May 22, 2008
| by EH Staff
The formal dining room has lost its luster. Most families use them so infrequently, they could be closed up and no one would ever notice. However, it is possible to breathe new life into this forgotten space by adding a few high-tech amenities like lighting, music and control systems. While you’re at it, consider these technologies for other eating areas, such as the breakfast nook in the kitchen, the bar in the rec room and the patio outside. With the right systems in place, you’ll be able to enjoy your meals in style with background music, dimmable lighting and beautiful views of the outdoors without much effort at all.
An ordinary dining room seems somehow more elegant when there’s music playing in the background. You won’t need top-of-the-line speakers here, as you’ll probably want to keep the music low during dinner and conversation. In-ceiling or in-wall models are ideal for their ability to blend in with their surroundings and cover a wide area with sound. These speakers will need to be connected to some type of audio distribution system, which can be kept in another room with your CD player, radio tuner, media server and other audio components. All you’ll need in the dining area is a handheld remote or a wall-mounted keypad to select the audio source and song you want to play. Some audio distribution systems come with keypads that can display the title, artist and other information about the song, which can make for some great dinner conversation. Tunes can also be grouped together to form a variety of playlists, so that picking out the perfect arrangement of songs for a particular gathering is quick and easy. A jazz playlist, for example, could be selected for an after-work dinner party while a collection of holiday classics could set the mood for a family Christmas gathering.
However, dinner music shouldn’t be limited to the dining room. Be sure to add speakers to every area where you dine. With speakers mounted above your breakfast nook, you can listen to the news over coffee; a pair over the kitchen table can add a little pop to your lunchtime; and a few weather-hardy models can get the party started on the patio.
Hit the Lights
Dimmable lighting can enhance the mood created by your music system. A lighting control system can brighten and dim the fixtures in your dining room, kitchen, patio and other eating areas to impart a feeling of elegance and sophistication. Like a music distribution system, a lighting system is typically controlled from a wall-mounted keypad. Thankfully, music and lighting systems work well together, meaning you can use one keypad to control both systems. Your home systems contractor can even set up one button to synchronize the settings of the lights and the audio system to suit whatever type of dining you’ll be doing. For example, a romantic button could dim the chandelier over the dining table and summon classic piano music from the media server in the family room. Another button, family, could evoke an entirely different setting, bringing up the lights and ushering in the kids’ favorite hip-hop artist to the room.
Your lighting control system could also be set up to illuminate different areas of the room. If you’ll be serving cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, for example, the system could lighten up the buffet while keeping the rest of the lights low. Later on, you could switch to dinner to bring up the fixtures above the dining table.
Dinner and a Movie
It’s common practice among families to eat dinner in front of the TV. In the past, this usually involved carrying plates into the family room where the big-screen TV resided. Thanks to flat-panel TVs, it’s also possible to enjoy dinner and a movie from the kitchen, dinette or formal dining room. A flat-panel TV can be mounted underneath the kitchen cabinets, on a wall or even underneath the counter on a motorized platform that lifts the set into view when you’re ready to watch. You won’t need to muck up the dining area with A/V components, either. A video distribution system (some audio distribution systems can also handle video) can transmit signals from satellite receivers, cable boxes, digital video recorders, DVD players and media servers located elsewhere. You simply enter your selection by pressing buttons on a keypad or remote control and the system does the rest. The dining area TV can present something completely different than what’s playing on your home’s other TVs, or you can have every TV display the same program—great for keeping tabs on the big ballgame.
The Right Atmosphere
Your mother always told you it was rude to leave the table without finishing your dinner. With the help of a home control system, there’s no reason to get up to adjust a window shade, a thermostat or even answer the door. Many home control systems come with optional portable controllers that allow you to operate a variety of electronic devices by touching a few buttons. A home systems contractor can customize the buttons of your controller to do just about anything you like. For example, should the doorbell ring during dessert, you could peer at the controller’s built-in screen to catch a view of the front door captured by a surveillance camera positioned there. Touching another button could “buzz” your guest inside. Should you or anyone else need to leave mid-meal, other commands could be set up to illuminate a pathway from the dining room to the kitchen, the bathroom or the front door.
Whether you’re eating with your family or a party of 20, it’s important to keep the temperature of your house comfortable and the conversation flowing. From the same portable controller that can operate the lights, music, surveillance cameras and intercom system, you can reset the thermostats and open the drapes. Then, when mealtime is over, a clean-up command could instruct the lights to brighten to their fullest, the music to switch over to something energetic and the exterior doors of the house to lock.