There may be no correct answer when it comes to that the age-old question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” But when it comes to designing furniture for the home entertainment area or home office, it’s almost always technology that sets the stage.
“Technology is a focal point of our living spaces, so we need to keep in mind the functionality of technology as well as the convenience or comforts of home,” said Doug Wilson, an interior decorator who appeared on TLC’s “Trading Spaces” and now serves as LG’s techorator. “If you think about individual rooms or offices, they work around technology — the television in a home theater or living room; the appliances in a kitchen; the computer or telephone in an office.”
“I think it is very important to follow the major trends in electronics,” agreed Andy Nielsen, aspenhome’s director of design for home office/home entertainment. “For example, sizes of TVs and the increase in laptop sales compared to desktop sales.”
That’s why today’s home office desks are designed specifically for laptop use. “The true laptop user does not want a desk that has been designed as a desktop computer desk. He does not need room for the tower and feels that this is just a waste of space in the desk. He does want to have easy power hook up, to be able to accommodate a printer and have a keyboard pullout or lower surface that is the correct working height for the laptop,” Nielsen said.
While computers are getting smaller, televisions are getting larger, but with cleaner lines and a desire by consumers to display them prominently within their homes.
“Flat-screen TVs are becoming bigger and thinner and people want to display them. Being able to accommodate them with the proper setup and look is the key,” Nielsen said.
“We’re showcasing technology instead of hiding it. And manufacturers are designing furniture to accentuate rather than hide technology — whether it’s a nightstand with a docking station built in, a beautiful stand for your flat-screen or a low cabinet that works well for holding a DVD or Blu-Ray,” he said.
Integrated cord management, space for additional electronic components, speaker storage and game drawers are features being sought by consumers as they replace old armoires that once hid the television in favor of pieces that showcase flat-screen TVs.
“Video games are becoming more and more important in the market. Not only kids are using them but baby boomers, like myself, are really enjoying them,” Nielsen said. “Being able to accommodate these video games in the higher-end consoles is important because you need an easy way to accommodate the game player when you move it from room to room without having to get to the back of the TV to hook it up. A gamer drawer that will hold the game player with a quick release power and cord director is essential.”
However, no matter how closely designers watch the ever-changing technology market, the length of time it takes to produce furniture can make a piece useless if it is too tailored for a specific product.
“It is also critical that you don’t be so design specific for the newest technology out there because it can become obsolete very fast,” Nielsen said. “Personally, I don’t think that the furniture industry can possibly keep up with the daily changing of the electronic industry. We must be aware of the major changes that do affect the way we work and play, but not necessarily all of the day-to-day changes in electronic field.”
Even if the industry could keep pace with technological advancements, consumers are slower to adopt new habits, said Brett Hyatt, RC Willey’s buyer of home entertainment products.
Speaking at the recent home-furnishings trade show at World Market Center Las Vegas, Hyatt said consumers are finding solutions to furniture dilemmas and that there is a domino effect to their purchases. For example, the desire for a new flat-screen television will eventually result in a new TV console, sofa and coffee table, all of which will support the look and needs of the television.
So, how do designers know what types of furniture homeowners want? Simple. They ask them.
“Honestly, by talking to customers and people all over the world to find common things that they are asking for. It is our job as designers to come up with good solutions to accommodate their requests and make life a little better for everyone,” Nielsen said.
Additionally, they monitor activities of groups such as the Consumer Electronics Association. Steve Kidera, communications director for the association, said the group conducts about 30 surveys a year to keep tabs on changes within the industry. The survey results are compiled and five-year forecasts are created to give manufacturers of both electronics and furniture an idea of what’s on the horizon, he added.
Kidera said electronics will continue to play a major role in household activities within the next few years and they will get smaller, more multifunctional and more mobile.
Furniture designs are mirroring that trend. Multifunctional furnishings that can be used in a variety of rooms have been a mainstay in manufacturers’ portfolios for the past few years.
“Today’s home electronics are designed more for the person on the go. You can actually work anywhere in the home or anywhere in the world with today’s wireless technology. It used to be that you had a dedicated home office but now you can work from your family room, kitchen or anywhere in the home. This opens up a big opportunity for more functional furniture that can work as work stations throughout the home,” Nielsen said.