It's an issue as old as tech itself, and one Thomas Edison probably had to contend with when he finally took his Phonograph home: where exactly could he put it?!
For years big old TV and hi-fi systems literally had to become part of the furniture, but what about the latest smart home tech? Cameras, sensors, voice activated speakers, robot vacuum cleaners, thermostats, alarms, routers, Wi-Fi extenders all give complete control over your home, but they do nothing for the clutter.
Early adopters rarely consider aesthetics, but given that smart home tech is now aimed squarely at the mainstream, just how can you embrace the latest gadgetry without making your home look like an electrical retailers?
If you insist on having multiple cameras, air quality sensors, Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant in every room things are going to get a little busy. Still, with careful curation and cleverly chosen accessories creating a smart and stylish home is easier than you think.
First, consider the TV
The biggest piece of smart home tech also takes the most hiding, and while super slim televisions have freed up a huge amount of space in living rooms, big black screens can still be overpowering. Samsung's elegantly simple The Frame TV solves this by looking exactly like a picture frame, complete with screensaver art, while Loewe and Bang & Olufsen televisions look desirable in any setting.
If you've not got the budget for a luxury TV, always look for the slimmest frame and don't forget the cables. Trace anything you can into the wall to preserve the look, or invest in Samsung's game-changing 15m Invisible Connection cable that also frees up where you can store set top boxes. But if the sight of a TV, however gorgeous, still offends, then how about a TV lift that can be hidden inside furniture, bespoke cabinets to hide all your AV or a projector?
Sounds obvious, but compared to the early days of home automation gadgetry the latest smart home kit is positively elegant. Sure, there's still plenty in the way of ugly but effective plastic boxes available – Y-Cam and Devolo please take note – but market leaders such as Nest, Netatmo, Hive and Nokia (née Withings), offer more than just functionality, whether that's through the use of on-trend colourways, blend-in-the-background subtlety, or statement style.
Also worth considering now are the third party Alexa and Google Assistant smart speakers – you don't have to have the same style in every room. With its imminent upgrade the Libratone Zipp is one of the best looking, and sounding, Alexa options, with a great range of fabric covers and colours available.
Location, location, location
If your smart kit comes with a wall bracket… use it. Security cameras, in particular, work best when positioned high up and out of the way, and this means they also won't clutter up mantelpieces and sideboards. If you want to avoid running cables up the walls, look for battery powered models such as Ring Cam and Netgear's Arlo. Speakers can also be wall-mounted – try Richer Sounds – and will sound better than if hidden behind the sofa.
Style in threes (or fives)
When it comes to interior design, three really is the magic number. Group three items together – a vase, a candle and a smart home speaker for instance – and they will look far better than one or two items on their own. It's all to do with how our mind deals with patterns, but five, seven and even nine objects also look more appealing than an even number. We're not suggesting you clump a camera, air purifier and robot vacuum together, but surrounding your tech with pretty things is the smart way to go.
Invisible tech is your friend
Armed with your smartphone, decent Wi-Fi and some clever kit you can add all sorts of custom home control without an ugly black box or cable in sight. Smart, app controlled lightbulbs such as Philips Hue screw into existing light fittings and allow you to change the mood, set alarms for a natural wake-up, or even have a disco in the bathroom, while Lightwave RF boast a range of easy to install smart light switches and plug sockets that can give app control to any existing light or appliance.
Pimp your tech
While we're not suggesting you decoupage your gadgets, there are ways you can customise your smart home kit to help it blend in. The Hive thermostat is available with a stylish stand or one of 12 coloured bands, Flexson specialize in Sonos accessories including elegant floor stands, wall brackets and skins, plus Amazon is full of nice (and not so nice) cases and mounts for the Echo Dot.
Turn speakers into statements
The rise of one-box streaming Bluetooth speakers might offend the majority of audiophiles, but it has revolutionised hi-fi design. Brands such as Vifa, Libratone, Naim and Ruark offer stylish solutions – especially the latest fabric-clad designs in fashion-forward colourways – that can be positioned around the home like an ornament. Plus the likes of B&O and again Ruark know how to make a statement in the corner of the living room. If you need further evidence that interior design is now a key focus for audio brands, Sonos has just announced a partnership deal with Ikea for a series of complementary products due in 2019.
Grin and hide it
While a drop-down screen and projector remains the most elegant and invisible solution, you can now buy a host of clever kit that will help you disappear your TV. Custom installation specialists like Future Automation in the UK have ceiling hinges that hide in the roof joists and gently lower your TV when needed, motorised lifts that can be built into cabinets, and sliding artwork that moves effortlessly aside when it's time for a Netflix binge.
Whether you create a centrepiece with String shelving, build your own multimedia hiding boxes with Cubit or blow the budget on a wall of shelving using the 606 Universal Shelving System, storage doesn’t have to be prim and practical. Each of these systems can be tailored to fit your home and provides the perfect modernist backdrop to a turntable, stacks of vinyl or a simple Sonos speaker.
The router conundrum
It's one of the ugliest pieces of tech in your house, but the Wi-Fi router is the one piece of kit you shouldn’t hide away. In fact, if your router is hidden behind the sofa or stuffed in a box it just won't work very well and the rest of your smart home will suffer. Get it on a shelf, away from cable clutter and in the centre of the house. Consider it a shrine to the magic of broadband, or failing that, buy Google WiFi, the only interiors-friendly router available.
Call the custom installers
If your budget veers towards bottomless and you're not willing to compromise on interior design, it might be time to call in the Custom Installers. Companies such as Cornflake, Crestron and Control 4 can add exceptional levels of automation and control to your home while remaining virtually invisible, aside from a few in-ceiling speakers, sensors and wall mounted control pads.
It's a huge step-up from messing about with IFTTT and smart plugs but remains the most seamless way to take control of every aspect of your home tech, whether you want to monitor security, stream audio, TV, create mood lighting or adapt the heating. If pressing a button that drops the cinema projector from the ceiling, dims the lights and turns on the popcorn maker is your sort of thing, you need a custom installer.