Interior Design for the Smart Home: 5 Tips to Avoid Costly Mistakes
Interior designers have a common pursuit: the neverending quest to create spaces that inspire. When it comes to integrating home technology in a beautiful and meaningful way, however, even Architectural Digest Top 100 and Elle Décor A-Listers can stumble. This article will make attaining beautiful, high-design spaces—even those loaded with smart home features—a little easier, highlighting five common mistakes that interior designers make in high-tech projects (and how to avoid them).
1. Making Assumptions About Clients’ Technology Desires
Some interior designers take the technology used in their last project and apply it to a new project. This could be specifications about TV sizes, electronic component space requirements, heating/cooling requirements, home theaters, etc.
“I once had a top design team plug in a 13-foot-wide movie screen for a billionaire’s screening room based on a previous project with the exact same room dimensions. The team carefully designed seating risers and sightlines based on that screen size. The concrete foundation was poured, risers were framed, and construction was full speed ahead,” says Eric Thies, President of an HTA Certified home technology integration firm in Los Angeles. “Then my firm was hired, and we asked the client how big a screen he was expecting in the theater. His reply was ‘Big as I can get. I want it to go wall to wall!’ The wall was about 20 feet wide. The sightlines for this new larger screen would not work as built. The room was not tall enough. Fast-forward to new plans, demolition, and backhoes digging out dirt to make way for another six feet of height in the room.”
The cost of this assumption? About $150K.
To avoid costly missteps like this, we recommend interior designers not assume what will work in a room or what the client wants. For example, a 10,000-square-foot home can have anywhere from one to five equipment racks. One homeowner might hate a pop-up TV at the foot of the bed while another will love it. Some homeowners want really great-sounding speakers that have different space requirements than not-so-great speakers. In addition to avoiding assumptions, it is important to verify details with a technology integrator before hammers start swinging. Just as interior designers have intimate knowledge of their craft, a technology integrator will bring details to the project that can help an interior designer impress your clients and avoid blunders.
2. Avoiding the Technology Conversation
Technology integrators understand the drama and inspiration that comes from a space uncluttered by technology. This desire for exquisite design sometimes comes at the expense of the homeowner’s desire, however. Most homeowners want and need technology in their home, so it is best to embrace this facet of the design at the beginning, not near the end of the project when the homeowner forces the issues or when mistakes must be corrected.
“One interior designer we worked with was averse to having the technology conversation, which resulted in costs, delays, and a dissatisfied client,” says Thies. “One day, the client, builder, designer, and I were in the foyer of a home as the owner’s prized work of art was being delivered. The wall where the art was to hang had a very expensive fabric finish. The client beamed as the art was being brought in, but as the art movers brought it closer to the wall, I could see that a 12-inch touch panel was going to be in the way, and they would not be able to center the art without covering it completely. The interior designer and the client were the only ones that knew about this art. The wall was redone, the touch panel was relocated, many thousands of dollars of fabric was reimported from Belgium, and the move-in was delayed by two weeks.”
Something as simple as where art will be located should be discussed early with a technology integrator to avoid mistakes and to ensure that the interior designer’s artistic vision remains intact. Qualified technology integrators brought on early in your design process will have creative solutions to help hide and blend technology into the home so that it does not compete with the interior designer’s aesthetic.
3. Not Aligning with an HTA Certified Installation Firm
Having a great technology integrator on an interior designer’s team is crucial. The interior designer will need to bring them in (early!) to their projects to help plan properly, solve problems, and keep the designer looking sharp. The barrier of entry to the home technology installation industry, however, is very low, which means that the odds that an interior designer has had a bad experience with this trade are high. Unfortunately, finding a solid, reliable partner with a good reputation is difficult.
The best way to find a great integrator is through this website. The Home Technology Association (HTA) has an intense certification system that points homeowners and specifiers such as interior designers, architects, and general contractors to the home technology heroes. When you find an integrator that is HTA Certified, latch on to them! They are unicorns. We also do a great job of classifying technology integrators so specifiers and homeowners can find their perfect match. You can read what the HTA standard is and learn more details about the three classifications on this page. If you design standard size homes, choose a “Foundation” Certified company. If your wheelhouse is luxury homes, there are “Luxury” Certified integrators. For those of you that only deal with the type of clientele that own yachts and private planes, then your integrator will often be rated “Estate.” To find that HTA Certified technology integrator in your area, use our integrator finder here.
4. Not Understanding Your Finish Options
Nowadays, electronics manufacturers are keenly aware of the importance of a home’s beauty. You can have speakers that are completely invisible or match the flush, small-opening look of your recessed lighting fixtures. Lighting controls with beautiful metal finishes in modern or traditional styles are also available, and a good technology integrator can make TVs disappear in dozens of different ways. Basalte makes beautiful keypads like the ones shown at the top of this page, that look more like art than keypads. See their company's offerings here and other beautiful architecture and design-friendly options in the HTA's Resource Guide here.
A good local technology partner will be more than happy to educate you on how you can elevate your project to the next level with high-design technology. Interior designers can also contact the Home Technology Association to arrange for a CEU class to learn ways to make technology integrate more beautifully with interior design. The HTA has a valuable, category-based Resource Guide of the best vendors that make home technology products. Many of the products you will find at this resource can answer a design challenge. Additionally, sign up here for the HTA’s bi-monthly newsletter designed to keep designers up to date with the latest trends in home technology.
5. Not Having a Technology Plan
As we have mentioned before, it is essential to bring in a technology integrator as early as possible, meaning at the planning stages. The best home technology integrators are more than willing to come into a project in a consultant role to advise the client and the design team, create a spec, draw up a set of plans, and, if necessary, create a bid spec. In reality, the best technology integrators have two sides to their businesses—a technology consultant/designer role and the more familiar contracting role for installation.
In this planning process, interior designers can get all their questions answered, such as space requirements, cooling, electrical, framing, and conduit requirements. The costs for this design work can hover around $1 - $3 dollars a square foot, though having a completely coordinated plan and a defined budget is priceless. If you want to learn the installed costs of technology first, use our handy technology budgeting tool.
For planning purposes, know that beyond audio-video and home theater systems, technology integrators also design and install smart home control systems, lighting controls, motorized shading and drapery, Wi-Fi and home networks, technology for home offices, surveillance cameras, access control, home wellness technology, energy management, sports simulators, and more. They can also help with acoustic design and treatments, something more crucial due to the rise in popularity of the home office.
The Home Technology Association hopes these tips motivate interior designers to consider technology design as an important component of their process going forward. Great technology integrators are typically great team players and highly motivated to help interior designers deliver a design true to their vision, without compromises. Interior designers, add an HTA Certified technology pro to your consultant team today!