Interior Design Meets AI
Designing a residential home for a client facing vision loss
The year was 2011 and Siri had just arrived to surprise and delight the world. For one of my design clients, it was technology right in the moment that it was most needed.
(The clients had requested no published images of their home. The images shown are for reference to the design process.)
Born with a rare eye disease that was starting to reveal the symptoms of declining vision, my client needed a new home where she could continue to navigate and manage a household, raising two young children, work from home, and maintain a sense of independence and normalcy.
At the time, the technology was already around us, but outside of remote controlled window blinds and sensor activated lighting, there wasn’t yet an example that I found, of a computerized voice activated home. My clients approached with this very proposal to try and convert their Manhattan duplex for a young family and a mother with sight accessibility needs, designed to reflect their lifestyle and to incorporate the abilities of Siri.
From the very start in working with my client, I learned about what she was experiencing as her vision gradually diminished, and what she was discovering she needed to help recognize everyday items. She also noticed that her other senses were becoming stronger, such as touch and sound. It was a learning process for both of us in how the home can be designed to meet her new challenges and needs.
From the information, I worked on a space plan that provided clear circulation paths. Knowing that the furniture placement would not change once the family are to live in this home, I designed custom furniture that would help her identify the piece and location by the curve of detailed edges, the density of the cushion fill, and the texture of the upholstery.
Her walking style was also changing, and so the height of the furniture was important when approaching the living room sofa versus her daughter’s bed. Introducing furniture mockups for the client to experience prior to final fabrication helped to familiarize what would eventually be in her home and allow for any needed adjustments. Area rugs were selected carefully with attention to pile height as well as tactile characteristics. She would be able to walk from the family room to her bedroom and be able to identify her location throughout the home. Being a duplex, the lower floor hallway had a textured grasscloth wall covering that transitioned to a nontextured writable wall in front of the children’s bedrooms. This provided some tactical way finding and identification markers on which door led to her daughter or son’s bedroom.
On initial appearance, the home looked nothing out of the ordinary for a fully customized designed apartment on the Upper West Side. But below the surface, behind the walls, above the ceiling and inside drapery pockets, there was a computerized system allowing for voice activation of various electrical components. By installing iPads into the walls as control panels and utilizing the availability of Siri, my client was able to have a home where she could turn on the lights, turn on the oven and timer, adjust the window shades, set the AC, manage her kids’ tv viewing, and control the security alarm all by using her voice. With a main voice activated control panel, the client is able to engage fully with her new home.
As a designer, it is part of the job to explore new possibilities and work with different trades during the process. By working with several consultants (HVAC, electrical, and IT) the very basics of living in a home were preserved for her quality of life. The idea of integrating with a main control panel was met with excitement from the consultants because they had been waiting for this opportunity.
This project began in 2011 and was completed in 2012. The concept of a home with iPads in the walls was unheard of but by focusing on the technological capabilities, it proved to be an appropriate tool for early voice controlled interior design. The interior design of the home did not lose any characteristics of warmth with the presence of a computerized system but offered additional quality of living for my client and her family.