It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of controlling your heating, lights and security systems remotely on your phone seemed the stuff of science fiction. Home technology is smarter than ever and the latest products promise to save you money, time and stress – as well as providing state-of-art entertainment in the comfort of your own home. Technology is at the heart of most high-end renovations right now and so-called ‘whole-house automation’ – where all your connected devices talk to each other and are managed from a central hub – is likely to be a standard feature in the homes of the future.
“Luxury means technology these days,” says interior designer Daniel Hopwood, best known for BBC Two’s The Great Interior Design Challenge. “Whether it’s a sophisticated water softener or a Sonos music system, technology has become so much more efficient – and affordable.”
Here’s a rundown of some of the best devices on the market.
Philips Hue Starter Kit
Philips remains at the forefront of smart lighting systems and the Philips Hue Starter Kit provides you with the technology so that you can set schedules or create special lighting moods, like a sunrise effect for a gradual wake-up in the morning. You can also control the lights remotely from your smartphone.
Nest Hello Doorbell
The video doorbell from Nest offers great peace of mind through its built-in HD video camera, so you can check your phone to see who’s at the door. There’s also a built-in microphone and speaker so that you can speak to the caller; even if you are far from home. And if you have Google Home, you’ll get a voice alert on the speaker as well as hearing the doorbell ring.
A cautionary note on doorbells comes from Rupert Robertson of Red Box. He says, “whenever we install a new doorbell or door entry system we ensure that there is some audible indication to the caller at the front door that the bell is working, which discourages endless pushing of the button.”
Nest Learning Thermostat
If whole-house automation is beyond your budget, one of the best heating systems is the Nest Learning Thermostat, which is simple to use and actually learns from your usage, thus saving energy. It can be controlled on an App from your smart phone or from your voice-controlled speaker Alexa or Google.
Quooker Hot Tap
“While the ritual of boiling the kettle can’t be understated, a hot water tap is so handy when you’ve got a family,” concedes Daniel. The latest design – the tap that does it all – dispenses 100 ̊C boiling, hot, cold and now also cold filtered drinking water and sparkling water, along with special features to ensure no risk of scalding or burning.
“If you’re looking for a bells and whistles approach to automating your home, Crestron offers one of the best,” says Daniel. “It can control everything from your music, blinds, heating, air-conditioning and lighting at the touch of a button, so no need to spend time asking Alexa to turn off lights before you leave the house.”
If you are a Star Wars fan, you will love the R2D2-like Keecker Robot, who claims to replace your TV and speakers. He has voice and remote control and will follow you around, filling the house with your chosen tunes, whilst his projector will display your favourite movies or TV programmes on any available white wall. He can also provide a modicum of security with his 13MP Sony 360-degree fisheye and 5MP front-facing cam. The children will love him!
Sonos Music System
“They’ve revolutionised the way we listen and enjoy music,” says Daniel. “And whilst they can’t quite compare with LPs or a Roberts radio for style or nostalgia, Sonos is a must for any music enthusiast.” The US company still leads the way in helping you create a bespoke multi-room system.
“One of my favourite things in my flat is my Toto toilet,” says Daniel. “With its warmed seat and eco-friendly washing system, it adds some much-needed luxury to one of the most neglected rooms in the house.” Their combined toilet and bidet units feature a hands-free function, using a remote control, a sensor-operated lid, warm-air drying, and an air-purifying system that deodorises during use.
Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator
As well as keeping your family groceries perfectly chilled, this smart fridge acts as something of a family nerve centre, with its touch-screen built directly into the door of the fridge, so you can communicate with your family, as well as streaming TV and music while you cook. Its three interior cameras, which can be viewed through your smartphone, means you can check what’s in the fridge when you are at the supermarket. Alternatively, there’s the FridgeCam, which also allows you to see the contents of your fridge when you’re out via the Smarter app.
QLED Samsung TV
“If you’re in the market for a new TV, it’s got to be the Samsung QLED TV,” adds Daniel. “As a designer, it does the hard work of disguising itself for you (its Ambient Mood enables it to mimic the texture and colour of the wall behind it), rather than having to design joinery or furniture to hide it. The way we view TV has changed: now it’s all about watching the latest box sets – although I miss the days of cult viewing, when everyone sat down at night to watch the same show.”You might also watch out for the LG 65-inch Signature, which will be available later this year and can be rolled up and put away when not in use.
An IP-enabled video door entry system gives you an instant visual on your phone or tablet to see who’s at your door and you can communicate with the visitor too. The video surveillance footage can be stored for up to a month and you can check it all from an app on your desktop or smartphone, so you can be anywhere, even on holiday. Axis Communications UK provides good quality IP security cameras with HDTV image quality.
Where To Start
It’s best to fit all these automated devices while refurbishing your home as you need to allow space for a cupboard to store a stacking system for AV/IT/Sonos/Sky/fuse boxes/AC unit as a minimum. Make sure it’s child-proof and kept locked