Motorized devices, lighting systems, surveillance cameras and pool controls weren’t at the top of their wish list, but these homeowners are happy to have them now.
Sometimes the aha moment comes during a rockin’ home theater demonstration. Or finding out you can shut off an entire house’s lights from the bedroom touchscreen. Or hearing your iPod playlist sound over the dining room speakers.
But this aha came when the lady of the house voiced concerns over what to place above the living room fireplace. Her husband wanted a flat-panel TV; she and the decorator wanted artwork. They discovered they could have both—the art could actually be used to conceal the TV.
“I met the interior decorator [Gretchen Edwards] while I was there on a walk-through, and there was discussion of whether to put a 46-inch flat-panel TV in the living room,” explains Frank DeFilippis, design principal of custom electronics firm Link Your House in Atlanta. “The wife thought it was completely unnecessary to put a TV above the fireplace. She wanted it for artwork that had been in storage for a couple of years. While they were talking I kind of raised my hand and said, ‘You know, you can put a TV behind artwork and move the art out of the way when you turn the TV on.’”
That was all the decorator and lady of the house needed to hear, and talk quickly turned to other forms of motorization.
Motorizing and automating window treatments to view the lakefront from the 7,000-square-foot home scored major points with the homeowners. High-voltage wiring powers Somfy and Simu motors to move 20 blinds, three draperies and five massive outdoor screens enclosing a 45-foot porch area.
The owners and guests can use a couple of different interfaces to command the window treatments: Visitors mainly flip the blind control switches that are mounted to the walls of certain rooms, and the owners have grown comfortable using the remote controls, keypads and touchpanels that are tied to a hybrid HomeLogic and RTI (Remote Technologies Inc.) automation system. “I’ve caught him showing off his motorized treatments to friends several times now, so I know he loves it,” says DeFilippis.
Measures of Concealment
Guests might ooh and ahh more when home theaters are shown off, but the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t trick in the living room provides plenty of wow for this vacation home. DeFilippis mentioned to the lady of the house that a few solutions could work, such as framing the artwork and having it scroll inside the frame to reveal the TV. But she wanted the room’s visual feature to be the original art on its canvas. So the 4-by-6-foot piece of art moves up to display the TV—while remaining in view. High cathedral ceilings and a tall fireplace allowed for more than enough room to accommodate a motorized lift.
Link Your House worked with the builder to carve a cavity above the mantle to recess both the LCD screen and center-channel speaker. When the Lift-Tech device moves up, the screen and speaker are exposed and extend out of the cavity.
“It’s not fast—it takes about 15 to 20 seconds when you hit the button, but she thought that the lift was really cool,” says DeFilippis. “They probably put the artwork up and down more just to show people [than to watch TV].”
A lot of their viewing takes place in another room that features special motorization systems to hide the video goods. It’s not your typical dedicated basement home theater. This multipurpose media room is on the terrace level that leads to the lakefront patio with three sets of French doors comprising a side wall. The room also carries the wooden beams and stone decor from the rest of the house.
“The entire room is built out of stone, which is just horrible acoustically,” says DeFilippis. “And an entire wall is basically made out of glass. We talked about using a big plasma or LCD and artwork, but the owners really wanted a screen that could slip into the ceiling and then come down when it’s in use.”
Link Your House installed a 110-inch Draper screen for that job, but more impressive to the homeowner was the use of a Draper lift that makes the high-def Epson projector disappear into the ceiling as well. The room’s sound equipment features unobtrusive Polk Audio THX-certified in-ceiling speakers for all five surround channels, paired with a compact but powerful 8-inch, 800-watt Sunfire subwoofer and amplifier. Even after equalization and calibration measures from Audyssey and Sencore products, the sound quality isn’t quite up to golden-ear standards, but it’s more than satisfying for the discerning husband, who has a background in professional A/V.
Light Their Fire
The installation of the lighting controls and complementary motorized window treatments weren’t an afterthought, but they weren’t in the original project plans, either. The owners couldn’t decide which windows would receive window treatments and which would not, as evidenced by the media room’s untreated glass. So it wasn’t until more than a year after the wiring phase ended that Link Your House retrofitted for the motorization.
“Prior to Sheetrock [installation], I shot a video of the wiring that was placed to enable optional motorization for each window,” says DeFilippis. “Using the video as a guide, the electrical wiring was surgically extracted and made available for the window treatment installers.”
Somfy’s wireless platform made adding controls for the blinds and drapes much easier, as the installers were able to cut just about anywhere on the walls to fit the DecoFlex keypads.
The project grew even more when the owners decided to add lighting control to the automation system. Link Your House incorporated about 80 lighting loads using the UPB (Universal Powerline Bus) protocol. This protocol enables commands from the automation system to travel to lights over the home’s existing electrical wiring, affording a simpler installation than with specialty cabling. Thanks to the integration within the HomeLogic rig, preset “scenes” make controlling banks of lights simple, and housewide commands can be transmitted from touchpanels or an iPhone.
“We weren’t going to do the lighting automation at first, but that turned out really well since there are way too many switches to remember what controls are what,” says the husband. “We don’t even use the switches anymore. We just use the panels. They’re labeled much better than the switches, and it works out better for guests since they’d never figure out what all the light switches control. We didn’t do all the bedrooms with the automated switches, but we’ll probably do that at some point.”
As much as the man of the house digs the 23 zones of audio that deliver tunes from iPods, satellite radio and cable music channels, he’s become almost as big a fan of the security and surveillance system. While traditional security devices for entryways and such were part of the original plans, it wasn’t until much later that IP (Internet Protocol) surveillance cameras were added, creating a truly robust security and monitoring system for the homeowners.
Panasonic cameras in the rear of the house were programmed with six presets to save time on panning, tilting and zooming. At the click of his iPhone, the owner can scan areas by the swimming pool, fire pit, cabana, pontoon boat, ski boat and jet skis. That comes in handy when the owners are at their primary residence a couple of hours away.
“I use the security history to see who’s been in the house, like cleaning people, contractors, etcetera,” the owner says. “With the cameras in the front and back, I can see who’s there and also see if the pool is working. I can see if it’s icing in the winter, if the covers have blown off the chairs, if the sprinklers are working and pretty much anything else that I would check on in person.”
Pool and spa controls were also a late project addition—and a perk that keeps the owner, well, perky. Sometimes, he can’t help but play around with the surveillance and pool controls in tandem. “The edge of the pool toward the lake is like an infinity edge, and he can control that,” says DeFilippis. “Water spills out into the collection area, and he can turn it on or off, sometimes remotely—he’ll be watching the cameras as he does it, so he can see it kick on.” And … aha!
Frank DeFilippis on the home’s living room art lift, and other benefits of motorization: