Home Automation Creates a Beautiful Outdoor Space in Orlando

pool in backyard of the Orlando FL projectIt’s been a busy fall, and it’s been quite some time since my last blog post.  There is good reason as this has turned out to be one our busiest years ever.  Our most recent project of note was completed in Orlando Florida within the last six weeks.  The vast majority of the project was outside on a ten acre estate outside the city.

A Quick Thanks

Before getting too deep into the details of this project I would like to offer our thanks to the other contractors on this job that help to make it a success.  Pickering Home Theater & Audio provided all of the home automation and lighting equipment that allowed this system to really pop.  JRW homes handled all of the outdoor remodeling and construction on the project.  And the team from Savant automation did a phenomenal job getting everything tied together.

Details of the Job

The homeowners of this project wanted a very unique outdoor space.  Since the weather in Central Florida is nice year round they wanted to be able to utilize their outdoor space more often.  This included an outdoor theater space, landscaping, buildings, and more.

Both husband and wife in this family are avid swimmers to they knew right away that they wanted to include a lap pool.  But because of how boring a long rectangular pool often looks they wanted to somehow spice this up.   We came up with an interesting design that incorporated the lap pool, but also modified the shape to make it look more visually appealing.

The Automation System

This outdoor system required a fairly extensive home automation system.  It ties together the lighting, automated equipment including TV’s, screen, and projector, as well as water features that turn on and off based on the AV activities.  All of these devices can be controlled directly from iPads and iPhones.  This allows everyone in the family to easily control any of the outdoor spaces.

Savant home automation was the control system of choice because of the large scale of this project.  It beautifully integrates with the lighting from Lutron and the motorized shades and screens from Lutron as well.

Even the pool and spa temperature can be quickly and easily controlled from a smartphone.  It truly is a connected system.

The Entertainment System

The outdoor home theater system that was installed is truly breathtaking.  The screen appears from behind a waterfall that stops as soon as any of the video sources is selected.  All of the speakers are hidden throughout the pool area and yard so as to be completely invisible.

While the project was not without it’s challenges it truly turned out to be one of the most unique and interesting outdoor spaces on which we have worked.

Using Light to Dramatically Enhance the Look of a Room

lighting control systemsOne of my favorite mediums in which to work is light.  While we tend to take it for granted, light is one of the most important things in our lives.  It affects us on a physiological level.  With the proper lighting one can create a wide variety of moods using the same space.  One of our recent projects was a great example of how light can be used in conjunction with decor to create dramatically different looks depending on one’s mood.

Incorporating Lighting into Interior Design

I have always believed in creating rooms that have multiple purposes.  It’s easy to create a space that is used for one function.  The true test of one’s ability comes when a single space must be used for a wide variety of functions.  This is much easier to pull off when proper lighting is used in conjunction with the decor.

While many homeowners don’t think about it, light plays a very important roles in our mood.  The right light levels can actually improve your mood if you’re feeling dark.  It can set the tone for a room if you want calm and subdued conversation versus loud and boisterous.

Many design schools teach the basics of lighting design, but few interior designers rely upon light as much as they should.  Filling a space with natural light can have an uplifting affect that creates a subtle but distinguishable difference.

Lighting and Stone

One of the best ways to show off stonework in a home is through the use of light.  Even natural stone that is relatively smooth and flat actually has small imperfections in the surface.  By casting light upon the stone from different angles we can create an entirely different look without changing anything else.  This technique along can have a dramatic effect on the look of a room.  Light cast down upon rough stone creates a more somber appearance, while light cast upwards creates a more uplifting appearance.

Utilizing Automation to Simplify Lighting

In the past we were forced to use dimmers to create the lighting effects that we wanted in a home.  This was both tedious and offered only inconsistent results at best.  But with the advent of lighting control systems these processes can be completely automated.

There are a wide variety of lighting control products on the market.  Crestron, Lutron, and Vantage are three of the most popular. These are typically installed and programmed by custom integrators or AV dealers.  We have worked with Audio Video Experts in the past.  They offer home automation systems in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas.

Basically we supply them with the look we want for each room and they program the system to recreate that look with the press of a button.  This allows the homeowner to easily set the lights based on how they’re using the room.  Another huge advantage of these lighting control systems is that they eliminate the need for multiple light switches in each room.  Considering some designs call for eight to ten lighting circuits per room this saves a considerable amount of real estate on the wall.

These systems also allow for setting the entire house to a specific scene.  So if the homeowner is entertaining they can set the entire house to party mode with the press of a single button.  This also allows for incorporating the outdoor lighting into the same scenes.

While lighting design is often not a focus of the interior design of a space it can create a very dramatic difference in the appearance of a room or even an entire home.

