The home, household goods & services

A good home – for the car

Once upon a time, a swimming pool, roof terrace or home security was the height of luxury. Now new luxury is taking parking to new heights. With space at a premium, luxury home owners can park their cars inside their buildings – even at sky level. The most expensive place to park the car is currently London, at 533 pounds per month, according to a CBD parking rate survey. Sydney is 7th and Perth is 8th in the top ten. So it’s no wonder that people who can afford it want private parking.

A penthouse apartment in New York boasts sky-level garages for each floor so all you have to do is drive into the lift. It’s a good home for the car – at a not very homely price (12.5 million pounds). The German company, CarLoft, has another ingenious system. You drive into a lift, which recognises your car, and takes you to the right floor. There is even a “pampering unit” where the car can be washed and moisturised. Then all you have to do is program the lift the night before to come and collect you the next day.

Such intense consideration of the car may be part of another trend – to house all the gadgets that make a room “messy”. Strangely enough, this creates a “clean” room that doesn’t look lived in. It is similar to the parlours of old, where the best silver was kept, but nobody actually went in there. While parlours are named after the French word “parler” meaning “to speak”, it appears our modern living rooms are places where people watch TV. So there’s not much talking going on.

You could argue that “real living” today happens in bedrooms, kitchens and dens, rather than in living rooms. Meanwhile, the car has a very nice room of its own.
Ref: Financial Times (UK), 5/6 March 2011, High-end parking. Lucy Warwick-Ching., Financial Times, 5/6 March 2011, Back to front. Edwin Heathcote.
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Search words: luxury, private parking, London, Moscow, New York, sky-level garage, Berlin, living room, parlour, television, “clean” room, “real” living.
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Renters are no longer second class citizens

Home ownership has long been the American Dream (and that of many other western countries but not all). It’s no surprise that the burst of the housing bubble has caused people to reassess renting as a good option. In some ways, the benefits of home ownership may have been overrated in the first place (as the objects of dreams often are).

One study of relative returns from home ownership and a portfolio of investments, shows, during the last 30 years, it would have been more profitable to rent than buy. This assumes, perhaps optimistically, that renters save and invest money they haven’t used to buy a home. Other benefits from home ownership, such as more engaged communities or better educated children, may also be overrated. A 2009 study found many of these benefits are lost when employment is controlled for. And a Wharton School study found home owners are no happier than renters (surprise!).

In Germany where, in 2007, only 46% of people owned their homes, there seems to be a different mindset. Germans don’t like long commutes and would rather live in apartment buildings in the city than in houses out in the suburbs. Moreover, they enjoy more flexible leases and controlled rent increases. (So renters may have more reason to be happy there.)

Home ownership was 66.5% in America, at the end of 2010, its lowest for 12 years. However, it may take more than economic studies to convince people to reinvent the American Dream. And as the sales agents always say, now is definitely a good time to buy!
Ref: The Economist (UK), 5 March 2011, Own goal. Anon.
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Search words: home ownership, American dream, rent, buy, employment, Germany, Switzerland, leases.
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From metropolis to aerotropolis

The traditional idea of a city is changing, as it always has, according to the predominant mode of transport. A new book, Aerotropolis: The way we’ll live next”, posits that the airport will become central to urban life. Of course, Memphis airport is home for Federal Express, Schiphol is the centre of the flower trade, and Frankfurt airport supports the fish trade, so the airports there are already central to those cities. Many airports also act as giant shopping malls.

If you are a frequent traveller, or if you need work, you might want to live near an airport. But they are noisy and polluting too, as many people already living near airports will attest. In China, where infrastructure building is robust, villages are being forced to move to accommodate runways. Meanwhile, greenies have plenty of internationally sanctioned reasons to resist everything aero and carbon. Is it possible to live harmoniously with airports?

We might once have asked if we could live harmoniously with railways or canals (perhaps Manchester was once a “canalotoropolis”). And architects might not always live harmoniously with residents, as the Economist notes, “one architect’s urban park is another man’s caravan site, or mattress dump”.
Ref: The Economist (UK), 5 March 2011, Paradises on earth. Anon.
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Search words: city, urban life, airports, Memphis, Frankfurt, suburban sprawl, China, Aerotropolis.
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Let a software agent make your tea

When you make a cup of tea in a commercial break, there may be thousands of other people doing the same. Electricity generators have to supply extra power and this is inefficient and costly. It may be better, instead of peak or off-peak charging, to manage peaks – in fact make them flat - by feeding current household usage back to the utility companies.

However, a centralised system would be difficult; the ideal is a distributed approach using smart agents that can use batteries already in the home as temporary energy storage units.
These batteries could draw electricity during times of low demand and low price. One remarkable new source may be electric cars.

Researchers at University of Delaware have been running a fleet of seven electric vehicles for this purpose, known as V2G (vehicle to grid). Plugging in a vehicle sends a wireless message to a server so, when the local company needs more energy, it draws from the vehicle. V2G responds in less than 4 seconds, compared to the 5 minutes it would take to boost the generator. Not only that, it generates gross revenue of about $US4,000 a year!

The wider effect is that pricing would be varied, based on actual demand and cost, and agent systems could “buy” electricity like a commodity. It could then be stored for use later. If less than half the homes in the UK were able to use this system, the market would be more stable and households could reduce their bills by 13%, saving some 1.5 billion pounds per year.It’s a thrilling concept also that a car could be an income generator, rather than a drain on family finances.
Ref: New Scientist (UK), 5 March 2011, Smart-grid “stockbrokers” to manage your power. Duncan Graham-Rowe.
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Search words: smart grid, batteries, peak, off-peak, electricity, electric car, software agents, utility companies.
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Blurring boundaries at home

We are often told boundaries between work and home are blurring. Now it seems the boundaries are blurring between indoors and outdoors. We’ve already seen, ad nauseam, glass doors that pull right back to marry a room with the outdoors. In future, there will be more integration between the outdoors and the indoors, using nature as the inspiration, at least according to the Dutch stylemeister, Li Edelkoort.

Li forecasts the landscaping of interiors themselves via the blurring of landscape architecture, architecture and design. The tops of buildings will be planted with greenery and, in fact, Toronto has already made this mandatory. There will be new use of plants, for example, in terrariums, and more creative use of rocks, both indoors and outdoors. If you thought grass was for the lawn, think again, it will be used for interiors and wood will be woven like grass. In fact, weaving and earthy fabrics, like linen and ratten, will come to the fore.

Just as nature is always changing, Li forecasts lighter, more mobile furniture, so people don’t have to sit in the same place everyday to do the same thing. There will be less furniture, perhaps in pebble colours, but it will be modular and portable, and even a daybed could be used for sleeping. The trend is definitely away from anything too fixed that might induce boredom in fast moving lifestyles. You could even have a picnic on your living room floor. Rural meets urban, perhaps.
Ref:, 13 January 2011, What’s next: Top home trends for 2011-2012. Arlene Hirst.
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Search words: landscaping, interiors, greenery, rocks, pebbles, daybed, modular, portable, linen, weaving
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