anyone can have a go with the help of their accessible videos, renovating their bathroom in no time without spending lots of money. What's more sustainability has been considered in their production with a water saving EcoJoy feature that optimises flow rate and plastic free packaging.
Redesign my Space
Reimagining a room of your home that wasn't quite right can be transformative. This category allows us to pay homage to the brands who are there for every step of a redesign process, turning unloved rooms into spaces we love.
Best of the best – Wren Kitchens
Family-owned Wren Kitchens know the importance of creating multifunctional spaces that fit modern lives. No matter how big or small your space is, Wren will guide you through the redesign process with their free design service, 360 3D visuals and even VR technology that helps you see your new space before work even begins. If you can't contain your excitement, you can show friends and family your new design on the app – Wren just gets how inclusive the kitchen design process should be.
Customers can expect a whopping 10 million design combos to choose from at affordable prices that suit every budget, and style. From timeless Shaker look kitchens to modern metallics you can create a unique kitchen that reflects who you are. And, they also offer flexibility for those wanting a go at keeping costs down by doing the fit out themselves, with fully assembled kitchens at prices that match flat pack. The judges were impressed by the accessibility of Wren Kitchens and how you don't have to compromise to get a stylish kitchen that is responsibly sourced too. Wren even recycled 98% of their manufacturing waste in 2020.
We're all far more conscious of our environmental impact and our shopping habits are changing accordingly. It's been really positive to see brands respond to both the planet's and our household needs.
Best of the Best – Simba Hybrid Luxe Mattress
Though known as an award-winning sleep brand, we had to give the eco innovation award to Simba for their latest mattress. You spend as much as a third of your life asleep, so it makes sense to make sure you are sleeping sustainably, and Simba have given us that choice with what we think is one of the most sustainable mattresses around. Everything from production to end of life has been considered with low environmental impact in mind. They materials used are either recycled or sustainably produced and they have swapped the wool of their Hybrid Pro for bamboo that is fast growing and doesn't require livestock.
At the end of the life of the product, parts can be recycled or reused and their packaging is up to 60% recycled and from FSC sources. Excess foam from production goes to other industries to make carpet underlay and pet beds. And, the mattress itself is made in the UK so the travel of the product from factory to you is not too far for those on mainland. The confident 10-year guarantee means you should get plenty of use out of this mattress and of course it is incredibly comfy. Finally, Simba's sustainability efforts are not limited to the Hybrid Luxe. Other bedding products from the brand – including sheets, duvets and pillows – are made to the high standards with lots of thought into not just the provenance of their products, but what happens to them end of life too.
Savvy Shopper – Zwilling Fresh & Save
Food waste not only burns a hole in your pocket, but contributes to environmental damage as water and produce is needlessly lost. The Zwilling Fresh & Save is remarkable, making a great level up for people who already make good use of their leftovers and, the perfect intro to sensible consumption for those who don't. We were impressed by the versatility of the product collection. It does a similar job to home vacuum packing systems but includes reusable bags (many home sous vide kits waste a lot of single-use plastic) and it also replaces other vacuum canisters you might already have. These are often a pain for those of us with RSI and often not used or locked properly enough to work effectively. The Zwilling Fresh & Save range is super portable too. The stacking containers could be taken to the supermarket with the cordless vacuum pump – many fish and deli counters now allow you to take your own packaging. They also work with their blenders and other small appliances for making and storing things like soups and smoothies with less washing up and thus, less water usage. And, of course, they are more convenient for food prep and storage too.
It's easy to take flooring for granted but, when it's time to replace worn flooring altogether or to start fresh when upgrading a room, finding a good looking, durable option that works for your household and budget is a must.
Best of the Best – Amtico's Form Collection
We love the look of natural materials for our floors, but they often require too much maintenance for a busy family home. That's why we were instantly drawn to Amtico's Form Collection (opens in new tab). With 36 wood and stone designs to choose from, you can get the look of beautiful parquet or luxury marble, but don't need to worry about spillages, sealing, or varnishing. The vinyl tiles are warm under foot and more forgiving should you drop something, so much safer for those with little ones. They also have a high level of scuff resistance and the wood effect has been hand crafted for a very realistic look.
