“Yes, I’m a gadget guy,” admits Marc Pinto. His home in Castle Rock, CO, is a testament to his obsession with all things electronic. In his family room, Marc proudly shows off a huge world map peppered with pinpricks of light. The dots are actually the ends of fiber optic cabling that Marc has poked through the map material to show each of the 150 or so places he has visited.
In other rooms, it’s tougher to understand the real purpose of Marc’s beloved gadgets. Take the strobe light in the workout room. No, Marc and his girlfriend, Brooke Martellaro, aren’t disco dancing in their downtime. The strobe is used to tell Brooke when to pick up the phone while she’s working out.
“One of my pet peeves was when I would call Brooke to see if I should pick up any groceries on my way home from work, and she wouldn’t answer the phone,” Marc relates. “Most of the time it meant that she was on the treadmill with her head-phones on.” The strobe light nips that problem in the bud by flashing whenever the phone rings. It’s up to Brooke to decide whether to answer or not.
The kitchen harbors a couple of curious-looking lights as well. Two small LEDs (light emitting diodes)—one green and one red—sit in the wall next to the refrigerator. When the green light is on, Marc knows that the dog door is shut, a relief when he wants to keep his “girls,” River and Meko, away from the muddy yard. The red light, meanwhile, tells the couple that they forgot to shut the garage door.
There’s a similar setup in Marc’s home office. This LED shines whenever Marc receives a fax. Because the fax machine stays hidden in a closet, the alternative would have been to open the closet door continually to check for a fax. “Honestly, I’m not a prima donna,” Marc vows. “I’d just rather be able to walk by and know a fax is there without having to open the door.”
A Practical Approach
When it comes down to it, most of the gadgets in Marc and Brooke’s home are really quite practical. “We were really focused when building this home on what made sense,” Marc says “and not having gadgets just for the sake of having gadgets.” That’s an admirable statement coming from a technology enthusiast like Marc. To make sure he stayed true to that sentiment, he enlisted the help of a professional home systems installer, Robert Ridenour of Connected Technologies in Colorado Springs, CO.
“I went to see Marc at 9 a.m. on a Sunday, and all we did was talk about technology until 6 p.m.,” Robert recalls. Much of the discussion centered around Marc and Brooke’s daily rituals. “We tried to think of things that we would be doing repetitively in the new house and come up with solutions that would allow the house to do those things for us instead,” explains Marc.
For example, the special lights that Robert suggested for the gym, kitchen and office ended up helping the homeowners with dog duty, grocery getting and fax finding, and each cost just a few hundred dollars to implement. “That’s what I liked about Robert,” says Marc. “He was not looking to jack up the price by doing the fanciest things for us.”
Putting the House in Charge
Considering the fact that their home would have more than 500 lights and several sun-soaked east- and west-facing windows, Marc and Brooke decided to hand over the command of the fixtures and the motorized window blinds to a control system. Robert recommended the Lutron HomeWorks Interactive system for the job. It would completely eliminate the task of manually switching the lights and adjusting the position of the blinds.
Instead, the fixtures and blinds would respond according to conditions such as the time of day and what the homeowners were doing at the time. For example, during the day, the HomeWorks system sets the lights differently than at night. Should the couple host a dinner party, it would adjust the intensity of a few key fixtures to make the house look its most elegant.
Then, from a Elan Via! keypad in the dining room, Brooke could select the number of guests that will be seated around the eight-person table. If four people are expected, the system turns on four of the recessed lights above the table. Each light shines directly onto a place setting. Two additional lights accent the centerpiece.
The window blinds, meanwhile, open and close according to the position of the sun. A half hour before sunrise, the blinds on the east side of the master bedroom lower to completely block out the sun so that the couple can catch a little more sleep. In the family room, the blinds on the west-facing windows follow a different schedule, closing incrementally three hours, two hours and one hour before sunset to keep the room from overheating. As soon as the sun sets, the blinds pop back up.
Sure, the automated lights and blinds are practical and save the couple a lot of time, but they also create ambience. With the shades shut and the lights soft, their home becomes a favorite place to socialize and relax with friends. Complementing the scenery is a Niles Audio ZR-4630 whole-house music system that delivers tunes to any room of the house from a 300-disc CD changer and an AM/FM tuner. It’s a slick system but one that the homeowners admit that they use only on special occasions. Their passion, it seems, is video.
“I’m definitely more of a videophile than an audiophile,” Marc says. So he spared no expense when it came to purchasing TVs for his home. Even the guest bedroom received an awesome 42-inch plasma TV. Another plasma—this one a 50-inch Pioneer Elite—hangs on the wall in the master bedroom, while the great room received the biggest plasma of all, a 61-inch Sony Wega XBR.
Each plasma set has its own high-definition satellite receiver, DVD player and audio equipment, but you’d never know it. The gear is virtually unnoticeable, having been tucked inside wall niches that were specially constructed by Connected Technologies.
The home has a couple of LCD TVs as well. They aren’t as large as the plasmas, but they are ideal for smaller spaces like the home office and the master bathroom. The set in the bathroom sits behind a two-way mirror above the vanity so that it takes up no wall or counter space. When the TV is on, Marc and Brooke can clearly see the picture through the mirror.
