Whether you think of it as charging or as juicing your mobile devices, they all need that boost from time to time. If you count your mobile phone, your iPad, your iPod and maybe your laptop, that’s four devices right there. And when you consider the number of household members in the families you are designing for, there can be no question that we need to attend to proper places for this effort. In fact, it’s likely that within a home, it’s going to be important to have multiple spots where this task can be accomplished.
Remember when a phone was just a phone and a mother’s desk or home office was an absolute in kitchen and home design? Today, mobile devices serve many purposes – from flashlight to alarm clock to filing cabinet and more. This makes the basic tenet of storing charging stations at or near the point of use tough to accomplish unless we offer multiple “juice bars.”
LOCATIONS FOR CHARGING STATIONS
A charging station near the family entry, in the mud room or as one enters the kitchen might be among the first spots. This station might be combined with the spot where keys are dropped, mail is sorted and stored, a calendar and message center back up the computer and more. It should be at a comfortable height. For some, the charging station in this location will need to be in direct line of sight to remind users to pick up devices when heading back out the door. Others will prefer the clean, uncluttered look and so wish the charging to be concealed, perhaps in a cubby or behind a drop-down door or a roll-top.
Because we don’t stop using our devices when we get home, there are a number of other spots we should also consider for charging. A juice bar in the bedroom enables use of the alarm function and provides some privacy for use. Another location might be the designated space for “home office” or homework, and a third might be near the comfort zone where one might read or explore the internet while relaxing.
Once a location has been determined, the good news is that this doesn’t have to take a lot of space. In fact, every time a new model of a phone or computer is introduced, it’s smaller and has more speed and capacity. A charging station for phones or MP3 players might fit in a niche between studs, in a recess on a decorative post or leg on an island, in wine box cubbies or in a single drawer. When larger devices and multiple users are added to the mix of devices needing attention, the amount of space needed increases. Expanding to a cabinet can allow for tucking the devices out of sight, and for organizing, with each shelf or pull-out labeled for item and owner.
Borrowing from our kitchen accessories, a rack designed to hold plates, pot covers or trays can be used to store charging iPads or laptops, and an angled spice storage drawer accessory can store smaller devices so that they can be seen. Some of the backsplash storage systems we use in the kitchen are ideal for this purpose and, in fact, accessories have been designed to do just this.
Once the space has been designated, the real mess needs to be addressed and that is the cords. The most basic and successful way to deal with the cords is to create a section of the storage where there is a link to power and a divider to conceal the cords, with slots to allow for the connection between device and power line, such as a decorative box with a false bottom, or an appropriately sized cabinet with a removable panel as its back to conceal stored cords.
Whether or not the cables will be concealed, it’s important that they be organized and labeled. Taking advantage of the design versatility of silicone, cord control accessories now come in a rainbow of colors, and with thoughtful functions relating to organizing. These include disks around which a cord can be coiled and held in place, and buttons that grip the charging end of the power line, and hold it in place and available. The cords can be color-coded for each device or reusable labels are available to help identify owner and purpose of a cord.
Designing an efficient power connection can be as simple as accessing an outlet and using a power cord or surge strip. There are huge numbers of alternatives and add-ons for standard outlets that provide for USB connections, some of which can be attached to a standard outlet in multiple layers to accept multiple devices.
Again, the critical design element will be the control and organizing of the cords. Power sources are now available built into drawers or cabinets, included in plug molding, or pop-up outlets, and many are available as standard plug receptacles or USB ports.
Just as we establish design concepts for the charging station, technology is providing us with new methods for charging. Today we have permeable surfaces that will charge devices designed to be receptive simply by resting the device on the surface.
These wireless base stations can be designed into a kitchen work surface or they can be a furniture piece, and they require no cable connecting the power source and the device. While they are becoming more available, they are not yet universal in that not every base station will charge every enabled device. What a great approach this will be, in terms of convenience and improved access, when it moves through all of our small kitchen appliances. Imagine, no cords!
Another new concept involves house plants that can charge a smartphone. An environmentally friendly tech company, Arkyne Technologies, embeds its product, Bioo, into a houseplant, enabling the plant’s by-products of photosynthesis to be collected as electricity, which is then used to charge the phone. And perhaps by the time you read this, we’ll have self-powered charging stations.
With technology advancing faster than the speed of light, or so it seems, we as designers need to stay alert to the rapidly changing needs of our clients and options for meeting those needs. These changing design parameters are an opportunity for us to be inspired, and, like our devices, to be “recharged.” ▪
Mary Jo Peterson is an award-winning designer whose work has earned national recognition including induction into the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Hall of Fame and recognition as the NAHB CAPS Educator of the year for 2014. She is certified in kitchen, bath, aging-in-place, and active adult housing design with 25 years’ experience, and is president of her CT-based design firm, Mary Jo Peterson, Inc.