This is a summary of my recent talk at Sony’s The Design Series, which took place at the brand’s design-led Lifespace UX pop-up in Shoreditch, east London. Here I discuss minimal technology, small space living and the ways in which our changing lifestyles are impacting how we use technology at home, finishing off with some simple, achievable ways to integrate technology seamlessly into your home.
I create simple, understated interiors that are designed to be lived in and evolve with the user, that become a backdrop for everyday life to take place – so over the years I’ve been seeing a much greater need for minimal technology that fits with the look and feel of a home. I myself have gone from a fairly small flat to a slightly more spacious house with an open-plan living room and kitchen – we live in a very flexible, adaptable space and our tech now needs to shift with our daily habits.
Where once a new product might have caught the attention of the tech geeks out there, now it’s people like you and me – design enthusiasts – who are inspiring and paving the design of technology. We take pride in our homes and how all the little details are styled.
Now tech has to have both form and function – looking the part but not letting down on performance. We want good design as well as great sound, we want the tech but they don’t want to necessarily see it.
Speakers, projectors, TV’s and gadgets are becoming beautiful design objects in their own right – they’ve slimmed down just as we’ve gone from those massive brick phones to a tiny device in our hands or on our wrists.
They’re items you want to have out on display amongst all your other belongings, not hidden away or attempted to be concealed, so that together, everything in your space can tell a complete story of you, your hopes, dreams, interests and aspirations.
Reducing the size of tech and being able to have wireless devices means that they can be integrated easily into a space, no matter the style of your home. It’s accessible for everyone to make their own.
Minimal tech is also part of the movement towards smart tech in the home – we’ve just installed smart lighting in our own home, for instance, so we can now lie in bed and say ‘Siri turn of the light’, it’s brilliant. But, even though we might not want to see technology, we still want an element of the analogue with the digital – a touch point in the room. That might be a clever projector that harks back to a time before TV’s, or perhaps something like Sony’s glass sound speaker where the LED filament mimics the soft glow of candlelight. These are all pieces that are evolving with small spaces in mind.
Because, the UK has some of the smallest homes in Europe – a shortage of new homes and soaring property prices mean we’re undergoing something of a housing squeeze. Especially in London, we all know the story of tiny, box rooms and cramped flat shares.
A lack of storage space and not enough room to entertain and socialise is a key issue. So it makes sense that as our interiors are getting tighter and our furniture more compact, we want to streamline our technology so it fits in with our homes.
Things can quickly start to look cluttered in a small spaces compared to larger ones so you have to be clever with how you use them. We no longer have chunky music systems taking up whole corners of rooms. Technology now needs to blend into the background and become part of the experience of living in a space.
Now, the fluid, multi-functional use of technology really helps you get the most out of small spaces, you can now move devices around so it doesn’t lock your interior design down or restrict you.
Our lifestyles have changed and adapted too, where once everyone in the family gathered around one small box in one room, now technology has effectively separated and dispersed us around the house. Even if you’re in the same room, each person is probably doing their own thing on their own screen.
We’re constantly connected, so that perhaps more and more now when we go home we want to reconnect with the people around us and enjoy the simpler things in life.
Technology is at its best when it brings people together and creates moments that uplift the everyday. It means that in the home we want technology in many ways to disappear – both visually and metaphorically – so we can gain back some control over our space. Technology shouldn’t dominate a space or dictate how it looks, how it’s used or how it feels to be in. Technology should be an enabler not a dominator.
A lot of us are also retreating more into the home, rather than going out to the cinema, theatre or to dinner – with great technology, we can recreate those unique experiences for less. You can now get the big screen feel of a movie with a projector, the right ambience for a cool party with a good speaker, a chilled out vibe for two on a Saturday night in front of the telly.
We can change the feel of our interior spaces according to our mood, whether we’re cooking or entertaining, working from home on the laptop or reading the newspaper. Sound should become just as much a part of a space, as all the other things which make a house a home – the right lighting, soft textures, etc – when you’re home alone, for instance, you probably put on some background music to make the space feel lived in, when you’re cooking dinner you might put a few favourite tunes on to relax and unwind.
