Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Reinventing the Thermostat

When my mother replaced her furnace eight years ago, she begged the HVAC guy to let her keep her old thermostat. After all, it wasn’t just any thermostat: it was a vintage 1950s Honeywell Round, designed by Henry Dreyfuss, and likely installed when the house was built. If you grew up in an old house before the 1980s, the Round is a thermostat, in the same way the brown-marbleized box of Kleenex is tissues. Sad to say, the Round was incomptible with her contemporary heating system, and now she has a white textured-plastic box, with tiny buttons and a digital readout.

These plastic boxes, today’s generic, were and are multiple steps backward. And someone finally noticed: former iPod hardware designer Tony Fadell, who created a new company to produce the Nest. A round thermostat, 60 years later and, at $250, unlikely to ever become the new Kleenex.