CE Pro Europe has been travelling a lot recently. Just two months ago in New York, a chance encounter led to the briefest of run-ins with John Luff of UK-based Oxberry. Pleasantries were swiftly exchanged before CE Pro was whisked off again, leaving John with the promise of catching up soon to talk about any interesting projects that the integration company might be keen to share.
Fast-forward to an unseasonably warm morning at the tail end of October, and CE Pro finds itself looking up at a house nestled away in Cobham. The home of Robin van Meeuwen, president and CEO at Crestron EMEA and his wife Petra, director of customer media relations – to be exact.
“I told you we’d find you a good one,” John grins, as large iron gates swing open to let us in.
What would be found inside? “Welcome,” smiles Petra as she meets us at the front door. “Come in; can I make you a coffee?”
CE Pro steps into a bright and spacious hallway adorned with a large abstract painting and a most unusual lampshade. “It’s made of magnets,” Petra says, pulling parts off it to demonstrate, “so I had it integrated into the Crestron lighting system.”
Petra shares her home with husband Robin, teenage daughters Lauren and Louise, and their dachshund Nina. It’s half term and the girls are at home (a Radio 1-friendly track drifts down from upstairs), while Robin is away travelling. Far from the showroom-esque home one might expect from a Crestron CEO when showing a journalist around, CE Pro can report that the van Meeuwen household is not too dissimilar to any other five-bedroom family home.
That’s not to say that it is messy by any stretch of the imagination; tidy – yes, but lived in: a pair of trainers kicked off by the back door, a coat slung over a shoe-rack, some (rather impressive) Lego constructions in the lounge, and like any other family, photos of the kids on the walls.
One thing that most family homes don’t share with the van Meeuwens, however, are the Crestron panels found on the walls of many of the home’s rooms, with full intercom throughout the house. This includes 16 zones of heating control, seven zones of air conditioning control, security integration and full control of the family’s outdoor swimming pool temperature, lights and cover. Not to mention each room has distributed audio and video.Of the many Crestron panels located throughout the home, the first one a visitor will notice is by the front door. The family use the 7-in TSW-750 touchscreens throughout the home for any number of tasks, including controlling the audio, video, lighting, shades and security.
“It’s a very easy way of quickly making sure that the house is as you want it to be,” says Petra. “When you rang the bell, the intercom and gates screen came up on the display and I could immediately see that it was you. I then opened the electronic gate without having to open my front door.”
Although that’s not Petra’s favourite feature. “Robin travels, so the security system is key for me. If for some reason the alarm goes off, I can see each of the camera feeds either on my TV screen or directly from the TSR-302 handheld touchscreen remote. I can instantly check to see what has caused it, just to double check that it’s a false alarm. For me, that’s a very important feature all made possible because of this beautiful Crestron system – although I’m slightly biased,” she adds.
These remotes can be found in each room of the house (complete with docking stations), acting as wand-style wireless touch screen controllers for the family’s needs, featuring built-in intercom, video display and voice control capabilities with control of the home’s audio, video, lighting, shades, temperature and security.
The predecessor didn’t have the high-contrast 2.8in touchscreen; it was just a remote. “The TSR-302 is a mini version of what you see on the wall touchpanels, which allows me to access anything I like from the remote,” Petra says, demonstrating by making the blinds in the study come down.
Petra selects ‘media’ from the remote’s onscreen options, giving control access to all media sources. “I can control the lights everywhere, anywhere and in any room. It’s the same you get on an iPhone or iPad on the Crestron App, and you can control the home from anywhere.
“Robin has it on his phone,” says Petra, pausing, “in fact he can play tricks. One night – he thought he was being funny – he was abroad and all of a sudden the lights start going on and off in the kitchen. I was thinking ‘what on earth is going on?’ The he calls me to ask if I was scared,” she laughs.
It turns out that Robin was doing a demo to display the functionality. “It is a perfect example of how you can control anything here, remotely. That’s particularly nice if you have a house somewhere else and you know you’re going to be arriving tomorrow: you can set the temperature and the lighting; you can make sure that the water in your swimming pool is at the right temperature – you can prepare for your arrival. And that’s the beauty of our systems.”
Another of Petra’s favourite automation features is one every mother can relate to: “My eldest has a bad habit of always leaving her bathroom lights on,” she says in a low voice. “Hers happens to be the only bathroom that doesn’t have a window, so she needs the light at any time of day. But, we are all about energy saving – we claim that our systems save energy and this is the perfect example. When we leave the house we can make sure that all of our lights are off with one touch of a button, which saves me from having to go to every single room. We’ll close the drapes so nobody knows we’re out of the house, and if the dog is here we leave the lights dimmed in the kitchen.
