Cool Homes
Hidden Beauty
In this award-winning home, what’s new is meant to look old. Translation: This house was designed to resemble a finely restored Georgian home. And that means every ounce of technology is hidden and out of the way.
September 12, 2008 by EH Staff

In this award-winning home, what’s new is meant to look old. Translation: This house was designed to resemble a finely restored Georgian home. And that means every ounce of technology is hidden and out of the way.

The clients who own this 14,000-square-foot, two-story Georgian-style house in Canada are, in many ways, living oxymorons. Their interior design taste is traditional, yet they love contemporary art.

So they have incorporated, accordingly, modern paintings into their living spaces. In addition, they love the entertainment benefits of modern technology, yet they don’t like to see it. So they have incorporated, accordingly, technology into their living spaces in an invisible manner.

“They wanted a media room, but they didn’t want it to look like a media room at all—no theater seating, no floor elevations,” says interior designer Alison Knapp of Barnard & Speziale Design Associates in Ontario, Canada.

The end result is a classically designed home and home theater that’s loaded with technology—most of which is invisible to the eye. “The client wanted the technology to be hidden and nonexistent to someone walking through the house,” Knapp continues. “You’d never know the house is as technologically advanced as it is—it’s all hidden in armoires and the cabinetry.”

“Every pair of speakers is hidden either in a wall or in the ceiling, and is painted to match the environment so they don’t impair the design,” says John Stumpf of Station Earth in Ontario, adding that the home won a 2007 Cedia gold award in the integrated home category. “The amount of wiring—and there’s more than 47,000 feet of it—the technology [including 12 TVs], and the time and effort blends seamlessly with the décor.”

Take, for instance, the 510-square-foot media room, which boasts, says Stumpf, “an understated Golden Age of Cinema feel” with fully concealed technology. The 110-inch Draper screen isn’t visible until it descends from the ceiling bulkhead; the Runco DLP projector is tucked into the back bulkhead; the speakers are built into the walls and are faux finished to match the wall finish perfectly.

The only hints that this room is, in fact, a movie-viewing space include the film reel art work hanging on the back wall, and the eight framed sepiatone portraits of movie stars that the designer had custom printed.

“We were going for more of an Old World feeling down there,” Knapp says, referring to the media room and the entire lower floor.

The walnut-paneled library follows the same design approach in that the look and feel of the space honors the past, while the hidden technology is a nod to the future. The antique Georgian-style fireplace surround in polished black marble, the custom leather chairs and sofa, and the custom-crafted bookshelves and cabinets epitomize the owners’ love of traditional architecture and design.

Couple that with the pop-up 42-inch Pioneer Elite plasma TV that vanishes into custom cabinetry when it’s not in use, and it’s no wonder why this room has become a favorite entertaining venue for the couple. “It’s used a lot more than they anticipated,” Knapp says. “It’s a very cozy place for before and after dinner.”

Only two rooms in the house showcase technology in the form of fully exposed flat-screen TVs: the kitchen and the family room. “This is the most commonly used room to watch news or Sunday afternoon golf,” Stumpf says, alluding to the family room’s 42-inch Sony LCD TV.

Originally, this space was slated to feature a motorized painting that would slide up and down in front of the TV, but that request was removed from the interior design equation when the owners decided that this space would be used as a daily use TV room. “Because the room is used so much, they wanted to leave the TV exposed all the time,” Knapp adds.

In the kitchen, a 23-inch Sony LCD screen peers out from the custom cabinetry that was designed with glass-fronted doors to showcase the homeowner’s extensive collection of silver pieces. The cabinetry, along with the pendant lights on pulleys, which are designed to look like old gas lights, is reflective of a 1920s-style kitchen.

“Everything in the house is new,” Knapp says of the custom home that’s almost 2 years old. “But the clients wanted everything to look old—like the real thing with modern conveniences.”

