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SPECIAL MILLENNIUM ISSUE / HOME & DESIGN | A TRIBUTE
TO BAD TASTE

Mr. Wise Guy Builds His 'Smart House'

In Tom Connor's Dream Palace, Technology Is Merely a Servant of Our Deepest Desires: Fast Food, Violent Sports and Theme-Park Decor.

May 16, 1999|TOM CONNOR | As co-author of the magazine parodies Martha Stuart Living and the Smyth-Hawk'em Gardening Catalogue, Tom Connor regularly lampoons high society and other American perversions

Sorry to burst the thought-bubble, but most Americans aren't all that interested in "smart" houses. I know this because I watch a lot of reality-based television, and "smart" just isn't a guiding principle for real Americans. Besides, no matter what architects and contractors may say, "smart" sounds like pressure, like a test. And personally, when I come home, I don't want to have to think, much less deal with IQ-recognition entries, home LANs or intelligent switches, remotes and presets. Technically, my garage door opener is smarter than I am. Do I really want an entire house that's smarter?

My dream house is one in which I won't feel smarter or hipper or more sophisticated than everyone else, but just like everyone else. It would be a house in which Gov. Jesse Ventura would feel at home as a guest. A house in which architecture and technology are not masters but rather the servants of Americans' deepest wants and needs: theme-park decor and diversions, violent sports and entertainment, fast food in vast quantities, lurid public airings of personal issues, and domestic situations gone horribly awry.

Think "Homer Simpson hires theme-park designer Robert A.M. Stern." The result I have in mind would be a kind of maximalist, post-modest, neo-Jersey, Ranch Revival. Let's take a tour.

Starting in the kitchen, you'll see that the counters and breakfast table have been replaced by a Food Court, open 24-7 and modeled on those found at Disney World. This contemporary "gorging pavilion" is outfitted with half a dozen small, automated self-service stations, each under its own umbrella and brand name, featuring dough-based cuisines and desserts from all over, well, Disney World. Custom-wide doorways, fitted with entrance and exit turnstiles, help control traffic flow during peak dining hours.

Remember the family room? It still exists in my model house, but it has been re-imagined as a space more conducive to intimate discussion: like the time a number of family members shared their feelings about my having mentioned their cross-dressing in a national publication. Thus the need for the easily breakable chairs lined up across a low stage and facing a gallery capable of seating an audience of 50 or 60.

In the living room, traditional notions of entertainment are defenestrated as the outside is brought in via an oversized, high-definition window--the equivalent of a 72-inch Phillips flat panel screen--overlooking the interstate and providing dramatic views of tractor-trailer crashes and police chases.

Yet tastelessness needn't mean one has to be stupid when it comes to technology and architecture. If we've learned anything at all from "EDtv," it is that as the lines between public and private lives further blur in the future, everything we do at home will have the potential to be exploited and converted to product. And in this culture, the less tasteful the decor, the more profitable the house.

For example, let's return for a moment to the kitchen, typically the most accident-prone area of a home. Here the room, which is loaded with high-speed industrial meat-slicers and other really scary appliances, features hidden digital cameras to record the carnage as it happens. The raw footage is then transmitted directly to late-breaking news programs and home-video entertainment shows. The familiar kitchen butcher block that once denoted serious cooks and carnivores? That's now an emergency home-surgery table, complete with overhead operating lights, where a severed member can be reattached as easily as trussing a rump roast.

In the dining room, a kind of new American vernacular is achieved by means of Final Script software embedded in the walls, which converts dinner conversations into dialogue that is instantly e-mailed to the family's agent, then forwarded to studios in Hollywood and New York.

Finally, let's visit the bathroom. Aside from the tub that drains into a water theme park in the back yard, this could be any master bathroom in any house in suburbia, with one small exception: The shower is a Web site, offering continuous live feeds to thousands of e-customers worldwide. (An important design note: Since bathrooms, like garages and basements, are really a male thing, wives needn't be bothered with details like the one above.)

Upon reflection, maybe this wouldn't be my primary residence but more like a second home. And "second" not in the sense that social, moneyed people have second residences, but in the way guys who lead double lives have second homes and wives on the other side of town, for when life in the first gets stressful or boring. Now THAT might be a smart house.

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