Tommaso Corà has strong words to share with the design world.
“The market,” the co-founder of design firm Tipic, says, “is quite conservative. It’s asking for new colours and finishes every year, but in the last 20 years didn’t innovate much in processing and technology. This is the last chance for the design market – meaning the building economy and the furniture economy – to take this train. Otherwise, tech companies will start to propose different solutions that will take all the high-value design and furnishing away [from us].”
Interior designers, you have been warned: move fast or the likes of Apple and Amazon will jack your steez. Although Corà, who is based in Vicenza, Italy, insists that “the design industry is very late on subject of technology,” the past few years have seen a revolution stir in the merging worlds of tech and interior design. While services such as Homewings, a website that links clients up with specific designers, are making design in the home more approachable and affordable for ordinary people, we have also seen small shifts in the function of certain spaces within the home.
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Connectivity has increased exponentially and, although tech companies have been focusing on existing devices, often this requires new interfaces. Take heating. The Hive Active Heating smart thermostat offers a more economical (and controlled) method of heating your home and British Gas decided to collaborate with product designer and tech lover Yves Béhar on the design. Renowned French designer Phillipe Starck took this logic to a sleeker conclusion with his latest collaboration with Netatmo. The smart radiator valves offer a similar service but are voice controlled; the idea being that residents can alter the temperatures from room-to-room with ease.
The natural, technical kitchen
Incredulous headlines came in January when it was reported that the Met may soon begin to use smart home tech in criminal investigations, given that items such as the Amazon Echo capture so much data around the home. This means that, quite deliciously, your smart fridge could become a witness – stock it wisely. In fact, the kitchen could prove to become the most fertile ground for advances within the smart home, says Tommaso Corà.
“The kitchen is probably the most technical environment in the house,” he explains. “You have hot; you have cold; you have fire; you have water; you have electricity and in a lot of houses you have gas as well. You already have the elements to play with.” To this end, Tipic were approached by Marmo Arredo, a stone firm based in Tombolo, near Venice. The company was looking for uses for a synthetic stone – cheaper and more ecological than real stone – it had produced, which led Tipic to use the composite to create the Tulèr kitchen worktop (pictured above).
This looks like a regular worktop, until you wave your hand over a sensor and a portion of the stone lowers to create a sink. It’s a bit Thunderbirds, a bit James Bond and – according to Corà – the future of interior design. “Our research is based on making things easier by using the space in a different way,” he says. “With smart technology, you can have things change in function depending on what you need. With Tulèr, we asked: ‘Why don’t we work with technology to have a clear kitchen top which you can just switch up interaction when you need it?’” With the Tulèr kitchen, you can chop meat and then wash your hands with reduced chance of cross-contamination. As Corà puts it: “The steps of cooking become simpler, faster. This is simple, but it is smarter than before, so the technology has helped you.”
The design-led smart home
Corà uses the word “natural” six times when he is explaining the design of the Tulèr kitchen. It seems the natural interface is important when it comes to integrating tech into interior design. Kai Price, who heads up the successful London-based interior and product design company Att Pynta with business partner Amanda Nelson, tells The Ambient: “We’ve seen a lot of cool ways people are using tech in their homes, but it’s still design-led. You still want your home to feel homey and organic.”
Att Pynta specialises in Scandi-influenced design that is not so much minimal as functional; the bachelor pad look, characterised by massive flat-screen televisions and chrome hardware, is very much out. Instead, Price says “it’s about making tech work within the home in a styled, considered way,” and he cites Samsung’s The Frame TV (pictured above) as an example of a sleek and beautiful tech item for the connected home.
When it’s tuned off, the television displays an artwork of your choosing, meaning that it blends in beautifully with your angular, Scandi-themed home. “That’s something we’ve seen creep in recently,” says Price. “Even if you’re not using the Frame TV by Samsung, you have a flatscreen TV on your wall but also have paintings and mirrors around it, so when it is off, it kind of just blends in with your background.”
Technology can help build a feeling in a space – Abigail Ahern
London-based interior designer Abigail Ahern, renowned for her maximalist design, similarly insists tech needn’t interrupt the aesthetic mood of a home space. “If you want to incorporate more metallic into a room,” she says, “you can make it feel warmer with an array of gold tones, or cooler with steel or chrome tones. Technology can help build a feeling in a space.” Be it a disappearing sink, a TV screen that’s also a painting or an Amazon Echo cover the shade of your living room colour scheme, it would seem that integration is key.
Kai Price, too, sees the future of home design as entwined with the world of technology: “It’s definitely where interiors is headed.” How soon we reach that future will depend on designers’ ability to capitalise on the myriad innovations sweeping their industry. As Tommaso Corà says: “Technology is helping make things in a smarter way, but interior design hasn’t had innovation for a long, long time. A table is a table from 200 years ago but we spend probably more time on our desk than touching our device, so why don’t we work on that?”