Smart Homes; Smarter Products

Ten award-winning designers pinpoint the best new domicile advances.

Interior designer Wendy Cruz-Gonzalez shows off a textured wallcovering handmade from tree pulp.
Photo by Joe Polillio

Each year brings new directions in home design—and new products to spark our creativity. At New Jersey Monthly’s annual roundtable discussion with the award-winning members of the American Society of Interior Designers—held on a frigid February day at Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen in Morristown—we asked the assembled experts to identify this year’s hottest developments and favorite new products for Garden State homeowners. Here are our top 10 trends, in no particular order:

Smart Homes
Smart-home technology continues to evolve. “It’s amazing how you can operate everything from a tiny key pad,” said Diane Durocher. Even those who are techno-challenged can learn to operate their homes digitally, controlling temperature, lighting, security and sound systems from a central panel or cell phone touch screen. “You can buy a simple mechanism to [plug into] in a regular outlet,” said Kingsley Knauss. “It’s easily retrofitted.” Added Wendy Cruz-Gonzalez, “Lighting and security can talk to one another. We’re seeing total integration, no matter what the manufacturer.”
Coming Soon: Ginny Zonfrilli described a shelf-liner fabric that services as a charging station for all your digital devices. It’s expected on the market this year.  “You just lay your items on it and it charges them,” Zonfrilli said. But let’s not stop there. “They’re trying to install this same technology into our quartz countertops. It’s imbedded in the solid surface.”

Handmade Statements
Homeowners are accepting advanced technology without giving up the desire for locally sourced, handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces. “Homeowners want a backstory,” said Knauss. “They want that one special piece.” Added Anthony Passanante, “They don’t want to walk over to their neighbor’s house and see the same thing. They want a statement piece, something made locally just for them.” Suzan Globus calls it “the Etsy culture,” a reference to the popular website where users can shop for artisanal work. “It’s the opposite of technology,” said Globus. “It’s not a pushback, but a real interest in the handmade.”

Eco-Friendly Products
The category continues to grow and includes materials like reclaimed wood flooring, as well as new products reinvented as environmentally friendly, at ever lower cost. The designers agree it’s their responsibility to work with manufacturers and installers to educate the public. “Designers have to be much more accountable for the products we specify,” said Cruz-Gonzalez. “We have to start with materials that are environmentally friendly, what’s best for the occupants of the space.”
What’s New:  An increasing interest in paints that have low or no levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are known to harm the ozone and could possibly present health hazards. “Paint companies have come a long way,” said Diane Picyk. “It’s a slowly evolving trend, but the costs are coming down.”

Led Lighting
LED lighting just keeps getting better. “You can get a warmer dim now,” said Cruz-Gonzalez. “This can really transform the atmosphere and feel of a room.” The growing interest in LED is partially explained by the phaseout of incandescent bulbs, but it also stems from awareness that LED lighting is increasingly energy efficient. “It costs more to purchase, but in the long run, it costs less to run,” says Picyk. “The payback to the client is very real,” adds Suzan Lucas Santiago.
What’s New: A fresh look for wall switches and outlets. “The landscape of our walls is going to change,” said Cruz-Gonzalez. One product, from Bocci, replaces traditional switches with small circles installed flush with the wall. “They eliminate the need for the usual rectangular cover plate,” Cruz-Gonzalez explained.

Outdoor Living
Homeowners love their outdoor spaces and continue to outfit them with deluxe features. “I’ve had clients do an outdoor fireplace with a TV above it,” said Durocher. “Technology has come around. It withstands the weather.” The way we use these features has also advanced. “Fire pits have been around for a while,” added Knauss, “but now homeowners are adding the gas line directly to it and to the barbecue.”
What’s New: “Outdoor fabrics are getting so much more interesting,” said Cruz-Gonzalez. “It’s not just stripes anymore.” Added Knauss, “Outdoor fabrics used to be shiny and plastic looking. Now there’s less sheen.”

Durable, Done Beautifully
Long-lasting, hard-wearing fabric is in, the designers agree. What’s more, these durable products have become more beautiful and richly textured. “People are designing for resiliency,” said Globus. “They want low maintenance.”
What’s New: The Steel Magnolia Collection from Schumacher presents an array of high-performance textiles suitable for indoors or out. The collection, available only to the trade, includes lush velvets, soft chenilles and supple faux leathers. “They’re much more durable,” said Durocher. “These fabrics are heavy duty.”

Shiny Glass Accents
Glass is being used in a growing number of ways—some unexpected. “We’re seeing a lot of glass panels that are back painted,” said Passanante. That makes for a backsplash or a bold statement wall. In addition, designers are specifying furniture pieces that combine glass with other materials. “I’m seeing a lot of furniture that combines reclaimed wood, polished steel and glass,” said Jennifer Pacca-Zdankowski. “It’s a mix of material on the pieces themselves.” Because glass is nonporous, it’s ideal for countertops, said Zonfrilli. “It can be done custom,” she points out. “The material can be back painted, it can be in any color, in almost any dimension.”
What’s New: A glass whiteboard on casters from Clarus Glassboards. “You can roll it around from room to room,” said Zonfrilli.  “It’s a mobile writing surface for home or for office.”

Clean Design
Busy is out, clean and tailored is in. “My clients want a less cluttered, more neutral palette,” said Knauss. Added Tracey Stephens, “Everyone wants easier, cleaner, simpler. We just don’t want so much stuff.” The cleaner aesthetic favors subtle, natural, organic textures and colors. “Natural never goes out of style,” said Durocher. “It’s a crisper look, with timeless appeal.” Santiago agrees. “With all this technology around, clients are asking for a warmer counterbalance,” she says.

Downsizing Luxuriously
More homeowners are downsizing without giving up the amenities they desire. “I have clients leaving ultra-large homes and moving into luxurious gated communities,” said Passanante. “These are very high-end, single-floor living spaces. And they don’t need to worry about anything on the exterior.” Upscale apartment-style living is also driving development in urban suburbs like Morristown and Montclair. “People want the city lifestyle,” said Zonfrilli. “They want to walk to restaurants around the corner. Yes, it’s downsizing, but it’s also a lifestyle decision.” Then there are the empty nesters who decide to stay put. “They’re splurging on themselves,” said Durocher.

MultiGenerational Living
The high cost of housing is precipitating an expanded family unit. Designers report working with clients who have several generations living under one roof.  “They have a young adult moving back home,” said Knauss. Or they want a room suitable for a grandchild or a grandparent. “It’s important to create a private space,” she explained, “with an emphasis on comfort.”

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