Get smart!

New pint-sized technology makes life in your city crib safer, easier and more fun

Homes are getting smarter, especially in space-starved New York City. Residents here long ago learned how to make tighter spaces work organizationally and functionally; now they’re making those same apartments and townhouses work quickly and automatically through smart-home technology.

Just a few years ago, a digital thermostat that helped keep a condo at a constant temperature was considered state-of-the-art. But technology is changing fast: Now that thermostat has to be remote-controllable from a smartphone or tablet — and it also has to work the lights, the music and the flat-screen LCD TV. Plus, these systems have to be innocuous and unobtrusive, experts say — no bulky contraptions, and as few power cords showing as possible. Much as computers have shrunk to fit the palm of your hand, so has home technology.

“That’s the whole point of it,” said Robert Gilligan, senior technology adviser at Via, a luxury home automation firm, of technology’s diminishing dimensions. Via can turn apartments into nightclubs — complete with throbbing music and blinking lights — all hidden away until someone punches the right codes on a 10-inch tablet.

Such shrinkage plays especially well in Manhattan, where space is at a premium. Still, apartment and townhouse dwellers can also use newer smart-home technology to bolster their bottom lines by reducing energy costs. The technology, experts say, can save money as well as space.

“Cost is the foremost energy issue in the minds of most consumers,” said John DiCicco, a professor at the University of Michigan, which released a study earlier this year that showed Americans were worried about their rising home-energy costs — but weren’t necessarily willing to adjust their usage. Some of the newer smart-home technology can do that for them without them really knowing.

Luxury Listings delved into the latest and greatest in smart-home technology to find out what apps, appliances and systems are best suited for urban living. Read on for our favorites.


Smart-home security systems have evolved from wall attachments requiring a separate remote for one user at a time, to barely noticeable devices able to accommodate dozens of users from smartphones and tablets. They’ve also matured beyond off-site companies used to monitor systems. In fact, the home-security share of traditional outside-management companies — the folks who come and install equipment, and are then available by phone if there’s a break-in — is expected to plummet 50 percent in the next few years, according to technology marketing firm ABI Research, as more owners and tenants turn to technology that works with their existing equipment.

Yale Real Living Touchscreen
Z-Wave Deadbolt

This digital deadlock stores up to 25 access codes — plenty for securing the place for you, the spouse and the kids, plus myriad helpers and houseguests. It speaks three languages: English, French and Spanish. Best, the design is fairly un-bulky, blending in with most doors. Also, there are no monthly usage fees.

Price: $274

SimpliSafe Home Security Ultimate Package

This comprehensive home-security system is easy to set up, easy to maintain and easy to pay for. There is no contract; just buy, install and you’re ready to go. The system, which detects break-ins, can be customized to particular needs, such as monitoring one door or room more than others. One caveat: It doesn’t come with video cameras.

Price: $519

Nexia Home Intelligence

In addition to allowing you to remotely run things such as air-conditioning and lights through pre-programming or your cell phone, you can also program up to 19 access codes for the front door. Guest codes are also allowed; you can arrange to be alerted (again, via cell phone) if anyone uses them. There is a $9.99 monthly contract.

Price: $142

Small but smart, Canary is an easy-to-use home security device with several sensors that track everything from temperature to motion.

Small but smart, Canary is an easy-to-use home security device with several sensors that track everything from temperature to motion.

Canary Smart Home Security Device

As the tech review site CNET notes, this all-in-one contraption is “smaller than a bottle of Gatorade” and yet is practically all-seeing when keeping an eye on your home. So what’s it got? Several external sensors, a high-definition camera with a wide-angle lens and night-vision capabilities to spot movements in the dark.

Price: $199

Entertainment & Fun

Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you can’t let loose and have a little fun  —  in fact, entertainment devices and services are driving the overall smart-home industry right now. Eighty percent of the projected $71 billion in global revenue for smart-home technology firms over the next four years is expected to come from entertainment apps and gadgets, according to Juniper Research. Nowadays, there are free applications that let you control all your music and video playlists with one handheld device (your smartphone), enabling you to listen to your most listened-to playlist on your phone through your stereo, or have a YouTube video from your tablet show up on your TV screen. There are also systems that can make your condo a bumpin’ nightclub at the press of a button.

