PROFILE: Charlie Luxton

Charlie Luxton is an architectural designer, TV presenter and the director of Charlie Luxton Design. Rebecca Nottingham gets his candid views on the rise of home automation

What’s your interpretation of ‘smart-home’ automation? What’s it all about and how does it work?
My interpretation of the concept is that it’s all about introducing technology that adds value to the consumer, by removing their need to do a specific task. The only time you’ve really got smart-home automation right is when you don’t actually know it’s there.

So, you recognise the benefits of smart-home technology?
Where I have a specific interest in smart-home automation, and where I see a massive relevance, is around thermal and energy control and comfort. What I mean by this is a central system that links together automated window blinds, automated lighting, automated ventilation systems, etc, to optimise the energy consumption within the building.

What I’d really like to see is a system that tells the building what the weather is going to be like the next day or for the following week, so that it can automatically adjust its energy usage accordingly. Intelligent thinking like that gets me really excited.

What do you make of the connected appliances available on the market at the moment?
I’m not yet convinced by a large majority of those products. My overriding experience of home automation to date has been people trying to show me how something works and then it just not working. Internet connection stability is an issue in very rural areas. There’s a massive gap between stuff being developed in Silicone Valley, central London or San Francisco, or wherever, and what you can do through the internet in a lot of places in this country. It’s just a different league and until those things come together, I think the concept is going to struggle to take off completely.

Would you agree that some products in this category have been launched to be smart for smart’s sake?
It’s possible that some brands have launched a ‘smart’ product just so they could get in the game. But, much like all technologies, if it isn’t done right, it puts people off. It’s difficult because people want to make a living and grow their businesses, but I feel like the industry needs to hold back slightly until the offer really works and then develop products.

Some experts say that a true ‘smart-home’ concept is completely unachievable until we get open platforms, which will allow consumers to control devices from a variety of different manufacturers via one system?
I totally agree. The ideal will be one central platform that allows us to control various different systems and appliances. At the moment, however, the industry is too fragmented and there’s an issue with communication between different products. Just yesterday, in fact, I was trying to work out how to get a roof light to talk to a ventilation system. I think it’s possible, but, because they’re made by different brands they talk in different languages.

What’s still missing is a clever piece of technology in the middle of it all that allows products to speak to each other. I don’t doubt that, at some point, these open platforms will come and, when they do, it will be much clearer and easier to navigate. But, until then, people are just going to spend a lot of money on evolutionary dead ends.

Are you implementing, or thinking about implementing, smart-home technology at the planning stage of any of your projects?

We’re at the stage where we’re trying to understand automation and building management systems, from a sustainability perspective. We know there is demand for smart technology and that this sector will develop significantly in the future.

So, what we’re doing in projects now, is putting in the right cables and directing them to a central hub. By doing that, we’re laying the foundations for our clients to create a fully functioning smart home in the future.

Should kitchen and bathroom designers be thinking about experts in the field and implementing smart-home technology in their projects?
I don’t necessarily think architects or kitchen and bathroom designers should be looking to become experts in automation. I think we all need to understand it. In the short to medium term, it’s the responsibility of the architect and designers to make the building, or kitchen and bathroom, ready for this technology, but I’d still recommend working with experts in that field. What we need to tackle, as an industry, is how we make our homes responsive to the fast-changing pace of this sector, so that the cycle of the building, and the cycle of the kitchen and bathroom are all in sync.

Where do you see the ‘smart-home’ evolving in the future?
What I’d like to see are integrated systems that control lighting, heating and water and automatically to optimise the building’s energy consumption. So, for example, when you enter the room the lights come on and when you leave the room they go off, so you waste no energy. That’s smart technology. If companies stopped working on developing smart appliances and worked on that angle, we would be in a far better place. Being able to run your bath from an app on your smartphone, on your way home from work is the kind of development I struggle with, at the moment.

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