With 190 lighting loads spread across 14,000 square feet, those modern conveniences include the Vantage control system. “Because of the sheer scale, the automated lighting system is functional for energy conservation and ease of function,” Stumpf says. “Rarely will a lighting load be above 80 percent. In a house this big, this system will make the lightbulbs last longer.

They can run the entire home with very little effort.” The blinds and draperies are also wired into the Vantage control system. Hit the “good morning” button on the touch screen in the master bedroom, for example, and the curtains open like magic. The Vantage control system also accomplishes the homeowners’ goal of keeping walls clutter-free.

“There’s lots of intricate lighting throughout the house—from pot lights to wall sconces, chandeliers, outdoor uplighting. In a home that’s not done with a proper lighting system, you’d have a massive wall of switches, which looks horrible. We call that wall acne or scarring.” The Vantage control system streamlines all of the home’s lighting and automated functions into one keypad in each room. “It doesn’t cut into the trim work or molding,” Stumpf says. “It’s not an eyesore.”

Looking back on the numerous challenges and layered complexity of the project, Stumpf couldn’t be happier. “In this project, everyone clicked. And this is becoming more the norm because we’re seeing architects and designers accepting [installers] more because we can make the equipment blend with the décor, or hide it all. Guys like us are so geeked out on the tech that we often throw design to the wind. We try to learn more about what they’re trying to do and work with them instead of trying to work against them.”

Out of Sight But Not Out of Mind

According to Stumpf, the last thing his clients wanted was a dedicated theater room: “They wanted a very tasteful room that you didn’t have to watch a movie in—where it also made sense to sit and read a book, have a glass of wine. They wanted an open airy space, and they didn’t want to see a projector, they didn’t want to see a screen, they didn’t want to see speakers.”

The biggest challenges Stumpf had included how to make the room sound good, and how not to cook a projector that’s squeezed into a ceiling bulkhead. Luckily, the question of acoustics worked itself out thanks to an architectural coincidence: a protrusion in the back wall breaks up any rear reflections and contributes to a room that sounds great with no acoustical treatments.

As for not cooking the projector—a Runco CL-610LT DLP—design became paramount. “The bulkhead around the perimeter of the room gave us a beautiful space to work in to hide the screen in the front and the projector in the back,” Stumpf says. “But we really had to work with the architect and HVAC guys and give them very specific instructions: ‘here’s what we’re going to put in, here’s the BTU generation [a measure of heat output], and here’s how many CFM [cubic feet per minute] of air we’re going to have to move over it.’

With that knowledge ahead of time, they were able to provide us with a cold-air return vent so we could pump all of that heat back into the HVAC system. So the projector runs cool as a cucumber and we don’t have to worry about cooking bulbs every six months.”

Thankfully, not every component in the room generated so much heat.

“The owners wanted quality audio, but they didn’t want or need the volume levels that most people would be comfortable with. They simply don’t watch action movies. They’re far more likely to sit down and watch a classic film—The Bridge on the River Kwai, for example—so to go in there and blow them out of their seats would have been counterproductive.”

At 140 watts per channel, the Pioneer Elite VSX-74Txi A/V receiver offers plenty of power for the space, and provides great sound quality and plenty of features for the price.

But the projector wasn’t the only hot spot in the house: “Our original plans called for two full equipment racks for the whole-house system. We had to condense it down to one main rack and a very small ancillary rack downstairs because of design parameters. But we did the calculations, and we figured out pretty quickly that it wouldn’t work in the space we had available to us,” Stumpf says. “The equipment would have self-destructed.”

“We came up with a solution, which involved running an air-conditioning branch to the rack, but, you know, a lot of people would have just put the equipment in, got it up and running, and then realized there was a heat issue,” he says.

“The more you can interact with builders, architects, and designers early in the process, the better, because you head off a lot of those potential problems like that.”—Dennis Burger

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Custom Installer: Station Earth of Ontario, Canada (519.843.3474,

Interior Designer: Barnard & Speziale design Associates of Ontario, Canada (905.690.2233,

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