Goodbye Suburbs, Hello Tech Penthouse
Recent empty nesters trade in their English Tudor for a wired cosmopolitan condo.
The owners of this media space can enjoy the show on a 50-inch Fujitsu plasma or press a button on a Crestron web tablet to call in an 83-inch Da-Lite projection screen.
View Slideshow

January 24, 2007 by Lisa Montgomery

For more than 20 years, Patrick and Judith had lived a standard suburban life. “We had been in the same traditional English Tudor in Chicago for more than 25 years,” Patrick points out. The traditional home suited the family just fine, but after their youngest child went off to college, Patrick and Judith decided it was time to shake things up a bit. “For us, that meant switching from a suburban lifestyle to something more contemporary,” says Patrick. So into the city they went to purchase two unfinished condos that they would eventually attach to create a 2,800-square-foot space teeming with sensational views of the skyline, a wonderfully eclectic collection of art and a top-notch entertainment and control system.

The modern, chic, Southside penthouse Patrick and Judith now occupy is a far cry from their quaint Tudor, but the urban style is a perfect match for their new cosmopolitan way of life. Both Judith and Patrick are avid collectors of Outsider Art and are closely involved in many of the city’s film festivals. “The clean, linear space is ideal for displaying our art,” explains Patrick. And because the penthouse is just two miles from Chicago’s financial and cultural center, the couple finally has a convenient, comfortable spot to entertain patrons from both the art and film communities. “It’s not only a home for them but also a gallery for their friends and colleagues,” says John Brisk, a design consultant with Baumeister Electronic Architects. The Niles, IL–based electronics design firm was hired by the couple to incorporate systems that would lend an additional level of sophistication to the space.

Lighting the Way
Naturally, the homeowners would need special lighting to play up their prized works of art. “We have more than 100 pieces on the walls and close to 75 pieces on the bookshelves that needed attention,” claims Patrick. Professional lighting designer Jill Mullen of The Morgan Group in Chicago was brought in to select the perfect fixtures, choose dimming levels and arrange the lights to best showcase the couple’s home-based gallery. To make it easy for Patrick and Judith to activate and tweak the lights, Baumeister put the fixtures under the control of an architectural lighting system. The centralized Crestron lighting system lets them modify the intensity of each fixture by pressing a few buttons on one of several interactive Crestron touchpanels located throughout the house. “If we’re having people over, I’ll sit down with the big Crestron web tablet and adjust the settings fixture by fixture,” says Patrick. Or, for a quicker effect, he can always hit a preset mood button. The command sweeps through the apartment, reducing some lights and brightening others simultaneously. Patrick and Judith use the mood buttons to accentuate certain parts of a room, to cue daytime and nighttime lighting scenes or to prepare the apartment for certain activities like watching movies and NBA games, two of their favorite pastimes.

House of Glass
Watching TV takes on a whole new meaning when there’s nearly 50 feet of glass covering one side of a room. All that light could easily wash out even the most pristine picture, not to mention damage the homeowners’ precious displays of art. But those windows were what initially sold the couple on the space. “People buy these condos specifically for the view,” says Patrick. Rather than cover up the panes with heavy draperies, the two had their contractor install e-glass to filter out the UV rays and help insulate the apartment from the heat and cold outside. The job was completed with the installation of Lutron blackout shades that descend 10-feet from the ceiling with the press of a button. They picked a plasma TV as the main display for the media room, partly for its ability to perform well under bright conditions. “The 50-inch plasma is our normal TV,” says Patrick. “It’s the one we’ll flip on when we come home from work.”

When it’s time to entertain, the couple puts the plasma away and pulls out a bigger, more engaging display. The switch from the 50-inch Fujitsu to an 83-inch Da-Lite motorized screen happens by pressing a button on the room’s portable Crestron web tablet. In seconds, the screen gradually lowers from its hiding spot in the upper cavity of the custom-built entertainment unit. As the screen rolls over the plasma, a Sony SXRD video projector fires up from the back of the room. Unlike the surround-sound speakers, which are hidden inside the cabinetry and millwork, the ceiling-mounted projector is completely visible. But that doesn’t bother Patrick and Judith in the least. “The projector almost looks like a sculpture on the ceiling,” designer John Brisk remarks.

Special Delivery
The media room is a great spot for Patrick and Judith to catch a game or settle in with a movie, but the entertainment doesn’t stop there. Crestron audio and video distribution systems feed content from a Sony 400-disc DVD changer, an Escient music server and a high-def cable box with built-in TiVo to several other areas. The master bedroom, for instance, receives video on a slick 42-inch plasma TV that rises and articulates from a custom cabinet. The setup is both aesthetically pleasing and functional: The homeowners can keep the TV tucked away when they want to and when it’s revealed, twist it toward the bed or the sitting area for the best possible view. The Canton speakers attached to the plasma swivel along with the set so the sound is always coming from the direction it should.

A Crestron in-wall CT1000 touchpanel presents all the necessary commands for transforming the bedroom into an entertainment area. This includes a list of all the DVD and CD titles in the players in the media room. An Escient music server and an Escient DVD manager compile the information and zip it off to the bedroom touchpanel, as well as to six others around the house. Of course, there’s also a more standard-looking handheld remote, the Crestron ML500, which Patrick and Judith can use for quick channel changes and volume adjustments.