An Amazing Outdoor Space In Los Angeles

los angeles project norwayAt least 2 to 3 times each year we end up working on projects in Los Angeles.  Although I enjoy many cities around the world, the projects we get involved with in LA are typically pretty amazing.  The amount of money being thrown around and the competition to one up one’s neighbor makes for some pretty incredible results.

This most recent project is certainly no exception.  Though I’m not a liberty to discuss the exact location and certainly not the homeowner itself, I can say that it is someone with whom a great many people in the world are very familiar.  I had never encountered this individual myself, but was never inclined to believe that their tastes would align with those of our firm.  Over the course of the 2 weeks I spent in Los Angeles with this client I was to be consistent surprised at how creative and thoughtful they were.

The Home Itself

The house is settled in the hills of LA.  It’s around 50 years old and was starting to show it’s age.  The layout was actually fantastic though as it affords 180 degree views all along the backside of the house.  There is an infinity pool built along the back.  It is a truly remarkable location.

One downside of these sorts of homes is typically they’re perched up on the crest of a hill making them relatively conspicuous.  This one doesn’t have that particular problem because of the way it is situated.

It was built in the 1960s and is in the typical California ranch style.  While it looks very retro, the new owner wanted to update the look to something a bit more modern.  We started out by replacing all of the windows which were a major reason why it looked so dated.  We also opened up some of the spaces to allow for a better flow.

There are multiple levels to this house though none are more than a few steps higher or lower than the adjoining areas.  One challenge with all this openness was in where to put all the hi tech toys this particular homeowner wanted.

Luckily we were able to call upon Audio Video Experts to come up with a design that keeps all of the technology out of site until it is needed.  There are no fewer than 12 TVs in this home, but until they are turned on you would never be able to find one.

Hiding all of this is accomplished with screens that raise and lower, art that moves to reveal an LCD screen, and even mirrors that disappear and become 4K TV screens.  All in all we were very impressed with the work of the AV crew.

The Outdoor Spaces

While the pool had been updated 10 years ago, it was already looking dated.  We did a full redesign on both the pool and the pool deck.  The new design improves on the view and allows the homeowner to project an image onto a plate of glass from Draper that turns his view into a 100″ projector screen.  In a way it is similar to a previous project we had done.

This of course is hidden away when not in use.  Another interesting feature of the outdoor space is the summer kitchen.  Though it could certainly be used year round in LA, this kitchen is where the homeowner plans to spend the majority of his time.  Part of it is cover with a trellis and part of it is exposed to the sun.

We chose soft colors that aren’t too reflective to avoid harsh glare when enjoying the space during the day.  We also updated the landscape lighting and now it looks absolutely stunning at night.  Overall the project turned out spectacular.  The homeowner was absolutely thrilled with the work.  It’s all you can hope for in this industry.

Charming Remodel in the Steel City

After a couple of recent projects I have found myself in the South much more frequently.  My last post was about a visit to Charleston SC where I fell in love with the beautiful downtown area and the amazing variety of food.  This most recent project which was brought to us from an old contact of mine in the world of interior lighting design.  Specifically they provide church lighting design in both new and old churches.  They also do home projects involving AV, audio, and automation.

One of their clients was looking for someone to come in and do a complete remodel of a historic home in Mountain Brook which is a well-to-do suburb of Birmingham.  If you’re not familiar, like me, then you would be shocked at how beautiful this collection of Old South homes that sprawl across the hills and valleys just south of the downtown area truly is.

It’s also going through quite a dramatic change.  Many of the homes were built 50+ years ago.  So there are a great many renovations going on as people update some of these older homes.  Some are tearing down and building from the ground up while others are choosing to preserve the look of the old home’s exterior and upgrading the interiors.

New Mixed with Old

The particular project we were called in on is one of the latter.  The homeowner wanted to maintain the traditional look of the home while updating all of the interior rooms and even changing the space itself somewhat dramatically.  The front of the house is Plantation style but it is set into a hill with a beautiful creek rolling through the front yard.

The idea was to not change too much of the front of the house, but to open the back of the house up to allow more light and a more usable outdoor space.  We ended up creating a beautiful transition in the back of the house that allows the space to flow from the informal living room directly out onto the back patio.

A Beautiful Summer Kitchen

This particular homeowner loves spending time outdoors during the spring, summer, and fall months.  One of their requirements was a highly functional outdoor kitchen space from where they could watch the kids around the pool while cooking and eating.

One of the challenges on this project was that the because the house was set into a massive hill, we had to do quite a bit of excavation to get any backyard at all.  And if you know anything about this area of Birmingham you know that the ground can often be solid rock. Either that or clay that is rich in iron.

