May 01, 2007
| by Lisa Montgomery
There’s a common understanding in the home systems design and installation business: If you can get involved in a project before a home’s blueprints have been drawn up, you’re golden. During the planning phase, a home systems professional is able to visualize the layout of wiring, entertainment cabinets, speakers and storage nooks for electronic components. More important, he can collaborate with the builder, architect, interior designer and other tradespeople to ensure that the technologies he’s chosen will suit the overall plan for the residence. Working together, the team is able to concentrate on the home as one complete package rather than as several separate, disjointed parts. In the end, the team is able to integrate the electronic equipment into the home so well it goes nearly unnoticed yet enhances the living environment in amazing ways.
The owners of this gold-winning Home of the Year were fortunate to have such a fabulous team on their side. “The builder and the interior designer wholly embraced the idea of having technology in the home,” says John Baumeister, president of Baumeister Electronic Architects of Niles, IL.
“They understood how technology could be used to make the house more livable and more beautiful, and that’s not something that typically happens.” What made this project even more special is the fact that the design and building firm, Metzler-Hull Development, of Chicago, IL, and the interior designer, Shea Soucie of Soucie Horner, also of Chicago, actually thought of technologies like flat-panel TVs and touchscreens as design elements. The result is a four-level, 10,000 square-foot house brimming with high-tech conveniences that not only make the house highly livable and comfortable for the family of six but also enhance the home’s visual style. “It wasn’t enough just to hang a plasma TV on the wall,” explains Baumeister. “The architect designed a frame to put around it to give it some style.” In-wall touchpanels were also given this special touch.
Millwork was constructed to house a TV in the master bathroom, and in the lower-level home theater, the interior designer chose fabric wall panels that would not only hide the gear but also follow the same clean, understated design found in the rest of the house.
Synergy between technology and design is also expressed in the way the rooms are laid out. The first floor, which combines a kitchen, family room and living room, is meant to encourage family gatherings. The lower level serves as a fun getaway for the family, complete with a dedicated home theater and basketball court. The second floor is devoted exclusively to the children and features four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a laundry room and a large college-style dorm room, complete with networked computers, a library and large desks that the kids can use to spread out their homework. There’s a sanctuary for the parents and guests on the top floor, where big-screen TVs and a well-appointed home gym offer a private place to rejuvenate.
In keeping with the special room arrangement, Baumeister Electronic Architects and Soucie Horner chose electronic systems that would complement each floor’s unique personality. On the family-focused first floor, for example, the team incorporated flat-panel TVs, speakers and controls that would provide plenty of entertainment options for parties yet wouldn’t make guests feel as if they had stepped into a high-tech laboratory. Wall-mounted plasma TVs seemed too contemporary for the homey, casual decor, so Soucie instead chose custom cabinetry for all the first-floor flat-panel TVs.
The 61-inch Runco plasma TV in the family room, for example, sits above a custom-built cabinet. Attached to a swivel mount, the set can be rotated toward the kitchen while the kids are fixing a snack or aimed at the built-in desk where Mom pays the bills and answers emails. The TV is complemented by a full 5.1 surround-sound system, but only the two rear SpeakerCraft speakers were built into the ceiling. For the front speakers, Baumeister attached a custom-made Artison speaker housing to the frame of the Runco display that matches the width and color of the TV bezel. Bookshelf speakers were used in other areas of the house.
Remarkably, the only other noticeable pieces of electronics on the first floor are a couple of small portable Crestron touchpanels. The devices can summon audio and video from a bevy of components located in a special equipment closet in the lower level. (The closet is ventilated and air-conditioned to prevent the equipment from overheating and was constructed by the builder specifically for housing the electronic gear.)
From a Crestron touchpanel, the family has full access to and control over several high-definition satellite receivers and TiVo receivers, as well as the DVD player in the theater. “The family especially enjoys having multiple TiVo units,” notes Baumeister senior design consultant John Brisk. “Mom and Dad can use one to record their shows, and the kids each have one for their own shows.” Another of Mom and Dad’s favorite features is being able to finish a movie that was playing in the downstairs theater in their third-floor master bedroom. The Crestron ML-500 remote and video distribution system do all the work with one touch.
The Crestron whole-house music system also caters to each family member’s entertainment preferences. Different songs can be played in different areas simultaneously, which lets the kids, Mom and Dad listen to whatever they want, wherever they want without distracting one another, and without black boxes visible in any room. Special soundproofing construction techniques were employed to ensure that no matter where the kids are hanging out, their music won’t drift into other rooms of the house. There are plenty of outdoor listening zones to enjoy, too, thanks to weatherproof speakers discreetly located on the deck and under the eaves.
Cool Command Stations
The portable touchpanels are a handy way to bring movies to the first floor (and beyond), but for serious home control, the family heads to the kitchen, where a wall-mounted Creston touchscreen invites them to view and play the titles in their music library, adjust any and all lights, set up the security system, open and close motorized window shades, view real-time images captured by a surveillance camera, and use the touchscreen’s intercom.
The kitchen is just one of many rooms outfitted with a Crestron touchscreen. More than a dozen of these interactive, full-color controllers are peppered throughout the residence. Some have been mounted permanently to the walls, while others can be carried from room to room. The touchscreens are excellent tools for managing the entire house, but the homeowners can also use them for local control over components within a particular room. For example, from the touchscreen in the bathroom, the owners can set the intensity of the vanity lights, close the shades and turn on the exhaust fan. “For each room, we incorporated as many individual controls as we could onto the touchscreen to minimize the number of individual switches on the wall,” says Brisk.
From the ground floor up, our Home of the Year boasts scads of controls, speakers and TVs, but they’ve been purposely designed and installed with restraint. It’s all there, but it’s very unobtrusive. The basement is another story, however. There, the homeowners created a spectacular home theater centered around a 119-inch Da-Lite screen and Runco three-chip DLP projector. The ceiling-mounted projector can pull content from the TiVo receivers, high-def satellite receivers or the Lexicon DVD player.
A 7.2 surround-sound system includes high-performance Triad speakers and subwoofers, along with a Lexicon processor and amplifier. One touch of a button on a portable Crestron touchpanel puts the system in motion, synchronously dimming the lights, powering up the projector and sound system, and prompting the family to pick a video source—be it a movie in the DVD player, a show stored on one of the TiVo units, or a ball game on one of the satellite receivers.
Synergy at Work
The technology in our Home of the Year provides amazing convenience and comfort, while adding beauty to the design of the home. Architecture, interior design and technology have come together in this multilevel abode to create an environment that’s truly unique.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.