The TV may go into hiding, but the speakers that deliver music to the bedroom have become part of the room’s aesthetic appeal. The pair of wall-mounted Waltz Grand speakers from Vienna Acoustics looks more like a piece of modern art than part of a whole-house music system. The same goes for the floorstanding Vienna Acoustics Schönberg units in the gallery. “They look right at home with the artwork,” says Brisk. “Plus, they’re audiophile grade, which means they sound great.” The homeowners usually pick out something with a beautiful melody for guests to enjoy while they peruse the gallery. “I’ll usually play the same piece through all the speakers in the house,” says Patrick. It’s the same with video. Although the Crestron system is capable of distributing different shows simultaneously to different displays, Patrick prefers to put the same movie or ball game on all the TVs. “After all, it is just my wife and me living here,” he explains. 

In the Comfort Zone
These homeowners may not be the type to constantly fiddle with their entertainment systems, but when it comes to controlling the temperature of their home, they’ve taken a very proactive role. Patrick blames it on the fickle Chicago weather. “One day it can be 70 degrees and sunny, and the next it’s snowing,” he laments. “And when your home has so many windows, trying to keep a consistent temperature becomes very difficult.” The Crestron control system gives Patrick and Judith a hand by enabling them to monitor and adjust the settings of their two-zone heating and cooling system from any touchpanel. Because they don’t need to interact with traditional thermostats to modify the temperature settings, the Baumeister team placed the eyesores inside a closet. Small, quarter-size discs recessed into the walls measure the temperature instead. Because the discs are so thin, the homeowners were able to paint over them, rendering them nearly invisible.

A New Way of Life
Thanks to some amazing technologies they’ve integrated into their modern high-rise apartment, Patrick and Judith have discovered an exciting new way of life. They’re able to use special lighting effects and a whole-house music system to create a showcase for their robust collection of Outsider Art. Their connections to the film community are well served, too, thanks to a media room that features two types of displays and a hidden surround-sound system. And when it’s just Patrick and Judith at home, there is plenty of music and video to keep the couple completely entertained.

Equipment List:

  • B&W 804 speakers (2)
  • B&W 805 speakers (2)
  • B&W HTM-1 center-channel speaker
  • Canton CD-50 Lifestyle speakers (2)
  • Crestron PAC Professional Automation Control system
  • Crestron 8-button keypads (4)
  • Crestron 4-button keypads (3)
  • Crestron 6-button keypads (2)
  • Crestron 2-button keypads (2)
  • Crestron 4-zone dimmer modules (11)
  • Crestron fan controller lighting module
  • Crestron thermostats/humidistats (2)
  • Crestron remote temperature and humidity sensors (4)
  • Crestron CNX-BI-PAD8 audio distribution processor
  • Crestron CNX-PVID8X3 video distribution processor
  • Crestron TPMC-10 Wi-Fi tablet touchpanel
  • Crestron TPMC-10 DSMK docking station, mouse and keyboard
  • Crestron CP2E control processor
  • Crestron ML-500 mini LCD remote controls (2)
  • Crestron CT-1000 color LCD touchpanels (6)
  • Da-Lite 83-inch motorized screen
  • Escient E2-300 digital music manager
  • Escient Fireball DVDM-100 DVD manager
  • Fujitsu 42-inch plasma TV
  • Fujitsu 50-inch plasma TV
  • Hewlett-Packard DC5000 computer
  • Lexicon RV-8 audio/video receiver
  • Monster AVS2000 automatic voltage stabilizer
  • Monster HTS5100 power center
  • Monster HTUPS1000 power supply
  • Panasonic KX-TD1232 phone system
  • Samsung Syncmaster 19-inch LCD TV
  • Sony DVP-CX777ES disc changer
  • Sony LF-X1 LocationFree TV
  • Sony VPLVW100 SXRD video projector
  • SpeakerCraft FNWS 750 indoor/outdoor speakers (2)
  • SpeakerCraft DBB12100 12-channel amplifiers (2)
  • SpeakerCraft 8.5DT in-ceiling speakers (4)
  • Triad Omni round in-ceiling speakers (6)
  • Velodyne HGS-12 subwoofer
  • Vienna Acoustics Schöenberg speakers (2)
  • Vienna Acoustics Waltz Grand speakers (2)

Electronic Design and Installation
Baumeister Electronic Architects, Niles, IL

John Crilly, Linn Mathes,
Chicago, IL

Interior Designer
Cindy MacFarland,
Northfield, IL

Fitzgerald Associates Architects, Chicago
Lighting Designer: Jill Mullen, Chicago

Custom Millwork
Eric Krause, Creative Wood Concepts, Chicago

Follow Electronic House on Facebook and Twitter.

Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

FREE Charter Platinum Membership
Claim your FREE Charter Platinum Membership to EH Network and receive 6 FREE issues of EH Magazine.*
First Name
Last Name
Email Address

We understand your email address is private. By granting you access to the EH Network, you agree to receive email communications from us, including our newsletters. You can manage your subscription at any time in the future.
* The new EH Network launches and your free subscription begins December 2014.


Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.