PROFILE: Tom Cheesewright

As an applied futurologist, and founder of Book of the Future, Tom Cheesewright helps organisations to recognise and respond to the factors influencing change. He gazes into his crystal ball to give us a hint of what we can to expect from the kitchen and bathroom of tomorrow and explains how you can future-proof your business…

What factors are shaping the KBB industry of tomorrow?
As a futurologist, when predicting the future I look at where the five vectors of change – agility, diversity, performance, ubiquity and scale – intersect with the pressure points that already exist in a particular market.

So, to understand what factors will affect the kitchen and bathroom of the future, you need to consider the pressures that already affect today’s home. Demographic, economic and ecological pressures are all key drivers of change there. People are living longer and working later in life, so the expectations of where they live are much higher. Multiple occupancy households are on a rise because of higher life expectancy and the rise in house prices.

Combine those with the pressures on energy and issues around food production and you start to get a picture of where these intersections happen and the areas we’ll see the biggest changes. And, of course, when you’re looking into the future of developed economies the single biggest driver of change will be technology.

With those factors of change in mind, what will the future kitchen look like?
Trends in the kitchen represent a useful microcosm of wider trends – for example, greater flexibility and adaptability, application of smart technologies, new materials.

We’ve already seen the kitchen go through the transition from a place where food is prepared to a place where it’s also served and consumed. But I think we’ll see the kitchen become a place where food is also produced. Interestingly, that’s something that Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale predicted in ‘Back to the Future II’.

Tom Cheesewright presents his vision of the future
Tom Cheesewright presents his vision of the future

Because they’re working and living longer, consumers are willing to invest more in kitchens and bathrooms, but they expect them to last longer. Bring these trends together with new materials and you get the idea for long-lasting kitchens that don’t go out of style, are flexible enough to be adapted daily to the different needs of the many occupants. Perhaps just with colour and light on the surfaces. Perhaps being physically rearranged.

We’ll also see surfaces develop so that they incorporate more functions. For example, I recently heard about a spray-on graphene paint that can turn any flat surface into a radiator. We’re not far off being able to do similar things with printed laminates. In the not-so-distant future, you could easily, and cheaply, add a printed laminate to a cupboard door that could perhaps allow you to change the colour or even double as an interactive display.

Considering that today’s kitchen doesn’t look radically different from the kitchen of the 50s, how realistic are your predictions?
I’d agree that 90% of today’s kitchen appears the same as they did 50 or 60 years ago, but in individual corners, there is technology that’s advanced dramatically and rapidly over that period.

The amount of time we spend on domestic chores, for example, has fallen by a factor of five since the 1950s through the advent of appliances like the washing machine, dishwasher and tumble-dryer. Then there’s the level of control we have with today’s cooking appliances and the energy-efficiency of all household appliances. And that doesn’t even take into account the hidden technology in the cabinets and how advanced the surface materials are. A lot of the technology to make those predictions come true already exists, it’s just not necessarily commercially viable yet. But it will be.

What about tomorrow’s bathroom, how could that look?
Changes to the bathroom are much harder to predict, because there’s still nothing better than water for washing. Therefore, I can’t see it changing too dramatically. Going back to the idea that consumers want their bathrooms to last significantly longer, I can see there being a lot of innovation in materials used to manufacture products.

The bathroom is a harsh environment and, if it’s to last a long time, it needs to resist moisture, mould and bacteria better than it does today.

Again, those developments will be driven by advancements in technology.

Is smart-home technology really the future or is it just a gimmick?
Most smart-home technology isn’t great at the moment. It’s clunky and there’s not enough standardisation and, therefore, the devices can‘t communicate that well with each other. I’d liken it to having a different shaped plug socket for
each appliance.

But it’s certainly not just a gimmick. It will eventually come together – just like all of the other developments I’ve mentioned.

How can businesses prepare for change and be more future-ready?
Retailers must build closer relationships with their customers. If they don’t, they run the risk they will go elsewhere.

Even after they’ve bought a kitchen or bathroom from you, there are all sorts of reasons to keep up a relationship with your customers, such as extracting recurring revenue from them and ensuring that you are the retailer they return to and recommend.

John Chambers, executive chairman of global IT specialist Cisco, once said: “Great businesses die by doing the same thing for too long.” With that in mind, the second thing I’d advocate is experimentation. Consider that the way you’ve always done things may not be the best way to do them in the future. For instance, just because you’ve always sold kitchens from a showroom, is that still the best way to sell them in the future?

What existing innovations from the KBB sector impress you?
Looking at my new-ish kitchen – bought from an independent local showroom I might add – what stands out most for me is the application of new technologies in surfaces. I was impressed with how they were measured and fitted – an entirely digital process.

Some of that analysis is missing from the wider design process. Very little data goes into the design, yet it should be easy these days to analyse how a kitchen is used, in terms of occupation, movement and energy consumption patterns – and to capture other key factors like natural light and temperature cycles. Demonstrating a really evidence-driven design rationale could be hugely powerful.

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