June 26, 2014 5:53 AM EDT

I live in a dumb house. Which is not to say that I don’t love its quirky charm, its drafty windows and leaky fireplaces and an electrical system that protests when too many people are trying to vacuum and microwave at the same time. But charm is not always user-friendly.

It can be, however, which I learned while watching senior editor Dan Macsai, along with senior photo editor Natalie Matutschovsky and designer Chelsea Kardokus, assemble this week’s special issue on the smarter home. The profiles of companies such as Nest and SmartThings preview what our homes will be able to do as they become increasingly alive and alert to our needs, safety and convenience. But our definitions of smart transcend gadgetry, as our reporters explore what is changing in design and planning as well as in technology and efficiency.

“To those whose homes have been repossessed or flooded or destroyed by a hurricane, the idea of Bluetooth-enabled toothbrushes and touchscreen refrigerators probably seems kind of ridiculous,” notes Dan. So this issue goes beyond comfort to look at how homes can solve urgent problems in fascinating ways. We explore the floating homes in Amsterdam, built as a model for cities with rising sea levels, and an apartment complex in Milan whose balconies house a forest’s worth of plant life to improve air quality. We show how a well-designed house can help a disabled veteran or a family displaced by a storm and how a community in Austin is tracking every watt of energy it uses, so the rest of us can learn to lower our electricity bills. In design as in life, smart can also mean wise, kind, inspiring–and cost-effective. And that has a charm all its own.



This surprising color photograph of a French soldier was taken during World War I sometime around 1915. The vibrant blues and greens are the result of an early, experimental color-photography technique called autochrome lumière, which involved adding natural color to a glass negative. For other color images from World War I, which began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand 100 years ago this summer, visit lightbox.time.com.


Since the late 1990s, photographer Lori Nix (left, with colleague Kathleen Gerber) has constructed dioramas and photographed the results. Nix and Gerber spent more than 120 hours working on the diorama used for our cover. Everything (except the model car and plants) was handmade or modified by the duo. For a behind-the-scenes video showing how they did it, go to time.com/smarthome.


Doughnut down! If you scoop it up quickly and beat the five-second rule, is it safe to eat? With You Asked, a new weekly series, we’ll have experts answer your awkward, burning health questions. Look for it online every Wednesday, and you can reach us on Twitter @TIMEHealth.

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This appears in the July 07, 2014 issue of TIME.

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