Home Entertainment


Light and Simple

July 1, 2008 By B.A. Hoffman

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A Westchester County home with minimalist design touts the benefits of minimalist-looking technology.

This is a “less is more” story. A tale about a Westchester County home that is minimalist in décor—and minimalist in the amount of visible technology it showcases. But regardless of how minimalist everything looks at first blush, this house is robust in the kinds of technology it embraces—up front and behind the scenes.

“My house doesn’t have a lot in it,” says homeowner Randi Walden. “When you have the technology that we have, you need less in the room. I like it clean and simple and comfortable so people can put their feet up.”

Take, for instance, the sitting room outside the master suite. This is Randi’s domain—a place were she unwinds, reads, watches TV and movies, or works late while her husband is slumbering in the enclosed, adjacent bedroom. The sleek 50-inch Pioneer plasma TV fits snugly over the restored fireplace mantle. Better yet, it doesn’t distract from the chandelier or upset the space’s peaceful aura. Embraced in lots of light with white trim, powder blue walls and an Art Deco-ish sofa in a gray-blue upholstery, this space soothes even the most harried soul.

“I had this house in my head for 15 years,” Randi continues. “It’s a beachy kind of look with a little bit of Art Deco. The colors—pale blue, cream and pale yellow—are comforting. Most of the walls are different shades of blue.”

What’s also comforting to Randi and her husband, George, is that the technology is as easy to use as the home’s colors are on the eyes. “We wanted something simple to operate,” says George. “My wife is technologically illiterate. And the system is easy for me and the kids, too.”

Custom installer Richard Hollander of IVCi Home in Hauppauge, NY, started out by designing an intuitive touchscreen interface. “What I hear in just about every one of our projects is ‘we want fantastic sound, great video quality and I want to be able to use it,’” he says, adding that he designed the touch screen to be as easy to use as an ATM machine. “Any 6-year-old kid can use the touch screen and tell Mom and Dad how to use it.”

From any touch screen, the family can manage any of the home’s lights, the HVAC system, the DVRs, the security system and the music hard drive. Users can control any of the above by selecting the intended room via pictures of the architectural floor plan that appear on the touch screen. “You can pick exactly where you are—first floor, second floor—and go from there,” Hollander says.

The Waldens are huge music fans: Their AudioRequest music server is the heart of their home, and it stores upward of 8,000 songs. “I hate rap, but I like the Rolling Stones, Steely Dan and Simon and Garfunkel,” George says, adding that his younger daughter shares his music tastes, while his wife loves country. “We have more country and western in on the server because my wife is buying the CDs, but we haven’t even used up 10 percent of our capacity. All you do is open up the drawer, flip in the CD and it sucks in the info—it’s that easy.” Hollander equipped the family of four with four portable touch screens so the family can roam throughout the house, altering their music selections along the way.

“They’re entertainment junkies,” Hollander says. “They’re the type of family that really uses the audio feature. Every time I’m there, it’s on.” To help the family access their expansive music collection easily—from dozens of radio stations to thousands of songs—Hollander’s team added logos of the family’s favorite radio stations to the touch screen’s music menu. He even provided Randi with a full lineup of all of Sirius’ country stations. All she has to do is select the room she’s in on the touch screen, and tap the radio station logo. “He can be in the kitchen with his rock and she can be somewhere else with her country,” Hollander says. “It’s that easy.”

The kids have their own DVR, as do the adults. Hollander set up the system so any family member can watch whatever he or she wants in any room. “It’s about identifying who is in the house, what their routines are, and what they enjoy in terms of recording,” Hollander says.

Another customized option Hollander created for the family is lighting control: They can hit “all on” or “all off” on any touchscreen to turn every light in the house on or off. “Vacation mode,” Hollander says, “features stored lighting patterns from the past week of lighting use—so it’s very realistic.” They can also override any scene and customize the setting at hand manually—such as increasing the lighting level in a specific room.

“We’ve been in the house one-and-half years and I love to go room to room to adjust the lighting and temperature,” George says. “And I like to go to the touch screen to see which doors and windows are open or locked.”

But there is one thing the family can’t control: The intermittent power outages that accompany coastline living—many of which cause the furnace to shut down. To amend that situation, Hollander’s team designed a special system in the boiler room that works in conjunction with the one-hour UPS backup battery. If the electricity goes out, the backup battery comes on, and a group email is sent out to the project manager, homeowner and the plumbing contractor so everyone can respond immediately. “It’s an extra benefit,” George says, adding that he can monitor the all of the home’s automated functions—including power outages—on the Internet via Crestron’s e-Control. “It makes me crazy when the heat goes out and the pipes freeze. It happened in our previous home.”

“One of the most important things is putting in a boiler system shutdown alert,” Hollander says, “The backup battery goes on if the house boiler goes out. This really prevents any disaster situation.”

“I love these smart homes,” George says.


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