At the touch of a button: Luxury houses are going hi-tech
Wayne Burgess can control his home's security system, central heating and lighting from anywhere in the world.
Friday 22 April 2011
Buckinghamshire homeowner Wayne Burgess is a switched-on sort of chap – literally. His four-bedroom home looks unusual enough from the outside, built on stilts in a flood plain with glass walls and a river frontage. But it is when you get inside that you see its really distinctive features.
There are touch-pads to control the lighting, music and heating, taps produce instant boiling water and cameras scour the house perimeter and grounds. Then there is a central locking system whereby at the flick of a switch – just the one – all lights, heating and sound systems are turned off, the curtains and blinds opened, and the security alarms and movement sensors simultaneously switched on.
"What we've done is to develop a one-stop system that does it all. We can be coming home along the Thames and I can turn the boathouse and jetty lights on from my iPhone. I can be in Los Angeles and turn the house lights up so it looks as though someone is home. Anywhere I can access the internet I have full control," says businessman Burgess.
Yet remarkable as the technology may seem in that house – now on sale for a cool £3.3m (Fine, 01753 886177, www.fine.co.uk) – such specification is becoming par for the course in homes on sale with seven figure price tags.
For example new-build homes in Richmond, south-west London, by developer Harepath, feature rainwater harvesting – it collects rain and feeds it into the domestic water system – along with solar-powered hot water, the cheap-but-still-unusual iPod dock in each room, an integrated vacuum cleaning system, and wiring capable of powering a home cinema system in the basement. You pay handsomely for such gadgetry, however: up to £6m each (Featherstone Leigh, 020-8940 1575, www.featherstoneleigh.co.uk).
Yet new technology is now sufficiently lightweight, small and adaptable not to be found only in new homes – older properties can be, to use developers' jargon, "retrofitted".
For example Punch's Grove is a 1930s house at Hilton, near Peterborough. Outside, the Palladian columns make it appear a classic period house, but inside you see a modernist world featuring plasma TVs in most rooms, touch-screen panel, speakers and lights set in ceilings, remote control fires, a cinema room and what the estate agents call "the hot-tub chilling zone" – or bathroom, as many would call it (£2.65m, Fine and Country, 0845 6032825, www.fineandcountry.com). So far, so standard, at least on multi-million pound properties at the very top of the market. So what would a home-owner buy if he really wanted the newest of new technology? The answer may well be an unexpected one: sharks.
The latest idea from Lees Associates, an architectural practice that specialises in installing new technology into top-end properties, is a system whereby four cinema projectors and white glass walls are fitted to indoor swimming pools. They allow the back-projection of sharks which then appear to "swim" in the pool; then, as someone moves around the pool, so the sharks, too, change position and direction in response to the motion of the water.
The cost of this plaything may be slightly more painful than an encounter with a real shark – the equipment costs £70,000 with £38,000 to install, plus £45,000 to program the computer. Oh, and you will need a swimming pool, too.
John Lees, who runs the firm, says money is no object to techno-enthusiasts. "Bathrooms have become the most expensive rooms and include body-jet showers, ornamental baths carved from single pieces of stone, Japanese lavatories with heated seats and combined bidets, and timed bathwater heaters that maintain heat at a specific temperature," he says.
If these ideas appear absurdly irrelevant to ordinary homes, think again. An article of this kind 20 years ago would have talked of the new technology of its day – power showers, electric blinds, automatic driveway gates or garage doors, and the marvel of under-floor heating, all now relatively commonplace in houses in many streets in the land.
"Projected sharks may not be typical in 2030 but I can imagine hot taps producing instant boiling water and ceiling-fitted sound systems being bog standard by then," explains David Stimpson, a planning consultant who advises mainstream house-builders on new trends.
But some property experts believe that, despite the probable spin-offs for the volume housing market, the hi-tech tide is turning. While most buyers – well, it seems most male buyers – like today's new toys, discerning buyers increasingly want service, not gizmos.
Tracy Kellett runs BDI Homefinders, a buying agency specialising in locating and purchasing homes on behalf of wealthy clients, mostly from the Middle East.
"They certainly want technology that improves security in a property, from looking after their super cars in the basement garage to their personal safety all around the house. But apart from that, technology actually features rarely on buyers' must-have lists," explains Kellett.
"Women buyers simply don't give a damn about it, and nowadays even the men are beginning to put more emphasis on service. A concierge offering a hotel-style range of services is the single most common must-have that my clients talk about," she says.
"The technology in the most expensive homes now is down to the developers wanting to keep up with each other, rather than meeting real demand. The wealthiest clients are a little tired of it. They want service – and that requires humans, not machines," says Kellett.
Coming to a home near you
* iPad or PC remote controlled Lutron lighting, curtains and blinds programmed to be activated when you wish – even if you are on the other side of the world (www.lutron.com).
* In-wall Control4 colour touch-screens replicate iPad functionality so you can check the internet as you walk from room to room without having to hold a telephone or tablet (www.control4.com).
* Audio and PC networking, sothat one iTunes download can be transmitted on radios, sound systems or television sets throughout the home(www.logitech.com).
* Waterproof TV sets glide auto-matically up from a bath-end while you soak (www.waterprooftv.co.uk).
* Chilled ceilings – thin fridge-like coolant panels are retrofitted to rooms where big air conditioning units would be unsightly (www.sasint.co.uk).
* Sky-lifts that take your car to your apartment's level in a block – now being tested in Germany. House-owners could try the increasingly common car turntable in the drive (www.totalparkingsolutions.co.uk)
* Retina and fingerprint door controls; secure lifts taking you from underground garages to your apartment without going outside; panic rooms with bomb-proof lock-down doors (www.videx-security.com; www.mypanicroom.com)
* Electronic drawer openers – when pulling those pesky handles proves just too much (www.ebuild.com).
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