A Work of Art

Technology works behind the scenes in this contemporary, art-inspired Manhattan penthouse.


“Lights, camera, action” takes on a new meaning in this Manhattan penthouse. Cove lighting and a rectangular, monotone piece on the wall behind frosted glass creates an art form. Photo by Scott Braman.

“Practice makes perfect” may sound cliché, but it’s a saying that can be applied to a number of different situations, including those that involve having electronic systems in a home. The owner of this Manhattan penthouse has had his fair share of experience with home electronics. For more than 20 years, he has lived with all types of gear and enjoyed all the conveniences and comforts that technology can offer.

However, there’s always room for improvement. A move from his automated country house to a tech-free penthouse in the city afforded a wonderful opportunity to step things up a notch. And true to his vision, the results are breathtaking. The components that give the space music, video and controls for the heating and cooling, security, and lighting systems are truly works of art, uniquely installed to complement the exotic finishes and furnishings of the renovated abode.

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For example, rather than simply hang the 42-inch plasma on the wall in the dining room, the homeowner had it placed behind a series of moveable frosted glass panels. Opening the panels reveals the unit when the homeowner wants to dine with the company of a movie or TV program. Mostly, the panels stay shut to function as a beautiful piece of modern art.

Another unusual yet effective mounting technique was used in the master bedroom. There, the home systems designers and installers at Sawyers Control Systems in Frenchtown, NJ, placed a 42-inch plasma TV above the ceiling. Attached to a custom-designed motorized lift, the TV swings up when it’s not in use so that it lies horizontal within a pocket that was carved into the ceiling. Pressing a button on a portable Crestron touchpanel moves the set back into its viewing position. Should the homeowner fall asleep while the TV is on, a timer automatically shuts it off and pulls it back into the pocket.

Although the placement of the two plasmas couldn’t be more different, they, along with the 50 incher on the second floor, do have one thing in common: They can all display video in high definition. “What a difference HD has made,” the homeowner raves. “Everything looks so much more realistic that I almost don’t want to watch anything that’s not in high definition.”

In addition to the plasmas, there are numerous miniature screens—touchpanels—in the home that offer total control. Most of the time, the homeowner uses the smaller screens to control the lights, temperature and whole-house music system. Right from the touchpanel, he can select a tune from the hundreds of songs that are stored on the hard drive of a music server. Or he might go to one to check the outdoor temperature before he leaves for work. A small sensor mounted outside on the patio feeds the temperature reading to every touchpanel in the home. “It’s a much quicker way to get the weather than waiting for the news on TV,” says Sawyers Control Systems president Tom Callahan. Best of all, with the touch of a button, any of the wall-mounted units can turn into a TV. Any source that’s available to the home’s plasmas, including cable TV, satellite TV and DVDs, can be accessed from touchpanels in the bathroom and foyer. In the kitchen, a freestanding 14-inch Sharp Aquos LCD TV can also tap into this huge assortment of video. Amazingly, none of the components that feed video and music throughout the home are visible. They, along with an HAI home automation processor and a Lutron Radio RA lighting control processor, are housed inside a closet on the second level. In that spot, the components are easily accessible but don’t detract from the interior design. Even DVD and CD cases are a thing of the past in this home. All the DVDs are stored in a Sony 400-disc changer, which is linked to a VideoRequest VRQ-1 video server that lets the homeowner select a movie by looking at a list presented on the screen of any TV.

As for the speakers that fill each entertainment space with audio, they’re out of sight as well, mounted flush with the walls or placed into the dropped ceiling that was added to the penthouse. The new ceiling created a space not only for the speakers but also for running cabling throughout the abode and for positioning the light fixtures perfectly to play up the home’s architectural and artistic details. Plain old fixtures are passé in this pad. “To me, lighting is the most important part of a space,” the homeowner says. “It’s an art form in and of itself.”

To demonstrate the artistic aspects of light, the owner had Sawyers install a specialty system that goes way beyond simply dimming and brightening groups of lights. The I-Color system from Color Kinetics washes hues of blue, green, orange and yellow across a beaded glass wall in the living room. The lights shift gradually from one color to the next, according to a program that the homeowner wrote himself. The effect is stunning and gives the homeowner an opportunity to flex his artistic muscles. In other areas, the Lutron Radio RA lighting control system creates beautiful effects that accentuate special pieces of artwork, establishe moods for different occasions, and offer a quick, convenient way to set the lights for bedtime, waking up and other common daily routines. A come home button on the portable Crestron touchpanel, for example, brightens several lights so that the homeowner can find his way to the kitchen when he returns home late from work.

No matter what time of day it is, the electronic systems inside this penthouse are always willing to perform. Whether they’re handling practical jobs like adjusting the temperature and setting the security system or helping the homeowner express an artistic flair with special lighting effects, the electronic components go above and beyond the call of duty. Fused together, the sophisticated decor and modern technologies create a comfortable, convenient and visually stunning home environment.


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