With more gadgets filling up our homes, it's tough trying to keep interiors looking clean, sleek and simple. Simon de Burton offers us hope as he travels a design path where not everything is quite as it seems
Compromise is an accepted part of interior design. Ugly, wall-mounted radiators, those silver boxes that constitute your home entertainment system, or the yards of wiring behind the sofa that looks like the aftermath of an explosion in a spaghetti factory are all things we'd prefer to live without. Today that's possible, because interior design is becoming as much about the art of deception as decoration. Finally, those niggling irritations that can ruin a "look" are being shown the door. Here are some options for keeping it sleek.
Radiators are a curse for anyone wanting a sleek, cutting-edge interior. Made mostly from hefty, fluted steel, once the only option was to cover them up behind wooden trellis covers—not exactly an improvement. For years we believed that anything that warmed a room could not look attractive.
But now designer heating is one of the fastest-growing parts of the interiors market. Companies such as Wolverhampton-based Aestus supply contemporary radiators and towel rails costing up to £11,000 each and, according to sales director Geoff Jones, they are intended to be artworks as much as a means of providing heat.
"While underfloor heating is growing in popularity and is undoubtedly very efficient, we have become used to the psychological reassurance provided by seeing a radiator—but modern design means they no longer have to be unsightly panels. Beautifully made towel rails and heated racks are now popular in bathrooms and complex, hand-made designs are available for other parts of the home."
He cites the example of an Italian firm that makes leaf-shaped radiators from stainless steel. Another company that takes the idea of turning this most functional of objects into works of art is French manufacturer Cinier. It literally uses the radiator as a blank canvas. Its wall-mounted heaters are made from a type of Pyrenean stone called olycale that is crushed and reconstructed to produce a lightly textured, heat-diffusing surface that is painted by a select group of contemporary artists.
Cinier also offers the radiators in the style of remarkably realistic stone relief carvings. Whichever type you choose, the cost will be as much as a decent-quality conventional artwork, with prices starting at almost £2,000.
Sound as vision
A similar idea has been adopted by high-end audio companies such as Artcoustic, which has turned hi-fi design on its head by producing a range of "screen" speakers that you won't be ashamed to hang on your wall. Instead of the usual, often clumsy-looking cabinets with a dreary covering of black nylon, Artcoustic speakers have striking screens decorated with colourful fabrics or even photographic art—best of all, when you feel like a change, it is a simple matter of removing the screens and replacing them with others of a different design or one that has been custom-made to your specification.
Where the hearth is
Fireplaces are a popular feature in many homes and can be a good way to create a warm, cosy atmosphere. The problem is that they are dirty and usually need to be located near the chimney. Canada's Digital Fireplaces claims to have the solution. Starting at £450 (and rising to more than £1,000), the firm will supply you with a realistic "electronic" fire that requires no matches, no wood and no chimney to produce a wood fire ambience, complete with crackling-log sound effects. The technology used is a closely guarded secret, but it is based around a high-resolution monitor and can be moved from room to room.
Clutter-busting is also the idea behind computer chip company Intel's latest processor technology ViiV (below). It enables consumers to remotely control and personalise their personal entertainment libraries (such as music and DVD movies) as well as accessing content from the ever-expanding online media, from a single home hub the size of a cereal box.
With the addition of an optional TV tuner card, it is possible to turn it into a personal video recorder that can record, pause and rewind live TV and store programmes on the hard drive. Films and music can also be downloaded via the remote control.
Such space saving is not just about the living room. Bathrooms, too, are becoming entertainment centres in their own right. London architect Thorp Design recently installed a giant, 2.2m diameter bath tub in a Mayfair property (above) that came with a waterproof, touch-sensitive screen to allow bathers to fill the bath to within one degree of their favourite temperature through a drainpipe-sized tap.
The panel also controls heaters in the adjacent sauna and steam rooms and activates a giant plasma television screen and state-of-the-art sound system—just in case playing with the rubber duck starts to get dull.
"Modern homes are all about integration," says interior designer Tania Steinbeck-Reeves. "Everything needs to be built in, preferably wireless and, in the case of electronic gadgets, multi-functional. Kitchens, for example, are no longer about showing off how many cabinets you have, but about concealing everything beneath a smooth, seamless surface.
"I attribute much of these changing attitudes to interiors to the fact that many of us travel the world so much more nowadays. We see how they do things in high-end hotels, and it's made us realise that there's no reason why we can't have the same, or similar, look at home."
The colour purple
Cultural stereotypes can be dangerous. If you believe the hype, you turn to Italy for style and Germany for engineering. Nolte kitchens has been disproving this flawed theory for a while. With the launch of its latest kitchen collection—full of its trademark high gloss cabinets—the Germans show there is plenty of flair and style in Northern Europe. Most striking of all is the launch of its new purple Nova Lack kitchen, to add to the more traditional colours already on offer.
The perfect juicer
One of the problems with a purple kitchen must be getting accessories to match. So it's fortuitous that Easy Health's new citrus juicer, the Penguin CJ9709 also comes in a fabulous purple. With all that fresh orange juice, you'll look as good as the kitchen.
Dixon shows his metal
Furniture designers are always under pressure to launch new products. For many, including UK designer Tom Dixon, that means Milan. This year, Dixon has gone back to his early work with metal to create some stunning lights and furniture. As he says: "This seems to be the year for metal".
Home on the range
Aga's work re-positioning itself as sexy has led to a general surge in demand for range cookers. And they don't get sexier than the Thermastone from Mercury. With two gas rings and a chef's hot plate, it looks great and does the business, so no more takeaways.