If you’re familiar with New York City, you know backyards—or any external spaces for that matter—are nearly impossible to come by. That is, unless you purchase two brownstones—abutting ones on either side of the block—to create an inner courtyard between two residences. That’s exactly what the owners of this five-story townhouse in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village did, connecting the main structure (approximately 5,000 square feet) with the guest house behind it (2,500 square feet) via an underground tunnel and a comprehensive Savant automation system. In doing so, these residents enlarged their living space and created an interior courtyard which, in this crowded area, is a true luxury.
Early Planning Nets Pleasing Results
To make sure both homes could communicate with each other, the homeowners contracted Innerspace Electronics, Inc. (IEI), Port Chester, N.Y., early on to handle the technological specifications. “We were lucky to be on the project from the beginning because we had the benefit of drawing our wiring specifications directly onto the floorplans, making it a relatively easy installation,” says Barry Reiner, owner and president of IEI. “Everything was mapped out from the beginning.”
The main residence features everything the homeowners need to stay entertained and comfortable, including B&W in-ceiling speakers throughout for listening to music or TV audio in the kitchen, the sitting room, or master bedroom. Lutron Sivoia shades cover the windows and also tie back to the Savant control system, making it easy to lower or raise them, which is a major convenience in a five-story home. The homeowners love the quiet operation of the Lutron Sivoia motor, which repositions the shades in near silence.
High-Tech Tricks in an Underground Tunnel
To get to the guest house, family members can cross through the underground tunnel. This isn’t the sort of cavernous, dripping, medieval torch-lit affair one normally associates with the word “tunnel.” This structure was built with the express purpose of connecting the two buildings in a meaningful way. For one, the tunnel contains functional living space, including a wine tasting room, a cellar, a Pilates gym, and a playroom. All of these underground rooms feature HVAC and Lutron HomeWorks lighting control. The homeowners can also monitor the wine cellar humidity and temperature from their iPad (which runs a full Savant system via an app), control the lights here or property-wide, or even listen to music emanating from the sublime floor-standing B&W 684 tower speakers as they uncork a bottle to sample.
Guest House is a Gamers Delight
While the homeowners spend most of their time in the main residence and in this subterranean playground, the smaller guest house across the courtyard serves not just as a place for visitors to stay, but as a family hangout. One of the family’s favorite rooms on the property, in fact, is the top-floor guest house game room, which features four Samsung televisions, each with its own DirecTV satellite receiver, Blu-ray player, and video matrix switcher that allows the family to watch any program on any display. With this many video displays and sources available, it was crucial that the navigation and control of them be easy, and IEI followed through by customizing the Savant graphical user interface appropriately. From any iPad, the residents can choose which source to display on each screen, and select which audio stream they’d like to hear through the room’s B&W in-ceiling speakers. To give the homeowners even greater flexibility in control, IEI went a step further and programmed Savant functionality into remotes from Universal Remote Control (URC). “They really like the way the URC remotes work, and wanted similar functionality on these handheld devices,” says Reiner. “From one simple remote, they can control lighting, video sources, and shades. This makes it easy to control a TV without having to go through an app or search for the iPad. It’s just another convenient, local option.”
Strong Networking Backbone Ties Two Homes Together
Considering the size of the project, which crosses from one side of the block to the other, the property needed not only one control system to manage two distinct homes from a single user interface, but the networking backbone to accomplish this task without a hitch. The area, and NYC in general, is plagued by heavy wireless traffic, which made the implementation of a strong network even more crucial. IEI installed a high-powered commercial-grade network that includes an Access Network Unity 8RN network with Ruckus wireless access points and a Ruckus zone controller. Even underground, these residents aren’t losing a Wi-Fi signal.
“A strong network was especially important because the homeowners needed to view cameras from one house to the other,” says Reiner. That’s in part because they have young children and wanted to be able to see them from anywhere on the property. “Consumer-grade baby monitors weren’t robust enough to work across the two buildings, so we used IC Realtime security cameras as baby monitors, all viewable from iPads or iPhones both on and off the property.”
Electronics Design & Installation Innerspace Electronics, Inc., Port Chester, N.Y.
Architect Moulin & Associates, New York, N.Y.
Interior Design CoCo Arnesen Design LLC, New York, N.Y., and Kate Draper Design, New York, N.Y.Equipment
Automation & Control Savant
Media Server Fusion Research
Speakers Bowers & Wilkins, Canton and Sonance
Networking Linksys and Ruckus
Shading & Lighting Control Lutron
Surveillance Cameras IC Realtime
In fact, all of the home’s electronic devices that are on the Savant system are accessible remotely, which is helpful if the homeowners are on vacation. They can pull up a security feed from one of the cameras, adjust the HVAC, and lower the shades. Ultimately, in fact, all the installed systems give this family peace of mind—not to mention limitless entertainment—whether they are down below in the tunnel, in the airy courtyard, relaxing the main house, entertaining in the guest house, or anywhere their travels take them.
Photography by John Olson