Unexpected Remodel Spurs Tuscan Dream House
A surprise lurked within this Chicago home, but technology and Italian style brought the project together.
Unexpected Remodel Spurs Tuscan Dream House
See more pictures from this home. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (C) Disney. Photo: Scott Braman
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December 13, 2006 by Lisa Montgomery

What do Tuscany and technology have in common? Absolutely nothing, unless you live in Dom and Sheryl Curcio’s spectacular refurbished 9,000-square-foot house. The couple purchased the house six years ago while living in Europe.

When they moved back to the States, their love of all things Italian came along for the ride. It would be several years, however, before their dream of converting the 1980s-style residence into an Italian villa would be realized.

The renovation project started in the basement, where the floor was dug out to make way for a higher ceiling. The Curcios envisioned a home gym for the space. But trouble was brewing—big trouble. Before a single piece of equipment could be added, new support beams would need to be installed, an old foundation would need to be ripped out and the entire second floor would need to be rebuilt.

“It was a real nightmare,” Sheryl recalls. “We thought we had purchased a 13-year-old house, but it ended up being more like 113 years old.” Apparently, the 13-year-old structure had been built around the existing foundation of a much older home, which was causing major structural damage to the house. “It was literally sinking in the middle,” she continues.

Despite these setbacks, the Curcios forged ahead. When the property next door became available, they decided to take their remodeling plans to the next level. With the help of Chicago-based architect John Wilson, the home’s evolution from a traditional Midwestern abode to a stunning Italian villa began. The new design consisted of “skinning” the entire existing structure, adding 4,500 square feet across the two lots to form an L-shaped house and coating the home in Tuscan yellow stucco, set off with a myriad of arched windows and Italian colonnades.

Home Tech Blends with Tuscan Style
The colorful and unique qualities continue inside, where a plethora of flat-panel TVs, speakers and home control touchscreens look remarkably at ease with the Tuscan style.

“I started with a vision of how I wanted each room to look and then partnered with Baumeister Electronic Architects to make the electronics fit,” Sheryl explains. In most areas, the craftsmen at Niles, IL–based Baumeister Electronic Architects rendered the speakers imperceptible by planting them flush with wall and ceiling surfaces. “If my husband had had his way, though, every speaker would have been right out in the open,” Sheryl admits. Although Dom didn’t get exactly what he wanted, he still uses the system more than anyone else in the family. “He really loves his music,” says Sheryl.

But what the whole family enjoys is the ability to have different songs playing in different rooms at the same time. “It’s a real advantage when you have kids,” Sheryl remarks. She and Dom can listen to their favorite tunes on the patio, for example, while the kids rock out with their friends in the family room. The beauty of the system is that there are no radios, CD players or boom boxes in any room—just the built-in speakers. The system delivers music to each area from one central equipment rack in the basement that includes an XM satellite radio tuner, an AM/FM tuner and a music hard drive, among other components.

Remarkably, the Curcios never go near that gear. Instead, they grab the nearest portable Crestron touchpanel to select the songs they want to hear. The interactive touchpanel shows them the album covers and the song titles of their entire CD collection, which is stored digitally on an Escient FireBall hard drive. The family can search for music by artist or genre or alphabetically.

They follow a similar routine for selecting movies. The touchpanel shows them the flicks available on their Sony 400-disc DVD player, they touch the movie they want, choose the TV they want to view it on, and viola, the show starts. Just as easily, they can use a Crestron touchpanel to create a combination of music and video. “Sometimes we’ll watch a Cubs game and listen to music in the same room,” Sheryl explains.

The Baumeister team loaded the residence with touchpanels; there are six in all. But the Curcios can also use any computer to control the whole-house audio/video system, as well as their security system. This feature comes in handy when the family is entertaining outside.

“We can take a laptop with us to the deck and pick out songs to play over the outdoor speakers,” says Sheryl. The laptop uses Wi-Fi technology to communicate wirelessly with the same Crestron system that manages and controls the audio, video and security systems. The Curcios also use their computers to organize their music and video libraries. For example, after loading a CD into the server, they can go to a PC to add the songs to a certain music playlist.

Transformable Home Theater
Being able to access movies and music from anywhere in the house is a huge benefit for an on-the-go family like the Curcios, but when it’s time to slow down, nothing beats settling into the cushy couches in the dedicated theater downstairs, which was eventually added to the plans for a lower-level gym.

Like most special movie-viewing rooms, this one sports a huge wall-hugging screen, a ceiling-suspended video projector and a state-of-the-art surround-sound system. But in keeping with the decorative flair of the rest of the house, the most noticeable part of the room is a wall fresco of blue and red jungle monkeys that completes the room’s safari theme. The mural appears on the wall where the screen should be. “In this setting, the space can function nicely as a family room,” says home systems designer John Baumeister.

But again, the Crestron system holds all the magic. One command from a portable touchpanel transforms the room into an entertainment paradise. A 110-inch Da-Lite screen descends from the ceiling, and the Barco DLP projector revs up. Inside an equipment closet, the Sony DVD changer, Denon surround-sound receiver and amplifiers snap to attention. Finally, the screen alters its shape to fit the format of the movie selected. For example, should the family choose a movie in widescreen mode, slender panels of black fabric roll over the top and bottom portions of the display. The fabric eliminates shadows that would otherwise appear on the unused areas of the screen.

Plasma Serves as Centerpiece
The shape-changing screen is an impressive display, but it’s the home’s flat-panel plasma TVs that attract the most attention. Unlike the retractable screen, the plasmas sit completely out in the open. In fact, a 63-inch Fujitsu plasma with two attached Artison Portrait speakers is one of the most prominent design elements of the family room. “Aesthetically, it is the main picture,” says Sheryl. Poised over a short cabinet, the plasma presents digital photography as well as videos. “We’ll often use the plasma to display our travel pictures,” Sheryl continues. “It’s like putting on a high-tech slideshow.”

Naturally, snapshots from Italy are some of the family’s favorite scenes. They not only bring back wonderful memories of their favorite vacation haunt but also complement the room’s Tuscan decor. Indeed, there is a place for technology in Tuscany.

Equipment List: Home Control System

Equipment List: Whole-House Entertainment System

Equipment List: Home Theater Systems

Equipment List: High-Speed Network & Protection

  • Monster On-Q 42-inch enclosures (3)
  • Monster cables and interconnects
  • Monster Power AVS-2000 automatic voltage stabilizer
  • Monster Power HTS5100 noise filters (2)
  • Monster Power HTUPS1000 power center
  • Panamax Towermax surge protector
  • D-Link DI-604 home network router cable
  • D-Link DSS-8+ homenet switch
  • D-Link DWL-2000AP home network
  • Panasonic KX-TDA100 digital KSU phone system

Electronics Design and Installation

Baumeister Electronic Architects
Niles, IL
www.bavi.net

Architect
John Wilson
JA Wilson & Associates Architects
Chicago, IL
jawilsonarchitects.biz

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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

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