“Ideaworks was started 30 years ago by me,” says Ideaworks MD Kevin Andrews as he hands CE Pro Eu a cup of tea at the company’s intriguing experience centre in London. “My background was commercial lighting and audio, so the company used to work as a consultant for cafés, bars and venues – even an aging club could automate it all.”
At a time when the custom install industry was still in its infancy at the dawn of the digital era, Kevin acted as a consultant to both Bose and Whitbread R&D, helping create the first digital music systems and custom engineering lighting control systems to automate bars and clubs that were open 18 hours a day.
These technologies migrated into homes, paving the way for Kevin to enter the custom electronics integration business, founding Ideaworks (formerly Sound Ideas) in 1984.
It quickly transpires during the interview that Ideaworks’ main design studio, which houses over 40 senior designers, project managers and CAD technicians, is just a few short miles away from CE Pro Eu’s office, yet both parties agreed to meet some 50 miles away in Great Portland Street – well worth the journey to see the experience centre.
“We are now 140 people based in Faversham,” he nods. “We are divided up into a whole series of departments, so there’s an IT department, installation, design – and never more than six or seven to a team.”
The experience centre serves as the face of the company – a quirky, versatile space which is utilised for a plethora of tech-related events, showcases, project design meetings, brand launch events and educational talks.
The showroom itself has undergone eight themes in two short years, housing the very latest in carbon fibre, superyacht technology and OLED, to name a few.
“Things that wow this month will be different next month; we are always changing,” he stresses. “The experience centre is a learning point, where we see something interesting and we build it and try it,” he says, gesturing to a suspiciously sunny window in the ceiling (it is most definitely not sunny outside).
What CE Pro Eu is looking at is something called Coelux, an artificial skylight that – very realistically – replicates daylight by utilising what it calls ‘a single source LED projector’ (the sun, to you and I), creating a sun beam on the wall using a clever series of optics and technology. This 3.8×2.4m unit weighing 350kl with a 380W LED power source is intended for basement spaces in high-end residential homes, although other possible applications that could benefit are swimming pools, spas, gyms, hospitals, hotels and offices.
“For the people in the high residential market that we firmly are, we have always tried to wow,” he explains. “We were installing touch screens before the Internet, so we have always tried to show people the latest and greatest. We have a lighting team of eight growing to 16 by the end of the year, so we have a very strong focus in lighting design. The same goes for home automation systems; we have all the brands so you can see them all side by side and test them all out to make a good decision.”
And his role? “Mine is to be the voice of reason: grumpy,” he answers, completely deadpan. “You can ask a designer to design something that works perfectly in his mind, but my job is to come at these things with a fresh mind and go: ‘if I didn’t know and understand this, how would I interact with this?’ This is a really key part of what we do.”
Off the back of what Ideaworks offers clients, the team is constantly looking into its own research and development with new products and experiences.
“We are always playing with toys and have a dedicated R&D team that just spends time saying: ‘what could we do if we were to improve this product by fixing its flaws?’ – we make products too,” he enthuses.
Ideaworks clearly has a lot going on, with its fingers in many different flavoured pies, evidenced by the way Kevin enthusiastically hurtles from one topic to the next, keen to share all that the company has to offer.
“I try to drive everyone in the company to think: ‘how could this be better, how can I make this better, smarter?’”
It is worth noting that Ideaworks also has a seperate technical centre in Kent (home to AV/IT rack builds, hardware servicing and support, off-site testing, lighting control rack assembly, logistics and procurement), a design and aftercare centre at Kings Cross which serves as a dedicated ‘lighting hub’ for the lighting team, and offices in both Germany and Italy – the latter of which is situated conveniently close to a superyacht yard.
“We do a lot of these,” he reveals. The reason Ideaworks is behind the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) is that often the client is developing a home or a yacht with a design team in charge.
“They are the best people to show technology to as they are making the decisions that are best for the client,” he explains. “We are here to inspire the design team which in turn can inspire their client. Clients are generally time-poor, but wealthy, so they don’t want to travel to lots of places to see all different makes and models – they want to go to where they can see the most under one roof. Very often they will make Ideaworks their first point of call.”
