Rising to the challenge of the future-proofed home

Home lifts can offer mobility solutions for multi-generational living and add a design statement to flexible family homes of the future, but safety and sustainability are just as important as aesthetics, says David Schill of Aritco Lifts.

Dramatic sociological shifts are shaping the way we build and design the homes of the future. The middle classes and their disposable income are increasing, but so is the cost of land, which means more of us will be living in apartments with smaller footprints on multiple levels. According to UN estimates, over 25 per cent of the UK’s population will be aged over 60 by 2025, so no doubt regulations governing accessibility will be tightened up as an aging population finds that standard staircases are no longer fit for purpose. Add to that other factors – unattainably expensive mortgages, exorbitant rent, and dwindling social care resources – and we will soon find the increasing prevalence of multi-generational living, a trend that’s already common in Asia and the Middle East. The key to unlocking value in new-build flats by catering to this new lifestyle is the installation of a home lift. Sales of home lifts in some regions are already increasing by as much as 15 per cent per year, but this extraordinary surge in demand goes beyond catering to those with mobility issues. 

Imagine a young family with three children and a busy lifestyle living in a three-floor apartment, with a roof terrace where they enjoy summer barbecues and the kids spend hours painting alfresco. Getting strollers, children and grocery bags from the weekly shop up the stairs to the kitchen can become a quandary. What to take first? Leave the children, aged 2, 4 and 7, in the garage and take the grocery bags first? Or take the children first, leave them in the kitchen on their own, and then go down and pick up bags and groceries? Then add grandma into the mix – she lives with them and wants to join them for lunch on the roof terrace and admire the children’s creations, but needs sticks or a wheelchair to get around. These daily challenges just disappear if they have a home lift. And this key to modern, multi-generational living has evolved from an industrial eyesore to become an elegant, customised piece of furniture.

In recent decades we have all become more design-aware, so it’s no surprise that when consumers purchase a home lift, aesthetics are a top priority, trumping price, reliability and speed. Top designers have transformed the home lift from a functional steel box into a glass cube crafted from sheets of scratch-proof acrylic that’s an unobtrusive design statement. Customisation has become key to courting consumers, so LED lighting should be adjustable to suit a mood – a soft, white glow for an intimate dinner, or a hot pink shaft of light for a party. Every plane of the lift should offer opportunities for personalisation, from bespoke flooring to a back wall which can be clad in mirrored glass, a graphic artwork, or oversized photography to suit the interiors of the customer’s home. 

Good design should extend beyond aesthetics and embrace functionality, and look to  ergonomic design solutions found in the car industry and home electronics. Why have clunky buttons when you can have intuitive handles, knobs and touchscreens? And with smart homes already a reality, the lift should be controlled via a smartphone app. No-one wants a noisy, rattly lift in their living room, so it needs to glide up and down silently, and it should account for limited floor space with double doors that take up minimal space.  Why use a steel structure when aluminium is stronger and lighter? And just as customers don’t want to see the mechanics of their home, they don’t want to see screws and fixings which need to be hidden away.

As children will play in and around a lift in a multi-generational home, safety is critical. A lift’s control panel needs a child lock and built-in ‘collision intelligence’ which senses tiny fingers and feet and prevents doors from closing. Unexpected power cuts should never risk home-owners being stranded in a lift, so back-up batteries and an alarm system linked to mobile phones are essential, and it needs an emergency exit for a worst-case scenario. Belt-driven lifts can occasionally fail and fall, but those designed with a screw and nut system are safer as they will simply stop.

This screw and nut system is a better option for the developer too, as the gearless motor is contained within the shaft – installation is simple, no machine room is required, and it fits into a smaller footprint. In the long-term, maintenance nightmares need to be minimized, so builders need to keep an eye on the longevity of any home lift. Technology that can be updated remotely, self-lubricating parts and corrosion-resistant coatings will cut engineer call-outs, and a home lift that lasts longer has a smaller carbon footprint.

In the near future, consumers will demand transparency around all aspects of sustainability for every product they purchase, from the carbon emissions and recyclability of component parts to packaging and distribution – and home lifts are no exception. A home lift needs to be a design statement that’s safe and easy to install and maintain, but it also needs to do its bit to secure a future for our planet as well as the future of generations to come.

David Schill is marketing director of Aritco Lifts