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Wired! : A home today can be almost the same as a home of the future if you have the money. Electronics will let you do anything, even put a TV in your shower.

September 22, 1990|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Home Design

If "The Jetsons" used to be part of your Saturday morning TV ritual, it's a fair bet that you also used to dream about having a few of George Jetson's household gadgets to monkey around with.

George would push a button and out of the ceiling would come the TV. He'd tell a machine to brew him up a cup of coffee and there it would be, piping hot. If he wanted to check on the kids, he just poked a button on the TV remote and there on the screen would appear Judy and Elroy in their respective rooms. And, of course, the Jetson family had a robot.

If you ever coveted all that stuff, you may be in for a surprise. Today, you can have it, just about all of it, along with a few gimmicks even George never dreamed of. Because compared to the current innovations in electronic home conveniences, the future--as seen in the '60s, anyway--looks positively old hat.

Consider, for instance, the Mastervoice Series II, which enables you to walk through the door after work, tell the air conditioner to kick in, tell the coffee pot to heat up, tell the stereo in the bedroom to begin playing and order the pool lights to switch on. Verbally.

Consider also Tom and Joyce Tucker of Laguna Beach. Tom is a rabid movie fan, and his idea of bliss at home is an in-house theater. So he had one built, complete with a 100-inch front-projection TV, two VCRs, a compact disc and laser disc player and surround-sound speakers. To put an even finer point on the sound, Tucker also had the ceiling and walls padded.

Tucker didn't stop there. He decided he wanted to be able to watch TV even when he was showering. So he had one installed in the wall of his shower, behind two layers of glass. A small but powerful fan behind the television keeps the glass from fogging. Waterproof speakers were installed flush with the shower wall, and a waterproof telephone also was put in. Tucker said he can watch TV in the shower while his wife is listening to music from the built-in stereo speakers elsewhere in the bathroom.

The Tucker home also was fitted with a system of low-voltage computerized lighting. Tucker said all the lights in the house can be programmed to "set scenes" in any room depending on the time of day.

Interior designers say they are beginning to hear from more clients like the Tuckers, people who have heard that home electronics now means much more than just a computer in the den.

"People will call and say, 'I want the bells and whistles.' That's what they'll call" the new devices, said Patricia Mickey, an interior designer and owner of PMA Design Group in Costa Mesa. "As science and industry make bigger steps, it's being felt down at our level more than it used to be. Things that used to be thought of as futuristic are actually happening. I saw the movie '2001' again about a year ago and it was almost comical. We've gone beyond that already in so many areas."

Indeed, the idea of the "electronic cottage," a notion from the '80s that implied that most of the doings in one's life could be controlled electronically without leaving home, is already beginning to seem limited.

A quick tour of an imaginary house, thoroughly tricked out with the latest gadgetry, can be almost breathtaking. As you approach the front door, you might want to smile and say hello, since you're being picked up on a closed circuit television camera with sound. The picture can be seen on a neutral channel of any TV in the house. The CCTV Corp. of New York makes one of these for about $400.

See that cat door installed in the front door? The family cat is the only animal that can get through it, thanks to an electronic "key" built into his collar that triggers a sensor in the door, causing it to open. Strays can't get in. Best Friend Products of Doylestown, Pa., sells it for about $142.

OK, you're in the door. Did you notice how the lights came on? You never had to touch a switch. You were spotted by a passive infrared sensor, known as a PIR, a device that designers say is becoming more common in home use. Honeywell makes one that wires into the wall like a light switch and costs about $48. It doesn't see you, but rather senses your motion and your body heat in the room.

Stanley Home Automation also offers a light control (about $59) that is sensitive to motion indoors and out and also will turn lights on automatically at dusk and off at dawn. (Something a bit cheaper: a photosensitive night light that comes on automatically in the dark. Honeywell makes it for about $6.50).

PIR technology has seen some fairly singular applications, particularly in the area of home security systems. The Heath Co., for instance, sells the Barking Dog Security System (about $60). When the PIR sensor notices a body in the room, it emits a realistic dog bark. And for about $180 you can get a similar barking dog system that can "see" through solid objects like wooden doors (the Ram Corp. sells it).

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