It’s about appealing to the senses – with great sound and high quality pictures – but getting the balance right so technology doesn’t overpower you or make you feel uncomfortable. You want to feel instantly at home.
Flexible, open-plan spaces
People also want flexibility in their homes, so you can have moments when you come together and moments when you’re apart. So you can open up and retreat.
Technology shouldn’t create constraints or barriers, it should let you live in a space and enjoy it, so you can make your own rules as to how technology is used in your home.
Previously room functions were very specifically defined, the TV room was for watching TV, the dining room for eating, the bedroom for sleeping. Now we work in the kitchen, eat on the sofa and watch films in bed.
The great thing about having something portable is that you can move it around anywhere, we use our portable short throw projector for film nights in bed, which just feels a little bit more special than on the TV, to project a clock or timer onto the kitchen wall, or even to show friends photos of our travels in the living room, as it allows you to mirror your computer, smart phone or tablet screen and stream videos via an app.
Something like this is great for small spaces where you might not have enough space for a huge TV. Normally with a projector you have to have a lot of space between the device and the wall you’re projecting onto but this can project images from very close distances, so you can pop the projector on a slim mantlepiece or conceal it on a shelving display.
Designing with technology in mind
As a stylist and designer I get a lot of questions about small space living and how to make the most of what you’ve got at home.
For me, technology should be considered right from the beginning as an integral part of a contemporary interior, rather than an afterthought, so you’re not designing around it or having to compromise on other aspects of the decor.
Time should be taken to choose the right design, so there’s care and thought behind your decisions, just as you would um and ah over a designer sofa or armchair. That way it will create a more cohesive scheme, one where technology looks clean, neat and in-keeping with the rest of the room.
But how do we actually make that a reality and integrate minimal tech into our homes? To finish off, here are my tips
1. Think about how you use a space and how you want it to feel. Consider your lifestyle and how hard the space can work for everyone in the family. That will dictate what kind of technology you use, whether you have kids, live on your own or like entertaining with friends.
2. Look for technology that has multiple functions, so you only need one or two key pieces of kit, for instance a bluetooth speaker that you can play music on but that also doubles up as a TV speaker.
3. Utilise dead and awkward spaces. When planning a space think vertically as well from the plan view, lifting things off the ground can give a greater sense of space. It might mean styling speakers or gadgets on a windowsill, displaying them on a mantlepiece, mounting a slim TV on the wall so you don’t need a chunky TV unit on the floor, or integrating a TV into picture ledges so it looks like another piece of art.
4. Don’t think of it as technology per say, but part of a family of objects in your home – treat it no different to other things you’d like to have on display – arrange a portable speaker or the projector on your coffee table with magazines and books to create a stylish setting.
5. To minimise visual impact and stop spaces looking too cluttered, choose lighter designs to blend into homes with light or white walls and the black designs to fit into rooms with darker colour schemes and dark wood furniture.
6. House your technology or TV on units with legs, seeing the floor running underneath with give the illusion of a bigger space. I’m seeing a trend for slender legs. Tapered, mid-century-style wooden legs are making way for more slender, reductionist, powder-coated metal designs, from stackable chairs with thin, black frames to minimal trestle table legs for desks, giving furniture a lighter appearance.
7. Integrate slimline technology into your shelving displays – upright or on their side, their slim, compact shape and streamlined finish will simply look like another object in your collection.
8. The problem with wires – we all have it. Source furniture specifically designed to hide wires, such as TV units with built-in storage, shelves with a drawer to hide the TV box and cables, or wire tidies from the likes of IKEA to hide multi plugs. If in doubt get creative, I use piles of magazines and pictures leaned against walls to conceal plugs in my home.
Most of all, design a space for you. There’s no such thing as a perfect space, real homes are to be lived in and loved. For me, an interior is more than just a statement or display, they’re places that should be designed around how we live every day not just how we want it to look.
Sony’s Lifespace UX pop-up is open 11am-7pm daily until 18 January at 188 Shoreditch High Street, London, E1 6HU (please check Christmas and New Year openings)
Images: Cate St Hill, unless otherwise specified