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Back to the Future

With the much-vaunted year 2000 more than a decade behind us, is there still hope for fun futuristic gadgets?

Solarlux folding and sliding glass doors/walls

Isn’t it high time that our houses hover in the sky, atop pedestals, with landing pads for our air-cars? The Jetsons and the general zeitgeist of the Space Age certainly left us with the impression that we’d be living in far different
homes by now.

But, beyond air conditioning and dishwashers, little has changed. On the contrary, space-age materials such as linoleum and laminates are now generally frowned upon in favor of such throwbacks as wood, ceramic tile and granite. “Modern conveniences” such as trash compactors have become rarities. Claw-foot tubs, once eschewed in favor of preformed plastic, are cool again. And model homes made of plastic or shaped like flying saucers are now the objects of ironic scoffing in the blogosphere. It seems as though the home of the future is a thing of the past.

Despite my being an urban sentimentalist, the little boy inside has little use for folkloric dwellings or nostalgia. If anything, he’s nostalgic about the future that was. He wants shiny gadgets, retinal scans, circular doorways, hulking electronic chairs, sleek décor – in short, a home worthy of Darth Vader. So I decided to take that little boy shopping for the home of the future.

Here’s what he found.

1. Making an entrance. For doors, there’s an Italian company called Oikos. The doors juxtapose plates of steel with dark woods or bright colors. They can be paired with matching “wall systems” to create a seamless look for a room.

Oikos even sells an “iDoor” – an armored door that will make your panic room (a must-have in the dangerous world of the future) feel less claustrophobic. You can wait out the post-apocalyptic biker gangs in style.

2. Walls = windows. One thing that George Jetson seemed emphatic about was lots of natural light. In fact, a fairly common theme of the early futurists – and of haute modern architecture – is ample use of plate glass windows. But there’s a step further: windows that are walls that are doors. NanaWall makes folding and sliding glass doors/walls that allow you to open up an entire wall of your living room to nature. A German company, Solarlux, produces similar products. Consult an architect-o-bot on this.

3. Keeping out the weather. What with predictions of future energy shortages and more frequent hurricanes, that old standby for regulating temperature and keeping out the wind – exterior shutters – should make a nice complement to energy-efficient, stormproof windows. Options include modern designs for traditional shutters or shutters that take the form of fixed screening, perhaps as lateral wooden laths outside of plate glass windows. This is a must for the southwest exposure of the atrium-like dwelling of tomorrow.

4. Lighting up your life. A few designers have made names for themselves by focusing purely on contemporary lighting. Among them is Robert Sonneman. His portfolio includes striking collections such as the Bubbles collection, which looks like what you would imagine, and the Pool collection, which blends satin-nickel with frosted glass or colored shades. The styles will fit right in with the rest of your spaceship.

5. On the floor again. Marmoleum Click flooring boasts all-natural material. Unlike the linoleum of yore, with its thin sheets that curled up at the edges as the glue wore off, Marmoleum Click comes in thick tiles that click together by the tongue-and-groove method, with minimal glue. The tiles are easily sawed for a tight fit. This allows you to mix and match shades and colors for an avant-garde look. But you may have to trade in your Roomba robot vacuum cleaner for a Scooba robot floor cleaner.

With these basics in place, you can look forward to the unabashedly forward-looking: Solar roof shingles instead of unsightly solar panels. Refrigerators that tell you when a food item will expire and when you’re running out of something. Countertops that double as touch-screen computers and give cooking instructions. Countertop dishwashers that recycle water. Garbage cans that eliminate odors. Laser ovens. Microwave ovens with TV screens built into their doors. Alarm systems and keyless- entry doors that rely on facial recognition technology. Toilets that do unmentionable things to you.

How much of this will make it into your home? As the futurist Arthur C. Clarke said in 1964, “The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic.” At the time, he was predicting a global communications network, linked via satellite, that allowed people to shop and conduct business from the comfort of their homes.

Maybe the home of the future is still on the way after all.
 

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