Yesterday, the Pure PR interiors team attended a Homes & Gardens Designer Insight panel talk at the Ham Yard Hotel on designing for the future and home automation. The Kit Kemp-designed masterpiece is one of 10 in the Firmdale Hotels group, an eclectic curation of neon artworks, larger-than-life, retro film posters and more ingeniously clashed fabrics and wallpapers than you can shake a stick at.

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It has been 10 years since the prolific British designer, Kemp, was named the Andrew Martin International Interior Designer of the Year, but her work continues to act as a landmark in the design community, as a reference point and a true marker of quality. The hotel was the perfect venue for a design talk on a topic as forward-looking and design-focussed as this.

The panel discussion was grounded in the notion that the connected home is still a nascent idea – a concept with which the population must keep up. In a Time Inc. UK survey of an ABC1 sample, it was found that of the 30% of people who own somewhat automated homes, just 10% feel knowledgeable about this breed of technology.

In the auditorium, Broadcaster Tom Dyckhoff made introductions to a panel of tech and design specialists, Sivan Metzer (Heal’s Furniture Buyer), Tor Vivian (Tor Interiors), Elena Cochero (Director at Lost Values Creative Lab and former MIT Researcher), and Mike Fisher (Studio Indigo).

The bottom line of the discussion was that where tech and interiors meet is a potentially problematic plain, rife with uncertainty about the future of the tech itself. The unanimous perspective of the panel was that integrating hardware into a piece of furniture will date it dramatically, within even a year of its launch. Metzer rightly flagged that technology will change in much more static ways than a bedside table, for example, which is very flexible in the function it serves. The evolution of a bedside table through time is much more organic - an antique piece can still be used in a modern home. For contrast, iPhone users can no longer use the jack on headphones that predate the (relatively recent) release of the iPhone 7.

While this may appear to present a general dismissal of tech-furnished furniture, Cochero posited Wifi as the unlikely link between modern technology and interior design. Wifi-enabled devices will not date in the same way as hardware will, buried into your favourite armchair and rendering itself redundant when it no longer supports the newer, surrounding technology in your home. This is because Wifi can always be updated, giving a new sense of hope for modern homes built with the intention of remaining modern.

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Of course, home automation is not without concerns about safety and security. According to Fisher and Tor Vivian, clients who instruct them on interior design projects often mention the removal or blocking of Wifi from bedrooms and children’s rooms. This can be read as a conscious retreat from technology, fuelled by health concerns about its effect on the human brain.

Other concerns lie with the readily available data we provide to what Cochero calls our home “guardians” – namely, Amazon or Google. With the current climate surrounding data protection, it is no surprise that the conversation turns to the more poignant subject of trust and privacy. Dyckhoff suggested that the leap of faith we take when supplying data to these huge conglomerates can be likened to a Faustian pact, entrusting them with our most private information in return for a voice-controlled kettle. 

However, the resonating atmosphere was not one of distrust, nor of disinterest, in home technology. It seems that interior designers are taken on by clients who specify the latest and greatest in home automation, but fail to use it to its full potential when they eventually move into the home. It is with intent and enthusiasm that these exciting features are installed, but subsequent inexplicable reluctance with which they are left in the dust. It was decided that there is a certain beauty in flicking on a light switch or drawing the curtains without the help of a remote control, embracing the analogue act of keeping house. (But we do rather like the sound of asking your kettle for a fresh brew.)

A huge thank you to the Homes & Gardens team, the Ham Yard Hotel and the fabulous panel for inviting us to such a thought-provoking and interesting event.