Q&A with Tony Curtis, Owner, Current Home Technologies
Tell us about how you got started in the home integration industry and some of the history behind Current Home Technologies.
After completing a tour in the United States Navy in September 1992, I went to work as an electrician apprentice the day after I landed back home. I spent the next two years in the field, went on to complete my apprenticeship and obtained my journeyman’s certificate. It wasn’t long after that when I started to see more and more low-voltage systems entering the residential building industry. I had always enjoyed working with electronics — especially home audio products — so I decided to set out on my own and start an A/V & Integration business.
Now, it’s the mid/late ’90s, and technology is booming. Having an electrical background with a focus on technology helped me make a name for myself and gave me an upper hand when it came to integration and automation. I was regularly receiving job offers from larger corporations to help them grow their integration business. But ultimately, I ended up selling my business to a corporation from Seattle who was looking to expand their reach to SW Washington and Portland, OR. During the following two years, I was under the restrictions of a non-competition agreement. A good portion of this two-year period was spent focusing on computer hardware, software and data/networking. At the time, I had no idea how valuable that experience would prove to be down the road.
Once my non-competition agreement was up, I knew A/V and Integration was where I needed to be. But I knew the toll that starting a new business takes on a family, and with a young daughter at home, I accepted a job as an administrator and sales manager for a local low-volt company. Over the next few years, we changed the company name and branding and grew the business quite nicely. But when I started to see the slowdown due to the looming housing crisis, I knew that there was a chance the company wouldn’t be able to support my position, so I submitted my resignation.
In June 2008, I started Current Home Technologies out of my garage in a small town 30 minutes north of Portland, OR. It sounded crazy at the time to be starting an A/V & Integration company focused on the luxury residential market, but it was actually a great time for a number of reasons. For instance, when the market is booming, it’s difficult to get a line of speakers or an integration hardware product mix. But in 2008, manufacturers were more than happy to sign on a new dealer. It’s usually also very difficult to build out your workforce, but many businesses simply weren’t positioned well for a downturn. Their doors were closing and trained employees were looking for a stable workplace. The other thing that proved to be beneficial by starting small in a down market is it allowed me time to create our policies and procedures, and build the business as the market returned. In 2010, I moved the business to a small location in Downtown Vancouver, WA. Then in January 2017, I purchased a 3,500-square-foot commercial building at 1900 Main Street.
Having been in business for over 25 years, you’ve had the unique opportunity to witness firsthand the many changes in the custom installation space. How has your business evolved and how have you kept ahead of these changes?
So much of what we do today is based on the foundational knowledge of what we were doing in the ’90s. I could not imagine, jumping into the A/V & Integration business today, the way I did back then.
I remember selling my first 5.1 home theater system in the early ’90s. As I was driving back to Circuit City, when nobody was looking, I turned the AVR around to see what was on the back — I had never seen one up close before. I’ve gained a lot more knowledge on the topic since that car ride.
In the beginning, some of my key manufacturers included HAI for security and Integration, Yamaha AVRs, Jamo loudspeakers, Mitsubishi VCRs and, of course, the Phillips Pronto remote control.
Today, we still focus on all aspects of A/V & Integration, but in order to provide a greater value to our clients and stay current, we also offer architectural, linear and decorative lighting, window treatments, healthy home systems, golf simulators and complete interior design solutions.
Speaking of changes, how has your business been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? What changes or protocols have you implemented in your day-to-day?
As a Washington State low-voltage integrator, we were listed as a non-essential business for over two months. We made the best of the situation, implemented a stay home – stay safe policy, used the time out of office to focus on training and fortunately, kept our entire team intact. Now that the county has transitioned to Phase 2, we are very busy dealing with the backlog of projects that were on hold during the shutdown.
Oftentimes, it can be challenging to find common ground between integrators and interior designers but you seem to recognize the importance of this, being that interior design is one of the services you offer. Tell us a little bit about Carrie McCampbell and what your workflow is like with her.
Carrie and I first worked together in 2018 on a show home for our local building industry association. It was immediately apparent that Carrie recognized the importance of technology and, more importantly, was open to learning about products that can lend themselves to a well-designed system.
Having her on board is such a great value for our team and of course, our clients. I know I can pull her into a consultation meeting where I’m discussing, say, a media room or some other type of system, and she can lend her design perspective to help pull things together. On top of that, she’s bringing people into our facility we may have otherwise never met. Even the clients that aren’t contracting her for design services recognize that she is a major part of our decision-making process.
Workflow with Carrie is better than I could have imagined. Although I’m still getting accustomed to walking into the showroom to find her consulting with a builder around a table covered in fabrics, tile, hardwood and paint samples.
