All smart homes are smart, yet some are definitely more beautiful than others. We explore how to make the smart home more design-friendly through intelligent technological solutions and increased collaboration at the design stage of a project.
You would be hard-pressed to find a single smart home integrator that doesn’t regard themselves as ‘design-led’. All of them are right about this – in a way. Creating a genuinely intelligent smart home isn’t as easy as it looks; there is a significant amount of planning and configuration that has to go on behind the scenes of any whole-house smart home installation, which makes design a crucial component of a successful home technology project.
Yet a smart home system that is well designed on a technical level is not necessarily always pretty. More than a few installers have a tale of that one-time horror job where they were called in to fix a smart home that had gone wrong – often riddled with unlabelled keypads everywhere, barely comprehensible user interfaces and AV equipment sticking out like a sore thumb.
Avoiding this kind of unwelcome scenario depends largely on a smart home installer’s ability to design and implement a clean, functional system that is as effortless for the occupants to use as possible. Luckily, there are a number of things that homeowners and design professionals can look for in their home technology partner to ensure that they bring in the right integrator for the job at hand.
1. A smart home solution that puts the user’s needs first
One of the great benefits of bringing in a smart home integrator (rather than buying technology off the shelf) is that your system will be tailored specifically to your needs. Yet the ‘custom’ in custom install can sometimes get forgotten by installers, with the temptation being to simply specify the same equipment for every single project.
This one-size-fits-all attitude comes with both positives and negatives. In some circumstances it does makes sense to favour robust tried-and-tested solutions, and it also means that the installer is incredibly familiar with the technology and how it all fits together.
That said, there are instances where the needs of the property’s residents cannot be met through a generic approach. It is the mark of a good smart home integrator to be able to approach each new scenario with fresh eyes, judging what technology is necessary first and foremost based on how it can benefit the user’s lifestyle.
As keen entertainers, the owners of this smart home wanted communal areas that could serve a variety of activities – from relaxing at the weekend to hosting cocktail parties in the evening. An intelligent lighting system was subsequently designed around their needs, with a number of user-configurable scenes created so they could quickly change the ambience in certain rooms, as well as linkable audio zones in the kitchen, reception room, dining area and garden, allowing for seamless entertainment inside and out during the summer months.
2. Devising a natural user interface
Nobody wants to live in a home they can’t control, yet some homeowners are left with an interface so complex that they are unable to understand how certain systems work. This leaves them constantly wasting their time searching for the right button, switch or command that will make their smart home do what they want it to do.
There are more ways than ever to control a smart home – keypads, touchscreens, mobile apps, universal remotes, even voice recognition – but, although it might be tempting to integrate all of them together, this needs to be planned very carefully in advance so that the user has the exact interface they need to hand at the precise moment they want to use it.
There is rarely a need to plaster the walls with keypads or touchscreens. Instead, careful preparation can ensure that the right interface is placed in a strategically useful point for the required task(s), ensuring that a few devices can provide coverage for an entire property.
The homeowners of this beautiful Regent’s Park townhouse were set on controlling their smart home through their smartphones as much as possible. As a result, they wished to minimise the number of interfaces dotted around the house. To ensure this, Andrew Lucas specified a house relatively free of touchscreens, with universal remotes and keypads placed in key locations so guests could make use of the smart home system while letting the owners manage the property in the way they wished.
3. Technology solutions that melt into the background
Some people absolutely love the technology in their home and want to be able to showcase it to visitors; however, many more simply want it to work and don’t wish to be reminded of it every time they enter the room.
This is particularly true for home cinema rooms, where the sheer amount of speakers and AV equipment required can overwhelm a room if left exposed. By placing all of this behind acoustically transparent materials or by situating projectors and sub-woofers in concealed bulkheads, an occupant is left able to enjoy films in peace without being constantly reminded about everything that’s going on in the background to make it happen.
In this beautiful London home cinema room, a huge amount of technology is hidden out of sight. Speakers are concealed behind the walls, the screen and even in the ceiling, while multiple sub-woofers are nestled underneath the second row of sofas for powerful, seat-shuddering bass.
4. A willingness to work hand in hand with the design team
Regardless of how useful a technological solution might be, some homeowners and property designers simply don’t want to compromise on their vision for the property in order to accommodate technology.
This can be a real challenge, particularly when a homeowner also wants to benefit from the modern conveniences of a unified audio-visual system and automated environmental management. In this circumstance, it becomes vital to ensure that all stakeholders (from the architect and interior designer to the M&E consultant and smart home integrator) are willing to listen to each other’s input and make compromises while shaping the property layout and design.
This will make it much more likely that the resulting residence can deliver the desired smart home functionality while remaining sympathetic to the architect or designer’s initial concept for the build.
An incredibly sparse interior arrangement by Claudio Silvestrin, whose previous projects include The Restaurant at The Shard and Kanye West’s apartment, meant that integrating any kind of smart technology into this Hampstead home was going to pose a significant test to any smart home specialist. Working with a reduced number of lighting points and needing to place AV units such as screens and speakers behind walls, ceilings, motorised panels or in alcoves, Andrew Lucas worked around the requirements of the designer to deliver the perfect minimalist smart home.