Designers find low-tech solutions to recharging life's necessities
Even in a wireless world, gadgets need recharging. That means finding a convenient, easily accessible yet non-messy place to juice up cell phones, cameras or video games.
Whether it's an iPhone, iPad or cell phone, "everyone in the family has one," Joseph Hittinger, Los Altos interior designer, said. "If you can give them a place in the house where they come in, they can plug in. It helps keep them organized."
Hittinger calls these designed areas "touchdown zones," which could be as simple as a counter top with drawers.
"We try to hide the electrical if we can," he said, describing putting outlets inside drawers.
When designing home offices, Hittinger has clients asking him to simplify the wiring. He suggests putting outlets and data ports at work-surface height, instead of below, because they're easier to plug in.
That extends beyond the home office to the living room or kitchen, as people tend to use their laptops in nearly every room of the house, he said.
Another trend he's seeing that affects wiring is the move towards smaller children's bedrooms.
"Parents don't want children to be in their rooms anymore," Hittinger said. "There's no longer a push to make bedrooms (where kids used to play video games, sleep or play) bigger. Parents want kids out in the house with them. They can still be doing their homework, chatting with friends online, but interacting with family as well."
That means the kitchen, family room or great room needs to be appropriately wired.
One way is through a linear power strip attached to the wall, with multiple plugs in it.
Burlingame architect Marc Pearcy recently replaced appliance garages (roll-top cabinets that hid the toaster and coffee maker and their outlets) in a Palo Alto kitchen with a continuous plug strip, which looks like a 45-degree wedge, with one side abutting the underside of the upper cabinet and another side abutting the wall.
"The big thing about that was the (family) wanted to get rid of the clutter; it gets a little messy especially when you want to show off glass tile in the backsplash," Pearcy said.
And, said architect Carl Hesse, of square three designs, Palo Alto, "It looks nice. Some argue that you see the cords hanging down, but I still think it's a good detail. Setting that plug strip on a 45-degree angle is the key to the functionality."
Hesse recalled mounting a plug strip flat 10 or 15 years ago. "It was a little difficult to bend over and get the plug in there. At the 45-degree angle, it works," he said.
Hesse finds his clients making very generic requests, noting that they know what they don't want to see.
"Everybody struggles with the chaos of cell phones and cameras and all that stuff that needs to be recharged. Where do you put it? Store it?" he said.
His firm has been refining details on a "docking station niche," which is usually located in or near the kitchen or in a mudroom. The niche is usually set in a thickened wall, six to eight inches deep, so one can leave the camera recharger plugged in, ready to connect the camera.
The idea is to put all the outlets together in one designated place.
"The first time we did that, we put in a couple of fourplex outlets in a recessed niche. That works, but a lot of those chargers are just big enough that you can't use the other half of the receptacle. Now we use plug strips — hardwired, linear plug mold," Hesse said, describing them as "single receptacles in a linear bar, spaced about six inches apart."
At his home, Hesse designed what he called a docking station, a recessed wall cabinet with shelves for storing kids' shoes, cubbies for miscellaneous kids' personal items, a drawer for overflow keys, two open shelves with plug strips for gadget charging, and cabinet doors with more shelves and another plug strip for overflow recharging.
"We have three cameras, three phones. My son has a video game that has a charge. The docking station is intentionally shallow, so nothing gets lost in it," Hesse said.
The challenge is keeping it from becoming a dumping station, since car keys, wallet and phones all get dropped into the 6-inch-deep space.
Hesse finds clients with hidden-power issues in the master bathroom as well, with the need to plug in hair dryers or electric razors.
"We've done details where we'll put a receptacle inside a drawer or a cabinet. From the drawer to the wall there's a flexible cord, so when the drawer opens, the cord can stretch out and still function as it should. You can plug in the razor or hair dryer in the drawer, use it and put it back," he said.
Pearcy also created a quad outlet specifically for charging cell phones when he added a wall in one home.
Pearcy is currently working on a house in Portola Valley, with a personal charging station for each of the five members of the family. The stations consist of lockers without doors, with a shelf for gadgets to sit on while they're charging.
"Each person has their own slot. They can let things sit there overnight," he said.
Describing the family as "very technology-oriented," Pearcy acknowledged that it might have been the wife who thought of the charging station. "I don't have all of that stuff and probably wouldn't have thought of it.
"There's only going to be more of that stuff as time goes on," he said.
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Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.