The home, household goods & services

The new heart of the home

In an era of sprawling family homes, some households are designing group home offices in an effort to spend more quality time with each other. Recent years have seen an increase in super-sized houses, often with separate bathrooms, studies and entertainment rooms for the kids, meaning families can spend much of their free time at opposite ends of the building. Now, in a backlash, the concept of the shared office is on the up and up. Not only are these rooms giving families more time together, they’re also providing a valuable platform for inter-generational learning. Parents may give children their first taste of spreadsheets (!), while the adults are exposed to MySpace.
But it’s not always this warm and fuzzy. There have been mixed results when experimenting with the group office, parents may find it hard to take client calls when there are noisy children in the background and the kids are finding they may not have the same level of freedom as they would in a study of their own. Scientists are reporting, however, that there could be benefits to this shared time together, saying that face-time is essential not only for the household, but for society and even evolution.
A century ago, most American families lived in small houses consisting of only a few rooms, ensuring constant interaction between family members. And even 50 years ago, although houses were getting larger, a single bathroom, television or telephone meant the same thing. In the last 25 years however, the advent of enormous suburban homes has meant this kind of interaction is not necessarily part of everyday life.
Psychologists report that closeness can count for more than we think. Children learn valuable life skills through interaction with family members, picking up complex social behaviours from one-on-one time with parents and by watching the interactions between other members of the family. On a scientific level, these interactions help to develop the neural circuitry in the frontal cortex – which is responsible for the major thought and decision-making processes. Sharing a physical space with people can also result in the release of the ‘bonding’ hormone oxytocin. Though not well known, this hormone is essential, providing health benefits and preventing depression. Oxytocin also counteracts the affects of the ‘danger-alert’ hormone cortisol, which is released in times of stress, and the over-production of which can cause damage to the brain.
Ref: The Wall Street Journal (US), 24 March 2007, ‘Reinventing the Family Room’, Kate Goodloe, ; The Washington Post (US), 24 February 2007, ‘When There’s Too Much Room for a Family’, Katherine Salant,
Search words: family, housing, study, office, office design, spaces, thinking spaces
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Living in the future

Plans have been released for a housing development near the QEII in Dartford (UK), as part of a regeneration of the Thames Gateway area. The houses will have all the latest mod cons of course, but the focus of the development - known as The Bridge - will be sustainability. This mean offices providing jobs for residents, state-of-the-art schools and most importantly, good public transport. Every house will have an electronic departure board installed in the kitchen that displays the exact time the next bus will pass by. Bus times can also be sent to mobile phones and computers, and bus stops will have email checking facilities (why?). These Fast-track buses, which run partly on dedicated roads, already run every six minutes between 6am and midnight. Best of all, residents of The Bridge ride buses for free as part of a plan by the designer to ensure people choose public transport over driving. But is this what the future of housing will really entail? In 1965, Finnish architect Matti Suuronen launched his version of the house of the future, with the rather original moniker of The Futuro. It was the age of plastic, and plastic was considered the ideal building material for the house of the future, being light, durable and easy to clean. These egg-shaped houses (resembling most people’s idea of a flying saucer) could be put together in two days and came filled with the very latest in design concepts and gadgets. Despite its long list of credentials, the Futuro didn’t take off the way designers had hoped. In fact only 60 were ever manufactured. Some people attribute the failure of plastic houses to the oil crisis of 1973, and to the fact that plastic did not prove as durable as first touted. But the biggest obstacle in selling the plastic house was that while people may have loved the idea of the Futuro, with its space-age design and portability, they were just not ready to give up traditional housing.
Ref: Telegraph (UK), 17 July 2007, ‘The house of the future’, Graham Norwood,; New Scientist (US), 16 June 2007, ‘Pour in, pop out, move in’, Stephanie Pain,
Search words: housing, transport, plastic, design, materials
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An island mentality

Owning your very own island used to be a matter of prestige. It was a status symbol, just like owning a yacht, or a private jet. These days, while prestige is still a key factor, there are more complex issues surrounding the purchase of an island - and the demand has never been higher. It seems a defence mentality has taken hold, with most potential island owners concerned about privacy, international terrorism, or global warming. Many present day celebrities are finding the media harder and harder to escape, and privacy harder to come by – except when surrounded by sea. Those who may not fear the media show they might have other things to be afraid of, seeking out an island to escape to in the case of international terrorism. In fact fears of a nuclear attack have driven up the prices of islands around New Zealand, as winds there come in from the South Pole. And even if things don’t get as bad as all that, a private island still provides protection from day-to-day crime. The onset of global warming has also had an impact on the sale of private islands. While some islands in the Pacific are getting ready to evacuate, there is an increase in demand for locations that are well above sea level, such as Scotland, Ireland and Scandinavia.
Ref: Financial Times (UK), August 2007, ‘Crusoe Control’, Lisa Freedman.
Search words: islands, privacy, terrorism, global warming, fear, anxiety
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Domestic outsourcing

Customers have long been able to buy groceries online or dial for a dry cleaner, so it makes sense that someone would eventually aim to bring the beauty salon into the home. This is exactly what Susan Cunningham, the 'brains' behind Uptown Girl NYC, has done. The company provides an entourage of on-call beauty technicians (everything from spa specialists to eyelash artists) for those cosmopolitan women that simply can’t find the time to get to the salon. And despite the prices for in-home services being sometimes double or triple what they would be in the salon, other top salons are cashing in on the trend, finding that demand is on the increase. For some it’s all about being a VIP and part of celebrity culture, but for others it can be a much more convenient or even cost-effective way to get their beauty fix. Once you factor in the price of a return taxi, plus the time it takes getting to and from the salon, only needing a free hour in your schedule can be worth forking out the extra cash. Analysts have linked the growing market to the rise in Internet shopping and the current trend of consumers wanting convenient and highly-personalised services.On the not-so-glamorous side of household outsourcing, one Houston company has found a market for in-home head lice removal. The Texas Lice Squad offers a full range of (non-toxic) services to remove head lice and prevent reinfestation. With inspection priced at US$65 for a family of four and removal at $60 per hour, it could be will worth the money for families who have not been able to remove the lice themselves. The Squad also provides written confirmation that children are free of lice and therefore able to return to school.
Ref: Financial Times (US), 4-5 August 2007, ‘Bringing the salon home’, Tatiana Boncompagni.; Springwise (Neth), 12 September 2007, ‘Domestic outsourcing: lice busters’.
Search words: outsourcing, convenience, beauty, salons
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Real estate and agents of the state

A recent report by the right-leaning Centre for Policy Studies in the UK has provided readers with a list of 226 ways that the State can enter the homes of citizens. And while the great majority of these would never impact on the average person (such as the Landmines Act or the Diseases of Fish Act), there are still plenty of reasons for fearing a knock at the door. It seems that the state agents that do have a right to enter the home are taking advantage of the ignorance of the average citizen in order to get away with a lot more than they’re entitled to. At the top of this list are the bailiffs, known for employing intimidating or sneaky tactics in order to recover debts for their clients. There are reports of bailiffs breaking into houses, threatening to seize property or even pets, and inflating the sums of money owed. None of these things are within the rights of a bailiff – they may not enter without a warrant, have no right to take property and frequently exaggerate the sum owed – but they rely on the fact that the general public are not aware of this. They also know how to manipulate the law to their advantage. They know that even with a warrant they may not force entry, but entering through an open window is okay. Surprisingly enough, the RSPCA has also been reported as abusing its power, all in the name of animal rights. Anyone accused of cruelty may expect to see someone at the door demanding to inspect or seize animals. They have no right to do either of these things and have even been known to impersonate police officers in order to gain entry. The upshot of all this is that it’s important for citizens to be aware of their rights, and in the face of the sheer volume and opacity of law, to ask for clarity.
Ref: The Sunday Times (UK), 3 June 2007, ‘Invasion of privacy’, Richard Girling.
Search words: privacy, homes, entry, government
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