From Guest House to Play House
A homeowner turns a guest house into an entertainment and productivity nerve center.
Chris Esse loves the look and sound provided by the Artcoustics speakers that flank the plasma screen in his guest house and work area.
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May 01, 2005 by Steven Castle

Chris Esse isn’t the typical creative type whose biggest technical feat is learning to use email. This former home electronics magazine editor runs Esse Communications, which specializes in marketing materials and brand-building strategies for consumer electronics companies. And when he’s not doing that, he’s likely writing music—all from his teched-out combination guesthouse and studio in back of his Los Angeles-area home.

The 660-square-foot guesthouse consists of an office, living area, gym, bath and some home electronics that are on the cutting edge of home entertainment and design.

There’s a 43-inch Pioneer Elite high-definition plasma monitor in the living area. That’s nothing new, but this one is surrounded by thin on-wall speakers from Artcoustics that more resemble artistic wall hangings than electronics. Two speakers flank the screen; the horizontally oriented center channel is below, and two smaller surround speakers hang on the wall behind the couch.

“I use the plasma theater mainly for watching major high-definition sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, the NBA playoffs and the baseball playoffs,” Esse says. “The Artcoustic speakers produce rich and accurate sound, whether for movies or music. Every visitor is stunned by the quality of the speakers, amazed that such thin cabinets can produce such big sound—and look so good doing it.”

Esse likes the Artcoustic speakers so much that he added two more and a thin on-wall subwoofer at the other end of the room behind the gym area, which he uses a lot. These speakers run off the same audio/video components, including a Pioneer Elite home theater receiver and a DVD/CD changer. Esse just uses the A/B switch on the receiver to toggle from the home theater speakers to the music speakers when he works out.

Esse spends much of his time in the adjacent office that contains the tools of his trade—and then some. “I have two desktop Mac systems, plus a Mac PowerBook. The PowerBook is currently devoted to recording old audio cassettes containing music I composed over the last 20 years,” he explains. I am using Roxio’s CD Doctor, so all I do is take the audio out from a cassette deck and click record on the PowerBook. “I am also archiving old home videos using Sony’s new DVDirect stand-alone DVD recorder. This unit makes it simple to dub from any camcorder or VCR.

“Finally, I have a modest recording studio based around an old Korg digital keyboard, with various MIDI sound modules and an old-fashioned Yamaha 4-track cassette deck. I tried to go digital twice before, but the learning curve was just too long.

“With the exception of my family and my dogs, just about everything that’s important to me is crammed into this guesthouse,” Esse adds. But despite the electronics packed into the rooms, the area maintains a simple and inviting design. “I don’t like overtly strong style statements,” says Esse. “I wanted a smooth blend of contemporary and traditional, along with the flexibility to actually use this space as a guesthouse rather than as a personal playpen.”

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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