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dwellings, circa 1998. The places we'll live in during the next decade, and beyond. THE HOME: FAMILIAR [ cf. THE HOUSE: SMART ]

THE house of the future may be an electronic marvel, but it will probably look much like the comfy place we now call home. Interviews with prominent designers, futurists, and housing experts indicate that the homes of future decades will change substantially, thanks to new building materials, new electronics, and new life styles. Those changes, however, will be manifest in subtle ways and over time. They should result in homes that take care of themselves so they can take care of us, according to futurist Selwyn Enzer - not in the sterile, cavelike monstrosities of science fiction movies.

For instance, while ``Megatrends'' author John Naisbitt notes that houses of the future will be ``smaller and smarter,'' his wife and collaborator, Patricia Aburdene, says the design challenge will be to integrate an increasing amount of electronic equipment with our familiar furnishings.

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``We will not only need to house it, but hide it from constant view,'' Mr. Naisbitt said in a recent interview. ``I think we will see a high-touch countertrend that will take us to softer interior-furnishings materials. The emergence of the quilt bespeaks to me the modern day counterbalance between high-tech and high-touch.''

Ms. Aburdene foresees a Japanese influence in our homes. ``The visual purity of Japanese styles may seem to symbolize the 21st century, because it represents extraordinary serenity. We will personalize these more austere spaces through our choices in art and fine handcrafted objects.''

These touches will soften a home in which electronic features will grow like kudzo.

Edward Cornish, president of the World Future Society in Bethesda, Md., expects that very soon no home will be complete without a huge TV screen, huge freezer, microwave oven, computer, and compact disc player. He foresees a more stay-at-home society in which the combination luxury bathroom and fitness spa will have top status, and kitchens will become less important as people eat out more. He sees the kitchen and dining rooms melding into a single living room, or ``great room.'' There may be a media room to house electronic gear, particularly as more people communicate with their workplaces, instead of commuting to them.

The home ``will be an information-rich environment,'' says Mr. Enzer, a futurist at the University of Southern California. This development promises to have a profound impact on housing patterns and styles.

``We already see millions of people doing some of their work at home, and this trend will continue and increase,'' says futurist Alvin Toffler, who coined the term ``electronic cottage.'' He envisions a housing revolution that will make radically different materials available in years to come.

``We are seeing the invention of all kinds of new adhesives and new composites that have incredible properties,'' Mr. Toffler said in a phone interview. Some adventurous people, he says, ``will move away from today's standard architectural norm, toward some strange-looking structures made of strange materials with odd tactile qualities.

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``If you allow your mind to contemplate such a revolutionary development, then all kinds of other house forms could become possible.''

Mr. Cornish says space-age industrialization in the early years of the 21st century will yield ultrastrong materials for lightweight but very strong housing structures. He adds that as factory-built ``kit'' houses become more common, it will be simpler and cheaper in the future to simply replace a house part, by ordering the component from the factory, rather than repairing it.

Jerry Epperson, research analyst of home furnishings trends for Wheat, First Securities, Richmond, Va., predicts a possible glut of larger homes on the market. As the children of today's baby-boomers grow up and leave home, he notes, both empty-nester boomers and their newlywed children will seek smaller, smarter homes.

An aging population will require a rethinking of architecture, says Toffler - perhaps producing more apartments or condos, some with small, self-contained studio apartments next door for a housekeeper, companion, or attendant. Such a dual arrangement, with an adjoining door, would give accessibility but also privacy to each occupant.

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