Yes Christopher Kennedy Felt a little stage fright at High Point Market this spring, he had his reasons. “I’m always nervous when I talk about technology. Even though I use it in all my projects, there’s always more to learn,” says the Palm Springs, Calif.-based interior designer who participated in Home businessat the recent North Carolina Furniture Market Panel. Hosted by Hunter Douglas and moderated by BOH chief editor Kaitlin Peterson, the discussion delved into the hot topic of smart home automation – integrating motorized window treatments and more without compromising on style. Notable industry colleagues DuVal Reynolds of DuVäl Design in Fairfax, Virginia, and Lori Paranjape from Nashville, Tennessee, Ms. Paranjape Design + Interiors joined Kennedy on the stage, and the three were warmly welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd. “It was a full house and there were a ton of great questions,” Kennedy says of his nerves easing. “Obviously, this is a topic that is of interest to the community.” After such a heated discussion, the trio was eager to continue the conversation.
Any lingering doubts about the status of smart technology as an integral part of design projects at all levels were dispelled by the packed room of attentive professionals. Customers expect this to at least some extent in their new builds and renovations. “Home automation may be for the multi-million dollar ultra-luxury market, but designers working at many different price points are incorporating it into their design package,” says Paranjape.
For Reynolds, whose clientele is generally younger than Kennedy’s and in a comparatively lower economic bracket than Paranjape’s – his minimum project fee is $200,000 – the prevalence of automation is not a surprise. From home security systems to preset lighting, smart technology is second nature to millennials. “I don’t position it in terms of luxury,” Reynolds says. “It may seem frivolous or unattainable, when in fact it is a solution that customers need and can afford.”
The cost of automation and how to talk about those costs with customers was a major concern both during the panel and in the conversations that followed. “Several audience members raised the issue,” Paranjape explains. “For automated window treatments, they asked, ‘Are we talking about a 50% increase? 75%?’ Hunter Douglas’ answer was that it’s a few hundred dollars more per window to go from a manual system to a motorized system. And it’s easy to digest information. Regardless of the size of their business, designers can go back to their clients and say, “For a few hundred dollars more, the shades will go up and the curtains will open when you wake up in the morning.”
Even whole-home solutions don’t have to be out of reach for the most budget-conscious customer. “I have a lot of remodel and build-from-scratch projects where the customer installs a quarter-million-dollar whole-house wired system like Crestron or Control4 that are very sophisticated and rugged,” says Kennedy. “But the good thing is that there are now a lot of app-based technologies, from Sonos and Teron speakers for lighting to Ring for the doorbell, all at much more affordable prices.” For customers who can’t open the walls to corded motorized shades, the designer has also had great success with battery-operated versions (Technological innovations have turned the new models, he attests, into a quiet option. , easy to use and adaptable.)
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Hunter Douglas covers the market for custom window treatments and its products are a staple for all three designers. “With window automation, it’s usually one of two requests: either they’re in an awkward, hard-to-reach position – a skylight, for example, or I’m thinking of a project where the windows were positioned behind a tub – or they were full panels, floor to ceiling, acting as full walls,” says Reynolds. Either way, Hunter Douglas automated window coverings make life easier.
“My company does a lot of modernist homes with big expanses of glass,” Kennedy says of his portfolio, which includes vacation properties in upscale Southern California desert towns. When residents visit for the weekend, motorized solar blackout shades move up and down out of sight and enviable daylight enters. When they go, the shades automatically lower to help protect furniture and floors from the harsh sun, and to conserve energy. “If you had to manually adjust the shade for each window, it would take a long time,” says Kennedy. Instead, its customers can simply click PowerView Pebble, Hunter Douglas’ battery-powered remote control.
Along with motorized roller shutters, Hunter Douglas’ Duette Honeycomb Shades, which operate top-down and bottom-up, are another Kennedy favorite, so much so that he uses them in his own home, which borders a lot golf. “Like a lot of places I design, it has great views, but sometimes you want privacy,” says the designer. Lowering the top shade still lets in a gorgeous slice of palm fronds and blue sky while gently warding off the prying eyes of pool boys, gardeners, or golfers, as the case may be.