Savvy Shopper – Verona Ribera and Morales Patterned Tiles
Encaustic and Spanish tiles are a regular on the pages of our magazines and a great way to bring pattern and colour to walls or floors. These ceramic tiles from Verona (opens in new tab)offer all the charm of traditional encaustic tiles, but at a more affordable price point. There are eight designs in both neutral monochrome or muted colourways so those looking for a bit of character for a kitchen, bathroom or utility have plenty of choice. The tile feels hardwearing and would look lovely in a repeat pattern to add impact to a room.
Keeping it clean
We're clean freaks, from keeping only the best vacuum cleaners around to putting the best TikTok cleaning hacks to good use on the regular, products in this category had a lot to live up to!
Best of the Best – Dyson V15 Detect
Our judges and reviewers agree – this is one of the best vacuums on the market right now. Those cautious about losing suction when going cordless needn't fear as the Dyson V15 Detect is one of the most powerful cordless vacuums yet. We put it through its paces against everything from fine dust, to hair and cereal and it was no contest for it on both hard and carpeted flooring. The anti-tangle hair screw and green LED to illuminate dust particles on hard floors mean you are set for a really thorough clean. There is also something called a piezo sensor that automatically increases suction across different flooring and for different dirt levels so no fiddling with controls or adjusting the vacuum – just turn on and go. And, as this model has 60 minutes run time, you can be less worried about running out of juice halfway through your chores. The price point is a little high, but the investment is worth it and unlike some cordless vacuums that are a back up to our deep clean with a corded model, we can see this being a replacement for weekly cleans.
Savvy Shopper – VAX Platinum SmartWash Carpet Cleaner
Our tester said this was comparable to a professional level of cleaning. So, if you have lots of carpet in your home, this is a sound investment to make it last longer and stay clean without the need for hiring in someone to do it for you. It is really quick and easy to use, and could make carpet cleaning a regular step in your household routine, rather than something you save for drastic stains. Unlike many carpet cleaners, it controls the amount of cleaning solution you need, dispensing automatically as you push forward so it can make sure you don't over soak your carpets. It then dries on the pull back or you can set to dry only as needed meaning you can walk on your carpet sooner. There is also a hose for staining in tight spots like under furniture or near skirting. We are calling this a great buy for savvy shoppers as it could increase the longevity of your carpets and the cost per use would be tiny in a messy family home.
Whether you're on your way to being star baker, a self-proclaimed chef or not, smart, convenient gadgets can make a kitchen even more of a joy to cook in.
Best of the Best – Cuisinart Cordless Collection
The hand mixer is the product many love but we want to include the range here. A kitchen full of appliances is the hazard of a keen home cook and while we wouldn't want to part with our mixers and blenders, all of those wires can be a pain to clean round and look a bit of a mess. The judges full embrace a cordless kitchen revolution and we were pleasantly surprised by the power and battery life on offer with this range from Cuisinart. The personal blender is so easy to get out, use and pack away and it even blends ice and things some personal blenders struggle with. The hand mixer means a much greater range of movement while mixing and whipping making it more enjoyable to use than a corded model. And, the stick blender (opens in new tab) was appreciated by one judge in particular who makes a lot of soups and is cautious of using a wired appliance over the hob... The units are compact, too, so if you have a small kitchen they can easily be stowed away and set up in seconds. So for tidy kitchens, easy cleaning and convenience, we have awarded this range our Kitchen Must-Have prize.
Savvy Shopper – Franke Atlas Neo Sensor Tap
This sensor tap is really good value for money and, especially after the past 18 months we've had, we are very keen to upgrade our homes with anything that aids cleanliness. A simple wave can be used to control this tap, limiting contamination from touch points like levers (though it can be manually operated as needed). Not only is this great for limiting spread of viruses and bacteria, but really convenient for those times you have been baking and have hands covered in dough, butter or anything else you don't want allover your taps. You can choose a pull-out nozzle if preferred for cleaning pans and veggies. It is battery operated so an easy retrofit option for homeowners, looks the part and automatically stops after 30 seconds to save water. A great buy for family homes.
