Museum of Science and Industry debuts revamped Smart Home

2012-05-24T00:00:00Z 2012-05-24T18:12:35Z Museum of Science and Industry debuts revamped Smart HomeBy Lauri Harvey Keagle, (219) 852-4311

On the surface, the design elements of The Museum of Science and Industry's Smart Home exhibit are urban retro chic, with sleek industrial lines and vintage objects blending with state-of-the-art technology.

But beneath the concrete counter tops, vintage tin robot toys and mirrors that double as touch-screen tablets, lies a history deeply rooted in the Hoosier homeland.

"The whole project started when the museum celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2008," said Anne Rashford, director of temporary exhibits and events. "We were looking for a temporary exhibit to honor the museum's history."

Rashford said around the same time, she read an article about a green home exhibit profiling residential architects, including Michelle Kaufmann of Michelle Kaufmann Designs.

"We thought wow, we could actually build a house," Rashford said. "With the 1933 World's Fair, the Century of Progress homes were one of the most popular exhibits at the fair."

The five homes built for the world's fair were intended to showcase what homes of the future would feature, including air conditioning and solar heating. After the fair, the exhibits were transported by barge to Beverly Shores. The homes still stand on what is now Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore property.

"It seemed like a great way to honor our history while looking toward the future," Rashford said of building the Smart Home.

The house is 1,900 square feet but it is actually a total of 2,500 square feet because of the five decks on the home. The museum originally paid $171,000 for the home and work, but the final cost was around $500,000, Rashford said.

The oak trees on the property date back to the 1893 Columbian Exhibition World's Fair.

"Two years ago, one oak tree was uprooted in a microburst, but we used the wood to make a dining room table and other pieces in the collection," Rashford said. "The one condition we had when we were building was that they couldn't touch the oak trees and that we wanted something that would fit on a standard city lot."

The modular home was built by All American Homes of Decatur, Ind. The solar panels on the home are unisolar and came from technology developed in South Bend.

"They work well on gray days as well as under 7 inches of snow," Rashford said.

The home was originally intended to be a one-year exhibit honoring the museum's 75th anniversary, but was so popular, the museum decided to keep it and update it every year. This year, the home's furnishings were designed by Scout in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood, with technology provided by Gizmodo.

"When we first started, many of the companies already had partnerships with our architect," Rashford said. "It's more mainstream now and we're able to work with more Chicago companies which we're thrilled to partner with."

Many of the interiors are found or repurposed objects such as a card catalogue cabinet from the Field Museum, lab cabinets from the University of Chicago and art made from wood from Chicago porches.

New to the home's decor this year is the introduction of items not coming strictly from a reused or recycled material.

"Not everyone will want things to be hand-me-down," Rashford said. "If they buy new items, but items made from smart, recyclable materials, that is a good option, too."

To that end, chairs in the living room are upholstered in a faux leather made from recycled plastic bottles. The dining room table is made of reclaimed wood, but the aluminum seats were purchased new.

The home features a host of energy-saving, eco-friendly elements, including a wind turbine on the property, solar panels and automatic blinds allowing natural light into the home.

"In real time, it monitors how much energy is being produced by the wind turbine and solar panels," Rashford said. "We do produce additional energy that goes into the museum's grid."

Determining the energy offset by the home's green efforts is difficult, Rashford said, because no one lives in the home and uses it as a family would with energy and water use.

The mirrors are smart mirrors and allow the homeowner to check email, the weather, etc., all while brushing their teeth, drying their hair or applying makeup in the morning.

The home's wood flooring is commercial-grade bamboo.

"We've had almost 400,000 visitors through the home in all types of Chicago weather and it has held up beautifully," Rashford said.

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