This year I made the grueling trek from the beautiful gray skies and the six-degree weather of Massachusetts to the oppressive 70-degree and sunny weather of Orlando for KBIS. After realizing I didn’t need to wear two coats, snow pants, boots, several hats and some gloves, I made my way over to the show floor. Boy, was I impressed! After doing a walk through of both halls I said to myself “This industry is BACK!”
Like any good designer, I always like to touch new faucets, check out the latest countertop colors and, of course, see all of the latest cabinetry.
But you know me better than that – what I wanted to do most was to see what kind of technology was on the show floor. In a future column I’ll get into some tech detail, but I think it’s worth taking a high-level look at what’s going on in our industry.
If we step back and look at where we are as an industry, we aren’t exactly early adopters of new technology. That’s not because we’re a bunch of tinfoil-hat-wearing crazies who are afraid of anything with a flashing light. Rather, this industry doesn’t change all that much technologically. Cabinets are still made just about the same way as decades ago, and houses are built out of largely the same materials as they have always been.
More tech-oriented industries often head toward a goal in a much more unified way. Just think of how movie watching has changed over the years. In your life, you’ve probably lived through VCR tapes, DVDs and now streaming video. The digital media industry does a pretty good job overall of heading to the next goal.
So, walking around the KBIS show floor, I saw a lot of attempts to integrate tech into products. There were many, many smart home integrations. There were a few companies that were showing full stack smart home systems. These systems offered integrated security, temperature control and smartphone integration.
There were many individual products that had tech integrated into them as well. Anything from garage door openers to coffee makers could be found integrating Wi-Fi, some kind of app or other “smart” technological wizardry.
Looking even further, there were a surprising number of virtual reality goggles on the floor. Several software companies on the show floor were showing off how you could design kitchens in 3-D and pop on a pair of goggles and feel like you’re standing in a kitchen. Some of the demos were very cool, though some of them were downright awkward.
There were more and more smart appliances, too. Each year I see the screens and the capabilities of these appliances getting better. That said, I still have yet to find one that’s truly “smart,” in my opinion.
You may be thinking I’m being a bit of a downer here. But part of me is a little jealous of other industries. Car makers are delivering self-driving cars pretty fast, and I can’t even have a truly self-cooking oven!
One booth that really stood out for me was the Virginia Tech booth. If you haven’t looked up the FutureHAUS project, you really should. The folks at VT have been reinventing the way that we design, build and live in our homes for the past few years.
They start with digitally fabricating the parts of the home inside a workshop. They think of each room as a “cartridge,” so your bathroom, kitchen, living room and bedroom are all designed and built in a factory setting. Every wire, appliance, switch, tile and floor is installed at the factory. Every piece of wood is cut by a robotic CNC cutter so that it all fits together perfectly.
The cartridges are packed up and shipped to the jobsite. There, they are easily linked together. Instead of waiting days for trades to install kitchens, pipes, wires and windows, it’s all done when it arrives at the site.
Going even further, they have reinvented the way we live in our homes. They have movable walls and fingerprint-operated bathroom vanities that raise, lower and change the lighting based on the user. They have voice-activated lights, and appliances that truly talk to each other to help you manage energy usage and eat healthier.
The FutureHAUS isn’t just every techie gadget you could find in a Best Buy jammed into a home. This is a curated and well-thought-out system. Every interaction you have with the home is designed to make the user’s life easier. The wall of TVs on the backsplash can be used to watch Netflix, monitor and control your appliances the way you want or even have a video chat with your friend from across the world while you cook dinner.
The lighting is designed to respond to your tastes and habits. The home “learns” how you use it and can respond accordingly. This means your appliances can adjust when the laundry is done, and your dishwasher can run the dishes when energy is cheapest. The walls of the house are mounted on metal tracks so that, within minutes, you can move your walls around to reconfigure the space. It’s a smart interior that lets you have more usable space in a smaller footprint.
FutureHAUS recently suffered severe damage in a fire (see related story, “FutureHAUS Destroyed by Fire“) and rebuilding plans are currently in the very early stages. But they’ve promised that, with the continuing support of the industry, it will be rebuilt and better than ever!
So as designers, architects, builders and specifiers, what are we supposed to do until then? Here’s what I suggest you do. First off, talk to your clients. See how they are using – or want to use – technology in their spaces. Take a look at what tech you currently have access to. Can you sell smart appliances? Would your clients like a touch faucet? If so, go get one and try it out. Look at what FutureHAUS has done. I think this is a great template for where we are headed in the future.
Now, the last problem we have to solve is getting the industry moving in the right direction. I think we all forget sometimes that big, innovative companies don’t have all of the answers. We as designers and specifiers are all talking directly to the clients, and that gives us the opportunity to hear and really know what they want. So, if you can imagine a real future where technology is used across the home, tell your manufacturers what you envision. That’s the fastest route to a self-cooking oven that I can think of! ▪