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Archive for Technology

Jun 18 2018

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Smart Technology: Yay or Nay?


The debate continues about whether smart technology makes sense in the kitchen. It’s hard to argue against appliances that notify owners of problems and schedule service. However, some object to delegating tasks and thinking to smart devices and worry that they are making us lazy – or worse, dumb and anti-social.

Who Is Interested in Smart Home Tech?
Because the baby boomer population continues to grow and people are busier than ever, one can easily make the case for employing smart technology in kitchen design. Configuring smart devices and appliances with smart phones, Google Home or Amazon Alexa lets you remotely complete tasks that normally require your presence or direct touch.

According to The New York Times article, “To Invade Homes, Tech Is Trying to Get in Your Kitchen,” only 5 percent of Americans own smart appliances. In a related survey from October 2017, RICKI – Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence revealed statistics about who is interested in smart technology: 69 percent of Generation X, 62 percent of millennials, 23 percent of baby boomers and only 2 percent of the mature population. If only 5 percent of Americans own smart appliances, these percentages translate to fairly small numbers, and interest does not necessarily result in a purchase.

Appliance Brands Need to Walk the Talk
I live in the North Carolina region known as Research Triangle Park, which is home to numerous IT companies from hi-tech startups to well-established giants like IBM. Local designers enjoy a higher level of interest in technology products here.

During a recent visit to The Appliance Center in Durham, N.C., I spoke with owner, Stu Stewart, and  marketing director, Kim Stewart. They supply appliances to the building and design communities, as well as homeowners. They report seeing a limited number of homeowners or builders seeking smart appliances, and 80 percent of consumers are not computer-savvy. The Appliance Center’s staff receives training on smart technology from the brands, which equips them with the knowledge to educate their customers.

Appliance sellers need to be educated and current with smart technology to efficiently sell it. Combine uneducated consumers with untrained sales professionals, and the percentages noted by RICKI are not surprising. If the seller cannot explain the benefits and uses of smart features, how likely is s/he to make the sale?

Maybe Bertazzoni president, Paolo Bertazzoni, has the right idea – the enduring Italian appliance company does not want its appliances to rely on a smart phone. The main objective for their appliances is that they cook well.
                              Bertazzoni’s 48-in. six burner and griddle

We live in exciting and changing times in the design industry. Some consumers will find the idea of smart technology in the kitchen irresistible. But me, I’d rather spend the extra money on a snazzy range and sit around the table talking with my family.

May 03 2018

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10 Ways Smart Lighting Can Enhance the Kitchen & Bath

System design and installation by Gramophone, Timonium, Md.

So much happens in the kitchen and bath that it’s often difficult to have the lights at the right intensity levels at all times. When you’re clients are cooking, they need the lights brighter; lower when they sit down to eat. As they apply makeup or shave, they’ll want the lights bright, but when unwinding in a hot bath at the end of the day, an intensity level that mimics candlelight is apropos.

In the past, we’ve relied on dimmer switches to adjust the intensity levels of the lights. While this approach still works well, smart lighting products have introduced a whole new level of convenience and control to the management of home lighting. Plus, these solutions are so much more cosmetically pleasing than the switches of yesteryear.

Here are 10 ways smart lighting can add value to the kitchen and bath:

1. Clears “Wall Acne.” It’s not unusual to see kitchen and bath walls blanketed with huge banks of light switches. There are two problems with this setup: It’s difficult to remember which switch controls which group of lights, and the numerous faceplates eat up a big chunk of wall space. Lighting keypads, by contrast, provide six to eight pushbuttons that can control all of the lights and take up only the space of a single-gang junction box.

2. Creates Activity-Based Preset Lighting Levels. Each pushbutton on a keypad can be programmed to set the intensity level of a predetermined group of lights, called a lighting “scene.” For example, a morning button on a kitchen keypad can brighten the undercabinet lights to 50 percent and the fixture over the island to 30. A cleaning button can raise every light to full intensity, and a romantic button can lower the lights to an intimate 25 percent. Likewise, in the bathroom, specific lights can adjust on the fly based on whichever button is engaged: morning, night, relaxation and so on.

Home systems design and installation by Global Custom Integrations, Hawthorne, N.Y., in this and below photo

3. Showcases Decorative Details. The wood grain of fine cabinetry, the mix of colors of a granite countertop and other visually stunning architectural details look even better with the right lighting. You designer who specializes in lighting can choose the best light source, fixture and placement, while a home systems installer can suggest the best levels of brightness.

