Q&A: How to make life easier with technology in your home

Are you embarking on a new build or remodelling project? Don’t rush headlong into it. One of the very first key considerations should be at first fix stage. Start to plan your lighting, home automation and security from the earliest days of the project. By doing so, you can ensure that wiring and cabling can be planned carefully. This way, your project is ready for all the technology you need with no further disruption or need to disturb the oh-so-carefully planned detail and décor.

We work with the innovative leading industry experts, SONA Technology, on many of our residential and commercial projects. Many of our clients are curious when we talk about technology. With this in mind, we caught up with SONA Founder, Simon Fulstow, to answer some of the most frequently asked questions. Simon set up this award-winning company over ten years ago. Since 2012, he’s seen incredible changes and developments in his industry, notably around intelligent lighting, home automation and smart technology.

Can you explain in layman’s terms what this type of technology involves?

Imagine waking in the morning to the alarm clock blaring.  You get up, and walk over to open your blinds and curtains, screwing up your eyes at the harsh whooshing and clattering sound as the daylight hits your eyes.  You then pad over to your bathroom, and hit the lights, again the harsh brightness blinding you, as you acclimatise to the light whilst getting your morning shower.  

Alternatively you could choose to be woken more naturally by light programmed to impersonate a the sun rising in the morning, gradually fading on in the perfect colour and hue.  At the time you want to rise, the automated blinds slowly, seamlessly and peacefully rise, revealing the day.  Soft calming music plays in the bathroom as you enter – beautifully lit at just the right level and hue. Your morning is built around you, to react to you – your preferences and sensory needs. Instead of you having to react to the day and the house.  That’s what we’re doing at SONA.

This is just one moment in 24 hours were we have an impact on the quality of someone’s day.  Someone’s life.

Every home these days has technology, and there’s many companies who can sell you it and install it.  Whether it’s lighting, a TV on the wall, or some speakers, and access to WiFi.  

Our expertise is bringing together all of these elements in a way that enhances daily life for people building their dream home.  You build or renovate your dream home for  a reason – you want to improve your quality of life.  

Technology is an inescapable part of modern life now.  It’s in the home whether you like it or not. Most people simply don’t have the expertise or knowledge to quite know what they need.  Our role is to help them navigate how you incorporate technology in to your life at home, in a way that helps you connect when you need to and switch off when you want to.  It has to bring tangible benefits, that you can see, hear, feel and sense.  Otherwise what’s the point?

Many of our clients are concerned that such technology may be expensive. As we know, planning this from the start of a project is crucial. How would you justify that outlay?

That’s a really good question!  We come across this feeling of hesitancy all the time.  So firstly we’d say that reassurance and confidence in what’s getting installed, should be there before any equipment is even purchased.

Few people get excited about a lighting keypad, LEDs, TVs or speakers.  This is why it feels so hard to justify the investment when you are speaking with someone who is talking about the technology – you can’t really feel the benefits of what it will give you.  You know you need a TV but can’t get very excited about it.  In addition, it can feel a bit like a dark art and rather overwhelming when you’re making a large investment in something you can’t quite see, feel and experience BEFORE you buy it.  It makes people nervous, understandably.

Technology is the tool we use to create your ultimate daily life at home.  We’re looking to reduce the chores in your day, and boost the wellbeing in as many moments as we can.

With SONA, it’s not about the TV.  It’s about the client experience.  What time of day are you watching it, who with?  What are you watching, and how do you want to feel?  How can we set the room and experience up to give you the best possible moment in your day to relax or recharge or connect with your family.  That’s what we’re looking at.

Technology is the tool we use to create your ultimate daily life at home.  We’re looking to reduce the chores in your day, and boost the wellbeing in as many moments as we can. Whether that’s rest, relaxation, recharging or reconnecting.  That’s where our focus is.

At what stage should we start thinking about home automation?

As early as possible.  The longer you leave it, the more expensive it can get to undo and redo things.  Similarly the longer you leave it in the design process, the less choices you will have.  Getting us involved from the design stage, certainly before first fix, is a must, otherwise it just leads to huge frustration for the client when we say ‘this is what you could have had, if you’d have spoken to us 3 months ago!”  We hate saying that!

You don’t put a bathroom simply because you need a toilet and shower.  You imagine how you want that bathroom to feel each morning when you shower, or have an evening bath.  You imagine using that bathroom during the process of design process in order to create the perfect space.  It’s really no different with technology.  

Can any of this technology be installed in a finished home or is that too late to add in some home automation?

We like to say nothing is impossible!  Whilst it’s far easier and cost effective to get it right when building the home, we have worked on many a system and upgrade on homes that are existing, but not fulfilling their potential for the owner.

Many of our LK clients’ homes are traditional country homes, even period properties. Can technology be sensitively and sympathetically included without appearing jarringly modern? 

