Upgrade your abode with smart features for both convenience and peace of mind.
By Elizabeth Nutt
While many home design trends disappear as quickly as they arrive on the scene (looking at you, accent walls and shiplap), high-tech features are here to stay, at least for as long as the smartphone is around.
No matter where you fall on the “smart” spectrum, you’re bound to incorporate even a basic tech feature like a smart TV or Bluetooth speaker into your living space. On the flip side, you could opt to control your entire house and all of your tech devices therein with a voice-activated, whole-home command system like Amazon’s Alexa. Either way, what sets this trend apart from others is that, no matter what technology you choose to incorporate, it’s not all about aesthetics.
While they can certainly streamline a home’s look, technological advancements can bring to a space an elevated, more convenient way of living, where a house is controlled through a push of a button (on your phone, that is) or via your voice, giving a new sense of meaning to the term “homeownership.” Everything from lighting to door locks has gone high-tech, and the options are seemingly endless.
Here, local designers weigh in on the high-tech trend, offering their insight into the home advancements that are changing the way people set up and utilize their living spaces.
One element of the high-tech home trend that local designers can agree on is that it continues to evolve very quickly. Raili Clasen, founder and owner of Corona del Mar’s Raili CA Design, says that, as a result, less is sometimes more. “If anything, I feel like … [technology is] overcomplicated, even though a lot of people got on the bandwagon,” Clasen says. “I still go into homes that have old systems and then it’s hard to pass on to the next generation because it gets dated.”
For Clasen, a home’s tech capacity today, ideally, fits in the palm of your hand. “A few years ago … you’d come in and there was sort of a grand central station in the kitchen on the wall and that, I feel, is kind of done. Everything is phone-based where it’s streamlined,” she says. But even the self-described “low-tech” designer has at least five house-related apps on her phone. “As far as technology goes, smart TVs are for sure a must on all levels,” Clasen says. And don’t forget to download the universal smart TV remote from Apple’s App Store, which allows you to completely replace your remote with your phone, and syncs with almost every brand of smart TV.
For entertainment purposes, opt for the sleek and portable Sonos speaker system, which Clasen uses in her own home. Sonos speakers are easy to install—you simply plug them in where you’d like them and connect them to your home’s Wi-Fi network—and the app allows you to control your music and multiple speakers throughout your home using your phone.
For its part, lululemon’s Mirror is a barely-there (it requires just 2 feet of wall space) “home gym” that brings more than 50 genres of workouts for all levels, including Pilates, dance cardio, kickboxing and yoga, directly to you. Turn it on and control it with your smartphone, and you’re able to access a vast library of exercises, live fitness classes and even one-on-one personal training sessions, all ranging from five to 60 minutes. Turn it off, and you’ve got a sleek and functional mirror adorning a wall of your home.
The Mirror boasts cutting-edge hardware and responsive software, and it can connect to any of your Bluetooth devices, like your Apple Watch or heart rate monitor, making it one of the most advanced fitness offerings on the market today. If you want to try your hand at a Mirror workout before investing, you can book a demo at Fashion Island’s lululemon store. Because if your home has the latest in high-tech gadgets, your home gym might as well, too.
Susan Thiel, the founder and owner of Newport-based Susan Thiel Design, echoes this idea of having to navigate your tech choices against the current of a fast-moving industry—always thinking about what a product may evolve to become two years down the line. “I just completed a project where we had iPad stations [installed]. I have a new client—we’re finishing his house and he’s in the tech industry—and he says iPad stations are out,” she says. Rather, this particular client (like many others that Thiel and Clasen work with) opted to install Amazon’s Alexa, a single whole-home system, which connects with the other devices in your house, controlling them either through your voice or your device. For the most part, you can’t even notice them, and setup is simple.
