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2015 home trend forecast
Convenience and comfort are prevalent in today’s home technology


March 2015

Watching TV and film could easily lead one to believe that the modern home is loaded with enough high-tech, glossy amenities to make the Jetsons envious. Yet for all the world’s technological advancements, home designers say Milwaukee’s high-end property owners are striving to preserve a more traditional aesthetic.

Make no mistake — integrating new technologies into the home has become a critical facet of homebuilding and remodeling. In our ever-connected lives, it’s inevitable that technology is being incorporated into all spaces of the home. It’s simply a sign of the times, says Lissa Rolenc, a principal interior designer and president of ASID Wisconsin.

Open layouts, ceramic and wood floors, and antediluvian features such as stone fireplaces are blended with the sleek gadgets and smart systems that are now in our homes. It’s a clashing of the centuries that has resulted in houses that are lower maintenance, more efficient and increasingly customizable.

"New technology is changing how we study, plan family time and activities, and interact as a family," Rolenc says. "From where our devices will be recharged, connected or have the best access to wireless routers, to everything from lighting, music, family calendars and entertainment — it’s all attached to a smart TV, tablet or phone. Having everything at your fingertips no matter where you are in the home is key."

While smart systems — like the popular NEST system — haven’t quite caught fire in the Milwaukee marketplace, that is expected to change when the millennial set fully enter the housing market and demand the convenience of programs like thermostat settings powered by smartphones.

Smart technology has gone beyond entertainment. Today’s families may include children who need Wi-Fi to complete their homework, or a parent who works from home and uses technology to monitor the family schedule and bills.

Even before the drywall is put up in a new home, the prevalence of technology is already present, with more sophisticated and structured electrical wiring to support modern families’ Internet, cable, satellite, sound and other systems, says David Pekel, NARI chairman of the board and president of Pekel Construction & Remodeling in Milwaukee.

"If you’re on the first floor of your home, and you go to your kitchen or to your den you can listen to the same music," says Pekel. "With structured wiring, we’re trying to centralize all of this ‘componentry.’ People don’t want technology spread out all over the place."

Ultimately, Pekel says family and comfort rule the roost.

In the bathroom, amenities such as heated floors, towel and toilet seat warmers are taking hold, along with music systems and flatscreen televisions. While double showerheads seem to be on their way out ("You practically need a scuba suit for the water coming at you from all the directions," Pekel jokes), double sinks remain standard — if not for the luxury of having two sinks, for the countertop real estate they offer.

A similar dilemma in the kitchen is being solved by removing gadgets entirely and placing them in an expanded pantry, says Joe Orendorf, president of MBA and owner of Orendorf Custom Homes in Hartland. The move not only keeps clutter out of sight, but also provides extra cooking prep space.

With so many more options available, large appliances have moved beyond the standard eggshell white, black or stainless steel varieties. Bold colors and brushed finishes are new choices, though Orendorf says Milwaukeeans are more apt to choose appliances that mirror existing kitchen colors or conceal the appliances under cabinetry. "In the old days you saw the buffet, the range and the refrigerator," explains Orendorf. "Now, it’s both technology and a lot of visual changes. A lot of stainless steel, a lot of 48-inch freestanding ranges, steamer ovens, multiple refrigerators and there’s more brands to choose from. You could choose an Italian range, French door ovens or turbo conduction. All kinds of different things, even in a more modest type of home."

Ovens with extra warming drawers and drawer-style dishwashers are also popular appliances of choice.

"We’re seeing appliances and layouts that cater to diverse schedules within the house," Pekel explains. "I have a lot of clients that are eating dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon because of all the activities after that. But Mom or Dad, or an older child may not be coming home until 6:30, and they can still come home to a hot meal."

For those rare moments when a family can come together for a meal, Pekel says they turn to the dining room, which is experiencing a revival of sorts after long being converted to home offices and playrooms.

"A lot of people want to sit down and disconnect and reconnect on a more human level," Pekel adds.



This story ran in the March 2015 issue of: