Better Homes and Gadgets
Home electronics and appliances are becoming increasingly smart, efficient and stylish. Here’s the latest and greatest in home technology.
By Tariq Kamal 04/30/2014
Open the door to Snyder Diamond on South Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena, and you’ll be greeted with a staggering array of high-end home appliances, many of which would send Disney’s original Tomorrowland designers reeling. Examples include the $11,000 Scanomat TopBrewer coffeemaker, which is built into the countertop; only a minimalist faucet and small grate break the surface. The Dornbracht Horizontal Shower lets users recline on a bench while six jets fire temperature- and pressure-controlled water from above; with installation, it costs about $50,000. Outside, a fully functioning indoor/outdoor pizza oven from Wood Stone Corp. serves as the centerpiece of a backyard display; prices for that product line start at $13,500.
Company President Russ Diamond travels extensively to Europe and elsewhere to vet suppliers, visit trade shows and look for new products. He says there is a movement toward hidden or nearly hidden appliances, such as the TopBrewer, and induction ranges, which utilize a single heating surface that senses the position of cookware and heats it directly. But Diamond says Internet connectivity could be the real game-changer for manufacturers, who can assess glitches remotely.
Michael Fehmers says that smart-home technology, which once relied on radio receivers to control lighting, for example, can now also be operated by Wi-Fi. Fehmer’s company, South Pasadena’s CBA Technology, designs, programs and installs customized control systems. “The most important thing we can do is put full, enterprise-grade networks in these homes, better than you might find in your office.” Such systems pair integration — controlling multiple systems such as heating, window shades and lights — with automation, in which motion detectors or set times trigger their operation. The next phase, Fehmers says, is the incorporation of personal radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. “You walk in your house, you don’t have to do anything and it knows it’s you. It can follow you around. Lights can turn on and off.”
Once installed, the system can be operated by the homeowner’s smartphone or tablet computer, and the interface is decidedly user-friendly. One can control lights, for example, by tapping the appropriate fixture as it appears on-screen. Systems such as those designed by Crestron, the industry leader, allow users to tap a single button to turn their homes “off” at night — security system armed, lights off, shades down, temperature down — and then wake them with light, heat and music in the morning.
At the moment, such technology is an option largely for the affluent, although Fehmers says a “brain” and some bells and whistles can be acquired for less than $5,000. The cost of a fully integrated and automated control system in a three-bedroom house, he says, “can very quickly get over $100,000” — and, incidentally, all the home’s occupants have to be on board. “It’s usually the partner who’s not really interested who wins the argument. ‘I don’t want it and I won’t use it, so why spend all this money?’ Typically, it’s the male who is most interested, but that’s changing.”
As the economies of scale increase and men, women and children become more tech-savvy, smart-home technology will undoubtedly become more popular. Fehmers, who studied psychology, is the first to admit that his work was made possible by advances by Crestron and other providers such as Savant and Control4. He will spend 40 hours or more to program a system such as those described above; however, “the programmer used to have to write a line of code. Now components can be added to a system, appropriate connections made and an interface created for the user.”
Expensive and designed to appeal to the most discerning consumer, these appliances and devices are at the leading edge of home technology. Prices may vary and do not include the cost of installation.
The TopBrewer is a coffee-maker that is built into a counter or tabletop. Below the surface, an industrial-strength grinder, heater and refrigeration unit deliver hot and cold coffee, milk, water and steam. The stainless-steel faucet features a built-in milk foamer that Scanomat claims is the world’s smallest. The device is self-cleaning and can be controlled by a smartphone or iPad.
Powered by six jets suspended over a reclining bench, the Horizontal Shower features three preprogrammed “choreographies” designed to comfort, relax or energize bathers. The shower requires professional installation and is operated by a stylish, minimalist control panel.
Wood Stone indoor/outdoor pizza oven
Wood Stone’s line of pizza ovens was initially designed for commercial use. Residential buyers can choose from multiple configurations and outfit their oven with a custom metal finish; they may want a contractor to install it in their kitchen or backyard. Endorsed by
celebrity chef Bobby Flay, they have graced the kitchens of other famous chefs such as Wolfgang Puck and Mario Batali.
$13,500 and up, woodstonehome.com
Sub-Zero Pro 48
The Pro 48 includes several features popular among high-end refrigerator buyers: a stainless steel exterior, an auto-close door with a glass viewing pane, “dual” refrigeration to keep food fresh longer, spill-proof canti-levered shelves and more. Buyers can adjust the temperature with an interior control panel and, in some models, Sub-Zero can address any malfunctions remotely.
Blendtec Pro 800
Billed as “the most advanced blender on the planet,” Blendtec’s Stealth series was designed to offer industrial-strength power without the noise. A 3.8-horsepower motor delivers the power while a sealed sound enclosure keeps it quiet. Users can download the correct blending times and speeds for their favorite recipes on a USB flash drive and program the blender accordingly.
Dacor’s “restaurant-quality” WineStation stores and dispenses wine from up to four bottles. The device was designed to preserve the flavor and aroma of each selection for up to 60 days. Users can enter each bottle’s varietal and vintage and select a taste, half-glass or full glass of wine, delivered via tubing from each bottle.
This state-of-the-art toilet features an elongated bowl with a built-in bidet, air dryer and deodorizing filter. The seat is heated and the cover opens and closes automatically. An auxiliary system allows the toilet to flush up to 100 times in the event of a power loss. Users can enhance their experience with music; the Numi comes with prerecorded songs and an FM radio and is Bluetooth- and iPod-compatible.
Designed for the commercial market, Nutrifaster juicers combine power and durability with an aluminum finish. The N450 features a high-speed 1.25-horsepower motor and can produce a 12-ounce glass of juice in seconds. Other models are designed to handle vitamin-rich “superfoods” such as wheatgrass.
Induction cooktops are designed to sense the position of ferrous metal cookware and heat it directly. This allows users to arrange pots and pans anywhere on the surface; the rest of the range remains cool to the touch and shuts off when the cookware is removed. The Freedom features a touchscreen that controls 48 three-inch coils under a 36-inch-wide surface.
The 7200CR is the flagship of Osaki’s line of “Zero Gravity” massage chairs. It uses S-shaped rollers and 48 individual air bags to apply pressure to the back, shoulders, thighs, calves and feet. A control panel allows users to select programs for muscle relaxation, stress relief and more. The chair is available in four colors and can accommodate users up to 6 feet, 4 inches tall.