Constructed of 40,000 square feet of imported stone, 2,000 pieces of sheetrock, eight semi-truck loads of boulders and 150 miles of high- and low-voltage wiring, among other special materials, this 42,000-square-foot mansion embodies Tuscan style with touches of the Old West … with plenty of modern technology to enhance the look, feel and enjoyment of every square inch of it. Add it all together and you get our hands-down choice for the best overall integrated Home of the Year.
This massive Arizona estate impresses at every turn. A replicated mine shaft guides visitors down a hallway to a high-end home theater and 19th century saloon. Oil-rubbed keypads fuse with the texture of the walls and instruct the lights precisely how to illuminate to best showcase the stunning architecture. Outside, the mixture of diverse elements continues with amusement park-like water slides, Vegas-style water features, turn-of-the-century gas lamps and a grotto outfitted with a flat-panel TV and surround-sound. It took an army of craftsmen to unify the assortment of styles and features in a way that’s pleasing to the eye, and it would take a robust, professionally programmed home automation system to make each area a cinch to monitor, manage and control.
Simplicity Sets the Stage
Indeed, simplicity was the main impetus for having a Savant home automation system installed, says custom electronics (CE) professional Christian Lawrence of Insight Home Solutions, Scottsdale, Ariz. Through extensive interviews with the homeowners and hours of engineering and programming, the team at Insight customized a system that would enable the homeowners to control everything from the smallest table lamp to the biggest TV with the ease of pressing a button on an iPad.
“The owners currently use a different type of control system in their house in Minnesota, so their main objective was to outfit this residence with one that was even simpler to understand and use, and as avid Apple users, an Apple-based automation system like the System 36 from Savant was the perfect solution,” Lawrence says.
It’s a good thing that the controls came so naturally to the owners. Without the 10 iPads and eight iPod touches that float around the house, all of which were updated with Savant’s mobile TrueControl app, the sheer size of the house would have made even the most ordinary devices, like light fixtures and window shades, almost impossible to manage. With the iDevices, as well as through 113 Vantage keypads and Savant’s telephone system, the owners can operate hundreds of devices from anywhere on the five-acre property.
Juggling Lights and Shades
Two parts of the house that could have easily gotten out of hand were the lights and window treatments. Insight attached most of the shades and draperies in the house—all 136 of them—to motorized hardware from Somfy so that the fabric would move over the glass automatically at preset times of the day. For example, in the morning certain drapes and shades in the main living areas of the house open to invite in the sunlight; at night they close for privacy. Of course, any one of the motors can be actuated independently or in a group from signals sent by the homeowner via his or her iPad.
(View images of this award-winning home here)
Lighting comes in all shapes, styles and forms in this elegantly appointed house, and hundreds of fixtures are peppered throughout the property. But this didn’t mean Insight would mar the walls with unsightly rows of dimmer switches. Instead, all of the switches were sequestered to a specially constructed equipment room, where they are connected to one of two Vantage InFusion Controllers. This setup affords the owners two control options. For on-the-spot operation of the lights—and some of the shades—within a particular room, they can press a button on a nearby wall-mounted Vantage keypad. Or, again, there’s always the trusty iPad or iPhone to handle the job. Insight grouped many of the lights together so that one signal from a keypad or iDevice can dim and brighten the select fixtures to preset intensity levels to create the perfect ambiance for a party, nighttime reading or watching a movie.
Old West Meets Home Theater
And where’s the best place to catch a flick in this house? The dedicated 30-by-40-foot theater in the lower level. Although the house is brimming with flat-panel TVs, all of which are Samsung’s top-of-the-line 7000 and 8000 Series models, the theater’s 156-inch diagonal Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 100 screen, Runco LS-10i projector and B&W 11.4-channel surround-sound system take movie viewing to a whole new level. Together, the motorized masking system attached to the screen and the Runco projector ensure that the 2.35:1 CinemaScope screen is always the appropriate size for the type of content the owners happen to be watching. If the movie was shot in a 16:9 high-definition format, the fabric panels automatically descend over each side of the screen, for example. Should the owners switch to a wider CinemaScope-formatted show, the fabric rolls back up into the ceiling.
There are a few more viewing options than even these. On command from an iPad, the 156-inch screen ascends into the ceiling to reveal a 75-inch Samsung flat-panel TV. “This is their go-to display when they want to just pop in a movie quickly and watch it,” says Lawrence.
