Sometimes it’s the simple things that have the biggest impact. That’s a philosophy rooted firmly in the home life of the owners of this 10,000-squarefoot Chicagoland residence. The home design reflects this philosophy, too, as a good chunk of the square footage is devoted to their three school-age kids and in creating an environment where they can make the most of their free time. “We really wanted to make this house be the place where our kids and their friends want to hang out,” the owners say.
It would be hard for anyone, young or old, to tear themselves away from the comfortable, inviting confines. In addition to a sports court on the lower level and a game room on the second floor, there’s an “invisible” home theater, a killer outdoor entertainment area, and an impressively equipped gym and bar.
LGs Rule the Video Roost
With 11 LG flat-panel TVs (two of which are 3D) and 54 speakers peppered throughout the house, there’s more than enough video and music to keep everyone happily entertained. Sure, having a big, beautiful TV around every corner and access to tons of video and audio content may not be what most people deem basic or simple. But the way the TVs and speakers are incorporated into the design make them surprisingly understated and easy to enjoy.
The home theater, for example, looks nothing like a theater when you first enter the room. There’s no sign of a screen, a projector or speakers. It’s not until a media button is pressed that the equipment reveals itself. The button, whether found on a Vantage EasyTouch II keypad mounted to the side of a custom-crafted cabinet, a handheld Elan HR2 remote or Elan WT84 wireless touchpanel, signals a 106-inch motorized Screen Innovations display to roll down from the ceiling and a ledge-mounted Optoma HD8600 projector to fire up from behind the couch. The command also dims the lights, tunes to Dad’s dedicated DirecTV high-def satellite receiver—Mom and the kids each have their own as well—and closes a pair of draperies across the entry.
The seven speakers, a combination of Elan and Sunfire models, plus two Velodyne subwoofers, are built into the ceiling and the cabinetry around the fireplace hearth—all finished with grilles that blend with the surfaces. In other areas, like the kids’ playroom, pressing the media button launches an entirely different string of commands. Since the kids’ primary form of entertainment in this space is video games, the button activates the 55-inch 3D LG TV and the Xbox console. In other rooms, the media button might tune to a different source, dim the lights and close the window treatments. It all depends on what the Elan g! system was programmed to do by custom electronics (CE) pro Dan Cochenour of Audio Video Specialists in Gilberts, Ill.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the A/V excitement in this house, but the most impressive effects are so subtle and seamlessly integrated into the homeowners’ routines that they often don’t realize they’re happening. Closet lights snap on automatically when the door opens. Bathroom fans deactivate 15 minutes after someone has left the space. When the elevator door on the ground level opens, lights activate to lead the way down a hallway to the kitchen. Should the kids leave their bedrooms after 9 p.m., motion sensors in the upstairs hallways signal the fixtures to turn on to a 30 percent intensity so the children can find their way safely to Mom and Dad’s room or the bathroom.
The Vantage InFusion and Elan g! systems are responsible for the small day-to-day stuff, though they perform plenty of other chores around the house. When the doorbell rings, every TV and speaker mutes temporarily and a view from the Elan door station camera is displayed on any TV that is on. Should the sump pump fail, the Elan g! system sends a text message to the homeowners notifying them of a possible problem.
Even the design of the g! touchpanels has meaning to this family. From menus displayed on any of seven in-wall 2-inch TS2 Elan touchpanels, two 7-inch TS7 in-wall touchpanels and a 8-inch WT84 wireless tablet, the family can monitor and control every aspect of the house, including motorized sheers and curtains, the irrigation system, the pool and spa system, and, of course, lights and A/V gear. Although the family will usually grab a remote to turn on a TV and Blu-ray player, the touchpanel offers a broader, more comprehensive view of their entertainment and control options. For example, they can see a list of available DVRs (his, hers and the kids), movie titles (categorized by genre) that have been stored on two Sony 400-disc Blu-ray changers, and music from a dual AM/FM tuner, a three-terabyte Netgear NAS drive, two iPort iPod docking stations, Shoutcast Internet radio and XM satellite radio. The Elan g! system also gives the family a choice of where to have that content play. They might choose to have a kids’ music station play through the 12 Ambisonic drivers and two subwoofers around the swimming pool, while tunes from a friend’s docked iPod pumps through the in-ceiling speakers in the kitchen. And when they’re on their way out the door or headed up to bed, a tap of an away or goodnight button turns off all the A/V gear, plus most of the lights.
Commands like this—where one press of a button adjusts the settings of multiple electronic devices—demonstrates the real power of a carefully tailored and customprogrammed automation system. “It doesn’t have to be fancy or elaborate, just provide real value to the end users,” says Cochenour. “The g! and Vantage systems are capable of pulling off just about every high-tech trick in the book, but these homeowners, with the help of their CE pro, focused on what matters most: quick, convenient, practical controls and automation of the systems and devices that impact their day-to-day lives.
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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.