Apple of Their Eye

Apple-based control system and an electronic British butler.


Gold Winner: Whole Home $50,000 +

Lights that switch on automatically at dusk: Been there. Thermostats that set back when the security system is armed: Done that. But a shower that’s preset to the perfect temperature and water velocity, an iron that warms up in preparation for the morning rush, and a chandelier that flashes to indicate that the powder room is out of toilet paper?

Completely uncommon automation scenarios, says Drew Balsman of HD Media Systems in Jackson, Mo., “yet they make perfect sense for the family that lives in this house.”

Take the iron scenario. As Mom Angie explains, with school uniforms, husband Shannon’s work shirts and other items to press almost daily, it streamlines the morning rush to have the iron good and hot the second she hits the laundry room. That’s all Angie had to tell Balsman and partner Scott Starzinger. The HD Media Systems team programmed the Davis’ Savant automation system to make that magic happen. As Angie gets dressed, she taps a button on a Vantage wall-mounted keypad in her walk-in closet and the Savant system turns on the iron. It’s a simple implementation of technology, but little control tricks like this are making a huge difference in the efficiency of their household, Angie and Shannon agree.

The family-friendly, tasteful and clean interior design contributes to the nice, easy flow of the home, too. Fashioned by Jeff Lewis, star of the Bravo TV series Flipping Out (read about Lewis’ take on technology on page 15), the rooms provide a calm, soothing backdrop for some truly incredible applications of technology.

Automation Mastermind

Although HD Media Systems was instrumental in designing, installing and programming the Savant system that runs Angie and Shannon’s 5,500-square foot “contemporary craftsman” home, Balsman credits Shannon as the mastermind behind many of its unique and clever automation features. “He’s an extreme early adopter who is always looking for new ways to utilize technology.” Often, being on the “bloody cutting edge,” can be painful, admits Shannon, but not when it came to learning to use and live with the Savant automation system.

The fact that it runs on an Apple-based operating system had a lot to do with the pain-free adoption of automation. “We are Apple fiends,” says Shannon. “We own eight iPads, eight iPhones and four [iPod] touches, and use Mac computers exclusively.” Balsman and Starzinger transformed these mobile devices into home control interfaces by downloading Savant’s app onto them. After that, they customized the onscreen layouts by adding special buttons, icons and sliders to simplify the navigation of the home control menus and commands. The screen looks the same on every device, be it a wall-mounted iPad in the kitchen or the iPhone in Shannon’s pocket. Several TVs can display the Savant control menu, too, with navigation performed via a handheld remote control. The addition of the Savant home control app affected none of the iPads’ or iPhones’ functionality. The Davises still use them to download and store music from iTunes, check the weather forecast and log on to their favorite websites.

Prepped to Party

Quick and easy access to music and video has made the Davis residence a favorite hangout of family and friends. “We had at least 400 people here for an open house around Christmas,” says Angie. “We had a playlist of music playing through the entire house and pictures of our house being built displayed on every TV.” Fifteen zones of virtually undetectable Sonance in-ceiling speakers delivered the audio; and 10 displays, including a 110-inch Vutec screen in the media room (see photo, page 13), presented the video.

System Design & Installation

HD Media Systems, Jackson, Mo.


Prestige Development, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Interior Design

Jeff Lewis Design, Los Angeles, Calif.

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For this and any gathering they host, the Davises welcome visitors to mix things up by popping their own iPhones into the in-wall docking stations. Partygoers are encouraged to make special requests, too. Say a group wants to catch a football game. “Right from the kitchen iPad I can turn off the music in the media room, lower the motorized screen from the ceiling and call up the game,” says Angie. The kids, meanwhile, can congregate on the upper level of the house—dubbed the kids’ zone—where they can listen to their own music courtesy of a docking station in the hallway, or play video games on the 50-inch TV in the playroom.

The deck off the back side of the house is a party-pleaser, too. Music is directed to the 13 Sonance weatherproof speakers that line the perimeter, and video is cued up on a custom-designed 55-inch weatherproof LED TV that’s recessed into the brickwork of an outdoor fireplace. HD Media Systems installed the three front speakers within the hearth and placed the subwoofer under the deck to create a full 5.1 surround-sound effect.

