10 Years From Now Smart Homes May Seem Stupid

 Attendees at the 2017 International Builders' Show and the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, both held in Orlando, Fla. last week, talked about home trends that are starting to impact today's homebuyers.

Modernity in moderation

It turns out designers, home builders and consumers have different ideas of the meaning and salability of the term "modern," and the industry is trying to bridge that gap. Seth Hart of DTJ Design in Boulder, Colo. explained how "moderated modern," – asymmetrical windows and color, and material combinations that provide high contrast – can be used on more traditional homes to provide an updated feel without breaking the bank or turning off buyers by going too far.

"It's not about doing wild roof forms," Hart told attendees. "It's all about how you create a modern design in something that still has a broad market appeal and is done affordably."

Eric Brown, a builder representative with Artisan Homes Realty LLC in Phoenix uses the term "comfortable contemporary" to help identify the style. "It's going to attract baby boomers," he predicted, noting this style offers "something that reminds them of their old home, but it's updated."

Another twist on this trend comes in the form of the "modern farmhouse," which was another popular buzzword at the show. Many of the winners of the National Association of Home Builders' 2016 Best in American Living Awards featured farmhouse sinks, reclaimed wooden beams, and barn doors layered into modern designs. Even the farmhouse elements themselves are being updated, as is evident in cleaner, more minimalist designs made of contemporary materials.

The secret hideaway

Another trending term at the show this year was "the messy kitchen," which is a hidden space away from the gleaming center island where homeowners can prep food and stow Mr. Coffee far from guests.

Wayne Visbeen, president of Visbeen Architects, told attendees he also uses this technique to hide away the "home management space."

"I put hidden rooms in offices a lot," he said. "I think it's a great place to hide the junk, and people think it's sexy." He notes that hidden space doesn't have to be huge to work well, suggesting a four-by-eight foot space would be sufficient. Also, with all the easy-to-install sliding barn and pocket doors in the consumer market now, this is a project some homeowners can undertake themselves.

Fewer bathroom barriers

One trend heavily featured in Orlando was the idea of an open shower or "wet room." Some even contained both a shower and bath in one, which designers reported saves space in master baths where homeowners don't want to skimp on a stall shower to fit in a pretty tub.

Beyond style, the open shower is an important consideration for those with limited mobility, which would help boomers who hope to age in place. However, Mary Jo Peterson, a kitchen, bath, and universal design consultant in Brookfield, Conn., said there are drawbacks.

"If I really want a hot, steamy shower, it's hard to do in these open spaces," she said. She also noted that it's difficult to calculate ahead of time if the water will escape the intended area and make the whole bathroom into a "wet room." She cautioned builders to avoid the temptation to put rain-style showers up too high, as a way to minimize the spray's radius.

Auto-smart homes

Smart home devices may change our lives forever, but Dave Pedigo doesn't think we're quite there yet. Pedigo, vice president of emerging technologies at the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, told attendees that until we can move "away from using a mobile phone as remote control," we won't really have smart homes.

Pedigo said natural user interfaces – such as the voice commands consumers can use to control Amazon's Alexa and other smart home devices – are only the first step toward creating a truly smart home that can anticipate residents' needs ahead of time. For example, there are already sensors out there that "see" when a sleeper has gotten up at night and can automatically illuminate night lights to lead them safely to the bathroom.

"Ultimately, we are moving toward not having to deal with technology," Pedigo said. "You shouldn't have to tell the lights to turn off or tell the shades to go up."