In his 1973 movie, "Sleeper," Woody Allen put forth a vision of the home of the future that was blindingly white, minimalist and sterile. If that's going to be the case, then what will become of our collections of Fiestaware and the mantlepiece filled with framed family snapshots?
I have seen the future, and, happily, it's not devoid of homey touches. I recently visited the "House of the Future" created by Popular Science and Sunset magazines. Perched on a hillside in Alamo, Calif., and designed to show what the average home will look like in 2031, it's warm, comfortable and full of convenient touches. It seems as though our homes will retain their unique expressions of our personal style but combine them with technological advances that will save energy and make our lives simpler.
Legendary futurist Paul Saffo believes the future will be much more welcoming than "Sleeper" suggested. "It's fascinating for how long the future was clean and white and bright. … I think it's a reflection of people's hopes. They want the future to be everything that today is not for them, and that tends to be bright and white and clean and orderly," Saffo said.
The first thing I noticed while visiting the house was music playing in all the rooms -- but I couldn't see any speakers or stereo equipment. They're hidden in the walls: Gadgets that looked like fancy thermostats actually control the music. They can pull tracks off various devices -- an iPod, a CD player, or the radio -- and play them in some or all of the rooms of the house.
In the future, this music technology will be seamlessly integrated into the wireless networks that stream through the home. Much of that technology is available today, but the key phrase here is "seamlessly integrated": There won't be any wires to trip over and ideally, no disaster scenarios in which nothing works. My vision of a world without constant troubleshooting may be optimistic, but a girl can dream.
The PopSci house has more to offer in the entertainment realm than just music. It has a booming media room with a high-definition projector that spews crisp images onto an 8-foot tall screen. There are LCD and plasma screens everywhere in the home.
For kids -- and the young-at-heart -- there's a gaming area complete with a high-def Xbox and a racecar chair that entices even nongamers to take a spin. An LCD monitor in the kitchen has full Internet access and ties into the home's security camera system. In this house, parents preparing dinner can keep an eye on the kids to make sure they're not fighting over the Xbox.
Big screens dominate our current obsession with home entertainment, but Saffo says the bulky boxes and heavy screens with which we're familiar will dramatically change.
"The thing that'll be missing in 25 years is the TV screen," he said. "Perhaps it'll be a fabric on the wall. Perhaps it'll be something that's painted into place. But big, boxy electronics disappear into the river."
Saffo says curtains will also be missing from future homes. In the Pop-Sci house, the bathroom windows have electricity running through them. At the flick of a switch, they go from transparent to opaque. Though still in its early stages, the technology is impressive.