Electronic Lifestyles — Fall 2012
Change Language:
The Craft Of Creative Custom
Nancy Klosek

In this high-tech hill country home, indoor and outdoor aesthetics were beautifully preserved.

Aaron Reilly, principal of the Austin, Texas-based firm AV Automation, embraced the challenge of outfitting a unique property in the hill country west of downtown Austin with the certainty that he could work around both space constraints (read: zero attic space) and a strict, modern aesthetic to fulfill the tech-loving homeowner’s every desire.

The home is designed with a natural outdoor-to-indoor flow that took some clever thinking by Reilly and his team to preserve. “The systems included in this house to promote efficiency, climate control and environmental friendliness are like none I’ve ever seen,” he says. Some of the most unusual features, he continues, are “a solar photovoltaic array for the supplemental-grid-tied electrical supply, a huge, paraffin-wax-filled ‘phase change tank’ to heat water by gathering infrared energy during the day to dispense at night, and the largest underground water collection cistern I’ve ever seen, for the grounds’ irrigation.” Also part of the equipment mix is a weather station that enables the home to respond automatically to outdoor conditions.

Beyond incorporating those subsystems into the whole-home Savant control system that anchors everything, AV Automation had to get even more creative. Reilly was tasked with bringing the type of high-quality sound the owner craved indoors to the outdoor barbecue grill area. Fake rock speakers just wouldn’t do. “We wanted to use a specific speaker, but we needed a Different aesthetic,” says Reilly. So while the team selected Paradigm’s outdoor marine speakers for the grill area, it flush mounted ultra-slim TruAudio rectangular grilles to their fronts using Neodymium magnets, and then custom-painted the grilles to fade into the gray metal on the home’s exterior.

Another design somersault by Reilly’s team involved grafting a 60-inch TV onto a six-foot-tall-by-10-foot-wide two-way mirror panel aquired through a local high-end glass company.

But perhaps the most complex feats of customization occurred in the theater room. When AV Automation became involved in the project, the theater’s dimensions had already been set, and the projector at its center had already been purchased. “It’s in a basement with concrete walls and has no back walls, and it opens into a wine room with a 20-foot wall of glass. That posed really serious aesthetic, acoustic and functional challenges,” Reilly explains.

“To achieve optimal sound and get the acoustics right while maintaining an ‘openness,’ we had triple-layered acoustically transparent draperies made from Guilford of Maine fabric. They were on a motorized drapery track to prevent ambient noise from entering the back side of the room. Hidden behind the draperies, we designed a full Quest Acoustical Lens System (QALS). We also did an HAA (Home Acoustics Alliance) certified calibration on the room.”

Additionally, Reilly says, because of the size and shape of the theater and the client’s desire for a high-quality experience, some fairly sizable subwoofers were needed. To accommodate two mammoth 14-inch subs, the team cut a 6-foot-wide-by-3- foot-high hole in the storage area wall, which shares a front wall with the theater, and built a double-sided MDF enclosure, mass-loaded with sand to keep the sound from escaping out the back side. “That way,” he explains, “the subwoofers could actually live in the adjacent room but pass through the acoustic fabric on the front wall of the theater. So you’ve got these two subwoofers completely hidden in this custom enclosure we built.”

Savant was the control protocol of choice to achieve the functionality and integration of all the systems the client wanted, including a waterfall that flows off the roof and into a reflecting pool at the end of the house. It also controls a fairly sophisticated garage door opener, which uses an aircraft hangar- bay hydraulic system.

“Because of the lack of space for wiring, Savant’s ability to control devices through IP instead of through traditional IR or RS-232 really empowered us to do a lot with the limited space for infrastructure,” reflects Reilly. All control is possible via iPads, which work seamlessly with the Savant iOS-based platform.

In the Steve Jobs tradition of “one more thing,” the client also wanted an anamorphic CinemaScope screen in the theater.But since his own projector did not have a discrete anamorphic stretch mode, Reilly used Savant’s OSD (On Screen Display) device, which has a commercial-grade video scaler in it, to handle anamorphic processing. “That, in combination with the Panamorph lens, works beautifully,” Reilly says.


Thomas Bercy, Bercy Chen Studio LP

Electronic Lifestyles®: Have you collaborated in the past with AV Automation, or other custom integrators? What makes AV Automation so easy to work with?

Thomas Bercy: This was our second collaboration with custom integrators, and our first time working with AV Automation. Their knowledge and ease of implementation made the collaboration very streamlined. They seem very comfortable in the collaborative nature of these kinds of projects. They made sure the owner, architect and builder were all present at the table to take care of details prior to construction.

EL: What were some of the biggest challenges for you, as the architect, in this project? How did you overcome them—and what were you proudest of in the end result?

Bercy: We had to integrate a multitude of different systems, but we wanted to make sure it was done in a subtle way. Even the utilitarian aspects of the house need to have their place in the poetics of space. We also wanted to make sure that the technology of the house remained accessible and not overly complicated.

EL: Are you getting more involved in such collaborations—and what are the benefits to you and your clients that come from such close collaborations?

Bercy: We certainly want to replicate the experience we had with AV Automation in the future. This kind of technology integration can be a great life-changer for the homeowner. We want to make sure that we have the capability to provide this service to our future clients.