Apart from abandoning chintz for Scandinavian chic, London’s homes have barely changed in decades. But the future is finally knocking at our doors
Since building the big tower blocks of the 1960s and 1970s, London’s residential property scene has remained virtually unchanged. Most of us still live in slightly cramped conditions, with the same basic set-up and furnishings as our grandparents. But the future is finally catching up with us.
2030: a space odyssey
One of the most exciting changes we’re likely to see is also one of the simplest – more room. “Improved space standards on new housing will mean that average household floor areas could actually increase rather than following the recent trend of getting ever smaller,” says Luke Tozer, director of award-winning London architecture practice Pitman Tozer (www.pitmantozer.com). New properties in central London might be built on ever smaller plots of land, explains Tozer, but they will start going down into the ground or snake around existing back gardens or other buildings to increase the internal area.
By 2030, even existing properties, which will still make up around 70 per cent of London’s homes, will feel more spacious. Ian Pearson, futurologist at Futurizon (www.futurizon.com), explains: “We will significantly reduce the number of electronics that take up space in our homes today, and as they get lighter, we’ll be able to hang more items on the wall, so even in the same-sized house, there will be more available space.”
Just how will this happen, when our iPhone/mega-TV/WiiFit/BluRay obsession shows no sign of abating? Instead of having separate computer, TV, DVD player, iPod, games consoles, books and magazines, “there will probably be lightweight, portable plastic techno-tablets and visors that combine all these functions,” says Pearson – so no need for bookshelves, magazine racks, home entertainment units and desks. We’ll also see lighter and thinner TVs in the living room, but they will be wall-mounted and multi-functional, downloading movies and recording programmes directly, so bye-bye separate hard drives.
Fashionistas are in for a treat as jewellery incorporates techno-functions, too. Go out for the night wearing your Rolex-phone-watch, ring-computer (with projection screen and keyboard) and necklace-iPod.
Think trends change too quickly today? It’s only going to get worse – but it will get easier to keep up. “Soon, we’ll see light-emitting, computer-controlled curtains and wallpapers, allowing you to change your décor simply by downloading new colours and patterns off the internet,” says Pearson. Fancy hearts and cupids on your curtains one day, and a Banksy masterpiece on your wall the next? It’s just a click away.
The changes in our décor won’t all be futuristic, though. As people become ever more concerned about environmental issues, Alex Goddard, co-curator of the Geffrye Museum’s (Kingsland Road, London E2 8EA; 020 7739 9893, www.geffrye-museum.org.uk) recent Eco Home exhibition, says, “We will see an increased use of vintage furniture and fabrics, and when buying new furniture, people will look to invest in better-made pieces with a longer life cycle.”
Appliance of science
It’s not just the furnishings that will change. Although kitchens probably won’t look or function much differently than they do today, appliances will become more energy efficient, says Tim Grainger, energy consultant at Entec (www.entecuk.com), an environmental and engineering practice. “Washing machines and dishwashers will need far less water, and all appliances will become greener – using less standby energy, being created with fewer environmentally harmful materials and becoming easier to recycle.”
The refrigerator could also become cleverer, according to recent report for John Lewis by The Future Laboratory (www.thefuturelaboratory.com). It says that by 2030, fridges could be compacting waste and suggesting recipes based on the ingredients inside it, helping reduce waste. Pearson thinks that’s unlikely to catch on, but he does believe that the techno-tablets will have access to recipe databases that could talk to the kitchen appliances as you cook, telling the oven, for example, at what temperature and how long to cook a dish.
Rooms of improvement
Beyond the kitchen, more people will work from home, but the traditional home-office set-up – desk, computer, printer, filing cabinet – will disappear, thanks to new technologies and decreasing reliance on paper. “Instead, the home office will be less a room than a calm place within the home that is undisturbed by other activities,” says Tozer. Expect a return to old-fashioned studies or the addition of modern Zen-style quiet spaces.
The John Lewis report also thinks there will be changes to the bathroom, with rainwater being used for showers and integrated reed-bed purification systems being used to filter the water. Grainger isn’t sure about that, but we’ll certainly see more greywater systems – in which the water from showers, sinks and washing machines is reused in toilets and gardens.
Lighting throughout the house will be primarily ultra-energy-efficient LEDs, with colour-change and potentially even mood-sensitive modes. Feeling stressed? The room becomes soothing green. Lacking energy? Perhaps buzzy yellow. But, as Pearson says, “Most people will find this annoying quite quickly, so will set it to stick to just one colour.”
Building for the future
Even the walls, roofs and floors of our London homes will be different – although you won’t always be able to see it. New compositions of concrete, such as hempcrete, are already being developed and some may even absorb CO2 as they set. Green roofs will also increase in popularity, helping retain water to reduce storm run-off – and providing a habitat for local wildlife.
Over the next two decades, a massive programme of wall insulation will take place in existing homes, with cavity walls being filled and solid walls having 50-75mm of insulation added internally or externally, says Grainger. The John Lewis report also mentions the probable addition of thermo-reflective wallpaper and extra-insulated carpets.
With energy becoming an even hotter topic over the next few years, we could also see more homes with solar panels, single-appliance energy monitors and home energy stations with micro-generators. Smart energy meters will allow people to get more accurate bills, and more homes will be hooked into district heating, a community scale network of pipes that captures waste heat from local power stations which could be fuelled by waste or wood.
But just who will be in these homes? The government will try to encourage the decrease of single-person abodes, but Pearson thinks they’re unlikely to have much success. However, we will be living longer – and will be healthier as we age – so your great-grandparents might just beat you at that visor-Wii tennis match when they come to visit.
If you’re sore afterwards, just call around your personal masseuse. As we become wealthier and more home-based, we’ll also be employing more people to come to us, so put on the kettle for your dog groomer, hair stylist, part-time PA and personal shopper.
Although only the newest of properties or the wealthiest of citizens are likely to have all of these components in their homes by 2030, most of us will benefit from at least some of them, making London an even more exciting and enjoyable place to live.