Designers, construction professionals, and home technology integrators had a rare opportunity to engage with each other—and Interior Design Editor in Chief Cindy Allen—at the first Design + Tech Connection conference co-produced by the National Kitchen and Bath Association and Emerald Expositions. The one-day conference, held yesterday Convene in Manhattan, featured panels ranging from smart wellness to cyber threats and concluded with a lively pitch session moderated by Allen.
Design + Tech Connection, which drew about 175 attendees, served as a beta-test for future events geared at bridging the gap between the realms of design and technology—a challenging and growing space to navigate considering the increasing number of smart home appliances, entertainment systems, and fixtures at homeowners’ fingertips. “There is so much confusion driven by the demand to better integrate smart home technology, even among the professionals in this room,” said Bill Darcy, CEO of the NKBA. “We thought, How can we help people?”
Technology has long been a passion for Darcy—he prides himself on being an early adopter of many innovations, citing his first laptop as a teenager in the early 1980s—and, naturally, as the head of the NKBA, he is not alone in recognizing the need to understand how technological advancements impact design. For the last two years, NKBA has conducted Kitchen and Bath Tech Awareness & Usage market research studies, which confirm consumer desire and willingness to adopt better, faster and more complex whole-home integration systems. Since consumers rely on design, construction, and tech integration specialists to create seamless smart homes, it’s vital for experts in these areas to work together closely to create solutions.
The conference's interactive Cocktails and Pitches session, led by Allen, marked a step in that direction, facilitating the start of more conversations to come over wine and small bites. As in the popular reality show "Shark Tank," three technology integrators were invited to join Allen on the stage and pitch their products to the crowd in a span of minutes. The first pitch came from Jay Minsky, area sales manager at Control 4—an operating system that integrates home devices, enabling them to work in concert. “They’re the brains in the room you don’t see,” said Allen as she introduced Minsky.
Next, Dirk Sappock, director of product development at Miele USA, took the stage, touting the company’s line of smart appliances. “We're about making something smart that’s going to last as long as your kitchen, and still be relevant—that is key,” said Sappock.
Steve Nackers, corporate manager of controls at Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove, rounded out the session by giving an insightful talk about smart Sub-Zero appliances. “I never even knew these fridges can be smart-home connected and I integrate them all the time, as a designer,” said one attendee after learning about Sub-Zero’s smart features, which Allen called a “revelation.”
The three presenters were up against a tough crowd. Many in the room asked poignant questions, concerning security of private information and the nuances of integrating smart appliances into an operating system, eliciting a new, and necessary, industry dialogue. “We felt that if we put the right people and programming together, with a cocktail hour featuring Cindy [Allen], who is so respected in the industry, then we could help introduce people to each other to drive more business,” said Darcy.
Design + Connection succeeded in doing just that, and also featured conversations led by Julie Jacobsen, founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home technology industry, and Chelsie Butler, executive editor of KBB (Kitchen & Bath Business), the official publication of the NKBA and Kitchen & Bath Industry Show. “We are honored to partner with the NKBA to produce this important new conference,” said Brian Pagel, EVP, Emerald Expositions. “Our collaboration is a strong one… Our more than 100,000 design, construction, technology and home automation contacts will appreciate the opportunity to learn about and participate in this new collaboration.”