High-tech, eco-friendly, and efficiency ideas from our 2011 Idea Houses in Palo Alto, California
written by Sarah Gaffney
1 of 10Smart Homes exterior rendering
2 Smart Homes, 2 modern couples
This year's Sunset Ideas Houses are part of a mixed-use development in a pedestrian-orientered transit district of Palo Alto, California, near offices, a train station, shopping, and entertainment.
Dubbed the Smart Homes, the duo of 1,500-square-foot, side-by-side townhomes were designed for two forward-thinking (albeit imaginary) couples. The Optimists live life on the go, use the latest high-tech gadgets, and love a colorful, modern style. Equally at ease with innovation, the Explorers are worldly travelers, always just returning from a trip or planning one. These profiles sparked the ideas that follow.
2 of 10Photo by Thomas J. Story
Smart idea: Enlarge the living room
Eighteen-foot ceilings and a wall of windows make the first floor of the Optimists' triplex feel larger than its 576 square feet. Floating shelves and a tangerine orange Sunbrella cushion pop against the neutrals. The coffee table is made from old shipping pallets—another smart detail.
3 of 10Photo by Thomas J. Story
Smart idea: Kitchen that cooks
Pale surfaces and light-reflecting glass cabinetry keep the Optimists' 59-square-foot kitchen from feeling cramped. The marble-like quartz counters are anchored by dark cabinetry with slab doors for a clean, modern look. Heath Ceramics subway tiles work both vertically and horizontally on the back-splash walls.
The school-bus yellow metal stools ad instant fun. Designed for indoor-outdoor use, these lightweight seats can follow the party wherever it goes.
4 of 10Photo by Thomas J. Story
Smart idea: Top-hinged cabinet doors
The top-hinged doors on the aluminum-framed frosted-glass cabinets open upward (and out of the way).
5 of 10Photo by Thomas J. Story
Smart idea: Induction cooktop
Induction cooktops are faster and more efficient than gas or electric, and only the cooking vessel gets hot.
6 of 10Photo by Thomas J. Story
Smart idea: Digital control
A digital home interface—controlled by an Apple iPad, it's also accessible via mobile devices—connects the home's audiovisual, security, climate, and lighting systems.
7 of 10Photo by Thomas J. Story
Smart idea: Simple solutions
Simple Ikea curtain wires provide a clever way to display art, mementos, and jewelry in the Optimists' home office. LED numerals glow through the wood veneer of EQ3's Hedge clock.
8 of 10Photo by Thomas J. Story
Smart idea: High-tech bath
In the Explorers' master bath, the mirrored doors of the Robern medicine cabinet slide up to reveal outlets, a defogger control, and an ultra-slim television. The shower's temperature, steam level, and water pressure can be programmed in to the digital Kohler interface—as can the morning's playlist.
9 of 10Photo by Thomas J. Story
Smart idea: Shower style
In the shower, we installed vertical bands of shimmery glass tile (instead of the expected horizontal strips) to emphasize the room's height.
10 of 10Thomas J. Story
Smart idea: Quiet retreat
Located at the top level of the Explorers' triplex, the master retreat feels insulated from the home's social spaces. The headboard of the queen-size bed was custom-made using wood sustainably harvested from sugar palm trees. The bamboo sconce—from Schmitt Design—adds a warm, soft glow. The bedding is from Macy's.
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