“The system saves me so much time in the morning,” she enthuses. “If my eldest needs to be up, but my youngest doesn’t, I go to the panel in the hallway and open all the curtains on the ground floor and know that Louise won’t be woken. On a normal day when they are both up for school I can open the curtains in one go.”
CE Pro steps into a large, modern kitchen, which Petra calls “the heart of the home. I am probably here about 75% of my entire day.” Here the family has opted for in-wall keypads, allowing them to control the lighting, curtains, AV and audio.
“I can use this or the touchpanel,” says Petra. “It’s whatever I’m closer to at the time. Plus the keypads mean no wall clutter: it’s one touchscreen that brings all of these elements together. You don’t have to have four remotes, and I can use my wall for my beautiful girls,” she says, gesturing to framed photos of her children.
Being autumn, the outdoor pool is fully covered, which can also be controlled using the touchpanels inside.
“In the summer we put the pool to 30 degrees; in one button the pool cover will be off – I don’t have to go outside to do it,” says Petra, demonstrating the system by having the cover retract, only to quickly reverse it once it starts to fill with leaves.
“We also have a keypad in the pool house at the end of the garden which is a great area for when my eldest wants to throw a party. She can play around with the music in there as loud as she wants and the noise doesn’t bother me at all. She’s 16 and has a boyfriend – that’s the one thing you can’t control with Crestron,” she laughs.
Tucked behind a hidden panel in the study is where the equipment rack and all of the (extremely tidy) cabling can be found, which contains the video distribution system: 16 video inputs and up to 16 video outputs, to be precise.
In terms of inputs, the van Meeuwens have Sky players, CCTV, Apple TVs (although the girls don’t have TVs in their rooms, the family watches together in ‘the snug’ – “When I was a girl watching TV was a family event,” says Petra) – all going out on Cat-5 cable to video receivers that have been positioned behind the TVs. A separate audio distribution system allows everything from the speakers throughout the whole house, to the soundbars to be controlled remotely.
“There’s also a Kaleidescape system and Belgium TV satellite receiver.” John points out, at which Petra lets out a cheer.
“There’s a lot of thought that’s been put into this,” says John of the rack. “The cooling part is very important. If you don’t have that, you’re going to shorten the life of the system. I have found from experience that no matter how many times you try to talk to architects or designers, it’s an irrelevance as far as they’re concerned. Then you get to the end of the project, and that’s where things are overheating – then we’ve got problems. But this has been done correctly – and it looks neat.”
Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the imagery on the panels and remotes are no ordinary stock images.
“This is a customised family crest,” Petra nods after seeing CE Pro give the panels a closer look. “In fact, each panel has a different background that is something to do with our family. Each panel has a bespoke background which are personal to us.”
These are the kind of customised touches that have ensured such a long lasting relationship between Oxberry and Crestron, as aside from the Oxberry software itself, the company prides itself on its bespoke custom panels.
“Exactly,” says John. “They aren’t specific templates that we take an then overlay – the clock graphic on the panels in this home is bespoke by us.” The individual clock hands’ movements have been painstakingly created by Oxberry for each position on the dial. And they change during the seasons.
Aside from the pride the company has in its bespoke work, it is clear that it is not out solely to make a profit: if a client requests something that Oxberry thinks they will soon regret (one client asked for the camera display to come on every time the alarm trips, but did not take into account that the cat would be setting it off), then they will advise them against it.
“From a programmer’s perspective, we always programme in a certain amount of driving lessons,” says John. “So when the job is complete, every member of the family will sit down to learn how it works. Each house is individually programmed; there’s no such thing as a programme that we drop in. It’s tailored to suit the individual customer’s requirements and we always follow up, which is not something that a lot of companies do.”
“That’s a very important point as far as I’m concerned,” says Petra. “It’s so important when there’s a handover when people buy a place with automation already installed. Crestron is only as good as the installation, and I shouldn’t say that, but I say that, because that’s what it is. If you have a bad installation, people always blame it on Crestron, when in fact it is more likely because the install hasn’t been done properly or they haven’t had it explained to them.”
“This was never a requirement before,” says John, “ as Crestron has its own streaming device. But now that we’ve had the announcement, we know that Crestron will integrate very well. I don’t doubt this will be the next move for Robin and Petra.”
“In our first house in the 90s we had a basic Crestron system,” reflects Petra. “Becoming an end user changes your view on what technology can do – before it was some abstract thing, and when things are abstract, you don’t really feel that bond. When we moved here it was just myself and Robin, but now we have the girls and they know how to use the technology better than most adults! That’s the funny thing – they’ve been raised with Crestron from the very first simple panel – they knew how to use it, in fact, they taught me as much as I taught them. Do you see why I’m happy?” she beams.