Whether it’s the big or small(er) screen, the audio is always large, thanks to the sound system composed of B&W speakers and subwoofers and Integra amps and processors. The front left, right and center speakers are B&W’s flagship CWM 7.3 in-walls, each faux painted to complement the Western theme; the rest of the speakers are recessed into the walls behind acoustically transparent fabric.
One of the most novel and dynamic parts of the theater is a tiling system that enables the homeowners to view nine different video feeds at once, on the same screen (see sidebar). The owners chose what they want to see and with Apple-friendly pinch and expand finger gestures on their iPad can adjust the size of each of the nine windows. For example, they could set up to show a ballgame via DirecTV on two-thirds of the screen, while three smaller screens display images captured by any of the home’s 32 surveillance cameras. Or, they could pull up a bank of nine windows and dedicate each one to a different camera. Occasionally, a camera view will pop onto the screen automatically to alert the homeowners of visitors at the front gate. A quick swipe and a touch on the iPad opens the gate.
Just as easily, the owners can tap a button to tell the Savant matrix switcher to send the movie to any of the home’s 20 flat-panel TVs. A popular destination is the “saloon” next to the theater. Complete with a tin ceiling, wormwood floors, and vintage chandeliers, it boasts a 75-inch Samsung TV with a Leon soundbar speaker, plus a TV planted behind the mirror at the bar, which is only visible when the owners turn it on. In addition to the soundbar, 10 in-wall and in-ceiling B&W speakers fill the space with audio.
Theme Park-Style Entertainment
The Savant System 36 sends audio and video outside, too. Video is well represented with four SunBriteTV weatherproof TVs planted on the decks and terraces, but it’s the audio that has the most jaws dropping. Although the yard spans five acres there’s not a dead spot anywhere, says Lawrence. Insight installed 38 speakers and six underground subwoofers from Sonance throughout yard, garden, patios and decks for full, even audio coverage. “Up until just a few months ago, this was the largest outdoor Sonance (speaker) installation to date,” says Lawrence.
Unlike many outdoor audio systems, though, there’s not a single rock speaker in sight, per the homeowners’ request. “‘Please, no ugly rock speakers’ was his one caveat to outdoor music,” says Lawrence. Consequently, the majority of the audio comes from Sonance’s LS Series speakers. Designed to resemble landscape lights, their clever disguise belies the pure, raw audio power they can unleash. Driven by more than 25,000 watts of amplification, the back yard can really belt out a tune, says Lawrence. “When just the landscape speakers are turned up to 8 [not 11, although they do go to 11], you can see the folks on the 16th green look up toward the house puzzled. They seem to be wondering ‘where’s the concert,’” says the homeowner.
If the music is bothersome, the owners can quickly turn it off, or maybe just switch to a different audio source. It’s a simple matter of grabbing an iPad and tapping a few buttons. On the music menu: iTunes (up to four feeds), two Apple TVs, and an Autonomic MMS-5 music server which can stream audio from a number of Internet services such as Rhapsody, Pandora and Last.fm. Classical music gets a big nod from the homeowners, as they can choose to pipe music from a Steinway piano (which also functions as a player piano) to every speaker outside and inside, or to the speakers of a specific listening zone. For whatever type of music the owners choose, the outdoor environment can be set to enhance the mood. From the Savant app, the owners can activate the fountains and waterfall, and adjust the temperature of the 120,000-gallon negative-edge pool. They can keep the music on, maybe activate the entertainment system inside the grotto and fire up the gas lanterns.
Every Inch Accounted For
In a house this large, and one that goes from Wild West to Amusement Park in the blink of an eye, an automation system is a must. Although hundreds of devices are involved in setting the stage for movie time, outdoor entertaining or simply relaxing on the weekend, controlling them requires only a simple touch, swipe or pinch on an iPad. It’s a benefit that’s afforded them the opportunity to thoroughly enjoy every inch of their 42,000 square-foot custom-crafted home. Now that’s luxury.
Video Tiling and the iPad
With so many choices of what to watch these days—Internet video, Blu-ray discs, Apple TV, media servers—it’s hard to pick just one. The owners of this massive, tech-loaded house never need to decide. The SmartView Video Tiling system from Savant lets them view nine high-def video sources at once, all on the same screen. Using Savant’s TrueControl iPad app, they choose the shape and size of each video window, and pick a specific video source for each. On a whim, they can readjust, maybe choosing to view only three sources at a time and making each window larger. According to custom electronics (CE) professional Christian Lawrence of Insight Home Solutions, Scottsdale, Ariz., interacting with the Video Tiling system involves common iPad finger gestures like pinching, expanding and swiping.
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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.