Making control interfaces simple and beautiful requires careful attention to detail
June 14, 2023 - When it comes to technology integrations, the traditional "ask" from homeowners — and the design/build team they're working with — has been, "Make the gear unobtrusive — or even invisible." That's especially true in luxury homes: From hidden racks and speakers tucked into wallboard to TVs that disappear into ceilings, floors, and furniture, a big part of the art of high-end integrations is hiding the devices that deliver smart-home magic.
But what about the stuff that can't be hidden — specifically, the interfaces, the panels and keypads that control the technology?
As it turns out, the same philosophy holds. Kate Fauset, Crestron's residential business development manager, quotes the legendary Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe:
"Less is more."
The trick is ensuring that those controls mirror other elements. "For example, the design of modern lighting is functional, with a clean aesthetic," says Fauset. "A single touch of any interface can control the whole room and therefore provide less clutter on walls and adhere to the clean 'feel' of the modern home."
Options Abound — For Any Style of Home
Not every home is a freshly built angular contemporary structure, though, and it's imperative that a quality technology manufacturer have options to account for a variety of tastes. "In the UK market, the styles I see can range from 18th-century homes to modern all-glass designs, and the interfaces must be able to complement them all," says Fauset. That's why manufacturers like Crestron are constantly expanding and refining their offerings. "It's about having a variety of options at the ready — some as simple as multiple faceplates that can match a home's style," she adds. "For example, our Antique Bronze finish complements a period property home, while our Horizon® keypads with a standard finish in black blend perfectly into a contemporary building."
"Matching the metal finishes to other furnishings and fittings is a fantastic addition to any design, and we have the tools to help aid these decisions," says Fauset. She notes that the current lineup of Crestron's standard faceplates, available in 14 finishes, can meet a wide variety of design needs. "It really is the smaller elements such as finishes that really can make a difference to the overall interior scheme, and control interfaces — and that includes touch screens and keypad — must adapt and evolve to address the latest trends.
That extends to third-party manufacturers that Crestron partners with, according to Fauset: "When you start exploring all the available options, the design/build team will quickly realize that if a Crestron keypad, for example, doesn't quite fit the bill, there are a great many other products that can easily 'work and play well' with a Crestron system."
"Having the ability to customize control interfaces is so important for the final look and feel of the project, and therefore the flexibility around customization is paramount," she notes.
The Latest Trends
For new builds — or retrofits with a contemporary vibe — Fauset sees some distinct trends. "In the modern home, the 'simplicity' approach to user interfaces is key. That doesn't mean you are compromising on control; in fact, the devices are still as clever and smart as always, whether you are using a Horizon keypad or a classic toggle switch look." The key here, again, is attention to detail: Fauset's begun to see Crestron touch screens framed with customized surrounds. "It adds yet another layer of bespoke design," she says.
Another factor that needs to be considered: location. "I always assess where the client would want the control interfaces to go and how they'd want them to sit in those locations. For example: Is a wall mount the right choice, or would a tabletop touch screen work better, placed on some handmade joinery?"
As more and more options become available, the range of choices creates the need for careful attention to detail: Does the interface need to nearly disappear into its surroundings, or can it become a focal design element? "Having a range of sizes for control interfaces also helps when establishing how much of the technology is to be 'seen' — also, are these interfaces always lit, or are they in standby mode until they're touched so that they truly blend into the surroundings?" says Fauset.
Fauset also references another legendary architect's axiom: Louis Sullivan's proclamation that "form follows function." "The functionality of the room helps to determine what products may be best suited for the space — but this doesn't have to hinder the design. Our sleek remotes can do so much more than just control the TV, and therefore if used in certain rooms, can really streamline how the zone is managed without taking up space in the room or on the walls."
Bringing It All Together — From the Outset
Getting the tech right — from the standpoint of both form and function — requires bringing tech and control into the discussion at the outset of any project. "Having conversations between the design team and the Crestron partner is so important," says Fauset. "Not only does it make the whole process a lot smoother, but it allows for exciting and different ways to integrate the user interfaces into the design." A real-world example: "I have seen a Crestron keypad covered in beautiful leather and embedded into a built-in bedroom headboard, and that obviously required early planning and a clear vision to achieve a seamless look."
"Design meetings are always going to be critical to achieving a desired outcome for both the client and those involved in the project," says Fauset. "Form and function can be perfectly managed if these conversations occur at the beginning of the design process. For example, I see fewer keypads with a list of different 'mood scenes' and more clear-cut functionality." This reduces the "congested" look that can make the device less than pleasing to the eye.
Accounting for the user's abilities and understanding always plays a role in choosing the right interface for a room. A young child's bedroom will likely need vastly less functionality than the family's media room, for example.
Fauset gives another example: "We are working on some assisted living homes where the control interfaces are crucial to help with ease-of-use — but at the same time add style. Often in these applications, the devices can be very clinical looking, so having sleek and elegant user interfaces that are still fully functional is critical.
"The key question always is: 'What is being controlled in the space, and what is the best method of doing it?'" says Fauset. "It can be any combination of screens and keypads, but the design and control should always be aesthetically pleasing."