The future of furniture is smart print
By Anne Flynn Wear
Furniture Today | December 17-23, 2018
HIGH POINT — The proliferation of smart devices from Google Home and Amazon Echo, to smart
home heating and cooling items such as the Nest Thermostat and smart bulbs from Philips are exerting a powerful influence on the home furnishings industry. In 2016, consumers purchased more than 80 million smart home devices, and Zio Market Research predicts that the market for smart home products will reach more than $53 billion by 2022. Many of these smart functions are making their way into the home furnishings industry. Ori, a furniture system that moves and reconfigures to maximize space utilization, has introduced a robotic walk-in Pocket Closet that can be added to any room. And next year, the company plans to introduce what it’s calling a Cloud Bed that can be lowered and raised with the push of a button into an integrated dropped ceiling. When the bed is raised, it reveals a modern sofa and coffee table underneath. The sofa’s back serves as the bed’s headboard, and the coffee table provides support for the bed’s frame, allowing for a truly multipurpose use of space. Futurist Michael Tchong, the founder of consulting agency and incubator Ubercool Innovation, said he believes voice-driven and robotic furniture such as that offered by Ori represents the wave of the future. “The digital lifestyle trend has made consumers far more enamored of convergence — marrying several functions into one — and convenience, which the Pocket Closet offers,” said Tchong. “I’m also seeing a lot of activity around the small homes trend, which is being driven by a large wave of Boomers downsizing to smaller spaces and simplicity-loving Millennials. This will be a boon for modular and adaptable furniture, like the Cloud Bed.” The trend toward innovative, space-saving furnishings as a solution for smaller living spaces will continue to grow, according to Jason Phillips of The Phillips Collection, a company known for unusual and eco-friendly pieces. “This goes beyond scaling down coffee tables and migrating to a twin-sized mattress from a king. It’s about modular furniture, wall systems that allow your home office to become your bedroom and kitchens that flow seamlessly into the living room,” said Phillips. “The industry needs to get ahead of the curve and innovate through smart engineering.” From bedding and sofas to home theaters, that innovation is already occurring:
- Klaussner introduced an adjustable bed last year that can be controlled by voice activation through an Amazon Alexa device.
- Reverie brought a concept bed to the Las Vegas Market this spring that relied on brain waves to adjust the bed up or down.
- Natuzzi Italia, in partnership with LG, debuted at the recent High Point Market a sofa that connects with other elements in the home such as the lights and TV. A voice command can adjust the angle of the sofa’s seat and backrest cushions to position for reading, resting or watching television.
- And Beyond Smart, which specializes in recliners and home theater seating, introduced a voice-activated recliner at the recent fall High Point Market that offers heat and massage options and can play music.
“As the technology strengthens in this category, we are seeing consumers becoming educated by our expanding range of innovations,” said Rosary Tang, Beyond Smart’s vice president of sales and marketing.
Consumers have become very On the way: Voice-driven, robotic products that offer personalized comfort, convenience comfortable issuing commands to their Google Home and Amazon Echo devices. C&C Strategy Consultants research shows that while 13% of all households in the United States owned a smart speaker in 2017, that number is predicted to rise to 55% by 2022. “Voice interaction is the wave of the future since it saves time lost searching for missing remote controls,” said Tang. “Technology is gradually making these products as reliable as a member of the family.” International Society of Furniture
Designers’ John Conrad and Catina Suarez Roscoe say they’ve had to keep up with the evolving needs of the consumer as technology has become an everyday factor in the world. “I see multifunctional, easily storable furniture becoming much more important as smaller urban spaces dominate the future,” said Conrad. “There is a great deal of moveable wall system product being used in the small living spaces in Hong Kong. They have been doing this for years.” Added Roscoe, “There are others, especially in contract furniture, that have used robotic mechanisms, maybe not to the degree depicted by Ori, but motion walls,
screens, desks, entertainment and more have explored this path.” Using technology to make pieces more functional, comfortable and user-friendly will help to satisfy tech-savvy consumer demands, said Paul Stangl from Raffel Systems, a smart technology provider for the home furnishings industry. He believes that consumers, having become accustomed to pushing a button in their automobiles for things like heated seats and music, as well as controlling home security from their smart phones, want that same convenience in their home furnishings. “If you can control the lights in your family room from your phone, you should be able to control the furniture you are sitting in from your phone while you dim the lights,” said Stangl. Understanding how to add technological benefits to consumers’ lives and enhance their homes is increasingly important, said Jimmy Junker, vice president of product development at Twin Star Home, a designer and manufacturer of home furnishings and electric fireplaces. His company looks for unmet consumer needs or challenges that can be solved through the marriage of design, innovation and technology. “Our team identifies applications that will make life easier, more comfortable or simpler,” said Junker. “This includes integrating charging stations into our adjustable height desks, Bluetooth-enabled speakers into our media mantels and safety-features into our electric fireplaces.” Today’s consumers live with technology in every aspect of their lives, according to Junker. In order to remain relevant, furnishings must be multifunctional to allow consumers to customize their homes based on their living space and also to address their technology needs. “For example, in our adjustable height desks, we developed the Illumitouch seamless control panel, which enables users to program up to three height settings and then set the patented GetActive timer for reminders to stand up,” added Junker. The convenience of smart devices throughout the home such as technologically advanced appliances including refrigerators, washers and dryers, as well as lighting, heating/cooling and home security, helps consumers keep up with the fast pace of modern lifestyles. Smart home furnishings can also make life easier for consumers by providing pre-programmed personalized seating and reclining positions, adjustable lighting and charging solutions that allow consumers to be comfortable while staying connected — whether that’s on a smart phone, tablet or laptop — according to Stangl. “People are now accustomed to expecting technological advancements in everything they do,” said Stangl. “For this reason,
it’s important that this is continually incorporated into furniture to keep pace with consumer expectations.”