I’ve been writing about home interiors and technology for almost 15 years, but it’s only in the last few that the two subjects have started to share the same page. Back in the day I was more likely to be asked to write a feature on hiding the TV, not buying a new one, but that – as anyone with a smartphone will tell you – has all rather changed.
Technology now drives so much of what we do, from the way we watch TV and listen to music, to how we interact with our friends and family, how we work and the way we shop. Even choosing tradespeople to build, renovate and decorate is more likely to be done through websites like RatedPeople.com than via word of mouth.
Innovative apps and websites are democratising and demystifying interior design too, and if you’re brave enough to get hands on you’ll find YouTube videos teaching virtually anything. But in truth, nothing can replace a trained eye or a seasoned pro’s experience, and while hiring an interior designer has historically been for those with big houses and bigger budgets, technology is making is easier for anyone to create a beautiful home on any budget.
Sharon and Michele, founders of Decology talk of the ‘Uberisation of interior design’ and this idea perfectly encapsulates just how people are making new technology work for them. Why settle for the old way of doing something just because that’s the way it has always been done?
So, what’s available?
Your smartphone can double up as sketch pad, mood board, tape measure, floor planner and colour consultant, just download the right apps.
Open the MagicMeasure app, point your camera at floors, walls, ceilings and 3D objects and it automatically calculates volumes and dimensions. Point at a sofa in a showroom and you’ll be able to see instantly if it’ll fit at home. MagicPlan goes a step further, using your smartphone’s camera to scan and map entire rooms without a tape measure in sight. Once scanned you can experiment with the positioning of fixtures and furniture in a fraction of the time.
Choosing colour is difficult – I have white walls for a reason – but tech can help. The Dulux Visualizer App not only lets you see what a colour choice would look like in your own home but you can take a picture of any colour anywhere and it will find the closest match from 1,200 Dulux shade. If you feel a bit limited by a thousand colours, you could always try the Palette Cube. This portable colour digitiser captures any colour on any surface and matches it to a paint manufacturer. Aimed at anyone who works with design the Palette Cube can convert captured colours into raw values used by major colour systems such as RGB, HEX and CMYK virtually guaranteeing a perfect match.
Looking for inspiration? Pinterest.com has transformed the way we interact with online content and has made creating mood boards quick, stylish and inspiring. Houzz.com is another essential resource for ideas and inspiration – just browse and click on what you like. There are many other professional mood board apps available including the excellent Morpholio Board and Sampleboard. But if you do need a professional to make sense of it all, Decology can help you find the prefect interior designer to help you translate your ideas whatever your budget.
Augmented Reality (AR) is another recent innovation being embraced by designers and retailers. It uses your smartphone or tablet’s camera and lets you to see how things – new sofa, lamp, colour scheme, husband – will look in your own home. The iStaging app does this brilliantly, enabling you to place virtual furniture in any room and let you play around until it’s perfect. They’re also working on a Virtual Reality version, and you’ll soon be able to buy your chosen products direct from the site.
Ikea has also introduced AR to its online catalogue while interiors bible Living etc. published an interactive issue that allowed readers to experience, interact with and buy products from the likes of Heal’s, John Lewis, Sofa.com and Debenhams.
That said, Augmented Reality has nothing on Virtual Reality. While VR isn’t new, in truth the original 90s technology was as awful as it was ground breaking and expensive, the latest gadgets such as Google Cardboard, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are the start of something revolutionary.
To start with you will need a powerful computer and the majority of fans will be gamers, but the possibilities are enormous, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg suggests, “Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.” He should know, he spent $2bn on Oculus Rift.
But what about interior design? With high quality VR cameras recording everything in 360degrees high definition you can now put on a headset and explore anywhere in remarkable detail. It won’t be long before you can buy virtual tours of famous tourist attractions, or even better, take a stroll through Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House looking for inspiration.
Once again, IKEA is ahead of the game, creating a virtual kitchen showroom on the HTC Vive, while M&S got involved with a series of popup events giving the public a chance to design their own interior space with the help of the Oculus Rift VR headset and and Leap Motion technology.
And as inevitable as the porn industry getting involved, estate agents are keen to exploit the benefits of VR. Foxtons recently teamed up with digital agency UI Centric to created a virtual version of an apartment in Fulham allowing potential buyers to walk through and experience the space. A bit of a gimmick for now, but imagine being able to view 10 potential properties in the time it would take to travel across town to one.
Once the hardware, especially the cameras, come down in price you can expect your interior designer to show their ideas – even take you shopping, virtually – while builders and architects can demonstrate how a renovated space will work by walking you through it instead of relying on a floor plan or 3D drawing.
Chris Haslam is a freelance journalist and co-founder of luxury lifestyle guide Brogue.
Follow him @chrishaslam @getbrogue