Digital Integration

You can’t walk into a restaurant these days without seeing at least one diner using a smart phone or tablet. Chances are, you’re seeing this trend in the kitchens you work on, too, and probably some bathrooms, as well.

Digital integration has become a strong element in design planning. If your clients aren’t asking for it yet, be certain that they will soon. Get ahead of the trend by knowing what’s available and why it matters.

There are three key ways in which smart phones and tablets are influencing digital integration into design: functionality, storage and style.


Functionality Trend

The functionality story is a two-pronged one. First, we have gotten accustomed to the user-friendly interface and customizability of our smart phone and tablet interfaces. Manufacturers far from Silicon Valley are taking note. Appliance brands are integrating searchability, easy-to-use touch screens, memory and user customization into their ovens and cooktops. Bosch and Jenn-Air, among others, have recipes users can call up from digital keypads that evoke their favorite devices.

Controls are another area where digital integration is strong. An iPad controls the surface height of an accessible island German manufacturer Alno was showcasing at IMM’s LivingKitchen show in Cologne last January. Home automation brand Lutron has long been a leader in this area with whole house controls being managed from iPads and iPhones. Controls are also being introduced into the bathroom with digital showering and radiant floor heating systems from brands such as Kohler and Warmup.

Manufacturers are also incorporating functionality into the design planning process with smart phone and tablet apps. Wellborn, BLANCO, Jenn-Air, Sherwin-Williams, Masonite and many others have introduced design planning apps in recent years. Just as every brand had to create a Web site in the 1990s, I expect we’ll see most develop mobile apps in this new generation, and they’ll increasingly offer more features.

At Living Kitchen, for example, Bosch’s European branch showed off an app that carried all of its warranty, service, training and other homeowner info. It is not slated for U.S. release yet, but expect to be seeing these types of developments in the next few years.


Storage Trend

Another way in which digital integration is influencing our kitchen and bath designs is storage. We know our clients are bringing their smart phones and tablets into those spaces, and it’s increasingly important to provide spots where they can use, charge and store them.

I started spotting electronic storage solutions at KBIS several years ago, with Innovative Solutions’ S-Box. This system incorporates pop-ups that hold and charge devices below the countertop, then make them accessible above when you need them. The company’s latest model is designed for the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth speaker.

Legrand’s adorne system incorporates its own Bluetooth speaker, as well as chargers for tablets and smart phones into a sleek, savvy modular backsplash lighting/power system.

JTech Solutions will be showing off its new Docking Drawer at KBIS next month. This new cabinet-based storage system incorporates both a USB and standard outlet for keeping things charged and off your countertops. Robern’s M Series medicine cabinets incorporate chargers, as well.


Style Trend

Last, but most definitely not least, smart phones and tablets have clearly influenced kitchen and bath design beyond controls and interfaces. At LivingKitchen last year, white and black glass-front appliances were seen throughout the show floor. Miele has brought its Brilliant White Plus series to the U.S. already, where it turned heads throughout the show floor at Dwell on Design last June.

It’s possible, too, that the glossy fronts and skinny lines of the popular Apple devices have also influenced the resurgent popularity of glossy cabinet fronts and skinny countertops that also dominated the European shows these past few years. At LivingKitchen, Cevisama and Cersaie (Spain and Italy’s major surfacing shows), cabinets started curving their edges and tiles got ever thinner and larger for new countertop applications.

When you walk the show floor at KBIS next month, be on the lookout for digital integration throughout the exhibit hall. Chances are, you’ll find it in some surprising, as well as expected, places.


Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS is an independent designer in San Diego, the author of New Kitchen Ideas That Work (Taunton Press, 2012), and a blogger, design journalist, seminar developer and industry consultant.