Sophisticated Automation Ensures Domestic Tranquility

This home control system adjusts to the musical, video and comfort preferences of each homeowner, automatically.


Credit: Simon Berlyn Photography

Was there ever a family that shared the same taste in music? Who all felt comfortable with the thermostat set at 72? Does everyone go through the same door to the same room when they get home at night? We didn’t think so.

The married couple that shares this renovated residence is no different—except perhaps that they have more house to deal with than most, at 25,000 square feet. She likes the house to look and feel a certain way; he prefers a totally different arrangement. Rather than fight over the stereo, lights switches or the thermostat dial, they let their Crestron home control system adjust the electronic components automatically, depending on who happens to be home at the time. When they’re both under the same roof, the system compromises, giving them each a little bit of what they like.

At-Home Mediation
The Crestron system isn’t a natural negotiator. Its internal software had to be programmed by a home systems professional to react appropriately. Here’s where the experts at DSI Entertainment Systems, West Hollywood, Calif., really showed their stuff, logging in more than 150 hours of custom programming. “We created a number of special lighting scenes, astronomical time clock events and energy saving settings,” says systems designer Josh Colletta.

The team also handled the design and installation of all the processing equipment, cabling and entertainment components. This was a challenge in and of itself, given the age and the existing wiring infrastructure of the home. “Everything was wired traditionally,” says Colletta, “meaning all of the light fixtures were connected to local light switches, thermostats were mounted on the wall in plain view and so on.”

All of that wiring had to be yanked out while the residence was being gutted to make way for an entirely different network of high-voltage and low-voltage cabling, which would connect the almost 500 lighting circuits to a centralized tech room consisting of Lutron HomeWorks 8 Series lighting control panels and processors. While DSI techs were fishing the low-voltage wiring (an electrician handled installed the high-voltage cabling), they installed additional low-voltage wiring to support a new centralized heating and cooling system, housewide distribution of audio and video equipment, and of course, the brains for the entire operation, a Crestron multi-processor control system.

Settling Their Differences
This brains consist of seven Ethernet-based Crestron control processors networked together and contain professionally programmed software, which has the intelligence to tailor the house to each owner’s liking. The system knows who’s at home by which button is pressed on the various 8-inch touchpanels mounted in strategic locations throughout. His button, which is labeled HOUSE LOW, turns on only a few lights to illuminate a path from the kitchen to the master suite. “He likes the house dark like a cave,” says Colletta, “She, on the other hand, likes the house pumping with lights.” Therefore, “her” button, which is called HOUSE BRIGHT, activates many of the lights in the common areas, galleries, corridors and foyer to provide a sense of comfort and safety, especially when her husband is away.

Taste in music is another area where the owners differ. He likes upbeat rock; she’d rather listen to Sinatra. He goes to his office, his bathroom or the home gym to relax with his tunes; she typically heads off to her office or her bathroom. Their previous whole-house audio system, which was removed during the renovation, was designed to only distribute the same song to all speakers in the house. “They knew they didn’t want that type of setup again,” says Colletta. To accommodate, DSI installed multiple XM tuners—one for him, one for her and one for guests—and put a separate iPod docking station in each office. Small, unobtrusive Crestron touchpanels display the controls for each user’s personal components. When an XM station or an iPod song is selected, the music plays only in that user’s defined listening zones, unless they decide to have it play through all of the 38 audio zones in the house.

DVRs are divvied up, too. She has her own receiver and recordings; same for him. They can direct their shows to any of the 16 high-def flat-panel TVs, including Seura mirror TVs in his-and-hers bathrooms. She had her mirror designed so that the TV appears in the center. His TV, on the other hand, shows up in the corner.

Areas of Agreement
Entertainment and lighting may have been an area of contention in this household, but the owners were in complete agreement in most other aspects of the design. Above all, the technology had to be visually understated, the controls intuitive and the old heating and cooling system revamped for efficiency.

The system also needed to minimize the amount of “running around” the couple previously did to get the house ready for bed, a trip away or entertaining guests. DSI honored all four requests.

Disappearing Displays
Nearly every TV is hidden, having been installed on motorized assemblies that keep the sets inside cabinets until the owners activate them by pressing a button on a handheld Crestron remote. On that command, a 50-inch Pioneer Elite ascends from a custom-crafted footboard in the bedroom. DSI chose one of the quietest motorized lifts on the market, according to Colletta, so that late-night viewing by one spouse wouldn’t wake the other. The kitchen has a similar setup, only here, a 26-inch Samsung pops up from inside the breakfast bar.

Other TVs may not be completely concealed, but they blend in nicely with their surroundings, having been recessed into the wall during the renovation. “It’s hard to believe that a 103-inch plasma could look understated,” says Colletta, referring to the display in the family room, “but it really fits the space nicely.”

Mac-esque Interfaces
Crestron, like other manufacturers of home control systems, offers an open programming platform so that the control menus on the touchpanels can be designed to suit a user’s comfort zone. In this project, both homeowners were savvy Mac and iPhone users.

“They felt comfortable in the Apple world, so we designed the on-screen interface of the touchpanels to look and function like the interfaces they would see on their Mac computers,” says Colletta. “This reduced the learning curve that’s often involved in operating a sophisticated and robust home control system and made them feel comfortable with the controls.”

Smarter Heating & Cooling
The owners were also on the same page regarding their old, inefficient heating and cooling system. Simply put: they wanted it out. “The old system didn’t support enough heating and cooling zones so the house never felt comfortable, the thermostats weren’t positioned correctly, and there was no cohesiveness of control,” says Colletta.

A new system was installed in its place by a local heating and cooling contractor, and divided into 32 independent heating and cooling zones. This would allow the homeowners to heat and cool areas of the house differently, for example, keeping the common living areas at a comfy 70 degrees while setting back the stats to a cooler, energy-efficient 65 degrees in unoccupied areas like guest bedrooms. The best part, though, was that all 32 thermostats could be adjusted from any Crestron touchpanel. Inconspicuous disc-shaped sensors monitor and relay temperature readings to the touchpanels, so the owners know if and when adjustments are necessary.

Contributing to the comfort and energy efficiency are five gas fireplaces and 30 motorized Lutron Sivoia window shades, all of which can be independently controlled from any remote or touchpanel.

Less Legwork
Likely, the owners feel the biggest change in their legs. They do a lot less running around now. “That 25,000-square-feet and six acres is a lot of ground to cover,” says Colletta. With the Crestron system in place, they can prep the house for any event or occasion from any of the home’s 21 in-wall touchpanels and 10 wireless control devices. It’s significantly quicker and more efficient than the way they used to do it—by going to each light switch, drapery pull rod, thermostat and entertainment component individually.

A special ENTERTAIN button, for example, turns on the lights by the driveway, on the porch and in the rooms where the owners entertain; activates the decorative fountains, distributes an XM Frank Sinatra station to the built-in Sonance speakers in the main area of the house; and sets the thermostats back to 69 degrees. That’s at least 15 minutes shaved off the party prep routine—a benefit both he and she can agree has made a real difference in their lives.


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