4. Improves Comfort. With standard, non-smart lighting, the lights can feel blinding during midnight trips to the bathroom or the kitchen. A smart lighting system ensures that the lights are easy on the eyes during certain hours of the night.

5. Adds an Element of Automation. Imagine having your clients’ kitchen lights set at the perfect level when they arrive home from work. It’s possible with a smart lighting system. Driven by sophisticated microprocessors, it can adjust the lights automatically based on conditions like the time of day, occupancy and even the location of their smartphone (a feature called geofencing).

6. Personalizes the Space. Some people like a room brightly lit; others prefer an atmosphere that’s soft and subdued. A smart lighting system has the intelligence to set the lights based on who’s at home.

7. Sets the Mood. The biggest trends in home lighting are color and tunable white light. Smart LED bulbs are available that can glow in a rainbow of hues. This is all controllable through a mobile app, keypad or even voice commands. The bathroom can bask in a sea of blue to promote relaxation; a red hue can evoke a festive atmosphere when entertaining guests in the kitchen. If infusing the kitchen and bath with colored lighting seems too drastic of an approach, a subtler mood-setting alternative is “tunable white lighting.” These LED bulbs adjust their color temperature – as well as their brightness levels – to mimic daylight patterns. This can have a huge impact on the look and feel of the kitchen and bath.

8. Boosts Energy Efficiency. Dimming a light by 25 percent can cut electricity costs by 20 percent, according to Lutron Electronics. You can save even more if that light source is an LED, which uses significantly less electricity than an incandescent bulb. LED bulbs also last years longer – a huge perk if the kitchen or bath has hard-to-reach light fixtures.

9. Synchs with Music and Other Systems. Lights can go a long way toward setting the mood of a room; when a smart lighting system has been programmed to synchronize with a music system, the kitchen and bath can take on a whole new attitude. Classic music can play when the lights are dim; hip-hop when they are bright, for example. This can be easily accomplished by pressing a single button on a keypad or launching a command from a mobile app. A security system, thermostats and motorized shading can be integrated, as well, to completely alter the atmosphere of the room.

10. Provides Peace of Mind. Nobody intends to leave the lights on when they leave the house or go to bed. Lighting systems can be accessed and controlled remotely from a mobile app so that the kitchen and bath are always illuminated (or not illuminated) perfectly

Lisa Montgomery is the editor of Electronic House

Apr 23 2018

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Did Someone Say “Pizza?”

It’s not uncommon these days for interior designers to suggest their clients add luxury appliances like wine refrigerators or built-in coffee centers to their kitchens, but how many times have you suggested that a client add a pizza oven to their home?

Frankly, I never have. But that’s all going to change following my time at the 2018 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Orlando and the Design Bloggers’ Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif. My experiences there with a few incredible pizza ovens have put the appliance in the forefront of my mind.

Not only do pizza ovens add a fun specialty element to home kitchens, but they’re also much more versatile than you may expect. Besides producing literally the best pizza you’ve ever had, a home pizza oven can be used to make delicious calzones, crusty homemade breads and even fire-roasted appetizers and side dishes using ingredients ranging from seafood to potatoes to fresh veggies. Once your client has the hang of cooking with their pizza oven, they’ll use it all the time!

When it comes to specifying a specific model for your clients, there are a bevy of options from which to choose. You’ll need to educate yourself on the merits of electric vs. wood burning, built-in vs. stand alone and even outdoor vs. indoor so you know exactly what to recommend for each client’s needs.

Say a client’s kitchen layout simply won’t accommodate a built-in model. Suggest a freestanding outdoor unit instead. But if you’re designing a client’s kitchen from scratch in a full renovation or a new build, show them how you can easily fit a streamlined, built-in model into their layout.

My first exposure to the Monogram 30-in. Pizza Oven was at KBIS (top photo), and I encountered it again at the closing party of the Design Bloggers Conference. Let me tell you, the pizza that came out of this oven was AMAZING. Granted, it was in part so delicious due to the fact that lauded chef Nick Liberato was handcrafting the gourmet pizza pies. After having the opportunity to actually taste pizzas made in this oven, I am thoroughly convinced that a pizza oven is an absolutely necessary addition to any dream kitchen.

