Home - At Your Command
Today's home technology systems offer comfort
and convenience at the touch of a button.
For attorney Paul Karram, deciding to install an automated home technology system was a natural extension of his desire to be a good host. When Karram, who frequently entertains at his penthouse in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, first read about automated home systems, he was fascinated.
|Photo Left: Courtesy of Sony; Photo Right: Courtesy of AMX
“What amazed me at first was the sheer power of these systems,” Karram says. “I was pretty selective when I was working with my designer. The ability to set the mood in my entire home was probably the most important aspect. [I had] everything to keep my guests comfortable — lights, temperature, video and audio, different zones in the condo for temperature and audio levels — at the touch of a button. I can even set the blinds to different settings in different rooms.”
For many homeowners who use their homes for entertaining friends or business associates, an automated home system allows them to see to their guests’ comfort easily. “Very often these homes are used almost as small hotels,” says Rich Green, one of the nation’s foremost electronic systems professionals and owner of Rich Green, Ink in Palo Alto, Calif.
Many of Green’s clients use his services to help cater to frequent houseguests. “Homeowners want their guests to feel utterly at home.” Whether the homeowners want to be able to host screenings or video conferences in a home theater or ensure their visitors can operate everything in the guest house with one remote, Green’s firm installs electronic systems that make it possible.
In large homes, people can have many sophisticated electronic features such as separate lighting and climate zones, video and CD libraries available throughout the house and elaborate home theaters. “Without an umbrella system to control these features … [homeowners can] spend a lot of time managing what the house does,” explains Owen Wheeler, owner of Theaterworks, a home systems business in Barrington, Ill.
He says the most capable automated home systems take care of everything for their owners — from mundane daily tasks, such as programming the heating and lighting, to the more unexpected, such as recalling each family member’s audio and video preferences or assessing the contents of the basement wine cellar — with no more than a couple of keystrokes. These systems can cost as little as $50,000 and as much as $2 million, depending on the features chosen.
The integrated sound system is one of Chicagoan Vince Menees’ favorite features. Before he and his wife Renee installed their automated home system, listening to their 1,000-plus CD collection on a conventional CD player could be quite inconvenient. Now they can access their collection from keypads located throughout the house.
For many homeowners who use their homes for entertaining friends or business associates, an automated home system allows them to see to their guests’ comfort easily.
The system works so well, Menees is already thinking of new ways to use the system to simplify his life. “Right now I’m seriously considering connecting my second house in Florida to my audio system here in Chicago. I’d be able to enjoy the same music thousands of miles away without ever having to pack a single CD.”
“At the end of the day ... I can hit the ‘whole house off’ button and go to bed knowing everything’s been taken care of.”
— Vince Menees,
While technology can simplify your life, keeping the visible electronics to a minimum is essential to maintaining a home’s impeccable appearance. Green notes that homeowners who enlist his expertise often have very significant private art collections, which are the true centerpieces of their homes. “They do not want to make a show of technology; they want just the opposite,” he adds.
The challenge of tastefully concealing a home’s high-tech components calls for particular creativity. Green has obscured flat-panel high-definition televisions behind walls of books, inside ottomans and within attics. Green also uses a technology called generative video art, which draws attention in a completely different way. “It’s sort of like a screen saver for your television,” Green says, “but the designs are extremely sophisticated, very soft, very beautiful.”
Home Safe Home
Security is a large selling point for home net-working systems. While alarm systems are nothing new, an automated home’s alarm system can perform like your own full-time security guard. “Let’s say an intruder enters your home,” says Green. “You get a call on your cell phone. You flip open the phone and instantly see the intruder standing in your wine cellar. You then press a button that allows you to speak to the intruder. You say, ‘I see you. I’ve just called the police, the neighbors are on their way over and I’ve also unlocked the doors so that you can leave now.’”
These systems also allow homeowners to easily monitor who is on their property. “With my control panels, I can see who is at my front door no matter where I am in the house,” says Menees. “So if someone rings our doorbell, I can just look down and see, ‘Oh, the pizza guy is here.’”
Many homeowners are starting to use these systems not only to monitor the security of their primary residences, but second homes and vacation properties as well. “Say the vacation house is empty and the basement floods,” Wheeler says. “The system will send an e-mail to the homeowners alerting them to the situation before it gets worse.”
Making Life Less Complicated
“My favorite button — the one I tell everyone about — is the ‘whole house off’ button,” Menees says of his system. “When we first moved in, my son was only two years old, and we were constantly chasing him around the house from room to room, using the television, all the lights, the music, everything. At the end of the day, instead of walking around the entire 5,200-square-foot house trying to figure out what’s on and what’s off, I can hit the ‘whole house off’ button and go to bed knowing everything’s been taken care of.”
A Wine Cellar’s Finishing Touch
When it comes to his wine collection, Samuel Petersen will go to extraordinary lengths. This was evident when the Petersens purchased their Wellesley, Mass., home eight years ago. The search for a new house centered on the basement, its suitability for the wine cellar to be precise. Once they settled on a home, Petersen worked with an architect to build his wine cellar to meet his exacting standards. Shortly after the cellar was completed, Petersen heard from an old friend on the West Coast about a technology system that left him in awe. Soon, Petersen was able to completely automate his wine cellar and assess its contents at the touch of a button, whether to simply view his inventory or to virtually sort the contents by type of wine, age or country of origin.
“The cellar tours always impress,” says Petersen. “But this? It’s what keeps our friends chattering. And all they need to see is a small device with a keypad and screen. Then we go down to the cellar and I can locate bottles immediately.”