Milan 2016: Italian design studio Tipic has created a smart kitchen countertop that integrates various interactive functions including a sink that appears out of the surface with a simple gesture (+ movie).
Unveiled last week at Eurocucina, the bi-annual kitchen event at the Salone del Mobile furniture show in Milan, Tipic's Tulèr kitchen for Offmat features a counter made from a quartz composite that has a number of technologies built into the stone.
Conceived as a laboratory-like work bench, the counter includes a sink with a base that sits flush with the top when not in use to make it seem like part of the surface.
A motion sensor is embedded under the surface of the stone, and is activated by waving a hand over it. This triggers the base to lower via a piston mechanism and the tap to activate automatically. Further gestures can be used to control the temperature and flow of the water.
"We thought about a basin that could be flat, that you can work on, and then with sensors inside the marble or quartz, with a simple gesture of your hand like magic the top opens and you have a sink," said Tipic co-founder Tommaso Corà.
"So you have not to touch anything, it's very clean, it's very natural, and it's something a bit new but with existing technology."
Also embedded into the worktop is a kitchen scale that uses pressure sensors to weigh ingredients. This is visible as an area of the stone surface with a ring of light around it – the light turns blue and then red in increments to show weights of up to two kilograms.
The designers hope to connect this device to a recipe app in later versions, to replicate ingredient measurements to the gram.
A smaller circle indicates a wireless charging station for a phone or tablet.
Tipic said the design could be a glimpse of the future of the kitchen, although most brands are not willing to invest in the "risk of researching something new".
"The idea was to push the system and what you know in the kitchen now, but not make something so strange it gives an unnatural feeling to the kitchen," said Corà of the Tulèr kitchen.
"There are sensors, but it's not so futuristic. The new thing is to put the elements together. And we will find other solutions, this is just the beginning."
Swedish-German design studio Kram/Weisshaar has also been investigating the potential for smart kitchen surfaces.
Its razor-thin SmartSlab table for Iris Ceramica, also unveiled during Milan design week, has hidden circuitry underneath its ceramic top, so you can cook dinner and keep plates warm and drinks cold while you dine.
Like SmartSlab, Tulèr could also have induction rings embedded into the surface for cooking, although the designers have not quite finalised this element.
"We are studying the right stones that can receive the magnetic power of induction and also have no problems with the temperature of the pot," said Corà, "because induction is not hot but when you cook the pot gives the heat to the stone."
The wiring and computer systems required to make each sensor work and generate a response are concealed within the counter, which is supported on slim metal trestle-style legs, and a column underneath the sink also provides drainage.
Tulèr was created for Offmat, a new kitchen research brand launched by Tipic and communications agency Display for marble and stone company Marmo Arredo, which also owns the Quartzforms company in Germany.
Tipic started working with the company initially to develop new composite quartz materials that offered different qualities and colours instead of just trying to mimic natural stone. The Tulèr kitchen is a development of this research.
Other parts of the kitchen also have small elements of technology integrated into them, like robotic closing and opening mechanisms on the drawers, but the designers are focusing on the counter.
"The counter is where you have the most interaction during your presence in the kitchen, and also is the part of the kitchen that needs the most impressive technical skills because it has to be resistant to water, to aggressive agents when you wash it, when you cook, when you cut, so this is our focus," said Corà.
Tipic was founded this year by Italian designers Tommaso Corà and Paolo Festa. Corà was previously director of research for Cibic Workshop, an Italian design studio run by Aldo Cibic, and Festa worked for Italian kitchen brand Arclinea and designer Antonio Citterio.
Two working prototypes of the Tulèr kitchen were on display at Eurocucina from 12 to 17 April, and the brand plans to make the designs available commercially before the end of 2016.