The Monogram pizza oven’s looks are beautiful, as well. This model’s design has a brushed stainless exterior with discreet touch controls. The oven is flush  and blends well with all of the other appliances in the kitchen. This particular pizza oven blends the crisping performance of a more traditional coal or wood-burning oven but with better accuracy and ease. Its LCD controls allow the user to easily customize the settings to their exact taste. No more family arguments over thin and crispy vs. soft and chewy crust! Now everyone can have what they want – without loading down the delivery guy with four different pizzas!”

But perhaps the best part about this built-in oven is the installation process. It easily fits in a standard 30-in. width cabinet cutout, and it comes already equipped with an integrated vent system. That makes fitting a pizza oven into the design plan no more difficult than if you’d specified a cabinet. And since no additional ductwork is needed, your client saves big on construction costs.

The second pizza oven I’m a new fan of is a fantastic option for those clients whose kitchen space won’t allow for a built-in model (or those who’d simply prefer their pizza oven outdoors). The Kalamazoo Gourmet Pizza Oven is a stainless steel appliance that creates pizzeria-style pizzas without having to leave your home! The adjustable top and bottom gas burners can reach higher temperatures than a standard home oven – without the dreaded task of tending to a wood fire.

At around $7,000 each, you can choose from the freestanding outdoor model or the indoor built-in version, depending on your clients’ preferences and available space.

Just think how much your clients will enjoy eating at home after you steer them toward adding this simple luxury to their kitchen or outdoor living space. From now on, I am going to suggest pizza ovens to all my kitchen design clients. And if I’m lucky, they’ll even invite me over for a pizza party or two!

Apr 08 2018

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Talking About and Getting Started with Smart Tech


Get Up to Speed

  1. Install a smart lock on your door. If you’re not handy with tools, bring in someone who is and experiment. I installed an August Smart Lock Pro, and I’m controlling it by voice from Siri on my iPhone. The cool thing about this device is that it only replaces the deadbolt and not the door knob, so you have two independent options for locking and unlocking your home.
  2. Contract with professionals who are already installing smart things in homes like the experts from the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA). You might include their proposal in your contract or suggest that your homeowner pay them directly. Either way, you will learn something and get involved in smart technology.
  3. Take a class online or in person to learn the basics about smart technology. If you already have a smartphone, you’re halfway there. If you have some mechanical aptitude and like figuring out how things work, then this a new opportunity for new expertise and income that’s worth considering.

 

Talking About Smart Technology
Technology gets new vocabulary and definitions often, so here are some of the frequently used words and definitions for discussing smart homes and smart kitchens with your clients.

  • Smart. Currently smart means online in the kitchen industry. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with artificial intelligence.
  • Local Network. Typically this is a single office or a home, where a smart device does not have to be online to operate. For example, a temperature or moisture sensor can let your clients know when conditions change in their home. The downside is they won’t know about those until they return home.
  • Hub. A hub is a machine that collects and distributes data to and from and between smart devices in the home.
  • Smart Speaker. This is a voice device that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to learn and communicate online via the cloud or built into a computer chip (local) like in a smartphone or even in an appliance.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI). The ability of a machine to do tasks that previously required human skill or human intelligence, including learning and problem solving. Examples: voice and image recognition.
  • IOT (Internet of Things). Smart things talking to smart things with no human involved. Example, a moisture sensor on the kitchen floor telling your client’s smartphone that there’s a leak in the house.
  • Machine Learning. Algorithms (computer code) that cause a machine, like a smartphone, to learn. Example, your smartphone voice assistant (Siri/Alexa) learns from input without being explicitly programmed by a human.

 

Voice Control in Smart Homes and Kitchens
Voice technology for home automation is evolving rapidly but not without some bumps in the road. Here are some things to consider.

1. Voice control of smart devices is top of mind for everyone, but home automation systems with manual switches can be voice enabled as an option that I would recommend to my clients.

2. Some smart devices are close to being voice controllable but are not quite ready yet. For example, an appliance manufacturer hasn’t been approved for use with Apple HomeKit but is working on it.

3. Some systems like Apple HomeKit are better at controlling many devices in multiple rooms and can automate actions among devices. For example, a system can automatically turn on a kitchen light when a smartlock is unlocked. Some systems like Amazon Alexa, for example, are better at ordering and buying food and scheduling deliveries to your client’s home. Voice systems have niches, and the concept of a unified ecosystem for all home automation may not be the best solution for every home.