It’s hard to believe that the only features the owners of this elaborate high-tech home had originally wanted were a safe, secure computer network and modest whole-house audio and video systems. “Their exact words were ‘balanced’ lighting, ‘nice’ music and ‘good’ video,” recalls Scott McAllister, president of MediaWorks NW, the Sacramento, CA, based home systems firm hired to integrate the handful of electronic systems into Thomas and Cathy Van Berkem’s mountain home.
But that wish list soon grew to include much, much more, including such extraordinary amenities as an automated wine cellar, a huge back-up generator, two home theaters and terabytes’ worth of digital storage space to hold the owners’ massive collection of CDs. These features are impressive enough on their own. But the Van Berkems took the electronic design a step further by tying every system in the house to one central control system.
What compelled the homeowners to take such a giant leap into technology never-never land? “A clear understanding of what was possible with technology really got them thinking about other items that would make sense for their home,” says McAllister. For example, after learning that all of their music and movies could be stored on one device and accessed from any room, the intrepid couple knew they just had to have the sophisticated server and switching system that would make it work. Today, the homeowners can choose from as many as 12 media sources to view on any of six flat-panel TVs or to listen to on dozens of built-in speakers around the abode. Even the Dell Multimedia PC in the home office can tap into the entertainment sources, which include common components like DVD players and changers, high-definition satellite receivers and an XM satellite tuner, as well as more advanced equipment like media servers. “He can keep his programs open and still use the PC’s 24-inch monitor to watch a ball game, for instance,” says McAllister.
Six wireless Crestron Isys touchpanels are also privy to lots of information. From any of the touchpanels, as well as from the PC monitor, the homeowners can peruse a list of the current inventory in their wine cellar that’s continually tabulated by the eSommelier management system or view the weather readings compiled by the WeatherHawk weather station perched on the roof of their house. The touchpanels can also display the cover art and song titles of the music stored on the ReQuest Multimedia ARQ Tera Zone media server, as well as give access to web sites and email, the temperature reading of each of the home’s 12 independent radiant heating zones, and a slew of controls that enable the homeowners to monitor and manage everything in their house from any of several portable touchpanels. More than 120 lighting circuits, 12 thermostats, three surveillance cameras, more than 40 zones of security, and the huge whole-house audio and video system are all controllable from any of the wireless touchpanels. This extreme level of control could have left the homeowners completely and utterly confused, but thanks to some sensational software engineering, the portable controllers couldn’t be easier to understand and operate. All the commands are neatly organized by system. For example, all of the commands used to engage lighting scenes are grouped together on a single page on the touchpanels. From there, the homeowners can select a scene that sets the lights for watching a movie in a particular room or a scene that turns off all but a few night-lights when the couple is ready for bed. Popping onto the music page, they can select an audio source, pick out a piece of music and tell the tune exactly where to play, be it in the kitchen, out on the deck, in the living room or throughout the entire house. Speakers occupy nearly every space, so there’s no area that misses out.
Considering the vast number of electronic devices occupying the 5,700-square-foot home, you might expect it to look like the Starship Enterprise. But the systems have been so seamlessly integrated that the rooms look surprisingly low tech. “Aesthetics were a huge consideration,” McAllister relates. “Cathy made it clear that she didn’t want to see anything except the TVs.” And even the TVs blend in nicely with the decor. There’s no big, bulky set in this residence. Flat-panel plasma and LCD TVs are used throughout, recessed into the walls so that they look like a natural part of the home.
With the exception of several small Vantage keypads, which the homeowners use to fine-tune the lighting levels, the walls carry no signs of technology. The wireless Crestron touchpanels are largely responsible for the clean, uncluttered appearance. Because they control the home’s temperature, music and other systems, there was no need to mar the walls with music control keypads and traditional lights switches.
Of course, it takes a lot of processing power to fuel this house with music, video, information and one-touch control. And that means lots and lots of black boxes. Most of that equipment is stashed inside a room in the basement built specially for this purpose. All of the music and video sources, as well as several amplifiers and surround-sound receivers, are also hidden there, making even rooms like the two home theaters virtually void of technology. The great room, which doubles as a listening room, features a 45-inch Sharp Aquos LCD TV and two premium Bohlender Graebener loudspeakers. Although the speakers stand 84 inches tall, they are completely invisible, having been built into cabinetry.
Oh, and what about the “simple” computer networking system the homeowners wanted from the start? They not only have a system that gives every computer in the house simultaneous access to a single Internet connection and the ability to access hard drives in other rooms, they also have one that lets them monitor and control their home from anywhere in the world. “From a computer in their other home in Los Angeles, the couple can visually monitor and control everything remotely,” McAllister says. “[The homeowners] can check the weather conditions, view real-time images of both the inside and outside of the house and, of course, transfer files between the country and city homes. Cross-country networking, hundreds of electronic devices, specialty systems that track the wine and the weather, succinct control of multiple systems and seamless integration with the decor: They all add up to one extremely smart, stylish and sensational home.
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