Star Tech

October 20, 2014

Text by Lisa Montgomery

The newest home technology is easy to use, practically invisible, and smarter than ever.

Just because a house has all the latest “smart” gadgets doesn’t mean it has to look like a high-tech laboratory. New, innovative developments in the home electronics market mean popular amenities like whole-house music systems, big-screen TVs, lighting controls, security, and complete home automation can be virtually invisible. “We collaborate with the architect and interior designer early in the design process to ensure that this happens,” says Bill Charney, president of Advanced Home Audio in Shelton.

The latest systems can program sconces, recessed fixtures, table lamps, and other light sources to dim and brighten at very specific levels to make a room look instantly romantic or festive, accentuate certain architectural features, showcase special works of art, even bring out the subtle texture or color of a wall—all with just a simple tap of a button on a wall-mounted keypad.

Even better, they do all this without calling attention to themselves; slim, low-profile devices that sink nearly flush with the wall, offered by companies like Lutron and Savant, can do the job of an entire bank of old-fashioned light switches. With keypad faceplates available in a variety of finishes and colors (some can even be painted or wallpapered), the technology can blend in beautifully with the wall surface.

When it comes to music, the days of giant speakers are long gone. Today’s speaker designs have progressed to the point where they’re barely noticeable, if not completely invisible.

Manufactured with pencil-thin or no rims, and with grilles that can be painted to match their surroundings, speakers can sink inconspicuously into the ceiling. There are even completely imperceptible speakers, like the ones manufactured by Bay Audio, Sonance, SpeakerCraft, and Stealth Acoustics, that can be installed within the wall studs and covered in a layer of drywall skim coat. And you’ll sacrifice nothing in performance to achieve this look, says Conor ­Coleman of Realm in South Norwalk. “The latest generation of invisible speakers has achieved audio quality on a par with that of many traditional in-ceiling speakers,” he says. “This is a trend that’s sure to continue.”

The big-screen TV no longer has to dominate a room. The frame can be custom-ordered in finishes to complement or blend with the wall surface. You can take it a step further by incorporating a system wherein your choice of canvas artwork can be lowered over the screen when it’s not being used. Companies including Media Decor (a division of Leon Speakers) and VisionArt offer a variety of prints and frames, or you can supply them with your own art or photograph. Another popular option is a mirror TV. Integrated within the structure of the mirror, and offered by companies such as Séura, the TV remains invisible until it’s turned on. ”Meshing technology like flat-panel TVs into the interior design has always been one of our chief concerns,” says Robert Dacundo, founding partner of Phoenix Audio Video & Systems Integration in Fairfield. It’s important, he notes, to include the audio-visual company in the design process for the best results.

The components that compile, store, and distribute the music, which usually take the form of nondescript black boxes, needn’t compromise the integrity of a home’s design, either. Entire racks of equipment can be stored out of sight inside closets and utility rooms. Wireless technologies like Wi-Fi mean that you can use a smartphone or a tablet to operate everything from anywhere inside (or outside) the house.

When tied to a home automation system, these same smartphones and tablets can also control TVs throughout a house, brighten and dim the lights, monitor and adjust thermostats, control swimming pool pumps and heaters, supervise the status of a security system, and more. The ability to consolidate the controls of several individual systems under one interface can minimize the appearance of technology significantly. “For a project where we might have mounted a dozen or more keypads and touch panels to the walls for control, we might only install two, relying instead on the control capabilities of a mobile device,” says Barry Reiner, president of InnerSpace Electronics, in Port Chester, New York.

And don’t worry that you need to be a tech wizard. Today’s technology is remarkably user-friendly. The transition from traditional keypads to mobile devices as a primary mode of control, Reiner says, comes naturally to most consumers.

Thanks to enhancements in technology and clever installation techniques by home-systems installers, electronic systems can coexist peacefully with a home’s visual environment. And with the help of a qualified installer, they can be integrated seamlessly into the design of the house. It’s a perfect union of form and function, resulting in a home that’s as architecturally stunning as it is smart. •

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