Absolutely.  Many of our projects are traditional and period properties, where the technology needs to be subtly incorporated, and in many cases invisible.  From TVs that appear as if from nowhere, to invisible speakers – even modern lighting keypads come in designs that look like a traditional switch and can appear almost invisible against wallpaper.  We’re known in the industry for our attention to detail, and as well as the slick modern and uber contemporary projects we work on, we also think our keen eye comes in to its’ own in older properties that require that extra level of knowledge and expertise.

When thinking about adding intelligent lighting and home automation, how would you suggest we go about planning this into our project?

There are a few elements.  We always start with what is the room going to used for, which in many cases these days, can be multipurpose.  We then work extremely closely with the interior designer on the project, to get a real feel and understanding of the décor and architectural details.  It sounds silly, but even the fabrics, flooring and furnishings are so important to us.  They all impact on what we specify in terms of performance (for example we don’t want harsh acoustics in a room with hard flooring or lots of glass) and aesthetics (placement of technology and decisions around where it can be hidden, or most seamlessly incorporated) 

SONA are very different in the way we approach our systems.  Part of that reason is because Nicola herself isn’t technical at all, so she really resonates with clients.  I personally therefore spend a lot of time before we sign systems off, ensuring that clients are fully on board and are excited about what we’re doing together.  So much goes in to the planning, not just from a documentation, detailing, drawings and costing perspective, but also spending time with the client getting to know them. 

We are creating your life lived best at home – that is after all, why you are embarking on improving the environment you live in, by building or renovating a house!  We do our element through decades of very niche experience working in luxury residences and yachts where we have expertise and confidence around what works, what makes a difference, and what can be a complete waste of time and money. 

I myself have been doing this for over 20 years, and our team is also highly experienced in this niche, many of them having a decade or more of experience in this field.  However the stark contrast of Nicola’s lack of technological expertise, but passion and focus around wellness and meaningful connection at home, I think, is what makes us connect with our clients on a more meaningful level during the planning stages, and every stage after that.

What other advice or tips would you suggest our clients should take into account about the world of home automation?

Don’t approach it by thinking ‘how many TVs?’  ‘How many lights in each room?’.  This is how people end up getting a system they never wanted.  Don’t get me wrong it’s functional.  It’s ‘fine’.  It ‘works’.  But who builds a dream house to end up with anything that’s just ‘ok’?

Instead you need to approach it in terms of your daily routines and rhythms within the home.  How do you move about it each day?  What are you doing?  What do you want to be able to do? What would improve your life?  How do you want to feel? Then work with someone with the expertise to translate that, in to a beautiful, seamless, automated home that actually makes your time there more relaxing, and less stressful.

And the last tip – make sure that company are willing to support you for the lifetime of the system, and have the infrastructure in place to deal with any snags and issues. The one thing that is more stressful than anything in life, is pushing a button, wanting something to happen – and nothing happening!  And then not having anyone to call, or knowing what you can do to fix it! (Nicola’s worst nightmare!)

Thank you, Simon, for sharing your expertise and highly informative, advice.

Now, on a rather more personal level, as a fellow married couple with a young family, running a business we really admire the success you’ve achieved in such a short space of time. Do you have any equally insightful pearls of wisdom on how to balance it all? We – I suspect like many of our clients – are constantly trying to get the balance right so any help is welcome!

Now, on a rather more personal level, as a fellow married couple with a young family, running a business… do you have any equally insightful pearls of wisdom on how to balance it all?

It’s a constant juggle isn’t it?  A regular process of refining how we manage our marriage, the kids and business.  At first it was just myself, Nic and Ali, our Head of Installations.  But in the last 4 years we’ve grown to a team of 8.  At each stage or change within the business, we have to stop, revaluate, refine and review.  Nic’s very good at that – taking time to stop and make sure we’re doing things in the best way for everyone involved.  Including the team, clients, partners and of course, our family.

I’d like to say we don’t talk about work at home, but we do – all the time.  We’re both so passionate about what we do, and what’s happening, and there’s rarely enough hours in the day.  However we both respect each other’s boundaries when one is tired and needs to switch off from it all.  And when we go away anywhere as a family, or at the weekend, we get in the ‘family zone’.  I think we find it’s important to have those distinctions.  It helps that we both have very different roles in the business.  I’m focused on the design of the systems, speaking with clients, and ensuring that everything is coming together the right way. Nic’s focused on refining what we do,  driving business development and also looks after the team. 

I think we’ve got better over the years at looking after ourselves too – health and wellness is an absolute priority as we work really hard.  It has to be a priority, and us ourselves try to practice what we preach, constantly looking for ways to refine and improve life at home.  We get so much inspiration from our clients, and project partners, that we feel in a really fortunate position to be exposed to so many beautiful, and quite honestly, life changing homes.

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