Last but not least, Robert placed a 27-inch tube TV on the deck. Columns were built around the set to help it blend in with the architecture and protect it from the outdoor elements.
No matter how well these TVs perform, however, they will never outdo the system in Marc and Brooke’s award-winning home theater. There, a Sony G-90 video projector spills bright, vivid images onto a 110-inch Da-Lite screen. “We found one of the last G-90s in the country for this theater,” says Robert. “It’s arguably the finest projector ever made.” Marc paid a pretty penny for video perfection—around $30,000—but he wouldn’t trade the commercial-grade 9-inch CRT (cathode ray tube) projector for anything else.
Plus, with Robert’s help, Marc was able to cut costs in other areas. For example, instead of using pricey acoustical treatments to improve the sound, Robert had his best friend, a professional upholsterer, cover the side and rear walls with foam backing and fabric. “It’s not perfect,” says Robert, “but it’s much, much better than leaving the walls bare.”
Marc and Brooke also saved by selecting a Philips Pronto remote instead of a huge touchscreen to operate the theater gear. With the help of a Niles IntelliControl system, the handheld remote provides all the buttons the couple needs but at less than half the price. Rounding out the home theater is a Faroudja line processor, a Fosgate Audionics surround-sound processor, an Atlantic Technology multichannel amplifier and speakers and two Atlantic Technology subwoofers.
They are all good products and fine for someone like Marc who cares more about video quality than audio quality, says Robert, but they are certainly no match price- or performance-wise for the projector. In the end, Marc and Brooke spent less than $130,000 for a home theater that could have easily cost them $200,000.
It’s easy to overdo it when it comes to purchasing electronic products for your home, and Marc is no exception. He has bought his share of web tablets and remote controls, some of which eventually wound up stuffed inside a kitchen drawer. So when it came time to integrate electronic systems into his new house, he wasn’t about to make the same mistake.
By working with a professional home systems installer, he and Brooke took the time to determine which amenities they couldn’t live without—like video—and those that mattered less—like music. Their budget was allocated accordingly, with most of it going toward the video projector and flat-screen TVs and less of it going to the whole-house music system, speakers and remote controls. In the end, the couple got exactly what they wanted, without spending any more than they had to.
Breaking it Down
Cost Cutting Remote - It may not have the eye appeal of a fancy touchscreen, but the Pronto Pro suits the needs of homeowners Marc Pinto and Brooke Martellaro just fine. With the remote, they can operate every component of their killer home theater with ease—at half the price of a touchscreen arrangement.
Wall Fabric - Ordinary fabric, which was applied to 1-inch foam backing on the walls of the theater, helps improve the room acoustics. The couple chose a wheat color to complement their existing furniture.
Candid Camera - Four surveillance cameras help Marc and Brooke keep an eye on their two golden retrievers, River and Meko, while they are at work or traveling. They can view the cameras in real time from any Internet-connected computer, cell phone or PDA.
Sunblock SPF 100 - Marc and Brooke hung motorized shades on their home’s east- and west-facing windows. The window treatments raise and lower automatically to mitigate heat gain and keep out the sunlight while the couple is sleeping.
Having hired Connected Technologies to design a home theater for their previous home, Marc Pinto and Brooke Martellaro were extremely comfortable working with the firm again on their new house. They called the company as soon as they had purchased the lot.
14 Months - During the initial phase of construction, Connected Technologies met several times with the homeowners, the electrician, the lighting designer, the interior designer and the cabinetmaker to discuss what kinds of electronic systems would be installed.
2 Weeks - After the electricians were finished, Connected Technologies routed low-voltage wiring throughout the house to support the systems that would be installed later.
3 Weeks - Toward the end of construction, an upholsterer applied fabric to the walls of the home theater. Almost all of the systems and components were installed at this time as well.
1 Week - Right after Marc and Brooke moved in, Connected Technologies installed all of the TVs and other freestanding equipment. Pieces like these can easily be stolen if left on the job site without supervision, so company president Robert Ridenour makes it a rule to always put them in after his clients have moved in.
Total man hours: 600
- ChannelPlus structured wiring system
- Monster Cable surge protectors
- Panasonic network cameras
Home Theater & TVs
- Chief Manufacturing TV wall brackets
- Da-Lite 54 x 96” projection screen
- Faroudja video processor
- Fosgate Audionics surround-sound processor
- Niles Audio IntelliControl home theater processor
- RCA satellite dish
- Sony Progressive Scan DVD player
- Sony DVD player
- Sony satellite receiver
- Sony G-90 CRT video projector
- Triad home theater speakers
- Philips Pronto Pro remote
- 61-inch Sony XBR plasma
- 50-inch Pioneer Elite plasma
- 42-inch JVC plasma
- 26-inch Sharp LCD TV
- 17-inch Sharp LCD TV
- 13-inch Sharp LCD TV
- Elan Control System
- Elan VIA color touchscreens (2)
- Elan volume controls (8)
- Niles Audio in-ceiling speakers
- Sony 300-disc CD changer
- Niles Audio ZR-4630 amplifier/multizone receiver
- Lighting Control
- Lutron Grafik Eye
- Lutron HomeWorks Interactive
- Lutron Sivioa QED motorized roller shades
Electronics Design & Installation
Connected Technologies, Colorado Springs, CO
Nicholas Custom Homes
Greenwood Village, CO
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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.