Electronics may be the backbone of a smarthouse, but don’t overlook the use of clever design technology in cabinetry, whether it’s in kitchens, bedrooms or how you store your hi-fi system.Mention the word smarthouse and what do people usually think about? They think of features that enable you to remotely check the security, have the home theatre system fully automated, to have multi-source music availability or one-touch access to the climate controls – all from the one touchscreen or from any room in the house.
But electronics are only part of the story. There’s smart design and cabinets that make good use of space in all rooms of the house, especially in the kitchen, but also in the bedroom, the home office and home theatre.
Space efficient and ergonomic designs are no longer a new idea in Europe, but the con-cept is really only just starting to take off locally. It is, however, a trend that is rapidly growing in popularity and not surprisingly it is two German companies, Hafele and Hettich, that have been at the forefront of introducing smart cabinet technology to the Australian market.
At the recent RACV Homeshow in Melbourne, for instance, it was the first time that Hafele had exhibited its range of furniture, and the stand had over 150,000 visitors during the show, according to Hafele’s national projects manager, Gary Cahoon.
Making Space Work For You
The kitchen is the most used room in the house, and it’s where smart cabinets are making the most impact because people are looking to use the available space as efficiently as possible.
Ergonomics is also an important factor. Smart cabinet designs minimise bending down or having to stretch for items in hard-to-reach corners of cupboards. The ease of accessibility offered by smart cabinets using pull-out, rather than fixed, shelves can make a huge difference for older, less mobile people and makes life that bit more comfortable for the rest.
“For many years now, most people when they have their kitchen installed either have a fixed shelf or an adjustable shelf and more often than not, once that shelf is put in place it never moves again,” says Cahoon. “What we are seeing currently is that more and more people are choosing roll-out type shelves. For instance, where they have adishwasher, they have beside it two or three shelves enclosed behind doors, and the shelves actually roll-out so crockery can be stored there,” he adds.
Anyone who has had to pull out half a dozen items to reach an object stored at the back of a cupboard will recognise the advantages a system offers that effectively turns each shelf into an open drawer and allows a cupboard to be configured to make more effective use of the space than more traditional layouts currently do.
Hettich design consultant, Jeremy Foxe, has also seen a clear trend towards the use of roll-ing shelves or drawers, instead of cupboards with a number of fixed shelves inside.
“The overall trend is going to drawers, as opposed to doors, and basically the exclusion of the static shelf. The emphasis is now on things coming forward to you,” says Foxe. “That’s why most of the kitchens you’ll see now are more likely to contain drawers so that everything is actually coming towards you instead of just a single bank of drawers. This means you are utilising more space as opposed to just having shelves.”
A big pantry is high on the list for many people considering a new kitchen. Without a good storage system in the pantry, however, too often items at the back of the shelves are hard to access or just get forgotten, only to be found during a cleanout with an expired use-by-date.
Both Hafele and Hettich have cabinets where the whole pantry pulls out, easily allowing access to the whole shelf.
At the recent homeshow, Cahoon said that the products that received the most interest were pull-out pantries, followed by built-in waste and recycling bin systems andcabinets for blind corners.
As well as keeping waste bins off the floor and out of the way, there are different sizes available so that a typical three-bin setup may have one large one for general household waste and two smaller ones for glass and plastic plus paper and cardboard. Hafele’s range of hinged or sliding doors also incorporates a mechanism that opens the lid of the bin at the same time as the cabinet door.
It’s all in the accessories
A problem that is as old as kitchens is the ‘blind’ corner created where two sets ofcupboards meet at right angles. A look at the kitchen in an older unrenovated house shows that early designers didn’t make use of the space at all and just left an inaccessible void in the corner of the kitchen.
As time went on, designers began to use techniques such as bi-fold doors which gave access to corner-shaped cupboards. While this was an advance, the space in the cabinet was still poorly utilised and difficult to get to.
Smart cabinet design has resolved this problem in two ways. One is to use a complete corner unit consisting of two carousel trays (similar to lazy susans, but inside a cabinet) with a convex door.
The unit has a circular top that can match the surrounding benchtops or incorporate a chopping board or some other contrasting surface.
An alternative is to have a corner-shaped cupboard that allows for easy access by incor-porating a revolving shelf, or one that extends in a telescopic manner for easy access.
Equally as smart, the Hafele range of kitchen accessories also includes an extension table fitting that increases available bench space, a lockable pull-out wire basket for safe storage of hazardous cleaners, spice and wine racks, mounting poles and a range of drawer inserts including a flat knife block and a board that securely holds plates and bowls.
While white plastic and chromed or stainless steel are the most popular finishes, beech wood is also available in this range.
The question that inevitably comes up is how much extra is all this smart cabinet design going to cost? While it may seem that a smart kitchen may cost a little more, the actual cost often evens out due to space savings from the use of smart cabinets.
Additionally, both Cahoon and Foxe have also identified a growing tendency among consumers to spend more on their kitchens to get something that’s cutting edge and just that bit smarter.
“More and more people are starting to spend that little more on a kitchen,” says Cahoon. “Home owners are becoming more educated on what is available via the Internet, for exam-ple, and there are a lot of glossy magazines that are also increasing awareness.
Previously, people would just tolerate the kitchen that the home builder provided because they didn’t have the right information, but now they see the latest and greatest at a friend’s place or on a lifestyle program. It’s about utilising that space in a much better way. If you are going to spend a certain amount on a kitchen, it is not much more in the overall scheme of things to do it like this,” says Cahoon.
Up on a pedestal
Although smart cabinets are mainly used in the kitchen, using existing space better is a trend that is moving into other areas of the home. One of the smartest, most innovative products is Hettich’s range of Org@Tower vertical drawers. The Org@Tower has a series of racks, clips or compartments inside it to hold items such as CDs, stationery, hanging files or anything else that is required. Completely customisable via a configurator on Hettich’s website (www.hettich.com.au), the Org@Tower is also becoming popular for residential and office use and has been designed into all different types of furniture such as desks, bed pedestals and entertainment units.
“A commercial application gives the best example of how it works,” says Foxe.
“If you have a normal pedestal underneath your desk, there’s usually three drawers in it. If you had a hot desking situation with three people working a 24-hour shift, three Org@Towers could fit vertically into the same width as a single pedestal. That way you get three mini-pedestals into the same space as one normal pedestal.”
Good things in small packages
The miniaturisation of componentry extends way beyond the domain of hi-fi systems. The need for better utilisation of space is moving into smart and compact storage systems throughout kitchen installations, bedroom furniture and in other areas of the home – a trend fast becoming a mandate for the design savvy, and the Australian market is reflecting that demand.
For more info, visit the following websites: www.hafele.com.au or www.hettich.com.au.