Ask any interior designer for advice on designing a home theater or media room, and he or she will have three words for you: Hide the equipment. But what some interior decorators don’t know is that there are high-tech products available to them that are as meticulously and stunningly designed as an Eames or Corbusier chair. And like those iconic statement pieces, you can make just as bold and dramatic an impression with your electronics. Whether it is the patina of a SIM2 video projector, the custom finish of a Leon Speakers soundbar, the commanding presence of Focal floorstanding speakers, or the ultra-thin modern design of a Devialet component, products like these are made to be admired and will take the discerning homeowner’s high-tech space from pitifully pedestrian to profoundly posh.
“Homeowners choose products that are meant to be left out in the open so that they can have something that is more aesthetically pleasing without sacrificing performance,” says Shane Bala, president of STELLAR Home Theater & Beyond, a Texas-based integration firm that believes design is integral to the high-tech home. In fact, STELLAR not only has interior designers on staff, it will provide 3D renderings of projects to interior designers, who often don’t have the capability or resources to execute this type of realistic documentation.
“When you go a step further into the really high-end products, the homeowner expects and demands customization. For example, six-figure Focal Grand Utopia speakers are definitely meant to be admired, and Focal will customize the speakers if you have the financial means,” says Bala. When you are playing at this level, the ability to customize a speaker, projector, or any other component becomes more important because luxury clientele is simply used to having this option. For equipment that is left out in the open, it’s even more imperative that it appropriately meshes with the design.
Leon is another speaker manufacturer that has always focused on design, believing that sound is an important element of modern interior design. Like other interior design-inspired electronics manufacturers, Leon puts an emphasis on customization. All Leon speakers are handcrafted and built to match the exact size and finish of any flat-panel display. “We consider our product line a palette in many ways. All of our products are built with what we call ‘flexible parameters,’ which means they can be built to nearly any dimension, and custom finished to match millwork, paint, materials, and more,” says Noah Kaplan, president and founder of Leon Speakers. “We’ve worked with materials like goldleaf and custom wallpaper, and we recently even engraved a corporate logo into the face of a speaker.” Custom finishes span from exotic hardwoods to solid aluminum, and Leon can match any paint code or wood stain. Speaker grilles can be created in standard or designer fabrics along with perforated metal to match existing design elements. Focusing on creativity, the company keeps industrial designers in-house—along with mechanical engineers, interior designers, and multi-discipline artists.
Taking the “hidden-in-plain-sight” approach, ClearView Audio’s Clio speakers eschew both traditional hidden electronics and ostentatious in-your-face speakers. Although it isn’t an in-wall speaker, Clio employs ceramic piezos to actuate a slightly curved, ultra-thin, and optically clear piece of acrylic glass from the edges. The micro movement of the piezo is amplified by the larger surface of the acrylic glass transducer to produce sound. The benefits to this approach are that the clear speaker has broad appeal, while typical designer speakers, ClearView suggests, communicate a very specific style for a narrower audience. “Clear and transparent is an important decorating trend. It’s a lighter look that allows greater visibility and energy flow,” says Gene D’Ovidio vice president of strategic marketing for ClearView Audio.
While most projectors are designed to be hidden, SIM2 believes that in today’s world of low-cost flat-panel TVs and their reflective surfaces, compact high-brightness projectors and retractable screens offer an opportunity to introduce large screens to all types of rooms without having to waste an entire wall for a large, encumbering display. “Therefore, a decor-fitting projector is the only way an Italian manufacturer can envision a projector to properly enter the home environment,” says Alberto Fabiano, past executive vice president of SIM2. “We think a projector should not be just a black box relegated to an enclosure. As such, we are always mindful of industrial design, color, and finishes. Like everything Italian, it has to fit the rest of the design.”
SIM2 has industrial designers on staff and takes its inspiration from the timeless simplicity of modern Italian design seen in iconic cars, furniture, and appliances. The company selects exquisite finishes, such as hand-cut tempered glass and hand-finished high-gloss metallic paint. Its ART collection features customized art-printed glass cabinets.
Aside from the display and speakers, components like receivers, Blu-ray players, and amplifiers are usually tucked away inside an equipment closet. Yet, for the aesthetically minded, some manufacturers still design these to a very high specification. McIntosh Laboratory, for example, provides exemplary amplifiers and components that are instantly recognizable by their inimitable blue glow.
Manufacturers of home theater equipment aren’t the only ones hitting high marks for high style. Many home systems integrators believe that great gear can be function as a visual statement piece. “The biggest reaction we get is from the Devialet Expert—a streaming integrated amp,” says Christian Lawrence, co-founder and owner of Audio Video Excellence, of Fountain Hills, Ariz.—a company that prides itself on the balance of the lines it carries, creating an equilibrium of performance, value, and design. “No one can believe the minimalistic beauty of Devialet, and the quality of the sound is jaw-dropping, ground-breaking, amazing,” Lawrence continues. Well above and beyond an ordinary amplifier, Devialet reinvents and combines all of the key components of expert music playback (preamplifier, amplifier, DAC, streamer, phono stage) in a single and extremely thin slab with a high-polish, mirror-like, titanium-chrome finish. If you don’t believe us, just look at the more than 40 audio and design awards Devialet has racked up over the last five years.
With speakers, projectors, and even components looking this sophisticated, stylized, and stunning, it would be a shame to hide them. So get your decorator in tow or grab your color swatches and start planning the bold, beautiful home theater or high-tech home of your dreams. EH
Krissy Rushing is an A/V publishing industry veteran whose experience spans more 15 years. From her early days as executive editor of Home Theater magazine, Ultimate AV, and Audio Video Interiors to her more recent work as a freelance writer, Krissy specializes in making technology understandable to anyone.