Unless your home resembles the retro-futuristic utopia of "The Jetsons," incorporating today's sleek must-have electronics can be a conundrum. Flat-panel televisions, universal remotes, MP3 players, and personal digital assistants are all meant to make life easier and more pleasurable, but the cutting-edge monitors, printers, and cable boxes they require can be visually jarring. What's more, we may live in a wireless age, but most of the machines we use to stay connected require frequent recharging, so you can end up with unsightly tangles of cords throughout the house.
There are clever and stylish ways to conceal it all, however, without resorting to a haphazard arrangement stuck away in some inaccessible closet. Rather, your favorite piece of furniture or built-in can be retrofitted with glides, lifts, or swing arms that let you hide your electronics in plain sight -- inside, underneath, and behind cabinets, drawers, and doors that fit seamlessly into a room's decor. Such mechanisms also impart a bit of Jetsonian convenience: Keyboards slide away effortlessly, flat panels pop up quietly, monitors flip down and rotate conveniently, and doors glide open and closed smoothly.
A monitor mounted under a kitchen cabinet, for example, lets you cook alongside your favorite television chef or Internet recipe. Then, with the push of a finger, it disappears. An entire entertainment center can be housed within a single cabinet. A trio of bookcases fitted with a sliding panel lets you close the office "door" when work is done. And, perhaps closest to one of George and Judy's robotic contraptions, a flat-panel television rises up out of a linen cabinet with the press of a button.
See all our tips in our photo gallery, or browse below for a specific idea.
The flat panel pulls down easily from its horizontal position under the cabinet. A fist-size swing-arm mount not only holds it in place but also hides cables and hardware and allows the screen to be rotated easily.
A wireless keyboard and mouse are housed in a drawer retrofitted with hinges and glides on both sides. When the drawer is closed and the screen is flipped out of sight, above, there is no evidence of any electronics.
The monitor connects to a laptop and a cable box that are placed in the closed cabinet above the counter, permitting television and Internet access and the screening of DVDs.
Consolidating all of your electronics in one custom cabinet keeps the room uncluttered. Linen panels conceal the flat-panel television when it's not in use.
Holes in the back panel of the lower cabinet prevent overheating, even when doors are closed.
Universal Touch-Screen Remote
This device, which operates many electronics, eliminates the confusion of having several remotes. A receiver in the top of the cabinet picks up the device's infrared signal and passes it to the components below, even from a distance of 50 feet.
They need to be exposed, but in-wall versions can be painted to match a room's wall color and some bookshelf speakers can be fitted with grates in coordinating colors.
Accessibility is important, so the strip is turned so that the plugs are facing forward. Printed labels identify each plug, and a built-in line conditioner prevents power surges.
A pullout shelf accommodates a laptop. A wireless printer/scanner/copier is set on an acrylic riser to provide storage for paper. The stool fits in next to the printer.
A dual-mode phone accommodates landline and Internet calls.
A recharging hub is crafted from two hinged boxes. A power strip is anchored inside the bottom box with Velcro fasteners. Cords are threaded through grommets to the top box, where cord hooks hold each device in place. The box is left open when recharging to avoid heat buildup.
A printer, a Web camera, a USB memory stick, and an external hard drive can all be plugged into a hub, which can connect all the devices to the laptop wirelessly, minimizing the number of cables and allowing the devices to be operated from anywhere in the house.
It is the room where serenity reigns supreme, so visible high-tech toys can be especially disconcerting. Ventilation for items hidden behind closed doors is key. The solid wooden door on the bedside table was replaced with caning so that air can circulate inside the cabinet.
A linen cupboard is fitted with a hydraulic lift that allows a flat panel to pop up from the back of it with the push of a button. The television is enclosed in a case, the top of which becomes part of the cupboard's surface when the television is lowered. Yet there is still room inside the cabinet to store sheets and towels.
Alarm Clock and Speakers
An MP3 alarm clock lets you wake each morning to your favorite song.
The bedside cabinet holds a DVD player, a cable box with a built-in DVR, and a wireless transmitter, which sends video to any television or computer in your home.
In the best of all possible high-tech worlds, you would have access to audio or video in any room in the house at the touch of a button. Now you can -- that's where whole-home systems come in.
Find an installer who has been certified by the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association. Tour some of his installations before signing a contract.
Audio-Video Equipment Rack
Designate a closet to house all of your audio and video gear, including your cable box, digital video recorder, and stereo receiver. The space needs to be properly ventilated and should have broadband access.
Wiring and Conduits
Audio and video components need to be connected to the speakers and television in each room. The best solution is to use wires that travel through conduits to each room. If you are renovating or building a new home, have conduits put in, even if you don't plan to install a whole-home system immediately.
Rather than using infrared signals, these systems employ a radio-frequency remote, which can relay commands even through solid walls.