High-Tech Rental

High-Tech Rental

Here’s a clever way to hide a plasma TV: Sink it into the wall, and cover it with a hinged piece of artwork.

High-tech features and high-end furnishings turn a rental space into one hot piece of property.

Jan. 25, 2007 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

It’s not that Tom Wolff and Tim Collins don’t like the 1,400-square-foot apartment they purchased a few years ago. They’re just not quite ready to trade in their fast-paced lifestyle in Manhattan for a slower, more leisurely way of life in downtown Asheville, NC, where the luxuriously appointed condo stands ready. But they’re definitely planning on making the transition eventually. “We have no plans to live there full time in the immediate future,” says Tom, “but we felt it would be a great place for us to spend time or retire to in 10 or 15 years.”

When they do take over the fully furnished city center apartment, Tom and Tim want to be sure that everything inside it, from the decor to the electronic systems, is still current and cutting edge. But they also knew when they were setting up the space that in the short-term, those furnishings, appliances, cabinets and electronics had to be comfortable and easy enough for renters to appreciate and use. They needed local experts to put the pieces together, so they contacted several designers to help with the project. These craftspeople joined developer and builder Steve Moberg, who Tom and Tim had already hired to build out their condo, which is one of four units on the top floor of a former 1920s furniture store. Surprisingly, Tom and Tim visited the building only a couple of times during the makeover. “We were living and working in northeastern England at the time, so we managed the entire project by way of conference calls and careful documentation,” Tom explains.

Weighing the Options
Those conference calls were crucial when the apartment was being designed, particularly when it came to choosing electronic systems for the space. Tom and Tim knew they wanted the apartment to look and feel urban, contemporary, clean, sleek and comfortable in order to attract discriminating renters and for their eventual residency. “We knew we wanted big-screen TVs and surround sound, but we needed someone to help us choose the right products,” says Tom. Scott Varn of Harmony Interiors, whom Tom found during a web search for A/V designers in the Asheville area, knew exactly what to do.

“For aesthetic reasons, we knew we needed to use speakers that would complement the apartment’s contemporary design,” says Varn. His two recommendations were speakers from either Tannoy or Bose. “Tannoy had some excellent-sounding, very metropolitan chrome-detailed speakers that would have looked great left out in the open,” he says. But Tom and Tim preferred to have their speakers blend in rather than stand out. That meant going with the Bose Built-Invisible units, which were no bigger than the palm of the hand and could be built flush into the walls of the living room. Varn also planted a pair of Bose 191 speakers in the ceiling, giving the main entertainment area five speakers for a complete surround-sound setup for hosting evening dinner parties, catching sporting events and watching movies.

Of course, no surround-sound system is complete without a big-screen TV, a subwoofer, a receiver and some type of device to play movies. Those components would also need to be hidden somehow. Varn and his clients had originally intended to install a projection screen into the ceiling that would descend into the room only when Tom and Tim wanted to watch a movie. Unfortunately, the ceiling joists were unable to accommodate a motorized lift and drop-down screen.

“We knew there were other ways to give Tom and Tim the ‘wow effect’ they were after,” says Varn. So on to plan B: a 55-inch Fujitsu flat-panel plasma TV that would sink into the wall for a completely built-in look. Varn suggested that Tom and Tim have the builder construct a wall niche so that the unit could be pushed back several inches to sit flush with the wall surface. “What most people don’t realize is that even though a plasma is just a couple of inches thick, when you attach it to a conventional wall bracket, it ends up sticking eight or nine inches off the wall,” he explains. That wasn’t going to fly in Tim and Tom’s condo. With the TV set back into the wall, Varn was then able to cover it with a piece of artwork. Keeping with the upscale and contemporary look of the condo, Tom and Tim commissioned a piece of custom art by local abstract painter Kenn Kotara. The piece is comprised of four folding wood panels, each panel representing a different season. The panels open like a hinged door to reveal the plasma behind it. 

Stealth A/V Storage
The Bose subwoofer, which sends big, booming bass into the room, went inside the walls, too, but closer to the baseboard where the only visible part of the unit would be a small grate. A custom-crafted floating cabinet, created by David Woodworth, is attached to the wall beneath the plasma TV and holds a Bose AV38 Media Center PreAmp, a high-def cable box and small drawers for DVDs. “It’s a very trim unit, just 12 inches deep, and it completely hides the wires that attach the TV to the components,” says Varn. Because the Bose unit has all the essentials, including a DVD player, AM/FM tuner, uMusic digital music server and surround-sound preamp, there were only a few remaining components that needed a home:  the amplifiers. Stowed inside a closet in the utility room, the amps are hidden away with all the ugly wiring, keeping the main room neat while delivering music to every square inch of the apartment. 

Bulletproof Operation
Built-Invisible 191 speakers in the master bedroom, master bath, guest room and kitchen comprise a second zone of the Bose entertainment system. This means that audio from a DVD can be played through the home theater speakers while any music file stored on the server can be played through the speakers in the rest of the house. Songs on as many as 350 CDs can be stored on the uMusic server, and when a new renter moves in, the songs from a previous renter can be deleted and new ones can be added. Tim and Tom like the fact that little tweaking needs to be done with the system. “We wanted basic 101 type systems that would be easy enough for any renter to master,” Tom explains. The uMusic system does this beautifully. Over time, it remembers which songs you typically play and automatically plays them back each time the system is activated.

Still, users are always free to delve into lesser-listened-to music. Each speaker-equipped room has its own Bose Personal Music Center II (PMCII) remote that can display on its built-in screen a complete list of music in the server. Scroll to the title you want, hit enter and the song is delivered. The PMCIIs are also helpful for radio enthusiasts like Tom and Tim. They’ll be able to use the handheld units to access their favorite radio stations on the fly.

The MX-3000 touchscreen-style remote that runs the theater is just as bulletproof. Varn programmed the Universal Remote Control clicker so that it takes just one button press to activate all the components necessary for watching a movie. And watching a flick on one of the other flat-panel TVs in the condo couldn’t be easier. The 17-inch wall-mounted Toshiba LCD TVs in the kitchen and bedrooms had their own built-in DVD players, which precluded the need to find a storage spot for each stand-alone player. 

Planning for the Future
While Tom and Tim continue to plan for their early retirement, the state-of-the-art systems in their Asheville, NC, apartment are busy holding down the fort. Complemented by high-end furnishings and features, the flat-panel TVs, customizable music server and sexy little remotes are giving renters a taste of the good life while helping landlords Tom and Tim pay off the mortgage. When the enterprising couple is ready to take over the property, the systems will be older but still in fine condition to provide them with all the wonderful benefits of a high-tech lifestyle.


  • Bose AV38 entertainment system
  • Bose PMC II LCD remotes (4)
  • Bose TA2 home theater amplifier
  • Bose SA2 BoseLink amplifiers (3)
  • Bose SA3 BoseLink amplifier
  • Bose 191 Built-Invisible 191 speakers
  • Bose AdaptIQ in-wall speakers
  • Bose AdaptIQ on-wall center-channel speaker
  • Fujitsu 55-inch plasma TV
  • Toshiba 17-inch LCD TVs
  • Peerless articulating TV mounts
  • Universal Remote Control MX-3000 remote

Electronics Design & Installation
Harmony Interiors, Asheville, NC

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