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Home smart home | Financial Times

Home smart home | Financial Times

September 08
16:07 2018

Homes have never been smarter. With just one awkwardly phrased command to your Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple HomePod, you can now adjust your thermostat, play an album, add something to your Ocado order, dim the lights or put the kettle on.

Yet, as technology has advanced, designers have been exploring ways in which to refine its presence, moving away from futuristic digital displays and hulking silver-bodied machines towards sleeker works that stand sentinel on shelves or that vanish altogether. Samsung’s latest QLED TV, for example, includes an “ambient mode” that camouflages the set with the background like a chameleon.

At this year’s London Design Festival, Benjamin Hubert, founder of design agency Layer and creative director of tech accessories brand Nolii, will launch a number of new products. “In the interiors world, there is definitely a blur that is happening between digital and analogue,” he says. “Where traditionally you might express the digital capability of something through screens and LEDs and noises, now that is receding into craft and disappearing behind surfaces and only appearing when somebody is there to be part of that process.”

The new Bang & Olufsen BeoSound Edge — to be launched with an installation in the festival’s Brompton Design District — is a case in point. The circular, monolithic wireless home speaker by designer Michael Anastassiades can either sit on the floor or attach to the wall (it measures 502mm in diameter) and includes proximity sensors to detect when you’re near, bringing the aluminium case to life. (The volume can be adjusted by gently rocking the speaker backwards and forwards.)

Bang & Olufsen’s BeoSound Edge home speaker

Lamps are particularly fertile territory for tech intervention. While decent sofas should last at least 20 years, making them unsuitable for digitising, lamps have a lifespan of maybe five years, 10 if you’re lucky, claims Hubert, whose Nolii is planning to launch a smart lamp. “The reason we did a lamp,” he explains, “is because it’s portable, super-small — you can pick it up and put it anywhere. It has ports on it so you can use legacy cables but it also has induction charging to charge your phone. It can give you a digital sunrise and you can set a programme for it to wake you up.”

Italian furnishings brand Promemoria is also launching two digital lights — the Zip.ico and Will o’ Wisp. The latter charges wirelessly and can be used indoors and out, and both connect with each other and to Apple’s smart home devices via WiFi for remote control.

The blending of digital and analogue is perhaps most apparent at Decorex International, the showcase for high-end interior design now in its 41st year. Wallpaper company Meystyle has been incorporating LEDs and Swarovski crystals into its hand-painted bespoke wallpaper since 2004 but this year the brand boasts OLED (organic light-emitting diode) wallpaper. The rolls are put up in the traditional way and metal contacts on each piece seamlessly connect to create a circuit. But the really clever bit lies in the new technology they’re incorporating.

Nolii’s protective phone case and card holder

The flexible OLED components were developed by LG Display last year and have only just gone into production. While Meystyle’s previous LED wallpaper was purely decorative, the OLED version could provide a room’s actual light source as it can be digitally controlled, dimmed and programmed and connected to existing smart-home technology. The next step for Meystyle is to introduce operation through sensors.

“I think in the home we’re becoming quite worried about technology,” says Corinne Julius, curator of the Future Heritage show at Decorex. “Yes, we like all the things smart technology might be able to give us but we’re also worried about how intrusive it can be into our family life and our security. I think we’re anxious. So artists who are using technology are humanising it.”

In the first year of Future Heritage, Julius included the work of Michael Eden, who used 3D-printed clay to rework the form of a Wedgwood urn. In 2015, she showed Moritz Waldemeyer’s extraordinary vases made of LED lights. And in 2016, Hideki Yoshimoto of Tangent created light installations that responded and reacted as you moved towards them. Yoshimoto will exhibit this year in Blown Away, a show put on by the design research gallery Matter of Stuff.

Trace wall clock by Studio Ayaskan

The new Future Heritage show will feature work by London-based designers Studio Ayaskan. Trace, a large wall clock, and Trace II, a standard lamp, both use UV lasers and light-sensitive liquid to mark time while leaving a colourful trace. A side table, Spectrum, uses water in a prism to create a rippling rainbow that is projected on to the floor and ceiling.

The sisters behind the studio, Begum and Bike Ayaskan, explain: “The technology is advancing at an exponential pace where ourselves and social structure are having to go through constant adaptations. Smart technology in design is mostly used for collecting data, to improve functionality or to bring an extra function to existing objects to improve our lives. The challenge for us is finding ways to make advancements feel more natural and to integrate them into our daily lives.”

Trellis side table by Muemma

“Any designer that loves what they do loves challenges — and something that moves as fast as technology does present a lot of those,” says Benjamin Hubert. But, he cautions: “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes tech is the right solution and sometimes a simpler analogue solution is appropriate. Sometimes a smart object is not always the smartest object.”

And sometimes it’s best just to keep things tidy. There are a number of products to streamline cables, chargers and devices launching at LDF. To neaten up the unsightly business of charging, the Trellis side table by Muemma has a lattice top through which cables for iPhones or iPads can be fed from the inbuilt four-way USB dock. On Associative Design’s “Best of Portugal” stand, the Bridge Desk by Christophe de Sousa for Wewood-Portuguese Joinery offers a groove through which cables can be fed, and acts as a stand for an iPad or iPhone.

The Berço rocking chair/listening station by Se7e

That’s not to say designers are above having a bit of fun with technology, melding form and function in unusual ways; also on the Associative Design stand is the Berço Chair by Se7e, a rocker with two inbuilt 50-watt Bluetooth speakers and an amplifier that provide a rather swish listening booth.

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