What was the inspiration behind 19th Hole On Main? How is what you offer different than, say, the golf simulators at a local sporting goods store?
I originally brought in Golfzon golf simulators because they are hands down the most realistic golf simulators available today. Golf Digest has listed them as the No. 1 Luxury Golf Simulator every year since 2017. I figured this would be a great product to offer our clients; I also felt that this would drive (pun intended) clients to our facility the way a 5.1 surround sound system did in the ’90s.
Much like having an interior designer on staff, having a golf simulator in the building has also brought clients into our facility we would have otherwise never have met. As the showroom design evolved, it dawned on me that people wouldn’t be satisfied with a simple demo — they’d want to stay and play. So while having a working lunch across the street, I researched local golf facilities, pro-shops, retailers, etc. and couldn’t find any place that offered a quality simulator. I also realized that there was a really good chance that anyone playing a round at our facility would most likely want to have a beer or two. I hadn’t golfed in 15+ years but I did remember that the bar at a golf course is often called the 19th Hole. As luck would have it, our facility is located at 1900 Main Street, so it was perfect! I did a URL search and found that 19thHoleOnMain.com was available so I bought it and began the process of obtaining a liquor license.
Since then, we’ve hosted surprise birthday parties, business networking events, small groups, large groups and players of all abilities from young children, first-time players and ex-PGA professionals. Everyone seems to enjoy the space we’ve created and the quality of play.
Anything else you’d like to add about the evolution of the custom installation industry and where it is headed?
I’ll just be happy if someday in the near future when I tell someone that I’m a Custom Low-Voltage Integrator, they’ll actually know what that is. I mean, it’s only been 25 years! 😉
Interview: Carrie McCampbell, Interior Designer, Current Home Technologies
When did you begin working with Current Home Technologies? What drew you to their type of work?
I just celebrated my one-year anniversary with Current Home Technologies in June 2020. Before that, Tony and I had been hired separately on a few of the same projects and we always worked really well together. There would be times when he would consult me about different things like colors, shades and decorative lighting because, as Tony always says, if it were up to him, everything would be black or gray. He really began to see and appreciate just how much the smart home was evolving into design.
After receiving requests from clients that needed further direction on design, he knew it was time to add an interior design element to his team. Tony asked me if I would be interested in partnering with him and I jumped on the opportunity.
Before I was hired, Current Home Technologies didn’t have a major hand in shades and window coverings but after I joined the team, we brought on Hunter Douglas and became a custom integrator through them. Now one of the defining elements of our office is what we call the “shade cave,” which is a hallway with tons of shade integrated into our operating system. The impressive display has really been a big selling point for clients, even when they come in looking for something else.
What were you doing before joining the Current Home Technologies team?
I had my own interior design business, Carrie McCampbell Designs, for about four years in the Vancouver and Portland area. I actually have a degree in political science and intended on becoming a lawyer but fell into interior design after purchasing a home in Seattle. I was attending school at the time and the 1940s home I had just bought was in desperate need of some fixing up. I started renovating the house slowly and fell in love with the process.
What started as a personal project evolved into neighbors coming over asking for my help with renovating and decorating, and realtors requesting that I stage their homes. Even though I was not professionally trained, I just felt I had an eye for interior design so I decided to change gears, and I haven’t looked back since.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in integrating tech with design? And from these challenges, what have you learned about the process as a whole?
The biggest hurdle in this business is convincing people that technology will make their lives easier. I think there is a big misconception that technology is
“cold,” but that is simply not the case anymore. Take lighting, for example. We can go into a home and add linear lighting systems that are color tunable, incorporate under-cabinet lighting to brighten up a kitchen, and even recreate a circadian rhythm in a bedroom to help with sleep/wake cycles. I’ve seen fears in clients of all ages when it comes to technology, so it’s been both challenging and fun to show them the benefits of incorporating these elements into their homes.
How do you foresee the future of technology and design? Any upcoming trends you’re noticing? Do you see a rise happening in connected home products?
While I would never compare a true integration to, say, Google Home or Amazon Alexa, I think those products are helping to bridge the gap between technology and design and serving as an entry point into the connected home. The fact that a product like Hunter Douglas shades can be integrated with a smart speaker is going to open a lot of people’s eyes as to what is possible in their homes.
I definitely foresee smart lighting becoming an even bigger trend, especially as it relates to health. With more and more people staying at home, creating a calming atmosphere has become so necessary. I believe our homes should be an oasis, and I love the fact that we are able to offer clients solutions that are smart and functional but also beautiful as well.