Kitchens Must Facilitate Connectivity
authors Eric Schimelpfenig
For a long time the kitchen has been considered the nexus of communication and gathering in the home. With all of the laptops, tablets, smartphones, fitness trackers and other devices, a kitchen can become so many different things. With the swipe of a finger, your kitchen can be a movie theater, an office or even an arcade.
To design kitchens for the present and future, designers need to be aware of what it takes to keep all of these devices connected, used, charged and stored in the kitchen.
The Internet is essential for just about every device these days. Last week my Internet went out for a few hours. I looked at my laptop and said to myself, “Well, that’s useless now.” I don’t think kitchen designers need to (or should) turn into IT professionals, but understanding the basics of how to get a good WiFi signal are important.
A router broadcasts the Internet over WiFi for all devices to connect to. Placement of these routers is really important. You want them close to where the devices are going to be used the most. The kitchen is often times where that happens. A router typically is an afterthought plastic box that’s shoved behind a desk. This makes them hard to access if they need maintenance, and also can seriously hinder wireless signals, slow Internet performance and seriously degrade your Crossy Road game or your child’s latest Snapchat.
Just like we think about how many countertop appliances one will use in a kitchen, a router should be considered on this list as well. Up until recently, routers were quite ugly. Thankfully, some design sense is being put into them to encourage people to put them more out in the open.
The OnHub series of routers are designed to be simple to use and elegant to look at.
Even more on the design angle, Google, the maker of these particular routers, is encouraging designers to make them fit even better into a space by allowing designers to make “shells” for them. These shells allow them to look like a vase, hold fruits or just match a color:
If you do spec a router, check with your electrician to make sure all of the wiring is where you need it. You’re going to need power, cable TV and ethernet. These are all pretty easy to do in a remodel.
When entertaining guests, more than just offering a solid cup of tea or coffee, offering WiFi access can be very accommodating. Select a router with a “guest” network. This allows visitors to access the Internet without dealing with complex passwords. It also isolates all of the homeowners’ connected devices in a way that keeps them secure from casual users.
So, you’ve got all of those devices connected, your family has watched Netflix, sent a hundred texts, video chatted with grandma, and now all of the batteries are dead. You’ve got to charge all of these things!
You could run extension cords and power strips across the counters…but we can’t do that. We’re designers. Just like we consider where the power outlet goes for a stand mixer, we need to deeply consider where and how these new devices are used.
There are two kinds of power that devices need: 110-volt power from a standard outlet, and USB power. The most common use for the 110-volt outlet is a laptop. Talk to your clients and find out when and where they use it. If they’re sitting at a raised bar using the laptop while someone else cooks, make sure there’s an available outlet that won’t get in the way. Consider storage for the laptop’s power adapter as well.
Nearly all tablets, phones, activity trackers and even some laptops charge over USB. There are two ends of a USB cable, the one that plugs into the power, and the other end that plugs into the device.
They typically get plugged into a power brick. Now those power bricks can get ugly, and a lot of times they can crowd outlets, blocking the ability to plug something else into an adjacent one. In addition to that, if you’re like me, I carry my power brick with me in case I need it. I don’t want to leave it at home. An excellent solution would be outlets that have USB plugs built in.
These install anywhere you have (or can install) a traditional outlet. They are reasonably priced and can be sourced from just about any hardware store.
The USB plug has been a staple charging port on computers for over 15 years. It’s been incredibly versatile. As designers, we should be wary of specifying technology that could easily be obsolete in a few years. USB plugs won’t be anytime soon. The connectors on the other end (the end that plugs into our devices) change all the time, but that charging end always stays the same.
Speaking of tech that can change, let’s talk briefly about wireless charging. This technology lets a compatible phone magically charge by just dropping it on a charging mat.
The idea of eliminating cords is really great. I’ve even got a few of these in my house. Here’s the problem: They don’t work with all devices all of the time. On top of that, there are two competing charging standards. Notably, iPhones don’t offer this. The only way to use it is to put a special case on your phone.
My advice always was to stay from this technology because you never knew if it would work on your particular device. That was until I saw a setup from Corian. Corian can now build a wireless charging coil into a countertop.
What’s brilliant about this is that you don’t need to have a compatible phone. All you need is that little plastic ring pictured on page 30. You plug the ring into your device, and then put the ring on the counter and it starts charging!
What’s great is that these rings can be continually replaced over the years to accommodate new types of charging plugs. They also eliminate cables strewn about the countertop. The best part is that, when it’s not in use, you never know it’s there.
Devices have two types of use cases in the kitchen: active and resting.
Active is when it’s in use. Examples would be a tablet used to look at recipes, a phone used for game playing or a laptop used for doing work. Putting outlets and USB chargers in the appropriate place can accommodate devices like this.
Resting is for devices that you need to charge, but want out of the way. These would be things like activity trackers, iPods and cameras.
Hiding and storing these devices can be an excellent way to organize a kitchen. Often these devices are needed on the way out to work or school. Consider this: If you dedicate a drawer or cabinet to tablets, cameras or phones, I strongly suggest looking at typical sizes for these types of devices. Laptops generally have been the same size for years. For charging these, I’d stay away from fancy “charging stations.” Simply dedicating a drawer or shelf and building in some 110 and USB outlets can create an organized way to store and charge. Best of all, the homeowner can easily change out the cords and chargers as needed.