This meant that we actually had to do a bit of blasting in the backyard to clear enough space to accomplish their goals.  I have to admit that this was the first time I’ve been involved in a residential product that required the use of dynamite.  Kind of impressive, although I don’t think the neighbors liked it at all.

An Amazing Outdoor Space

outdoor kitchen spaceAfter it was all said and done though, this project ended up being one of my favorites because of the outdoor space we created.  The pool actually resembles the pool from the Holland project that I mentioned a while back.  Simple but elegant.

And the kitchen itself is usable 75% of the year even in a light rain.  We incorporated a covered area for the sensitive equipment and an open-air barbecue area.

The client was thrilled.  We’ve even been invited back down for a huge outdoor party they’re throwing this spring.  We’re looking forward to it.

A Traditionally Styled Home in the Old South

I can honestly say that I’d never considered a vacation in the Southern portion of the U.S. to be terribly interesting.  But after having spent the last week and a half working on a gorgeous home in downtown Charleston, and getting an up close and personal experience of the charm and food of this town, I can only say that I will most definitely be returning.

Charleston is one of the oldest towns in the United States.  And in terms of holding onto it’s cultural heritage, there are few towns in the U.S. that have done such a thorough job of maintaining it’s traditions.  Everything from the architecture to the food is an interesting mix of Southern propriety and long standing traditions.

Here are just a few pictures from the project on which we were working.

charleson living room

As you can see the style is much more traditional than what we would typically design.  Part of this is due to a new design associate we have taken on in the last couple of months. (Thank you Ian!).

charleston bedroomWhile it is definitely not a style that I employ on any of my personal projects, I certainly understand the appeal.  The traditional style is one in which I grew up.  While I often found it to feel cluttered or busy, when done properly, it gives a space a since of history.

And in a town like Charleston, this home is perfectly suited to it’s surrounding area.  There is something to be said for a cohesive look both inside and outside of the home.

charleston living room


Once again we were blessed to work with fantastic sub contractors on this project.  The local builder we hired used only the most conscientious workers.  Though the remodeling itself involved little in the way of construction, there was a great deal of drywall and wiring work done to accommodate the lighting and audio video requirements of the client.  The Charleston home theater contractor (Innovative Sight & Sound) that was hired specializes in coastal style homes and is unmatched when it comes to concealing TV’s and other technology.

Work and Play

While I was in town to supervise the last stages of the project, I was able to spend a good bit of time exploring the town itself.

Let me just say that if you’re anything of a foodie, Charleston is as good as it gets.  I hadn’t considered myself a fan of Southern cooking.  Much of this was due to the fact that I assumed everything was deep fried.  And while you certainly can eat that way if you like, there are so many more amazing choices in this quaint little town.

Having always been a bit of a Francophile, I decided to check out Fast and French (fastandfrenchcharleston.com).  The food here is absolutely amazing.  The cheese plate in particular has an absolutely astounding variety of scrumptious cheeses from which to choose.

I can truly say that I was very pleasantly surprised by what I found in this charming little Southern town.  And I wouldn’t hesitate to return there for another longer visit.

Creative Ways to Hide Technology

There is often a struggle when trying to balance the technologies that a client wants in their home with overall look they want to achieve.  For many contemporary spaces a black TV or elegant speakers are somewhat suited to the design.  But in most cases we have to come up with creative ways of hiding these devices.

Mirror Mirror On the Wall…

A recent project of ours in Atlanta was exactly such a case.  The homeowners wanted a great deal of technology throughout the space, but they didn’t want to see it when it wasn’t in use.  This involved more than just a television set.  They had touch panel controls in just about every room as well as LED TV’s, and in-wall/in-ceiling speakers throughout the entire condo.  They wanted an extremely clean look with very few sharp edges.  This, of course, made it necessary to hide every TV behind custom artwork, mirrors, and false walls.

LED behind TV

It was certainly an interesting challenge, but with the help of a local Atlanta audio video company (Atlanta Home Theater) we were able to come up with some very creative solutions.  One of the manufacturers they recommended was Seura.  They have a line of products that allow you to hide a TV behind a mirror.  Now there’s nothing new about doing that.  But Seura’s technology allows more than 95% of the light from the TV to pass through the mirror.  This means that you notice very little difference between a standard TV and one that is completely hidden when not in use.

One of our favorite techniques to create the appearance of more space is to utilize decorative mirrors.  This strategy was complimented beautifully by the fact that the homeowners wanted TV in practically every room.

We also managed to find some completely invisible speakers that can be installed in either the ceiling or the walls.  They are installed when the drywall is going in and are mudded over and painted just like part of the wall.  Care needs to be taken when selecting where to hang artwork however, you don’t want to drive nail into one of these speakers.

