One of the most appealing parts of owning a home automation system is how seamlessly, when programmed and designed properly by a CE professional, it can mesh with a family’s unique lifestyle.
It’s as if your house is smart enough to know what you want and when you want it and gracefully grants every wish – be it music in the dining room, elegant lighting in the foyer or thermostats and security systems adjusted perfectly before bedtime.
Having designed and been in and around high-tech homes throughout much of his 28-year career as an architect, Tom Taylor had a clear understanding of how technology could be designed and installed to enhance every aspect of his and his wife’s new home, from its functional efficiency to its sophisticated look.
Basic, but Far from Boring
As with most of their high-end projects, the CE pros at C&T Systems, Vernon, Connecticut, were prepared to pull out all the stops to create something special and unique for the Taylors.
“We held dozens of meetings where we walked through the plans and decided room by room what we wanted the system to do,” explains Andrew Spalla, C&T’s director of systems engineering.
“As tempting as it was to design scads of special lighting scenes and get creative with the labelling of buttons on keypads and remotes, the owners resisted.
“They stuck to a more standard fare of settings and controls ‘that everyone would be able to understand,’” Tom says.
By ‘everyone’ he means the many people who will be staying at his new house.
As one of several posh private residences at the Amangani Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Taylors’ new house serves as a weekly rental for resort guests while Tom and his wife are away for part of the year.
The challenge, therefore, was to design the controls to be straightforward and simple enough for anyone who stayed at the residence to use, yet provide the Taylors with the ability to tweak the settings for a more customised, personalised experience.
Lightening the Loads
Lighting control became the focus of the project, due to its ability to be both a basic tool for guests to illuminate the home during their stay and as a way for the Taylors to accentuate their favourite elements of the architecture and décor.
“Plus, I’ve been involved with the design of lighting systems in homes for almost as long as the systems have been available,” Tom says.
“I have seen the impact lighting can have on the look and feel of a house.”
For the most flexibility in how the lights look and perform, Taylor strategically grouped the hundreds of mostly LED fixtures into 149 individual circuits.
For example, one circuit might power the sconces in the great room while another feeds electricity to the LED tape lighting around the ceiling.
“That’s a lot of potentially confusing lighting to adjust,” says Andrew.
To eliminate the guesswork for guests, C&T mounted a total of 43 Lutron keypads to walls throughout the residence.
Each keypad was programmed to manage a specific set of circuits; for example, the keypad in the great room handles the operation of all of the individual lighting circuits in that specific area.
What really makes the guesswork go away are the buttons on the keypads.
Andrew explains: “When you enter a room, there are three buttons from which to choose: high, low and off.
“High sets groups of lights at a bright level and low dims another group for a softer effect.
“These preset levels vary from space to space, though, depending on the available natural light and the activities that commonly take place within a certain area.
“For example, the high setting in the kitchen is brighter than the high setting in the master bedroom.”
Guests are free to adjust the preset intensity levels by touching up and down arrows on each of the keypads, but the fixtures always revert to their original preset levels when high or low is pressed.
The lighting levels might also differ depending on when a button is pressed.
Depending on the time of day, which was programmed into the Lutron system by the engineers at C&T, high might also incorporate a few exterior lights for added evening ambiance.
In some areas no button press is required.
Instead, the fixtures brighten and dim as the sun rises and sets – a completely hands-off design that’s perfect for those less technically inclined holidaymakers.
But, of course, this is the Taylors’ house, so Andrew created a few special settings that are available only to Tom and his wife via a special App on their iPad.
Having designed this home’s interior himself, Tom uses these settings to accentuate certain architectural features of the house.
To create a warm, wall-grazing effect, Tom specified that LED fixtures be used throughout, much of which are in the form of LED tape.
Flat enough to be tucked inconspicuously within places like bookshelves and ceiling soffits, the LED strips were positioned in a way that would highlight the grain of the redwood walls, the varying hues of stone fireplaces and even the texture of motorised Lutron Sivoia and Conrad/Lutron window shades.
In fact, when the lights and shades in the entry, gallery and bedrooms are both set just right, Tom considers the effect to be one of the most eye-pleasing parts of the house and a treat he created more for him and his wife than for anyone else.
One of the special iPad App settings for the Taylors is a command that settles these shades at about 16in below the roller bars.
At the same time the LED tape that’s snuggled behind the rollers activates.
“The LEDs cast a warm light on the shades, which really makes them stand out as works of art,” says Andrew.
“It adds warmth, texture and decorative interest to windows that would otherwise look like a black hole at night,” adds Tom.
Admirable too, is the ability of the shades to filter out the glare from the sun – important when watching the TV – without blocking the view of the mountains.
Just a tap on the keypad and the shades quietly descend into place.
Then it’s just a matter of picking up an Elan HR2 handheld remote, iPad or iPhone to start the show.
Coordination of Controls
Remotes are available for quick and on-the-spot control of LED TVs peppered throughout the house, but even the Lutron lighting keypads can handle some of the A/V orchestration.
For example, a keypad mounted near the doorway to the outdoor seating area features a specially programmed ‘spa’ button, which when pressed activates the exterior lights and the jets in the hot tub and tells an Elan multi-zone audio matrix switcher to pipe music to several Niles outdoor garden speakers.
