High Design Comes to Technology

When I was growing up, technology and design were worlds apart. In those days, technology was a very nerdy, uncool affair. We had calculator watches, ugly computer terminals and search engines called “Ask Jeeves” and “Altavista.” Remember when every appliance had a digital clock that you could never set? That was my youth (I was the youth that could actually set those clocks).

Not only is technology today far better and easier to use, it’s way more fashionable. If I pulled a small tablet computer out of my bag 15 years ago (those did exist), I’d be laughed out of the room like Doc Brown trying to give fashion advice. Now, an iPad is just as much of a fashion statement as a functional computer.

This is good news for the home design industry, as fashion-forward rooms like the kitchen and bath are benefiting tremendously from today’s technology – and without sacrificing the aesthetics that remain a high priority for today’s kitchen and bath consumers.

Technology is coming to design just as much as design is coming to technology, and it’s impacting everything from lighting to faucets to appliances to home automation products. Let’s take a look at a few examples of how technology and design are coming together.


Tech Getting Design

Thermostats…who cares about them? I never did, at least outside of their functionality. At their most basic, a thermostat is just an ugly wall accoutrement that controls the temperature when you spin its cheap plastic ring. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the growth of the automated home concept, in which you get a dreary plastic rectangle full of buttons that unfortunately doesn’t come with an engineer or teenager to set it up. These units promise to automate your heat, air conditioning and half a dozen other home functions…if you can figure them out.

Imagine what would happen if the guy who designed the iPod got a lot of money and decided to invent a thermostat. Well, actually, that very thing happened, and the results will speak to anyone with a passion for design.

Take a look at the Nest thermostat. This magical device blends style and technology remarkably. At first glance, its machined metal ring and glass front are oozing with sharp industrial design. The setup and installation is as easy as an iPod. There’s no programming it, either; you just turn it up when you want to be warm and down when you don’t. This beautiful jewel of a gadget knows when you’re home or away, it knows the weather and it even knows when you last changed your furnace air filter. No teenager or engineer required; if you can set the temperature, you can use this thermostat. After trying out the Nest, for the first time ever, I’ve talked about – and even wanted – a thermostat.

And, when was the last time you were in a public bathroom and used one of those hand-free faucets? At best, those gadgets are uninspired chunks of metal. At worst, they can be frustratingly unreliable at doing the one thing they were designed to do – turn on the water when you need it, and turn it off when you’re done.

A number of faucet companies, including Brizo and Delta, have stepped up to redesign those for the better. At first glance, they are sexy, stylized faucets that you fall in love with. Some of Brizo’s line is actually designed by a real fashion designer, not an engineer. On top of that, the hands-free and touch technology actually works. The amount of thought that goes into it is amazing for something that you just tap or wave at to make work. The companies have taken a boring lump of stainless steel and turned it into something stylish, magical and functional – just like Apple did with the smartphone.


Design Getting ‘Tech’

Our kitchen designs are increasingly calling for the inclusion of technology. In fact, it’s all but impossible these days to create a highly functional kitchen that doesn’t integrate various aspects of technology. One example of this is LED lighting, which is becoming increasingly popular as its cost has gone down. The installation is also easier, making it more accessible.

You’re probably aware of the LED strips that are popping up in kitchens all over the place. Well, the evolution of the LED is the smart LED.

I recently got a chance to try out a Phillips HUE system. The system consists of three LED bulbs that fit in standard lamp sockets. These lights are connected to your wi-fi, and controlled by a smartphone app. The lights can be mixed to any color of the rainbow that you or your client might desire.

Now, color changing bulbs are nothing new, but the smartness of these lights is. They can be set to come on when you arrive home, and turn off when you leave. If it’s going to rain, you can have them turn a blue color. Since the system is open, any developer can access them.

In addition to being smart, these are highly functional, with possible uses ranging from safety to setting a mood to providing simple visual reminders for kitchen functions. For example, the lights can be used to remind you that you have an oven running, or to make it appear that someone is home when you’re on vacation.

Moving on to the kitchen as the social nerve center of the home, we realize it’s now becoming a tech center as well. Consumers are increasingly looking to have charging stations incorporated into the kitchen for all of their electronics, and kitchen designers can’t get away with having just a few outlets on the backsplash. You need to be creative with where you put these. To that end, there are any number of popup outlets, including models that hide in drawers, and ones that are made for those USB charging blocks.

Speaking of USB charging, a simple new kitchen gadget that is now available is an outlet that features USB sockets as well. These don’t take up any more space than a regular outlet, and they still have two 110 plugs. But they also have twin USB ports, which are almost a must in today’s kitchens.

We’re in a great renaissance of design. No longer is technology utilitarian and ugly; it’s a fashionable and functional part of our lives. Kitchens and baths are as much a functional part of the home as they are a fashion accessory. The integration of technology into them and our homes can make for incredible – and incredibly adaptable – spaces.