The British Columbia-based custom installation team of La Scala Integrated Media encounters many requests for smart home installations in many types of residences throughout and beyond the Vancouver area. In Shaughnessy, an upscale, cozy neighborhood in Central Vancouver, this group of experts was presented with a client’s mandate of outfitting a home with the latest media and gaming technologies in this heritage district, where 100-year-old residential buildings are common. With all the special charms of their age, though, come certain inherent challenges related to these structures’ longevity – challenges that La Scala’s years of expertise make it ready to surmount.

“For this particular project,” explained Tavish Macdonald of the design sales team, “the home was renovated and updated but an effort was made to keep its heritage status; the exterior shell and ancient hardwood were all retained.” Besides applying for permits that require keeping certain facades and structures intact to maintain the building’s heritage ranking, extra care was taken in dealing with the century-old wood. “We needed to keep our drill bits sharp,” he noted. “Attic spaces were very tight, and it takes twice as long to get through hard wood timbers as it does in a modern home. Things had to be done in stages: wish list, design, teardown and construction.”

smart home

Along with puzzling out all the structural preservation tactics, La Scala’s team found that, despite the intricacies involved, there were some surprising benefits to the building’s age, when it came to in-ceiling speaker performance. “In these old lath-and-plaster buildings, you have to cut through everything carefully so that the ceiling doesn’t crumble. So it’s a delicate process not to wreck the ceiling when retrofitting for speakers. Lath strips run five or six feet, so if you start rattling one of those, the whole ceiling can run a crack. It’s an art form, working with lath and plaster.” As for the benefits, once the in-ceiling installations were completed, said Macdonald, “this was one of the best-sounding architectural ceiling speaker projects we had ever heard.” Retrofitting in these speakers “made for a great reinforcing platform. The music really hits hard in this house… it sounds fantastic.”

A Theater In Hiding

RTI handheld remotes for video zones and Crestron’s touchpanels serve as the means of control for many of the home’s functions, including motorized shading and lighting.

One of the centerpiece zones of entertainment in the home is actually in a “technologically discreet” bedroom that even on the sunniest of days, converts into a fully blacked out mini media theater. “When you walk into the room when it’s completely shut down, you wouldn’t know that anything like a theater exists,” Macdonald said. With the activation of a button from the video remote, the TV screen seamlessly rises out of a lift at the foot of the bed, and blackout shades move into position as the lights dim and sound emanates through speakers.

The living room is also an entertainment hub, with eye- and ear-candy loudspeakers by the Italian audio manufacturer Sonus faber. “The client said he wanted to make a statement for music – he didn’t want the walls cut there,” Macdonald said. And what a statement they make, even before they make a sound. The cabinets are finished in “violin red” and sport eye-catching grilles that are comprised of vertically oriented strings to resemble a stringed instrument.

smart home

There is a three-display media gaming room in the basement that was deemed a “must” by this owner, an avid sports fan and gamer. Multiple gaming stations and video sources are routable to any of the displays and there is a full audio breakaway on the touchscreen remote for this area.

Macdonald quotes a motto stating that “the goal of technology should be a mind completely free of it.” Thus, the use of TV lifts, a mirror TV display, surveillance cameras painted the same color as the cedar soffiting, and invisible speakers in some rooms. Still, while hidden for the most part, technology is ubiquitous throughout the residence. Also ubiquitous is the means of control for everything.

“Control can be found in every way possible so you don’t need to worry about the remote battery burning out or misplacing your phone to control the house. The video, music and subsystems can be found on tables, iPhones and touchpanels, and control of the lights, blinds and gates can be found on the video remotes. The systems cross-pollinate each others’ devices so the owner will always have control of this heritage home.”

Still, control, while available from everywhere, is consolidated to avoid cluttering up walls with buttons. “With Crestron lighting keypads, you can program to multiple-touch commands,” he said. With this type of keypad programming, a button press, or a double tap, or a press-and-hold action all initiate different lighting-gradient commands through the same key.

Battery backup is also a feature of the home’s control system, courtesy of Crestron’s CEN-UPS1250 uninterruptible power supply. If there is a neighborhood power outage, this homeowner would still have light emanating from keypads and touch panels so that he could safely make his way down the stairs and into the hall.

All in all, said Macdonald, “this was a cool project. in that we got to put modern technology in, but the home still maintains its heritage status.”

First Appeared in Connected Design Fall Issue, 2019