For Sunset’s latest project, we designed a connected home for the future—a place where brains meet beauty
Chantal Lamers and Nena Farrell
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The Modern Home
It’s a tradition at Sunset’s annual Celebration Weekend for our editors to show off the latest in design. But this year, we decided to up the ante and transform a 1900s cottage on our Cornerstone Sonoma campus into a high-style, high-tech space. We tapped a roster of talents to make it happen: designers Jessica McCarthy and Emily Gaydon from Decorist, a virtual decorating service, oversaw the interior, sourcing pieces from online home-goods company The Mine. Thumbtack, a site that connects users with local home-improvement pros, helped us with projects ranging from painting to remodeling the kitchen. And when the paint was dry, in came Mosaic, a San Francisco startup that helped us get all our smart home gadgets to talk to one another for a seamless experience. The result is a place that says “welcome home” in 21st-century style.
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The French-country guest cottage we chose to make over was about as far from a home of the future as you could imagine (see the entire before here). But instead of fighting the home’s roots with a sleek design, McCarthy and Gaydon came up with a fresh take on country style. Still, don’t let the rustic finishes and vintage objects fool you: This is a high-powered home designed to streamline everyday tasks, whether dimming the lights for movie time or letting you know you’re out of milk.
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To make the narrow living room feel as expansive as possible, McCarthy went with a neutral palette and chose small-scale furnishings. Because strong patterns would be overwhelming, the designer instead created visual interest through a mix of textures, including grasscloth wallpaper, a leather chair, linen curtains, and throw pillows in a variety of fabrics. A custom built-in cabinet maximizes storage and display space on a tricky side of the room while drawing its navy hue from the kitchen.
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The Brain of the Cottage
With the help of Mosaic, the entire cottage was controlled by a few Amazon Echo smart speakers (from $49.99) placed strategically throughout the space. Each room had its own set of commands and controls to make the various devices—from smart lights to connected speakers to the TV—work in unison.
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A Smarter Living Room
The combination of smart security and voice-controlled entertainment upgraded the living room into a smart haven. By pairing our Logitech Harmony Hub ($99) with an Amazon Echo Dot, visitors could use their voice to ask Alexa to turn on the TCL 4K Roku TV (from $330), and start a chill-out mode with music and colored lighting (Philips Hue Go, $79), before switching everything back to normal with a simple command.
While the front door looks normal on the outside, the hidden interior side of the door holds one of our favorite smart products: the August Smart Lock ($229). An easy swap for your deadbolt, it remotely ensures your front door is locked whether you’re laying in bed or at the office—just make sure to install a August Connect ($79) to control the lock from afar.
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McCarthy opened up the kitchen by swapping out the upper cabinets for white shelves against counter-to-ceiling subway tile. She brought warmth to the space through butcher-block countertops; a rust-colored rug; and wood, brass, cork, and copper accessories. The porcelain farmhouse sink and blue cabinets reference traditional country style.
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Samsung’s family hub smart fridge (from $4,599) is an immediate show-stopper in the kitchen. The screen lets you peek inside the fridge without opening the doors, and even projects to an app for easy checking on what's inside it while you're out grocery shopping. It also hosts a calendar, shopping lists, and to-do lists for each family member, and can play music and more.
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Dinner (Almost) Cooks Itself
After seeing the eye-catching fridge, it’s almost possible to miss the rest of the very sleek tech in the kitchen. No one would guess that every appliance is smart in some way—even the oven hood. From Samsung, the oven hood ($1,199) and stove top ($3,299) work together to automatically start the fan when it gets smoky.
Meanwhile, the June Oven ($1,495) might look like a pretty toaster oven, but its interior cameras and dozens of settings make it a powerful mini oven that cooks anything from cookies to steak to perfection.
Thomas J. Story
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Thomas J. Story
Downsize a Gallery Wall
The kitchen lacks a designated spot for a dining room table, so we placed a simple console and a pair of antique French stools against an empty wall, morphing it into a space that can multitask as a breakfast nook or an entryway destination for dropping keys. A grouping of minimally framed pieces from Artfully Walls pulls color from the opposite side of the kitchen and demonstrates that a petite, scaled-back gallery wall can work wonders in a small home.
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With a floral cream-and-gold wallpaper as their starting point, the designers created a sleeping space with a decidedly feminine bent. The pale tones throughout the room, as well as touches of rattan, play off the pattern on the walls. Minimal platner-style side tables and wall-mounted brass sconces free up floor space in the tiny room, while a shapely, clear glass pendant adds a little drama without adding visual clutter.
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A Sleeping Sanctuary
We didn't want to add too much technology to the serene bedroom. We stuck to devices that would make falling asleep easier than counting sheep—smart white-only lights (Philips Hue Wellner, $99), an Amazon Alexa goodnight routine that switches off the lights and plays background campfire noises to help you fall asleep, and a Dyson fan / air purifier combo (from $500) to make sure the temperature and air quality are perfect.
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The second bedroom was devised as a spot that could transition from toddler to teen. Katy Milton of California Closets designed the built-in cabinetry and a petite desk, along with a modern Murphy bed that can be folded up to clear the way for playtime.
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There’s an amazing array of kid gadgets nowadays to make parenting a little less hectic: a scale that helps track baby’s weight and changings for your next pediatrician visit ($129), a night light with a sound machine ($59), and even a bassinet that will rock when it hears baby fussing ($1,160).
But one of our favorite pieces has to be the Meural (from $595). This digital canvas makes your favorite works of art look like a framed and printed piece, and with just a wave over the screen it will change up what's on display. Our parenting hack: Upload your child's drawings to the Meural and rotate between images to see all their past and present masterpieces—without needing to worry about saving (and displaying) every piece of paper.
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Gaydon chose a shower curtain with hints of blue and orange to tie into the rest of the cottage and added a vanity in a wood tone intentionally lighter than in adjacent rooms. Delta Faucet’s Two-in-One Shower ($216) is low-flow but feels like a generous drench.
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Keep It Fresh
The sleek little Aera ($250) is a smart fragrance device, making it easy to keep the room smelling fresh. Set a schedule in the app, or ask Alexa to turn Aera on.
Thomas J. Story
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Thomas J. Story
A Cozy Backyard
A full-sized table and multiple chairs was a no-go for the small yard, but a traditional Adirondack chair and matching side table in a modern gray hue was the perfect garden compromise. A soft, textural Turkish towel multitasks as a blanket, beach towel or a picnic throw. This outdoor nook also got a tech upgrade, with a Beats speaker and Weber’s Genesis II grill, which is compatible with the iGrill 3 thermometer. The Bluetooth-enabled device tracks cooking times and temperatures, sends alerts to your phone within a 150-foot range, and lets you know when the propane tank is getting low.
Curious about everything from the paint colors to where our linens came from in the cottage? Check out the detailed Resource Guide for everything inside (and out!)
Thomas J. Story
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Thomas J. Story
Cottage Garden 2.0
After getting a modern renovation and a Wi-Fi connected interior, the cottage landscape needed an update, too. Instead of thirsty annual flowers and wispy grasses, the garden features low-water, self-sufficient shrubs and perennials from the Sunset Western Garden Collection. Low-maintenance and happy in some shade, the ‘Sunshine’ ligustrum is one of these perennials, maintaining its bright golden leaves throughout the year. Another is the striped lime-yellow ‘Evergreen’ carex, a perfect accent plant that maintains its shape and won’t get unwieldy.
With plants that look good year-round and have the smarts to practically care for themselves, this garden is the perfect complement to our Smart Cottage.