At 30,000 square feet, this home almost seems more like a campus than a residence. Three buildings adorn the beautifully manicured property, all connected by an underground corridor that’s not only an easy way to get from one place to another; it’s also the location of an indoor pool, lavish private art gallery and a fun home theater space.
More than meets the eye might have been an unofficial theme here, because while it clearly offers a luxurious living space, the residence also houses one of the most robust home automation infrastructures in the region, designed and installed by Elite Home Technologies, the ultra-luxury division of custom electronics firm HiFi House in Broomall, Pa.
In any system this large, a network is one of the main backbones supporting all the subsystems. In this home an enterprise-grade wired network and Rukus Wireless system form a very robust network, which includes 25 wireless access points. All the Wi-Fi connected devices, especially the iPads and iPhones used as interfaces to the Crestron control system, require a reliable connection at all times. Video teleconference was also important to the client, so the network needed to support that as well.
The task of controlling and automating the home’s systems is primarily given over to Crestron, which integrates with the security, Lutron lighting, audio and video distribution as well as the ample heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system.
Audio and video distribution was a big part of this project, and the extreme distances involved presented their unique problems. There are about 75,000 feet of wire and cable stretched across the property (a process made easier by the underground corridor). All the 12 televisions and displays are connected via fiber-optic cable, and separate movie and music servers provide the content: an Autonomic Mirage server for music; a Kaleidescape system for DVDs and Blu-rays (including more than 900 titles); plus three iPod docks for when the owners or guest want to listen to what’s on their smartphones.
The home theater area is a bit of a surprise, because when not in use, you’d hardly know it’s there. That’s because the theater—part of the underground zone—doubles as the homeowners’ art gallery, so they didn’t want all that audio and video gear to get in the way of art appreciation. The 204-inch Stewart Filmscreen CinemaScope screen is motorized and rolls up out of sight. A Wolf Cinema DCX500 projector is also concealed. Harder to hide were the four very large Wilson Audio Sophia Series 3 loudspeakers and a matching Wilson Watch center and two Watch Dog subwoofers. While all the speakers feature custom finishes, it’s their installation that makes this room unique. Each speaker is built onto a custom wheeled platform so they can be moved completely out of the room (once the speaker wires are unplugged of course) when not needed. The theater seating is also movable to accommodate gallery guests, and the screen sometimes gets employed for PowerPoint presentations.
Control over the theater and gallery area can be done with the 15-inch Crestron touchpanel in the wall, a Crestron remote or one of the owners’ iOS devices. However, the in-wall touchpanel is especially convenient for lighting control. This room has the most complex lighting installation of the house. Lighting mounted on tracks can be rotated, depending on how the room is being used (for theater or art display). The lights on each track can be individually controlled, and preset scenes let them quickly create the mood the occupants’ desire.
(View images of this stunning home here)
Talking about anything in this house requires new words for big—the lighting system alone includes more than 400 circuits and 18 lighting panels. Every light is homerun to one of the panels. All the home’s exterior lights are operated by astronomical time clocks so they go on and off automatically by sunrise and sunset. HiFi House’s intent was that the client should never have to touch a switch for the outside lights—and a property this big has a lot of lights.
With an installation of this size, simplicity of operation was also important. Architect John Toates of Peter Zimmerman Architects, requested that no lighting keypad have more than three buttons, so while the most basic controls can be done from the keypads, total control over each area’s lighting can be done with any of the Crestron touchpanels.
Also situated underground is a two-lane, 25-meter swimming pool where the homeowners can exercise or relax. Twelve invisible Sonance speakers and three invisible subwoofers, plus an iPhone/iPod dock, provide music while swimmers do their laps. The speakers actually get plastered over during installation and can play through the plaster. Since a pool room, which is mostly brick and plaster, can be a bit of an echo chamber acoustically, and water also being a reflective surface, HiFi House used Crestron’s preamplifier EQ settings to adjust the room’s audio performance.
The owners’ love of music, and audio quality, can be seen throughout. In the living room, it’s the use of Wilson Bookshelf speakers rather than concealed in-wall speakers. A room frequently used for the homeowner’s business also features Wilson. Another family room includes a large 70-inch Sharp Elite LED flat panel TVs and a custom Leon Speakers soundbar with Wilsons as surrounds. When listening to music, the Wilsons act as the main stereo speakers. Even the kitchen includes Totem Acoustic speakers hidden above cabinets. A 15-inch Crestron Touchpanel offers easy music selection from any source.
Amplification for all the house speakers varies. The Wilsons (including the theater system) all get their power form Anthem amplifiers. The Sonance speakers in the pool room are powered by compatible Sonance amps, and Crestron provides the gas for other speakers in the property.
Even the family’s children get their own special entertainment place—a play room, with a flat-panel TV, surround-sound system and climbing equipment set up to provide plenty of fun time.
Getting all this work, without the occupants carrying around an owner’s manual, requires serious programming. HiFi House estimates that programming the Crestron system took about 300 hours, plus another 120 hours on the custom user interface, but that was time well spent, because a well-programmed control system is like an extension of your own arm, and for this home, the arm needed a long reach.
Behind the Scenes
The HVAC system was another hurdle to overcome. Crestron was a big help on this front because while the company’s control products are commonly found in some of the most luxurious homes in the country, Crestron also does even more business on the commercial side. Handling the operations of an industrial-grade HVAC system was something it was easily cut out for. In this home Crestron handles more than 60 zones of geo-thermal heating and air conditioning plus keeping status over six racks of audio, video and control gear. Each rack is individually cooled and ventilated to ensure reliability. The house has a full-on power center, whole-house generator and battery backup, a BlueBolt system allows HiFi House to reboot anything remotely.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.