The touch panels for the home automation system represented a particularly unique challenge.  Since there was to be one in every room, we ended up having to come up with some creative ways of hiding them.  Some are in closets or on walls that don’t draw your attention.  Others were turned into small pieces of art since they can display images of anything you like when they’re not in use.

While I personally don’t prefer this much technology in a home, it is rewarding to be able to supply a customer with exactly what they want from an aesthetic point of view as well technologically.


The Challenges of Modern Decor

shibori pillow 2 tanlged pathOne of the biggest challenges we face when coming up with a design for a new space is finding the proper color palette.  Some spaces simple call for black and white.  Often the homeowners are quite happy with this stark and basic palette.

But in some cases more creativity is required.  Often times a client will want a modern or contemporary design with a splash of color.  And finding just the right pieces to bring out these colors can be a challenge.

A Recent Design Trend

While handmade items have always formed the backbone of the pieces we acquire or our clients, the rise of online marketplaces such as ETSY have dramatically reduced the amount of time required for us to find new and unique pieces.  It has also fostered an explosion in creativity.

The reasons for this are pretty simple.  One of the biggest barriers to entry with starting your own fabric or furniture design business is the high costs associated with having a storefront.  Marketplaces such as Ebay and ETSY have removed many of these barriers.  As a result, hundreds of thousands of designers have started businesses that thrive only on web sales.

The volume of traffic on these sites enables these artists to be extremely specific in the type of product they create.  While a store that made handmade one-of-a-kind napkins might thrive in a  large city like New York, it would struggle to stay in business in a smaller location.

But with millions of shoppers browsing these sites, there is more than enough traffic to make up for the specialization that occurs.

Throwback Techniques

Many of these artists have decided to learn old or even ancient techniques to create items that cannot be duplicated or mass-produced.  And buyers are more than willing to pay a premium for such items.

One specific example that we came across recently is the art of shibori fabric design.  This is a technique that has been used in Japan for hundreds if not thousands of years.  It is very similar to tie dye.  Traditionally shibori was only done in indigo.  But artists such as Natalie Mason at the NatalieVMason.com have begun using this technique with a wide variety of colors and fabrics.

We had her create some custom pieces for a recent project of ours that needed to be livened up with a splash of color.   The colors and patterns create a very organic look that is sometimes described bohemian chic or boho chic.  Essentially it’s eclectic, and overall this isn’t a look we go for.  But used sparingly within our overall designs it is a fantastic way to liven up a room or an individual piece.

shibori pillow tangled path

A Beautiful Modern Farmhouse in Holland

We are constantly looking a new methods of uniting the old with the new.  Farmhouses have long been one of our favorite sources of inspiration.  While the vast majority of our work is in larger cities, pulling ideas from the country helps to establish a higher comfort level for many of our clients.  This house done by aatvos, is a perfect example of how light and structure can make space both clean and warm.

country modern farmhouse

Both inside and outside the lines are clean, but do not create the impression of sterility.  Warm woods are used to create more comfortable spaces.  We absolutely love the use of light on the interior rooms.

holland barnhouse night

This sort of space appeals both to those who find comfort in straight lines and those that get a feeling of warmth from natural material finishes (wood in this case).  A truly remarkable project.  Read more about this project on Design-Milk.com

A Fabulous Farmhouse in the Big Apple

farmhouse kitchenOn my daily visit to Design Sponge I stumbled across this gem of  home in Brooklyn.  While most of my ideas are rooted firmly in contemporary designs, I absolutely loved the look they’ve achieved.  It truly is a farmhouse look in the middle of the big city.

Dana McClure and her husband Chris Lanier split their time between two places – a loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and a small farm in Olivebridge, New York. Today, we’re peeking into their home in Olivebridge. Like many creative couples, Dana and Chris wear many hats. Dana is a visual artist with a focus on printmaking, collage and textiles. She freelances for a range of clients as a graphic designer and Chris is a chef, grower and food stylist. With the birth of their son just seven months ago, the couple decided to try to simplify their life and leave more room for doing the things they love the most. To that end, Dana just ended her 10-year stint teaching at Parsons so that the couple could embark on their first joint venture – Ravenwood. They’ve started by hosting a series of dinner parties in Brooklyn and in Upstate New York that showcase their homegrown and homemade products. Before settling into this Olivebridge farm, the couple had spent years renting cabins in the Woodstock/Phoenicia area. A Modern Family Farmhouse – Design Sponge

I especially like the rustic rug in the living room and all of the exposed dishes in the kitchen.  It gives the whole place a well-used charm.  And the old milk canister in the back yard adds some rustic charm as well.  Looks like a warm and comfortable place to live.