As much as the Davises like to tinker with their music and videos, they can always get things started by just tapping the party button. This command sets the lights both inside and out, adjusts the heating and cooling system, turns on a music playlist and displays photos stored on an Apple TV device to all the home’s televisions. Should someone need to bump up the intensity of the softly lit sconces, lamps and recessed ceiling fixtures, they can do so from Italian-style Vantage keypads. Each room has at least one of them to provide quick one-button control over the lights. The rock band button in the media room, for example, launches a light show where the wall sconces ramp up and down in a predefined pattern. And there’s no way lights are ever left on in this household. Tiny sensors deactivate the lights 30 minutes after they detect that the room is unoccupied. When a child has gotten out of bed at night, they trigger pathway lighting in the hallway to the bathroom. The sensors also tell the lights to turn on automatically when Angie enters the laundry room carrying a basket of clothes.

Kid Patrol

With four kids ranging from 10 months to 13 years, the Davis household is a whirlwind of activity. In addition to making it easier for the kids to operate the home theater system—“our 5-year-old is a Ninja on an iPad,” says Angie—the Apple-based Savant system helps Mom and Dad monitor whatever their brood is doing. Surveillance cameras mounted strategically in bedrooms, hallways and the home’s exterior deliver pictures directly to the screen of any TV. Even if the kids are scattered, Angie only needs to press the dinner bell button on her phone or iPad to call the troops to the kitchen. The audio, which sounds like an authentic dinner bell, plays through all of the speakers inside and out.

When it’s time for bed or homework, Angie or Shannon can turn off the Xbox—or anything else—from any control device. They can do this remotely, as well, which has come in handy on several occasions. “I received a call from the babysitter last summer who said she couldn’t get the kids out of the swimming pool,” says Angie. “I told her, ‘I’ll get them out,’ and from my iPhone told the pool cover to start closing. They scrambled out of the water quick.” A tap of another button and Angie can start and stop the waterfall, adjust the pool temperature and operate the hot tub.

Comic Relief

Given the family’s comfort level with Apple products and the Savant system’s expansive programming capacity, the Davises couldn’t help but have a little fun while designing the system with HD Media Systems. An sos button in the powder room, for example, serves as a distress signal when the occupant is out of toilet paper. “When we see the chandelier blinking through the transom window, that’s our cue to grab more TP,” says Angie. Then there’s the distinguished British woman’s voice that announces that the family has visitors. There are three doors into the home, and the British avatar will report which door the visitor has approached, depending on the doorbell used. “I can’t help but smile when I hear that thick British accent: ‘There’s someone at the front door,’” says Shannon. Lastly, there’s the keypad inside the elevator. Buttons labeled first floor, second floor and third floor take you to their respective levels, but for fun Shannon included bat cave and penthouse buttons. “Who knows, I might really design a bat cave sooner or later,” he says. If and when that happens, it’s a sure bet that it will be controlled by the Savant system.

Jeff Lewis, star of Bravo’s popular Flipping Out series, a show about real estate reselling and home design, shares his views about home technology and its influence on his design of Electronic House’s award-winning Home of the Year.

Describe your role in Angie and Shannon Davis’ home.
After stalking my office for a few weeks, I took on the Angie and Shannon Davis home as a design consultant. It was actually one of the first times that I was hired to do that type of work. Because of the distance from my offices in L.A., I kept saying, “No, there’s no way this is possible.” Angie was relentless in her pursuit, emailing and calling to the point that I just gave in and flew to St. Louis to meet with them.

Technology is becoming more prevalent in homes. How has this changed the way you approach projects?
I used to remodel a home and only worried about which television screen I would hang on a pivot arm once the paint had dried. Today, any renovation or home build project requires an incredible amount of additional planning. There’s wiring, there are speakers, there are cameras, there are computers, there are more gadgets than I could ever want to deal with. I am forced to collaborate with experts in the field and involve them in decisions just as much as I would a plumber or an electrician.

Do you feel that technology is an important element in interior design?
On just about any project, technology is a concern for my clients. Security is always a priority, so the ability to integrate cameras into a design without making it look like a prison is a must. Clients are entertaining more than ever, so sound systems, media closets, lighting systems and built-in monitors are constantly being planned. My concern in designing these spaces is how to make it look like the technology doesn’t exist. Since my aesthetic leans to clean and minimalist, being able to tuck away all of the equipment into a closet and still access the features throughout the house with touchscreens simplifies my work. Now I don’t have to worry about designing or placing furniture just to hide equipment.

What was your reaction to the Davis’ Savant home automation system?  
It’s impressive. A space that caters to my needs, that changes lighting and room temperature based on where I’m at in the home sounds like something that would contribute to my deep level of self-involvement. EH


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