In-House Instant Disco

This isn’t a fantasy: Your apartment could become a throbbing nightclub. With the push of a button, video projectors drop from the ceiling, a windowed wall becomes a video wall, stage lighting and lasers sweep the room, a backlit waterfall appears  —  and the music starts pumping.

Price: Contact the company for customized installation quotes.

018-020 STORY-TECH-se FINAL.inddSamsung Smart Home Theater System

Is movie night more your thing? This six-part surround-sound system, including two tallboy speakers, is unique in that it combines analog and digital pulsations to create particularly crisp-sounding music or television. It comes with built-in Wi-Fi, too.

Price: $999


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Smart-home technology for the commode is now all about a mixture of conservation and unobtrusiveness. After all, the bathroom is often the smallest room in the apartment (next to the closet, of course); devices, then, shouldn’t take up all that much space. These gadgets are not only sleek but save water, which is good for the environment  —  and your pocketbook.




Using your first shower as a benchmark, this little device helps you cut back on water usage by encouraging you to reduce your shower time a little bit here and there. How? Through a series of traffic lights that go from green to yellow to red to let you know when you should wrap things up and towel off.

Price: $18

Numi Toilet

Manufacturer Kohler calls the Numi “the world’s most advanced toilet.” That label is hard to argue with: There’s a seat and foot warmer, the toilet lights up in the dark and the lid opens automatically as you approach. It can also operate remotely via a handheld touchscreen — no need to worry about someone forgetting to put down the seat — and, perhaps best of all, it plays music on command. Kohler also touts Numi’s “flushing technology,” which conserves water and power.

Price: $6,000


Functionality —  that’s what everyone wants in a kitchen. And now, technology is making our kitchens more streamlined and easier-to-use than ever before. Not only do new-fangled kitchen gadgets free up space, but, once set up, they work faster than the bulkier appliances of yesteryear. So, how about a coffee maker that’s basically a single faucet? Or a fridge that frees up counter or table space by having a touchscreen computer built right in? Sales of such smart-home kitchen technology is expected to balloon from $613 million 2012 to $34.9 billion in 2020, according to Pike Research.

Touch-Screen Refrigerator

Never be without your apps again with these new refrigerator models from Samsung. The French door smart fridges include an 8-inch, Wi-Fi-enabled LCD touchscreen that lets you click on your applications while you’re grabbing the next beer. It also allows for web browsing  —  so you can find that special recipe, perhaps  —  and word processing, which means you can compile your grocery list as you whip up your next meal.

Price: $2,499–$3,499

Bosch 800 Plus Series Dishwasher

Bosch 800 Plus Series Dishwasher

Bosch 800 Plus Series Dishwasher

First of all, it’s so modern you won’t even know it’s there: The 2-foot-wide appliance is whisper quiet. It’s also got a color touchscreen that acts as a control panel, as well as a warning system for when the dishwasher needs maintenance. Perhaps smartest of all, there’s a flexible third rack for gawkier items.

Price: $1,499

Four Door, French Door Refrigerator

You may live in the city, but you like your food farm-fresh, right? Check out this new fridge from high-end European brand Blomberg. It features “blue light technology,” which allows fruits and veggies to continue photosynthesis in the crisper — resulting in fresher, more vitamin-packed produce. There’s also a “flexi zone” — an area with an adjustable temperature that ranges from -10 degrees to 50 degrees — perfect for chilling that just-gifted bottle of rosé.

Price: $3,420

Decorating & Design

Remember when redecorating your place involved tape measures, paint and fabric swatches  —  and a huge leap of faith? No more. These apps save you mountains of time (and stress) by allowing your apartment to “try on” different furniture and looks, without ever having to set foot in a store until you’re ready to pull the trigger and buy something. (And even then, you may not have to leave your digs: Some allow for online purchases and follow-up customer service.)

Houzz Interior Design Ideas

CNN in 2012 called Houzz the “Wikipedia of interior and exterior design.” It’s suffused with more than 2 million high-resolution photos, which you can browse by style, room and location—and then save to a virtual notebook, should you wish to purchase later.

Price: Free


018-020 STORY-TECH-se FINAL.inddThis app’s tagline says it all: “See how furniture would look in your house before you buy.” Specifically, it allows would-be decorators to virtually “test” wares from retailers such as Knoll, Herman Miller and Pottery Barn. Furnish allows users to superimpose furniture against a real background — say, your living room — photographed with a smartphone.

Price: Free