How to kit out a hi-tech kitchen

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It makes sense to turn one of your home’s most functional rooms into a hi-tech hub.

For years now, tech-makers have been trying to get us to do something more exciting with our kitchens, from barcode-reading fridges to internet-connected coffee machines. The catch is some of these concepts and devices have really been solutions looking for a problem – our domestic lives tend to be a bit more prosaic than that.

The real hi-tech kitchen is designed to address more practical concerns: acting as the central hub for a whole-home-automation system, but also meeting many of our entertainment needs – after all, these days kitchens are social spaces as well as food preparation areas.

First, consider what you're actually going to be using your kitchen for – to read emails over breakfast, as an entertaining space, or to keep an eye on the kids while you prepare their food. All of these uses will have an impact on the kind of technologies you'll need to include and on the practicalities of fitting them.

How much you decide to do also depends on your budget, of course. You can spend as little as £200, but at the upper end the sky really is the limit. You also need to think about whether you plan to fit these items yourself or hire a qualified custom installer – someone who'll tailor a system to suit your budget and then liaise with electricians, architects and other key tradespeople, to ensure your vision becomes a reality.

There are a few relatively easy things you can do yourself, from simply adding a TV, digital radio or iPod dock, to installing your own wireless network, which will enable you to surf the internet at the kitchen table or watch TV programmes online. The problem with these options is that they can rob your kitchen of valuable space and may not always be that robust. Wi-Fi, for example, is fine for everyday computer use, but isn't yet up to the job of streaming multiple HD videos around the house.

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Therefore, your best bet may be to go bespoke: you'll have the entertainment appliances you need and they'll be carefully and considerately installed, as well as practical, robust and reliable.

One of the steps an installer can take, says Robin Courtenay of SMC Custom Installations (smccustominstalls.co.uk), is to mount LCD or plasma TV screens on robust wall brackets that enable the TV to be swivelled to your chosen viewing angle (handy whether you're following recipes or just watching the news). There are even motorised options that enable the display to disappear completely; your local custom installer should be able to advise. Visit Cedia's website (cedia.co.uk) to find one.

Another common step is to have a high-definition set-top box installed in the kitchen. Placing it there, rather than centrally, makes sense because a shorter run of HDMI cable helps maintain picture quality. Courtenay says an HD set- top box can easily be mounted in a kitchen cupboard or drawer if provided with adequate ventilation. Installing audio-visual and USB connections enables you to connect devices such as digital cameras, camcorders and iPods up to the rest of the kit in your kitchen.theselfbuilder_hi-techkitchens2

Other practical measures include fitting in-ceiling speakers, which can be married to components such as an Apple iPod, digital radio or whole-home music server. Or you could even install a large flat-panel display for family entertainment.

Your kitchen can be turned into a hub for other hi-tech systems, too: you can install lighting controls to cater for the specific needs of the kitchen, as well as for the rest of the house; ditto for your heating, ventilation and security needs.

Tying the whole lot together is another custom installer favourite: home automation control systems from companies such as AMX and Crestron. These systems use wired connections for the very best reliability, with some controls available using wireless touch panels locally. They're robust – installers just wouldn't fit them if they weren't.

Current-generation control panels also have an ace or two up their sleeves: installers are able to add other uses, such as internet access and even TV controls, reducing the need to have other devices and displays elsewhere.

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