Aesthetics Versus Efficiency
Rod Hamilton, chairman of Hamilton Litestat
3 September 2010
The balance between look and efficiency has been a debate in the electrical wiring accessory industry ever since saving energy started becoming a consumer concern. Hamilton was one of the first companies to introduce the dimmer into the UK in the late 1960s when it was considered revolutionary technology that would save energy and allow new control over lighting. But 40 years on, fashions and light sources are changing; dimmers are expected to incorporate features including soft start to prolong lamp life, overload and over temperature protection, multi position control and scene setting, with premium end specifiers demanding completely co-ordinated interiors.
Buoyant top end market
Sales of Hamilton's intelligent Digital Mercury lighting control system, one of our most premium products typically used in luxury homes and commercial projects, have been strong in 2009, boosted by the news that private housing starts rose 73% between April and June 2009*. It seems that despite the recession, specifiers are still spending money on premium finishes and systems. This is also apparent in the hospitality industry where pre-Olympic building programmes (20,000 three - five star hotel rooms will be built in London by 2012**) are also impacting on the fast growing sales of our energy saving card switch, which can be fitted into any of Hamilton's plate finishes.
However, although the market for sophisticated, efficient lighting controls is healthy, specifiers are demanding ever more luxurious fixtures to match, with 'look' taking priority. As suppliers, the challenge is to make aesthetically desirable products that have the green functionality to appeal to those for whom this is important. One solution is bespoke products - a route the industry may need to take more often as new energy saving trends infiltrate the market. Few electrical wiring accessory companies manufacture their own lighting control systems and the most up-to-the-minute green technology may be sourced from specialist third parties and integrated into in-house systems tailored to the required efficiency level.
A key driver in Hamilton's new product development is fashion. From cutting edge interiors to audiovisual products, we keep a keen eye on emerging trends from international design hubs - the development of our piano black finish echoes the black mirror surround of HD TVs. Our new range of door furniture, Perfect Partners, is available in the same finishes as our lighting controls, switch plates and sockets and was developed to meet the demand for co-ordinated finishes in luxury interiors.
Another industry-wide trend that continues to grow is polished chrome. However, this look has infiltrated the middle and lower ends of the market, forcing operators at the premium end to innovate designs that are different. One way Hamilton has done this is to develop switch plates and sockets with concealed fixings like our Linea CFX, Hartland CFX and Sheer CFX ranges, which feature completely smooth, pared down profiles. Chrome is a notoriously difficult material to work with but suppliers must meet the demand for fashionable finishes. In fact, natural materials are the easiest to work with and stripped back wood finishes are showing signs of a mini resurgence, particularly in the residential and self build markets where consumers can firstly get a stylish look and secondly, add another 'green' dimension to their homes, especially if the wood is from a sustainable source.
Premium interiors aren't solely the domain of contemporary design however, and the demand for quality products suitable for period renovations and new builds remains steady. Rebecca and Jim Constantine are building a 6,000 square foot six-bedroom, five-bathroom Georgian style home near Milton Keynes, which is being documented for Channel 5's Build a New Life in the Country. When specifying switches plates and sockets, the Constantines approached Hamilton having seen the products in Rebecca's mother's home. Due to the period style of the property the Cheriton range was chosen; its traditional designs will feature in chrome, steel and brass in various sections of the property.
In summary, the premium lighting controls and accessories market must continue to innovate and refresh the 'look', as this is the main influence on choice. However, it would be foolish not to keep our fingers on the pulse of emerging energy saving trends. In June 2009, Housing Minister John Healey proposed changes to Part L of building regulations which will introduce a 25% improvement on current standards of energy efficiency of both homes and commercial buildings from October 2010, and it remains to be seen whether measures like this will finally tip the balance in favour of energy efficiency.
*source: Housebuilding June Quarter 2009, Communities and Local Government (CLG)
The luxury and award-winning spa hotel at Lancashire’s five-star Ribby Hall Village recently celebrated its first birthday, having served 2,500 afternoon teas, massaged over 7,000 backs, welcomed 15,000 guests and celebrities and manicured 91,250 nails over the past year – all lit, powered and connected with the help of electrical wiring accessories from Hamilton Litestat.