A home of the future

As client demands increase, can designers balance aesthetics with technical advances?

The Trident Waterfront building in Dubai Marina boasts smart home solutions.
The Trident Waterfront building in Dubai Marina boasts smart home solutions.

A revolution in the way that we live is taking place. If you still rely on the spy hole to identify visitors to your front door or persist in having a physical CD collection with cases intact, and actually draw your curtains closed at night by hand, I'm afraid your home is the equivalent of having a 1980s-esque house brick as a mobile phone.

We all demand a hi-tech office where unsightly wires are hidden from view, where we can achieve a high-speed broadband connection within milliseconds, and where we are attached to a central server that allows us to access our colleagues files and data at the touch of a button. So why is there still a blanket of hesitation enveloping the home automation movement? The first step to embracing the wireless networked lifestyle is to start to visualise the entire home as a multi-layered system of wires and individual devices: The entertainment network; the household appliance network; the security network; the work network and the communications network, and then imagine the infrastructure that will hook all of them up together to make life easier.

Several factors have prompted the spurt of growth in the home technology market; it stands to reason that as office and hospitality technology grows, this will have an impact on our homes. Omar Hikal, chief operating officer, Archimedia, explains how it started: “I really think that people have always been interested in making their homes more convenient and easier to use, but only recently has the technology been readily accessible at more reasonable prices to allow us to do so. Today we can run enormous amounts of data on a single cable, or even wirelessly making robust and functional home automation significantly more achievable. I personally believe that not enough attention is paid today, particularly by interior designers, to the amount of value they can add to their projects by considering all the audio, video and automation options with a qualified systems integrator.”

Designers employed to create technology-led residences for discerning clients now have a multitude of technical systems and products to choose from, limited only by their budget and imagination. From eye or fingerprint scanners at the front door to pre-programmed air conditioning, lamps, background music and kitchen appliances, the solutions currently available to make life easier are ever-increasing. Moving into the living room, digital artwork can adorn the walls, making it easy to change depending on the mood or time of day. Lights, drapes, climate and humidity control, home theatre, audio and security cameras can all be controlled by a single panel that can be modified and designed to complement any interior, corporate identity or the specific needs of the customer, both in function and appearance. The days of a chunky white box on an otherwise pristine wallcovering are over, there are a plethora of finishes and materials available.

Clients willing and able to spend 5-15% of their property's value on home automation would rate the attractiveness of the technology as vital. Architects and interior designers are able to choose materials, surfaces and finishes of the control pads, from precious wood veneers to sleek white or black, chrome, brushed aluminium, even real gold plating to fit in with their client's surroundings.

Hikal says: “Most of our systems are designed specifically to enhance the work that is done by the designers using products that ensure that the a/v and automation system does not negatively impact the aesthetic element that designers work so hard to achieve. Practically every component, no matter how complex, can be completely concealed or seamlessly integrated into the interior design.”

He continues: “Designers and clients need to get a professional systems integrator involved early in the process. This allows for proper planning and avoids having to perform costly and messy retrofits. Every home will ultimately have any combination of televisions, DVD players, CD players, ipods, computers, lighting control, air conditioning, and security systems. It makes perfect sense to have all these elements integrated together and with the interior design from the start to avoid future technical and aesthetic disasters.”

In a property market like Dubai where thousands of properties are flooding the market at once, how can the consumer choose between one ‘luxury’ apartment and another, when both are hailed as having ‘top quality finishes’, ‘an exclusive address’ and promise a ‘luxury lifestyle’ to the lucky buyer? The answer lies in the perks you can’t see. Developers are getting wise to this valuable asset and last month, the World Trade Centre Residence announced its intention to feature smart home technology from Opus Technology. This British-based, but locally distributed firm launched its Opus 500 pre-wired entertainment system to a rapturous reception from Gulf developers. It is already being used at Le Reve’s Dubai Marina apartments, and Nakheel’s Signature Villas on The Palm Jumeirah and it is currently being installed at Tiara Residence and Oceana Residence in Dubai too.

Of course, there is still the faction of non-believers that assume that increasingly complex systems mean failures will boast a corresponding level of complexity, which is why correct installation is key, as Mark Coombes, regional manager, Opus Technologies, explains: “The most important factor for interior designers to consider when installing products such as Opus is how user friendly it is - and how reliable. If a technological product isn’t tried and tested it could end up costing the developer a lot more in both time and money. Not only is the longevity of the system important but the installation process could potentially be problematic where there is little previous experience.”

In the same way that we can't now imagine a life without Blackberrys or ipods, it really is going to be just a couple of years before our incredulity peaks when we remember owning actual keys to our doors, and we recall the effort of pulling our curtains together by hand when it gets dark.

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