May 01, 2008
by Steven Castle
If the editors of Electronic House had this family room, we might never get off of the couch. The relaxing earth tones and casually elegant style echo the flowing, Prairie-style architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. And it’s all framed by sumptuous mahogany columns, red oak floors and maple walls.
Then there’s the partial wall, sitting like an island several feet in front of a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows. The wall is open between the mahogany columns at the top and bottom, making it appear to float in the air. It houses a flush-mounted Fujitsu 55-inch plasma screen, and that’s just for run-of-the-mill viewing of programs like the news. When it’s movie time or the kickoff of a big game, a 110-inch Da-Lite screen concealed in the ceiling slats rolls down at the press of a button on the Crestron touchpanel remote, and all is well.
But where does the full complement of surround sound come from? Try seven Niles speakers, made invisible in the acoustically treated ceiling. In fact, besides the video displays and the InFocus DLP projector above our heads, we can’t locate any other audio/video equipment.
Life wasn’t always so sweet in this space. The 22-by-16-foot room once housed an old rear-projection CRT TV where the floating wall is now located, and it was accompanied by floorstanding speakers and a phalanx of laminated cubelike shelves that supported the audio/video equipment. The lady of the house, an accomplished interior designer, contacted custom electronics company Stone-Glidden and said the time had come for an upgrade.
The first decision was where to place the video display, and in front of the windows seemed the best choice. “We were going to have to do automated shading on the windows to block the ambient light during daytime viewing,” says Mark Glidden, a partner at Stone-Glidden. “But the homeowner didn’t want to do that. So we thought a partition would work to block light.” The partial wall also allowed a place to flush-mount the Fujitsu plasma, so it, too, appears to float. The mahogany columns in the floating wall match those between the floor-to-ceiling windows and throughout the rest of the house. The space between the partial wall and the windows makes the room seem more spacious and three-dimensional.
The next challenge was sound control. The wood floors, maple paneling and mahogany trim created a reflective environment that would result in a harsh, reverberant sound. To combat that, the ceiling was coffered with mahogany beams and slats, with each square supporting a Novawall acoustic panel to either reflect or absorb sound. There was a hitch, though. As a crew prepared the ceiling for the slats and Novawall panels, which anchor to the existing ceiling, they found that the ceiling surface was crowned, making it uneven by as much as a half-inch. Instead of removing the existing ceiling and rebuilding it, the Novawall crew was able to build up the higher areas to better support the panels and make the ceiling level.
Stretched beneath the Novawall panels is fabric that hides the seven Niles in-ceiling speakers mounted behind it for the 7.1 surround-sound system. The Niles speakers have speaker drivers on rotating gimbals, so the sound can be directed. “We created a sweet spot in the back,” says Glidden. The recessed lighting was even hung lower to appear flush with the fabric surface.
With the exception of the video displays, all of the audio/video gear is hidden. Wires run from the plasma screen through the central column of the partial wall to the basement below, where the relocated equipment rack houses the B&K receiver and the whole-house equipment. The projector cables run over the ceiling and down through the column as well. Two JBL Synthesis 2 subwoofers are housed behind the walls. The only audio/video component in the room is a Marantz DVD/CD player that’s in an end table for convenience.
It’s all controlled by a Crestron STX-1700c color, two-way RF touchpanel on a single-room Crestron system. The lights are also controlled by the Crestron system, with three or four easy presets, including one that drops the screen when the espn button is pressed and another that prepares the room for plasma viewing when activated by the cnn button.
We’ll take either from a seat in this inviting room.
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates