The home, household goods & services

Handcrafted, natural and nurturing

After a period of minimalism, cold steel and iron, we are starting to move back towards more cosy interiors. We want handcrafted furniture that offers texture and warmth, and we want to learn who has created it. The trend for provenance is already well established in food and beer, for example, and it appears interior design is no exception. Buyers do not want to indulge in fleeting beauty that won’t last – they are looking for longevity, and objects they can trust. They also want to buy furniture that is more sustainable – longevity with a planetary purpose. Many decorative schemes now offer nostalgia and escapism, for example, the return to Pop Art. Popular fabrics are velvet and chenille, because they offer comfort and softness, and after a recession, the promise of indulgence again. Popular colours are darker and more regal, like aubergine.

Some other trends in interior design include more use of glass in kitchens and bathrooms (for example, glass hobs and glass-sided baths), pearlised paints and wallpapers, and adaptable lighting to match the mood of the room. It is predicted that, even post-recession, people will continue to entertain at home, seeing the return of the home bar of old, but creating new opportunities for changing spaces. For example, sliding doors to accommodate a large room when cooking informally, or an intimate dining space when entertaining. Handcrafted and natural may be a backlash to cheap commodities so freely available in the West or a stronger need for safety in an increasingly fast-moving world. This kind of furniture is also longer lasting, and may be said to “grow old gracefully”, perhaps a reflection of the Baby Boomers who are buying it. Curiously, when people choose to stay long term in their homes, rather than buy and sell, they tend to choose darker, richer colours. So the Baby Boomers may be influencing these trends as much as, or more than, the recession.

Ref: Financial Times (UK), 9-10 January 2010, ‘It’s all about nurturing and comfort’ by N. Swengley.
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Search words: handcrafted, natural, sustainable, provenance, fabrics, furniture, glass, pearl, lighting, entertaining, colour, Pop Art.
Trend tags: Nostalgia

Slow design

If you associate quilting with a craft only your grandmother could love, then think again. The current quilting exhibition at the V&A Museum in London (until July 4, 2010), broke its records for pre-opening ticket sales. Continuing the “handcrafted” story from above, quilting meets the trend for traditional activities that are painstaking and a long time in the making.

One of the values for quilters is the calming, meditative nature, and the pleasing repetition of their art, as well as the ability to tell a story in pictures or words. They may choose a personal passion, such as the Scottish landscape, or make a social commentary, such as women in the workplace. Today’s artists, such as Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry and Caren Garfen, successfully use quilting to explore personal, cultural and economic matters using the tactile qualities and colours of fabric.

There seems to be a new enthusiasm for quilts, according to the internet, with large numbers of collectors or admirers of quilts visiting quilt festivals in, say, Tokyo or Houston (US quilting has a long tradition). Quilting is another form of “slow design”, following the trends for slow food or slow cities. It may reveal the growing hunger for nostalgia in Baby Boomers or provide a visual reminder about the rewards of taking something slowly.

Ref: Financial Times (UK), 13-14 March 2010, 'The riches of stitches.' by N. Swengley.
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Search words: slow design, quilts, V&A, textiles, landscape, abstract, social commentary, lettering, Festival of Quilts, craft, hand-crafted
Trend tags: Slow, real

Slow build for New Orleans

After a crisis, whether a world war or a hurricane, there is an opportunity to rebuild a city, but in a better way. New Orleans offers one example of how architects are responding to the need for new housing that honours, but does not repeat the mistakes of, the past, and considers the need for sustainability in the future.

The great architectural historian, James Marston Fitch, once noted that architecture leaps forward when theory, material and technique converge. Today’s trio of modern design, green materials, and the need for sustainability, may be one of those turning points. Architects in New Orleans were asked to design houses that had the following features: fitted within existing narrow lots, elevated with high ceilings and rooftop access, prominent porches or stoops, ability to endure hurricanes, and a cost of less than $US150,000.

Like many new ideas, residents rejected the flat roof so beloved of style-focused architects – they wanted slopes. But the process of residents talking to architects offered a new way of working, as one said: “Community has to be the new titanium”. The passionate support of Brad Pitt for Global Green, one of the projects, probably gave it a boost. Most important, the demand for porches or stoops continues the tradition of stopping to socialise with the neighbours, very much part of New Orleans life but already lost in other countries.

How can this story be translated to architecture in other cities? The trend for sustainability in process and materials, while arguable at times, is already well-established. But one architect said, “The very core of sustainability can be found in a simple question: Can it be loved?” It’s a good question. It highlights the need for designers to consider why people choose to live where they do and how they like to live. If it’s hard to love, people will spend time and money trying to change it – and that’s not sustainable.

Ref: The Atlantic (US), November 2009, 'House of the future.' by W. Curtis.
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Search words: New Orleans, Katrina, sustainable, green, urban, architecture, elevated, tough, cheap, community, porches
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New light bulbs join the dots

Many of us have been forced to stop buying incandescent bulbs in favour of compact fluorescents. The next trend was light emitting diodes (LEDs), already used in, say, TV screens. But there is a new technology that offers a warmer light, with a colour you can control, and for less power – quantum-dot lighting.Quantum dots are minute crystals of semiconducting material, usually cadmium, zinc, selenium and sulphur. A quantum dot when excited by light or electricity, emits light according to its size and material, so you can control the colour by exciting dots of a certain size. It is similar to a tuning fork, which oscillates at a specific frequency for a certain note. Nanoco Technologies, UK, predicts that, by 2012, around three tonnes of quantum dots will be needed to meet demand for the display market.

Nanosys, a US company, is using quantum dots to change the colour of blue LEDs to a warm, white light for backlighting displays on computers, phones and TVs. QD Vision, also in the US, uses a film of quantum dots over several blue LEDs causing them to emit a range of colours that combine to form white light. Its bulb will behave like a 70-watt bulb but draw only 11 watts from the grid, compared to 15 watts from a compact bulb. Stimulating quantum dots with light to create light is called “photoluminescence”.

A less energy efficient technique is stimulating quantum dots with electricity, which is called “electroluminescence”. If this problem is overcome, bulbs of this type will be on sale around 2012, and there could also be glowing wallpaper or new kinds of signage. Manufacturers will increasingly have to consider the energy use of their products. Already, California has introduced legislation to reduce energy consumption of TVs and computer displays: one third by 2011 and one half by 2013. Some researchers are experimenting with using quantum dots in solar panels, which would turn light into electricity, or harvest more of the solar spectrum. I suspect people don’t want to save electricity if it means they have to sit in environments that are too cold or too gloomy. So any shift towards warmer lighting could be welcome after the rather cool glow of compact bulbs. It might also complement the current trend for more nurturing interiors, in the story above, if the technology moves quickly enough into shops.

Ref: The Economist Technology Quarterly (UK), 6 March 2010, 'A quantum leap for lighting.'
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Search words: light bulb, LEDs, quantum dot, semiconductor crystals, lighting, tuning fork, QD Vision, Nanosys, photoluminescence, electroluminescence, OEDs, cadmium, solar panels.
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Caring robots for the elderly

Japanese society, like other countries, is aging rapidly. Around 40% of Japanese will be over 65 by 2055. The market for robots to help the aged, and the disabled, has never been riper. A traditional wheelchair is hard to get in and out of: it puts a load on the person’s back and hips and they have to turn around to sit down. The Veda International Robot R&D Center has created a new kind of wheelchair called the Rodem. It is designed like a scooter so that the user straddles it and leans forward, putting more weight on the chest, knees and buttocks. Panasonic has created the Robotic Bed, a wheelchair bed that also functions as a bed. It can move from one form to another in 40 seconds and the elderly can use it without help.

Cyberdyne has created a Robot Suit called HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) that helps the elderly or disabled stand up, walk or navigate stairs. It consists of sensors, control units and power units, which stay charged for about 60-90 minutes. Meanwhile, the robotic arm, created by The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, is able to lift a cup or spoon with just the tip of the user’s finger and it can be attached and detached from tables and wheelchairs with one touch. It should be commercialised within three years. An interesting perspective is that many medical assistance items have been developed in the past to make it easier for the caregiver, rather than the person who needs care. These new technologies appear to put the focus back on the needy person. Robots are likely to become increasingly effective for achieving basic daily movements and tasks, freeing up caregivers to offer the more human tasks of listening, understanding, and community that older people so often crave.

Ref: The Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 19 October 2009, 'Robotic help just around the corner.'
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Search words: robots, disabled, elderly, wheelchair, Hybrid Assistive Limb, bed, arm, aging.
Trend tags: Robotics, ageing