Similar integration is evident in the bedrooms, where a ‘suite off’ command switches off not only the lights, but also the TV and music if they happen to be on.
The ability to place non-lighting type commands within the lighting keypads streamlines the process of controlling multiple systems and helps preserve the architecture of the home.
What may have otherwise required multiple independent controls on the wall are combined into one sleek, attractive interface.
As an example, says Andrew: “The controller that came with the spa system was incredibly ugly and would have looked awful mounted to the stone wall.”
By integrating the spa system and the Lutron system, C&T was able to provide the Taylors with the basic controls they needed to operate the spa from a keypad that best complemented the home’s architecture and style.
Per Tom’s request, the faceplates were finished in an oil-rubbed bronze or matte black.
They still needed to be placed just right, though.
“The general contractor’s superintendent, Tim Rieser, paid extreme attention to detail to make sure that the pads fit perfectly into the stone and were placed to stay within the seams of the redwood wall,” says Andrew.
Of course, the more systems that are integrated together the more buttons will be required on a keypad to operate them all.
They run the risk of becoming too complicated and confusing to use.
For this reason, Andrew assigned the Elan g! system and its companion 10in touch panel in the kitchen the role of coordinator of all things electronic.
From the kitchen touch panel, the Taylors – and rental guests – can manage, monitor and control not only the lights and motorised shades, but every electronic device and system throughout the entire house, including a Honeywell security system, IC Realtime surveillance cameras, Elan whole-house audio and video distribution, the snow and ice melting system, Pentair pool and spa system and every A/V component in a dedicated 280-square-foot home theatre.
Smaller Elan TS2 touch panels mounted to the walls of the bedrooms, office and exercise room can also tap into the controls but are used mainly for quick access to the Elan whole-house music system.
“The Elan g! system can also be accessed from any iPad or iPhone that has the g! App,” notes Tom.
“This allows easy access to all the technology anywhere in the house without even getting out of bed or your chair.”
When guests enter they are free to deposit their iPods on any of several docks around the residence. “It may be a slightly old-fashioned approach, what with audio streaming capabilities widely available,” says Andrew.
“But docks require no special downloading of Apps and everyone knows how they work.”
Tom adds: “This allows people like my brother to visit and bring his own 5,000 CD collection of classical music with him on his iPod and access it from anywhere in the house.”
The Taylors have their own collection of music stored on a Fusion Research OMS-2 music server that they are happy to share with guests – especially since the server never needs to be touched.
Instead, users peruse and choose songs via the screen of an iPad, iPhone, Elan touch panel or Elan HR2 handheld remotes.
Following a similar procedure, the Taylors and house guests can direct video and photos from their iPad via Apple TV and video from four cable TV receivers (which are stored in a utility room along with the media server) to any of six flat-panel TVs or a 110in screen in the home theatre.
In many of the rooms shadowboxes were constructed so that the TV sinks into the wall, again, an effect that lets the architecture, not the technology, take centre stage.
Although audio travels all over the house, it’s difficult to discern the locations of speakers, as grilles of the in-ceiling Niles CM7 and SpeakerCraft FR1 models were painted to match the ceiling surface.
Even the front array of surround-sound speakers in the great room call no attention to themselves, having been custom-made by Leon Speakers to match the width of and mount perfectly below a 60in Samsung LED TV.
In the master bathroom shower, the speakers were tucked behind an air return slot near the ceiling.
“This may be the best audio listening in the house,” Tom says.
Admittedly, the home theater could be described as a starter system, but again, it’s the ease of control that the Taylors wanted more than an over-the-top, high-tech wonderland.
“Besides, this is not the type of home where you’d spend a lot of time watching TV anyway,” says Andrew of the resort-based residence where hiking, biking, skiing and horseback riding are the preferred pastimes.
A Panasonic projector feeds video, chosen from an iPad, to a 110in SnapAV screen.
The lights are automated too, of course, to dim as the movie starts and to brighten for an intermission and after the credits roll.
Epitome of Ease
Renting a house of this calibre and with this much technology could have been a nerve-racking experience for the Taylors, but with the help of C&T Systems, they know there’s little that can go wrong.
The level of control available to guests was kept intentionally basic to prevent serious snafus and the Taylors and C&T can always access the systems remotely if necessary to make sure that everything is working as it should.
When the Taylors are at the house, they can bump up the level of control by tapping into a “virtual keypad” on their iPad.
Available only to them, the controls permit the modification of the settings of the lights, adjustment of the radiant floor heating system and the download of more songs into their movie server – of system that ‘we really don’t want guests fiddling with’, says Tom Taylor.
The Taylors don’t even have to be on the premises to initiate these and other alterations.
The Elan g! system supports remote access to all the various systems that are tied to it, which means the Taylors have full control of the house even when they’re hundreds of miles away.
Should something go awry, C&T technicians can access the system from its offices in Connecticut and fix the problem.
High-tech homes can feel intimidating to newcomers. This is definitely not the case at the Taylors’ vacation home.
Designed from the start as a posh getaway for guests of Jackson Hole’s Amangani Resort, its electronic systems create a friendly, hassle-free environment where relaxation revolves around the great outdoors.
The controls that operate the lights, music, video, hot tub and more are so intuitive that everyone from renters to resort personnel, and, of course, the Taylors can appreciate their sophistication.