One of the most appealing parts of owning a home automation system is how seamlessly, when programmed and designed properly by a custom electronics (CE) professional, it can mesh with a family’s unique lifestyle. It’s as if your house is smart enough to know what you want and when you want it, and gracefully grants every wish—be it music in the dining room, elegant lighting in the foyer or thermostats and security systems adjusted perfectly before bedtime.
The owners of this 6,000-square-foot, three-bedroom, “modern, rustic” home craved this same level of customization from their Elan g! automation system and Lutron HomeWorks lighting control package. Having designed and been in and around high-tech homes throughout much of his 28-year career as an architect, Tom Taylor had a clear understanding of how technology could be designed and installed to enhance every aspect of his and his wife’s new home, from its functional efficiency to its sophisticated look.
Basic, but Far from Boring
As with most of their high-end projects, the CE pros at C&T Systems, Vernon, Conn., were prepared to pull out all the stops to create something special and unique for the Taylors. “We held dozens of meetings where we walked through the plans and decided room by room what we wanted the system to do,” explains Andrew Spalla, C&T’s director of systems engineering. As tempting as it was to design scads of special lighting scenes and get creative with the labeling of buttons on keypads and remotes, the owners resisted. They stuck to a more standard fare of settings and controls “that everyone would be able to understand,” Tom says.
By “everyone” he means the many people who will be staying at his new house. As one of several posh private residences at the Amangani Resort in Jackson Hole, Wy., the Taylors’ new house serves as a weekly rental for resort guests while Tom and his wife are away for part of the year.
The challenge, therefore, was to design the controls to be straightforward and simple enough for anyone who stayed at the residence to use yet provide the Taylors with the ability to tweak the settings for a more customized, personalized experience.
Lightening the Loads
Lighting control became the focus of the project, due to its ability to be both a basic tool for guests to illuminate the home during their stay, and as a way for the Taylors to accentuate their favorite elements of the architecture and décor. “Plus, I’ve been involved with the design of lighting systems in homes for almost as long as the systems have been available,” Tom says. “I have seen the impact lighting can have on the look and feel of a house.”
For the most flexibility in how the lights look and perform, Taylor strategically grouped the hundreds of mostly LED fixtures into 149 individual circuits. For example, one circuit might power the sconces in the great room while another feeds electricity to the LED tape lighting around the ceiling. “That’s a lot of potentially confusing lighting to adjust,” says Spalla. To eliminate the guesswork for guests, C&T mounted a total of 43 Lutron keypads to walls throughout the residence. Each keypad was programmed to manage a specific set of circuits; for example, the keypad in the great room handles the operation of all of the individual lighting circuits in that specific area.
What really makes the guesswork go away are the buttons on the keypads. Explains Spalla: When you enter a room, there are three buttons from which to choose: HIGH, LOW and OFF. HIGH sets groups of lights at a bright level and LOW dims another group for a softer effect. These preset levels vary from space to space, though, depending on the available natural light and the activities that commonly take place within a certain area. For example, the HIGH setting in the kitchen is brighter than the HIGH setting in the master bedroom.
Guests are free to adjust the preset intensity levels by touching up and down arrows on each of the keypads, but the fixtures always revert to their original preset levels when HIGH or LOW is pressed. The lighting levels might also differ depending on when a button is pressed. Depending on the time of day, which was programmed into the Lutron system by the engineers at C&T, HIGH might also incorporate a few exterior lights for added evening ambiance. In some areas no button press is required. Instead, the fixtures brighten and dim as the sun rises and sets—a completely hands-off design that’s perfect for those less technically inclined vacationers.
But, of course, this is the Taylors’ house, so Spalla created a few special settings that are available only to Tom and his wife via a special app on their iPad. Having designed this home’s interior himself, Tom uses these settings to accentuate certain architectural features of the house.
To create a warm, wall-grazing effect, Tom specified that LED fixtures be used throughout, much of which are in the form of LED tape. Flat enough to be tucked inconspicuously within places like bookshelves and ceiling soffits, the LED strips were positioned in a way that would highlight the grain of the redwood walls, the varying hues of stone fireplaces and even the texture of motorized Lutron Sivoia and Conrad/Lutron window shades.
In fact, when the lights and shades in the entry, gallery and bedrooms are both set just right, Tom considers the effect to be one of the most eye-pleasing parts of the house, and a treat he created more for him and his wife than for anyone else. One of the special iPad app settings for the Taylors is a command that settles these shades at about 16 inches below the roller bars. At the same time the LED tape that’s snuggled behind the rollers activates. “The LEDs cast a warm light on the shades, which really makes them stand out as works of art,” says Spalla. “It adds warmth, texture and decorative interest to windows that would otherwise look like a black hole at night,” adds Tom.
Admirable too, is the ability of the shades to filter out the glare from the sun—important when watching the TV—without blocking the view of the mountains. Just a tap on the keypad and the shades quietly descend into place. Then it’s just a matter of picking up an Elan HR2 handheld remote, iPad or iPhone to start the show.
Coordination of Controls
Remotes are available for quick and on-the-spot control of LED TVs peppered throughout the house, but even the Lutron lighting keypads can handle some of the A/V orchestration. For example, a keypad mounted near the doorway to the outdoor seating area features a specially programmed SPA button, which when pressed activates the exterior lights and the jets in the hot tub and tells an Elan multizone audio matrix switcher to pipe music to several Niles Outdoor Garden speakers. Similar integration is evident in the bedrooms, where a SUITE OFF command switches off not only the lights, but also the TV and music if they happen to be on.
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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.