“[My client] has voice-activated Alexa stations throughout the house, so you say what you need, and the window treatments come down, the temperature on the thermostats adjusts, and all that,” Thiel says. In addition to being able to pair Alexa with your smart thermostat and motorized blinds, the system can also connect to and speak with smart light bulbs—so you can control your home’s lighting through your phone or with your voice—as well as with your smart TV. For its part, the Google Home smart speaker functions similarly, pairing with countless home devices.
Clasen emphasizes that her clients tend to hesitate when installing anything permanent—even if it’s brand-new technology. Rather, making small and more thoughtful investments works better in the long run—especially if they work with your smartphone, where you can simply refresh an app as technology and software upgrades necessitate.
While many tech features are aimed at convenience, many also boast state-of-the-art security measures that make it easier than ever to feel safe at home, too. Clasen relies on the Kevo touch-to-open smart lock app, one of many of its kind, which allows for keyless locking and unlocking of your doors from within Bluetooth range. This system also offers homeowners the ability to lock or unlock their doors remotely over Wi-Fi, or to give friends and family digital “eKey” codes so that you can manage visitors and guests while you’re not home and monitor who’s coming and going.
Clasen and many of her clients also manage their home’s security systems from their iPhones; most alarm companies today offer an app that allows for remote usage, so you can control its settings and set or unlock your alarm system from your phone. And systems like the Ring Alarm Security Kit, for example, offer contact sensors for doors and windows that will send an alert directly to your phone if triggered. Ring also boasts a video monitoring doorbell that allows you to see, hear and speak to anyone at your front door via your phone—from anywhere.
Similarly, security cameras such as Google’s Nest Cam allow you to have eyes on your home at all times through a phone app that alerts you when there’s noise or movement, and also offer up to 10 days’ worth of 24/7 video history that you can scroll back through if necessary. Nest’s thermostats, which can be controlled from the same app that oversees the camera system, allow you not only to manage the temperature of each room within your home, but will also send you alerts if your heating or cooling system appears to malfunction.
“We have a lot of jobs where they’re second homes, so [clients] can keep an eye on their house, turn on lights, check security, see if there are boxes on the front porch. It’s very easy to manage your house and your household when you’re not there,” Clasen says of the many benefits of these high-tech security features. Of course, turning off your lights, lowering your blinds, turning on your favorite movie and getting the volume just right—all without leaving your couch or lifting a finger—is an added bonus, too.
Take your technology to the next level with these state-of-the-art home add-ons.
When hosting a party, you’ll never run low on ice with the GE Profile OPAL 2.0 NUGGET ICE MAKER, which is Wi-Fi enabled so you can control it from your smartphone. The countertop appliance, which is portable and doesn’t require a water hookup, can make up to 24 pounds of soft, crunchy, “restaurant-style” ice per day, and automatically powers on when your ice supply is running low, from $629.95, online from Williams Sonoma. (williams-sonoma.com)
Vacuuming your whole home is as easy as pushing a button on your phone with the iRobot ROOMBA I7+ machine, a Wi-Fi connected device with an automatic dirt disposal mechanism. Special navigation technology and settings on the app allow you to control when and where your Roomba works, and it vacuums both carpet and hardwood floors. As an added bonus, you can connect it to your Google Assistant or Alexa device for totally hands-free housecleaning, $799.99, with advance order at Bloomingdale’s, Fashion Island. (949-729-6600; bloomingdales.com)
Lululemon’s MIRROR brings at-home workouts to the next level in a super-sleek design that’s touted as “the nearly invisible home gym.” And while it’s minimalist and modern, functioning as a regular mirror when it’s turned off, it packs a punch when it comes to workouts. The cutting-edge device boasts 50-plus genres of exercise for all abilities, live classes, one-on-one personal training sessions and a vast library of workouts that are accessible 24/7, including via your smart device when you leave the home. Book a virtual demo or purchase a Mirror, $1,495 plus $39 monthly membership, delivered to your home and installed with advance order online or at lululemon, Fashion Island. (949-644-9642; shop.lululemon.com)