Savant-Controlled Home Is the Apple of Our Eye

A Macintosh-based control system and European styling star in this Pacific Northwest stunner.


Every touchpanel can act as an Apple computer, essentially, and large screens can double as interfaces too in this Oregon home. Credit: Leo Arfer

Stunning is about the only way to describe this 6,500-square-foot home overlooking Portland, Ore. Its three stories combine contemporary elements with swirling soffits, magnificent rock walls and plenty of state-of-the-art elements—from a new kind of home control system to high-res media systems to hidden speakers and Euro styling. Did we mention that the views are stunning as well?

The builder, Haggart Luxury Homes of Portland, was constructing the house for a Street of Dreams show, in which residents tour fully furnished homes for several weeks before the owners take residence. The house was already unique in terms of style, and he wanted to put the latest technology in the home.

Enter Genesis Home Technologies in Beaverton, Ore., which had worked with the builder before. Genesis had just the thing for this tech-savvy builder: a home control system called Savant that runs on an Apple Macintosh platform. And yes, that means iPhones can easily operate the system. “We had been beta-testing Savant,” says Jason Gotz of Genesis. “The builder was perceptive and just wanted to be sure it worked.”

Genesis was confident enough in Savant to install two 13-inch wireless touchpanels, two 5-inch in-wall touchpanels and a 40-inch Savant touchpanel built into a coffee table—all of which operate an eight-zone whole-house audio system, video distribution to TVs, heating and ventilation, lighting, security and more. And with a Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse, the tabletop screen can double as a computer monitor.

“Every touchpanel is basically an Apple computer,” says Gotz. “They can call up Mac’s Safari web browser, and your whole Apple desktop is available [if your computer is on the network]. You can push a button on the touchscreen to switch it over to desktop. And widgets pull up scores, Yahoo, and stock news,” if you really want to look at that.

In addition, the Apple platform allows Genesis to program some stunning—there’s that word again—graphics for the touchpanels, like some cool animation. And that doesn’t take countless hours of programming time, which costs much more money. “It has ease of programming,” says Gotz. “We can drag-and-drop to add components and connections, and all the programming behind the scenes has already been done. Then we can customize it from there.”

Savant’s main Rosie system does all the audio and video switching for the house, in a one-box solution, with video sent via HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) over Category 5e Ethernet cable. It has all the connections for lighting and security systems, too, like RS-232. It also has a built-in iTunes music server with eight outputs—and that means it can download music directly from the Apples iTunes store. You can even pull events off of iCal, Mac’s calendar program, to play Happy Birthday in your house.

Gotz says the Savant system is very stable. It received lots of ooohs and ahhs from the 70,000 or so people who came through the house during the Street of Dreams event. “About half of the homeowners walking through said they were Mac users, and the other half have iPods or have iPhones and are thinking about getting Macs,” says Gotz. “Some people don’t want a PC controlling their house, but they will have a Mac doing it.”

OK, so the Savant system is way cool—and the touchpanels just need power and Ethernet connections. So what about the other cool stuff?

Start with the full-blown Vantage lighting control system, using very Euro keypads styled by BTicino of Italy. During the Street of Dreams show, every day at 7 a.m. the lights turned on at preset levels, and the music turned on. Genesis also added the usual GOOD NIGHT, ALL OFF and VACATION scenes that power systems up or down depending on whether someone is in the house.

Hey, there’s also a stunning media room—we just can’t help it—with a 65-inch Runco 1080p plasma TV hung like one of the overlapping pieces of woodwork. Bay Audio’s Phantom series speakers are concealed in the ceiling for an immersive 5.1-channel experience. And when the views on the screen or out the windows overlooking the city aren’t enough, there’s a bar in the back with a wall of windows that opens to another media space outside. This has a 60-inch Runco plasma and four Bay Audio in-ceiling speakers. The speakers play audio off the whole-house music system or the TV. And if the TV is turned on, the speakers automatically switch over. Homeowners can also access the Kaleidescape DVD server that stores DVD movies right to hard drives and organizes them on screen by genre, artist, and producer—with cover art.

Here’s another cool Savant trick: Say you want to control something in the house via the TV? No problem. An on-screen display overlays the picture on the Runco plasmas, and icons for the lighting, security and other systems spin in the foreground. We’d call that stunning, but let’s just refer to it here as super sweet.

There are four other Bay Audio speakers outside the kitchen on a patio and two more in the outside area of the master bedroom. The kitchen features four very small 3-inch-diameter Bay Audio speakers that blend in with the ceiling’s down lights.

And naturally, everything can be controlled via an iPhone, on site or remotely. Homeowners can see the video feed from the three security cameras on the TVs, Savant touchpanels, iPhone or computers.

Even the Aprilaire HVAC system has some sleek features—as in no thermostats. Temperature sensors in every area were installed in the walls so they are practically invisible.

Stunning? Yes. Super sweet? Most definitely.


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