- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 28, 2007

With considerable hubbub and maybe the signature whirling of a circular saw, the National Association of Home Builders recently unveiled the proverbial home of the future.

It does not have the automatic dog-walker treadmill that prompted George Jetson to utter those immortal words, “Jane, Jane, stop this crazy thing.”

It does not have any appliances that talk, chatter or mumble. There are no robotic laundry units, launching pads, motoramas, sky ports, dining domes or contemplation aeries.

The average home of the future seems to be psychologically well-adjusted rather than full of diabolical plans to leak, crack, fester, smell, creak, fade, slope or slump. Oh no. This ebullient residence will “evolve to levels of comfort and sophistication that were virtually unimaginable even a generation ago,” the association says.

The home of the future will bristle with fiber optics, measure 2,330 square feet and possibly harbor two master-bedroom suites, which may or may not have implications for the state of the American marriage in a few decades. Of course, this domicile will pass Al Gore’s green glove test as a showcase for sustainable or recycled products, emitting nary a whiff of those volatile organic compounds so beloved on a vinyl-upholstered planet.

We will interject here that Mr. Gore’s own home, according to assorted press reports, is not “green” at all and may actually (a) harbor a secret toxic waste dump, (b) be built on a plutonium mine or (c) be a plutonium mine.

President Bush’s little ranch in Texas, however, is a “model of environmental rectitude,” according to the Chicago Tribune, complete with geothermal heat pumps, a 25,000-gallon rainwater catcher and rooms designed to reflect some aspect of the landscape. So maybe the president lives in the home of the future, or the ranch of the future, anyway.

The home of the future, however, has long fascinated us.

In the December 1900 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, civil engineer and steam-locomotive aficionado J. Elfreth Watkins made prognostications about our lifestyles 100 years down the road. Along with intriguing ideas like “aerial war ships,” “forts on wheels” and “peas as large as beets,” the good Watkins predicted that in the dawn of 2001, each home would have “hot and cold air from spigots” and that the parlor piano would be “capable of changing its tone from cheerful to sad.”

With that in mind, we will consider a few domestic appointments that are beyond prognostication and currently available at retail. Like the Fish ‘n Flush, for example, billed as the “toilet of tomorrow” by no less than CBS News. The Fish ‘n Flush is a transparent two-piece toilet tank with a fully functioning aquarium inside, though it also can be used as a terrarium, planter or the ultimate getaway for a pet reptile.

“We wanted to develop a product that had a dual purpose — to serve as a proper, fully functional toilet and also as a source of entertainment and conversation,” says Richard Quintana of AquaOne, the California-based company that developed the device.

But wait, there’s more.

“One of the key attractions to Fish ‘n Flush is that we see the toilet serving as a great way to help toilet train young children, as well as a fun fashion statement for the homeowner who wants to have something unique,” Mr. Quintana adds.

It’s $299 and available online for daring hosts — or mothers of truculent toddlers — at www.fishnflush.com.

Electrolux, meanwhile, also hopes to rock the homeowning world. You remember Electrolux, maker of screaming, streamlined vacuum cleaners with skis, gray brocade tubing, 35,000 attachments and a face like a locomotive. Maybe Mr. Watkins had something to do with them. Great-aunt Madge and her crowd were full-fledged Electrolux devotees back in the day, fully certified in all attachments and the bane of dust balls everywhere.

Hoping to stake a claim in something other than the dust-sucking business, Electrolux is manufacturing the Jeppe Utzon Barbecue, designed by architect Jeppe Utzon and priced at $7,100.

There’s also the $3,500, 4-foot-tall Provina Wine Pod, which is actually a “digitally networked” fermenting device. General Electric’s new Profile ovens come equipped with an “exclusive pizza mode” and can cook at two temperatures at once, while FogScreen — for multimedia freaks — projects computer-generated images on a veil of water vapor.

The snappiest of all, perhaps, is the brand-new Insinkerator Evolution Excel, a garbage disposal that is so quiet that a bunch of celery-stalk-wielding consumers thought it wasn’t working during test runs. The company quickly “clothed the unit in rugged stainless steel to exude power,” according to a review in Business 2.0 Magazine.

“This shows how to bring anthropological studies and realistic usability tests into design,” noted Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search product and user-experience, when the disposal won a coveted Bottom Line Design Award in late March.

Jane, Jane, stop this crazy thing.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and peas as big as beets for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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