The panel also showcased the opportunity to go further in automation: with more commands pushed to apps, residents can essentially set it and forget it rather than searching for a remote. If a customer wants the lights inside to turn on after dark, all they have to do is pre-program the preferred time on their phone. “You can actually have the complete absence of technology during the experience,” says Paranjape.
Such conveniences are key to passing what Paranjape cheekily calls “the father-in-law’s test,” its measure of home technology that combines high performance with a smooth, simple experience. “When my stepfather comes to visit, he likes to watch the evening news,” she explains. “He doesn’t care about a complex sound system. He just wants to be able to turn on the TV. When it comes to TV, stepdads in particular may still prefer the hands-on experience of a remote control (sorry, Alexa) – but Paranjape’s test is to ensure the remote is simple with clear guidelines. (The equivalent remote control for the drapery should only include two options, she says: “open” and “close.” If the movement of the drapery can be pre-programmed, so much the better.) “The technology should be as smart as, but no smarter than, the user,” says the designer, who is currently automating a vacation home in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico that will be operated entirely via a smartphone. “You shouldn’t have to leaf through a manual to look through the window.”
A project that Kennedy completed more than a decade ago provided a fundamental understanding of the utility of easy-to-use home technology. “I hired a reputable AV company, and they literally left an 8.5-by-11-inch binder on the coffee table with instructions on how to use the remote,” he recalls. This experience has taught him to ask the right questions early in the process and to make sure it’s so easy even a decorator can do it. “I’m not a particularly tech-savvy person, so if I can’t teach someone, then it’s probably too much of a hassle,” he adds.
“Sometimes bells and whistles can be too loud,” Paranjape acknowledges. “Knowing that my latest iPhone’s charger won’t charge my current one is enough to make me think twice about installing the latest iPad in the drywall of every room in a new build.”
“Again, having a tablet that lives in your kitchen and controls lights, sound, music, and security is convenient — it really depends on the project,” Kennedy says. In more rural or remote locations where broadband is not always available, installing wired home technology becomes a necessity. “Even though I love apps, I live in a small resort [where] sometimes the WiFi goes down,” he says.
Thinking back to the Q&A session at the end of the High Point panel, Reynolds repeats his common-sense advice for anyone just starting to sail by adding smart technology to their menu of services: “Start small. Don’t not try to automate an entire house at once Focus on one area: window treatments, where you can partner with an experienced brand like Hunter Douglas, or shower temperature control, which is increasingly in demand,” he says. “And rely on your experts. Do your design work and let your AV team do theirs. colors, designers shouldn’t be expected to develop apps.
“As designers today, we need to know many other things beyond decoration: building codes, international maritime regulations, and now home automation systems,” says Kennedy. He suggests tapping into your network and getting to know colleagues in adjacent fields who are already well versed in the ins and outs of home tech installation. “Find some AV experts in your area and take them to lunch,” he suggests. “I’m sure they would be willing to provide useful information, as the designers are a solid source of business references.”
Looking to the future, Reynolds imagines smaller devices with ever slimmer profiles and as many color palettes and stylistic choices for panels and smart home devices as he would find for a pillow or a handmade rug, even so the technology framed by these aesthetics is constantly evolving. Creative collaborations between designers and companies that produce smart technologies are also on its horizon.
“Smart home technology has come so far in such a short time,” observes Kennedy. “My client can board a plane in Seattle, press a button on his phone, and when he lands in Palm Springs, the pool is perfectly warm and waiting. I’m sure someone smarter than me will come up with the next big thing, but I think that’s pretty awesome already.
This story is a paid promotion and was created in partnership with Hunter Douglas.
Homepage photo: A DuVäl Reynolds trade show features motorized blinds from Hunter Douglas. | Marc Wilborn