Let the light in
Natural light can make a space feel more open, inviting and joyous. There's more to picking out windows and doors than you may think – it's all about finding solutions that suit your home's style and era as well as your family's needs.
Best of the Best – IDSystems Vistaline Slide & Turn Doors
IDSystems has come up with an ingenious solution for those struggling to choose between bi-fold or sliding doors. You want bi-fold for the ability to fully open a wall, for seamless outdoor indoor living, but when closed, bi-folds have lots of framing that impacts on what could be a lovely view. So you look at sliding instead for larger apertures unencumbered by frame lines. But, then the drawback is that you can only have half the glazing fully open at once... IDSystem's solution is the Vistaline range (opens in new tab)with slim frames that slide away, then pivot to give the best of both worlds – great views when shut, but a wider entrance when open. This glazing is great for outdoor living when we do have the right weather for it, but also makes the most of a view for the more frequent occasions when outside looks lovely, but perhaps a bit too chilly to enjoy. They can accommodate a system up to 12 metres wide and 2.65m high – an impressive addition to any kitchen diner or living space.
Savvy Shopper – The Residence Collection
Savvy shoppers looking to upgrade their glazing will love the low maintenance wood-look windows from The Residence Collection (opens in new tab). In a perfect world we would all have the time (and money) for real wood but the upkeep can be prohibitive, and that's if you can afford the initial outlay of hardwood timber to start with. The Residence Collection means you don't have to forgo traditional style windows when updating a home and for contemporary properties, the Residence 2 has a square internal bead that gives the look of far more pricey aluminium. They come in 25 different colours so you can get a bespoke look and the thermal performance could do wonders for your energy bills.
The right paint can make a world of difference whether you're painting walls or your front door. Some learn that the hard way... So finding the most reliable products out there is key to a professional looking finish.
Best of the Best – Graham & Brown Exterior Eggshell
If you are looking for a gorgeous range of neutral and heritage colours (opens in new tab) for your property then look no further. The collection features over 360 colours for use outside on wood and even uPVC so if that ugly old door needs a makeover, this is the range for you. The water-based paint is quick drying and pleasant to use, so perfect for a weekend makeover. We thought the richness of the colours was worthy of note and Graham & Brown have made a conscious effort to minimise the impacts of this paint on the environment. It is cruelty free, low VOC, made in small batches to order to reduce waste and their supplies are 100% reusable, compostable, recycled or biodegradable.
Small space hero
This category was important most especially to those on our judging panel who are proud owners of smaller homes!
Best of the Best – Sofology Islington Sofa
The Islington sofa collection (opens in new tab) has been designed with smaller spaces in mind and is perfect for anyone who is low on space but has high expectations for style and comfort. The choice of customisation is great so there really is a sofa choice for every space from the compact loveseat, to the spacious chaise. The design has a slim but sturdy frame and high-set legs that contribute to the midcentury look of the piece.
We love the variety of fabric choices including velvets and hardwearing weaves, but we also applaud Sofology for their sustainability programme with the Woodland Trust where they plant a tree for every order. Designs start from £249 too so they are an affordable investment carrying a 20 year guarantee on the FSC certified wood frames.
Savvy Shopper – Trend Interiors Home Office
Most of us have worked from home for the past year and many a dining table, sofa and kitchen worktop has become an impromptu home office. Trend Interiors have shown that any space – no matter how small – can fit a home office with a bit of imagination. Their bespoke designs (opens in new tab) can be adapted to turn any nook, alcove or corner into a practical work space in a choice of 9 to 13 colours, depending on price range.
We've all had a big shift in our day-to-day lives and with more time spent at home than ever before, we're also more clued up about what it means to live smart.
