What lies beneath: the smart home that wears its technology lightly

Picture a tech-savvy home and you will probably envisage a slick, white cube where the blinds whirr up at a preset hour and sensors turn on the shower. But a smart home doesn’t have to be robotic and flashy. “We wanted to use technology to make life easier,” says Gigi Sutherland of the home she and her partner, Matt Sellers, redesigned in East Sussex. With walls clad in basic building materials, the mood here is far from futuristic. The rough and ready aesthetic has hidden depths, though, from concealed speakers and motion sensors to app-controlled energy and security systems.

The house dates from the 1950s and, while the building itself is not so special, it backs on to Camber Sands. “It was just a set of boxy rooms and two garages,” says Sutherland, a stylist. “We wanted to join up the spaces and integrate the garages into the house.” The pair rebuilt the interior from scratch. Walls are made from OSB, a type of chipboard, and plaster-like dark grey Artex. “It creates a tadelakt-style finish with a nice chalky texture,” says Sutherland. The flooring is grey poured concrete.

Technology was integrated from the start, but it isn’t the main focus: fittingly, for this beachside house, it is all about helping its owners to switch off.



A wood-burning stove provides old-school heat. Elsewhere, an app, MiHome (mihome4u.co.uk), operates the boiler and radiators; it uses geofencing technology to send a signal to the wifi-enabled radiator valves, to turn them on or off when the couple are a certain distance from home. “When we reach a GPS point – we chose about 16 miles from the front door – they turn on, so it is warm when we arrive,” says Sutherland. Tucked out of sight on the ceiling, a projector screen slides down at the touch of a button, partnered with a Benq 3D HD projector (benq.co.uk). Photograph: Penny Wincer for the Guardian

A wood-burning stove provides old-school heat in the living room (above). Elsewhere, an app, MiHome (mihome4u.co.uk), operates the 300‑litre MegaFlo boiler and Haverland RCTT radiators; it uses geofencing technology to send a signal to the wifi-enabled radiator valves to turn them on or off when the couple are a certain distance from home. “When we reach a GPS point – we chose about 16 miles from the front door – they turn on, so it is warm when we arrive,” says Sutherland. “For us, old‑fashioned timers would waste energy, because we don’t always get home at the same time every day.” App‑linked energy monitors on the radiators give an instant snapshot of how much electricity is being used. “If I’m away from the house, I can look on my phone and see instantly if, say, we have left the hot water on,” says Sutherland.

Tucked out of sight on the living room ceiling, a projector screen slides down at the touch of a button, partnered with a Benq 3D HD projector (benq.co.uk). “It’s like being at the cinema, but with a wood burner and comfy sofas,” says Sutherland. The screen plays DVDs, Blu-rays, YouView TV or images streamed via a five-channel Yamaha RX-V473 AV receiver.

The sofas are from Ikea, the cushions from marimekko.com and the Vitra bench – used here as a coffee table – by George Nelson. The framed print is from playtype.com.



The entrance hall is painted in Bedec’s multisurface paint in satin black, available at brewers.co.uk. For similar vintage wall hooks and bench, try Sunbury antiques market. The hammam towels are from thesilversheep.co.uk. Photograph: Penny Wincer for the Guardian

The entrance hall (above) is painted in Bedec’s multisurface paint in satin black, available at brewers.co.uk. For similar vintage wall hooks and bench, try Sunbury antiques market. The hammam towels are from thesilversheep.co.uk.



Solar-powered motion sensors light up the decking, just off the kitchen/dining area, while a Yale (yale.co.uk) smart home alarm with infrared motion detectors and camera are part of a security system linked to the owners’ phones. At the front of the house is an HD video doorbell from Ring (ring.com), which can be answered from anywhere via phone, PC or tablet. “I can see and talk to someone at the door without them knowing whether I’m busy inside or away,” says Sutherland. Photograph: Penny Wincer for the Guardian

Solar-powered motion sensors light up the decking, just off the kitchen/dining area (above), while a Yale (yale.co.uk) SR-330 smart home alarm with PIR – passive infrared – motion detectors and camera are part of a security system that, again, is linked to the owners’ phones. “If a sensor is triggered, it sends us an alert, along with an image of the area,” says Sutherland. They recently spotted someone having a good nose around. “There’s a built-in speaker, so I said: ‘Hello, can I help you?’ They quickly disappeared.” At the front of the house is an HD video doorbell from Ring (ring.com), which can be answered from anywhere via a phone, PC or tablet. “I can see and talk to someone at the door without them knowing whether I’m busy inside or away from the house,” says Sutherland. “It’s useful for asking couriers to leave a delivery by the door – and even better for politely sending cold callers on their way.”

Small but powerful Pioneer S-HS100 speakers are concealed in every room, even on the decking outside.The AV receiver that is used to screen films also plays music via Spotify or iTunes in every room and is controlled from the pair’s phones or tablets. They have playlists for every room.



With so much tech linked to their phones, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, when the couple rewired the house, they chose plug sockets that include USB ports for most rooms (then attached a bunch of power cords) to make charging easy. This has the added advantage of leaving the three‑pin sockets free. Photograph: Penny Wincer for the Guardian

With so much tech linked to their phones, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, when the couple rewired the house, they chose plug sockets that include USB ports for most rooms (then attached a bunch of power cords) to make charging easy (above). This has the added advantage of leaving the three‑pin sockets free.


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