Buy Of The Week: A futuristic paradise in Sheffield

It started out as a project to discover how futuristic gadgetry can change our lives. Now the study is over, the house is for sale - and all mod-cons are included. Chris Arnot reports
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The Independent Online

Standards have slipped since they moved from Sandringham to Balmoral. Not the Windsors, you understand, but the Parnell family of Sheffield - Nick, Sue, and their daughters Lucy, 17, and Hazel, 14, who have just vacated Sandringham Crescent and returned to Balmoral Crescent, leaving behind a palace, by any gadget-fan's standards.

For more than six months, they tested the technology and lifestyle accessories put at their disposal by the construction company, David Wilson Homes, living in what was dubbed "the house of the future". For part of that period, they were electronically tagged by academics at Nottingham University.

"We've worked with them before when we built an eco-house on campus," says Paul Slater, technical director at David Wilson. "This time they wanted to look closely at the way that design and technology affect the way we live now. They call it Project Life."

The Parnells fitted the bill, being open to new ideas and having enough nous to know which buttons to press. Nick is an IT specialist at a bank and Sue teaches technology at a local school. Lucy and Hazel are typical teenage girls who loved having a bathroom apiece and an ultra-sophisticated surround-sound system that piped the music from their iPods into whichever room they happened to be at the time. Their friends enjoyed it, too. "We became a very popular destination for sleepovers," Sue recalls.

The Project Life house of the future is built of traditional Yorkshire stone and a lot of glass. It stands on a modern estate of some 200 homes - four-bedroomed and detached, for the most part - on the south-west edge of the city, overlooking rolling countryside and the distant ridges of the Peak District. What most intrigued the Nottingham academics, however, was the use of the internal wide-open spaces. The electronic tags that the Parnells agreed to wear round their wrists indicated that the family was shunning smaller rooms, like the study and the dining room. Instead they gravitated towards the open-plan dining and kitchen space, which was separated by four wooden steps from a lounge with a 42-inch plasma screen set into the wall. The dining area offers stunning views through floor-to-ceiling windows of glass designed to keep the room warm in winter, cool in summer. This cleans itself from the outside whenever it rains.

The oven cleans itself as well and the dishwasher is so quiet that only a solitary red light indicates that it's working. At the sink is a tap providing chilled, filtered water and, above it, a waterproof fold-down screen called an Ice Box which offers satellite television and instant internet access to any of the umpteen recipes churned out on daytime cookery programmes. And to cook on? Well, apart from the oven, there's an induction hob that boils water quicker than an electric kettle and cools down in an instant. "We've invested in one of those since we moved back," Sue admits. "I was sceptical at first, always having had a gas cooker. But this is instantly receptive and controllable."

One of her husband's favourite devices was the built-in coffee machine. While it ground the beans and prepared his double espresso, he had time to nip downstairs to pick up a shirt from the ironing robot.

In the basement is the end of the laundry chute, a low-tech feature that was surprisingly well used. "Even the girls used to put their dirty clothes in there. Now we're back home, they're strewn over bedroom floors again," Sue sighs. The master bedroom offers access to a terrace with a hot tub. But her favourite room was the en-suite bathroom adjoining the master bedroom. Wallowing in the sunken bath proved the ideal way to unwind after a day's teaching. Another plasma screen, sunk into the honey-coloured tiles, offered the chance to watch Richard and Judy or check who'd just rung the doorbell.

10 Sandringham Crescent, Sheffield, is on the market for around £1m (Saxon Mee, 0114 275 5117)

Included in the sale

* Automatic shirt-ironer by Siemens. See for stockists. Around £900

* Induction hob by AEG ( available from Comet, magnet and Powerhouse. Around £620

* Hot tub made by Porcelanosa. See Around £7,500

* Ice Box kitchen screen by Beyond Europe ( Around £1,500

* Self-cleaning glass from Pilkington - see Prices vary depending on size required