Best of the Best – Dyson Purifier Hot + Cool Formaldehyde
Air quality' has been a bit of a buzzword for the last year or so. No wonder with most of us stuck inside more than often. Not only have we had to heat and cool our homes more efficiently than we would had we all been going about life as normal, but the feeling that our indoor air is not quite as clean as it could be has been a constant worry for some. The Dyson Formaldehyde is a nifty bit of kit for anyone tackling pollutants in the home. It manages toxins and dust for cleaner air inside but also heats and cools as needed, meaning it is three bits of kit in one. Sure it is more than we would pay for a fan, heater or purifier alone, but as it combines all three it is a really sound investment for a healthier home. The smart capabilities are the icing on the cake. You can control it remotely to heat or cool a room ready for you to enter it, and you can pair with voice assistants to control it without having to lift a finger. Great if you wake up too hot or cold in the night. It also monitors air quality, suggesting when you might need to activate the purifier, or pop the fan on.
Savvy Shopper – Ring Video Doorbell Wired
Home tech can be expensive so we were excited to see that this doorbell from Ring is only £49. It has all of the great functionality you expect from a Ring video doorbell, including night vision a 1080p HD camera, two-way talk and privacy zones making it the perfect accessible everyday security solution. And it isn't just for keeping your home safe either – our team love the convenience of having one for taking deliveries when they can't answer the door, or for communicating with visitors. All in all, it is an easy to use device that will make a big difference to your life without a big price tag.
The family favourite
It's not often that the entire household can agree on something. But, when it comes to keeping food fresh and delicious, it can be game-changing.
Best of the Best – Zwilling Fresh & Save
As well as being a great eco innovation, we think the Zwilling Fresh & Save is a great multitasker for family meals. From making your leftovers last longer, to correctly storing batch cooked meals, there are so many ways this kit can cut food waste and make meal times quicker. The handy little vacuum bags are great for lunch boxes or picnics on days out. You can even take the Food Pump with you as it is rechargeable and can be used on the go. The containers are freezer and microwave safe, or you can choose the glass containers that can be used in the oven up to 180ºC for your family's favourite bakes. Finally there is an app you can use with the products – just scan the QR code on your containers and it will send you handy reminders to tell you when your food is nearing its shelf life.
Savvy Shopper – Haier HTF-520IP7 Fridge Freezer
This fridge freezer is perfectly designed for busy family life. It has a large capacity, 4-door design that makes storing (and finding) your groceries really easy. It also has Haier's revolutionary Fresher Tech® to keep food fresher for longer, combatting food waste and minimising need for more regular trips to the shop – something we can all appreciate in a busy modern world. The fridge freezer also has Tourmaline Anti Bacteria Treatment to get rid of 99.9% of bacteria which will be music to the ears of those of us who have become more conscious of cleanliness in the last year. A water dispenser means the whole family will stay hydrated more easily and there is an ice cube dispenser in the freezer. Defrosting is a thing of the past with this model (again, who has time for that?) and finally this all comes in a nice affordable package of less than £1,000 RRP.
The great outdoors
And, last but not least, The Great Outdoors category was to pinpoint those products that made spending time in our own outdoor spaces more enjoyable.
Best of the Best – Caribbean Blinds Cuba Awning
The Cuba Awning (opens in new tab) has everything you need to turn your patio into a sanctuary away from it all. As well as providing all important shade on the sunniest days, it has an infa-red heater included meaning it can create shelter year round making your garden another room to enjoy, even in chillier weather. It can be remote controlled but also has weather sensors and will retract if it senses damaging winds.
Savvy Shopper – Wallbarn M-Tray
Our judges loved this easy to fit green roof option, thinking it would not only be a great way to disguise a flat room with some biodiverse greenery, but could also bring life to a terrace or balcony for those who want to buy a single unit. Designed to slot together and easy to install on a DIY basis, creating a green roof with Wallbarn's M-Tray (opens in new tab) is a simple job with loads of benefits including managing flood water, attracting wildlife and obscuring unslightly manmade materials. They can create a little nature haven in even the most urban environments.
A big thank you to all the brilliant brands that entered this years Real Homes Awards and the lucky competition winner of the year-long Real Homes digital and magazine subscription has been contacted.