Interior Designers: The 5 Things You May Be Doing Wrong with Home Technology
Interior designers have a common pursuit: the never-ending quest to create spaces that inspire. When it comes to integrating home technology in a beautiful and meaningful way, however, even AD Top 100 and Elle Décor A-Listers can stumble when it comes to technology. This article will make attaining beautiful, high-design spaces—even those loaded with smart home features—a little easier with five common mistakes that designers make in high-tech projects.
1. MAKING ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT CLIENTS' TECHNOLOGY DESIRES
Some interior designers take technology used in their last project and apply it to a new project. This could be specs about TV sizes, rack-room 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 DSI, a Los Angeles–based HTA Certified Integrator. “Then DSI 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, do 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’s important to verify technology details with your technology integrator before hammers start swinging. Just like you have intimate knowledge of your craft, an integrator will bring details to the project that can help you impress your clients and avoid blunders.
2. AVOIDING THE TECHNOLOGY CONVERSATION
As technology integrators, we 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. You will find that most homeowners want and need technology in their home, so it’s best to embrace this facet of the design at the beginning; not at the end when the homeowner forces the issues or when mistakes have to be corrected.
“One designer we worked with was adverse 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 touchpanel 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 your art will be located should be discussed early with your integrator to avoid mistakes and to ensure that your 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 doesn’t compete with your aesthetic.
3. NOT ALIGNING WITH AN HTA CERTIFIED INSTALLATION FIRM
Having a great integrator in your town and on your team is crucial. You need to bring them in (early!) to your projects to help you plan properly, solve problems, and keep you looking sharp. The barrier of entry to the home technology installation industry, however, is low, which means that the odds that you have had a bad experience with this trade is high. Unfortunately, finding a solid reliable partner with a good reputation is difficult.
The best way to find a great integrator is through the Home Technology Association (HTA). The Home Technology Association has an intense certification system that points you to the home technology heroes. If you find an integrator that is HTA Certified, latch on to them! They are unicorns. The HTA also does a great job of classifying these integrators so you can find your perfect match. You can read what the HTA standard is and learn more details about the three classifications at 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 should be rated “Estate.” To find that HTA Certified technology integrator in your area, go to HTAcertified.org and type in your zip code.
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 a million different ways.
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. You can also contact the Home Technology Association to arrange for a CEU class for you and your staff on ways to make technology integrate more beautifully with your designs. 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. 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, designers can get all of 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 and your client want to learn installed costs of technology first, use this 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.
I hope these tips motivate you to consider technology design as an important component of your process going forward. Great integrators are typically great team players and highly motivated to help you deliver a design true to your vision, without compromises. Add a technology pro to your consultant team today!