IMAX At Home
But CE Pro Eu digresses. The official reason for the visit is to talk about IMAX; more specifically, IMAX in the home.
This year it was announced that IMAX and Ideaworks have partnered to bring the experience to the residential sector.
Costing a cool £1.8 million, the target client would be someone whose home cinema is typically 7x10m or more, with movie-house-type seating.
Custom-designed to IMAX specifications and ‘engineered for perfection’, everything about the IMAX Private Theatre is state of the art and custom-designed to deliver the ultimate in-home entertainment experience.
How it works is that IMAX designs every aspect of the IMAX Private Theatre – from its projection and sound technology to the room acoustics and theatre geometry – to work as a fully integrated solution that is optimised specifically for the customer’s home. The price tag also comes with a five-year, 24/7 maintenance plan.
IMAX’s team of specialists play an integral role in the entire process, working directly with the client’s architects, developers, interior designers and custom installers to ensure everything is built to IMAX’s performance standards while catering to specific design preferences.
“It’s always been a reality to have IMAX in the home, but now it can be controlled and scaled down to house-fitting size, whereas previously it wasn’t,” says Kevin.
“Ideaworks’ role is to design the spaces for these IMAX products. IMAX supplies the screen, projector, etc. but after that it’s an empty room. I have to say that a big part of our business is aftercare; there are plenty of companies like us putting these things in, but our thing is aftercare – doing little tweaks and looking after them after the installation.”
What Does The Client Get For £1.8 Million?
The customer gets dual, ‘commercial-grade’ 4K projectors, promising 2D and 3D, native and upscaled images of a quality, IMAX surround sound technology, a curved wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling screen (size variable to fit space), laser imaging used to set up sound system, custom install speakers and as many seats that can fit into the particular space.
“Although it’s a big sum of money, in the world of things that you can spends lots of money on, £1.8m is a tank of fuel for a superyacht, the price of running a private jet for a year, or represents 10% of what your London property has gone up by in the last year,” Kevin reasons.
“IMAX is the ultimate; that ultimate client wants that ultimate thing. Buying a superyacht is a small thing to these high profile people,” he shrugs. “We have worked on projects in excess of £180m – a superyacht is a displace of immense wealth, so is nothing to the client.”
The customer can also access 200 IMAX films with instant access on the day they hit cinemas via the same ‘Day and Date’ download system used in modern cinemas.
The system can also play video games, Blu-rays, DVDs and live/satellite/cable and the screen can be split into four separate streams with the option to have both 3D and 2D frames simultaneously.
“My ultimate dream is for people to use their home technology, but not have to think about it,” says Kevin.
“I don’t want them to think: ‘that’s clever, cute technology’ or dreading the moment the mother in law comes over and they have to explain how it all works. I want to look carefully at making things not super techy, but super simple by hiding and masking the technology that they don’t need to see. I want the space to feel nice, like walking into an expensive hotel or shop.”
At the suggestion that bringing IMAX to the home is groundbreaking, Kevin winces, evidently not one for bragging.
“Is it groundbreaking?” he ponders. “I’m never one to over big-up what something is – sure it’s an amazing cinema experience but it’s not virtual reality; there’s a whole world of stuff going on out there which is cool and clever and fits on your head and doesn’t require you to spend this kind of money and have this much space.”
Hesitating for the merest of moments, Kevin adds: “It’s like a fabulous car like a Bentley: it’s a fabulous thing, but there are other ways of getting around. Although it sets the benchmark for what you can have at home today, obviously things will keep moving on. We do lots of interesting things and technologies that go into that kind of arena.”
Ideaworks won’t be implementing the IMAX systems until at least four years, and when it does, it will be UK-only.
In the meantime, Kevin has lots to keep him occupied. “I think we’ll do a lot more whole immersive environments in future, we work with several really cool video, lighting and installation artists – people who do really creative experiences. That’s what I think will flow into the projects far more. That, and mapping interiors of rooms – we’re talking to a lot of really creative people who are looking at what you can do with projection and video, and special stuff to really be able to take you into an immersive environment where you don’t sit and watch an activity, but where you enter that space – such as reality headsets,’ he grins.
Find out more about Ideaworks here.