Behind the scenes

Sweeping the board at this year’s CEDIA Awards, taking home a total of six trophies including the Best Integrated Home Global Award, this project is truly outstanding. Amy Wallington explores the technology behind this incredible home.

It’s rare to find a project that really pushes the boundaries in terms of what technology can do and how it performs. But this installation by integrator, SONA, demonstrates how home automation can encompass so much capability in a subtle way that means the home works exactly to the homeowner’s needs. 

Don’t just take my word for it; this project won a total of six accolades at this year’s CEDIA Awards, including Best Integrated Home Level III, Best Dressed Rack, Best Documentation, Best Lighting, Life Lived Best At Home, and the big one, Best Integrated Home Global.

Home technology is sometimes seen as a gimmick, with features being programmed into a home for the sole purpose of the owner being able to show off to friends. This client however, wanted to invest in home automation to add value and convenience to his life. 

Having worked with SONA on two of his previous houses, he wanted the third to be a statement project that would work for him and his lifestyle without too much user control. Quite simply, he wanted very high performance throughout, but the technology needed to complement the property’s modern architecture.

Even the outdoor water feature was incorporated into the lighting scenes

Best lighting
Lighting control dominated this project, which ultimately won them the Best Lighting CEDIA Award. The rooms within this new build property were very large and open plan, and most featured floor to ceiling windows creating bright, airy spaces throughout. The lighting needed to complement this style and transform the spaces for different moods and events. 

Simon Fulstow, SONA’s design and technical director says: “Although the rooms in this house are huge and very open plan, most of the furniture is quite homely other than the scale of it. So, it was quite important that the lighting control was able to support that and transition these spaces from quite extravagant, entertaining open plan spaces to something a bit more cosy and homely in the evenings.”

To achieve this, SONA created multiple scenes to suit different situations. However, the client wanted to minimise controls which made the job a lot more complicated. “There’s probably over 200 lighting circuits in this project, with a huge amount of DMX colour control hidden in the coffers and a lot of tuneable white lighting,” recalls Fulstow. “Our issue was the complexity of the circuits and how to control it all; we needed a control system just to consolidate it and make it efficient. 

“But he wanted to minimise controls on the walls, so in most rooms we installed four button keypads. It meant that we had to create a lot of advanced scenes to make different things happen when you press the same button depending on the time of day and other sequences throughout the house.”

“It’s rare you get a client who buys into the concept of what technology can do, but he’s also really considerate of performance.”

As you can imagine, the multiple lighting scenes and sequences took many hours of programming in order to minimise user control. Depending on the time of day, the buttons pressed will trigger something different. 

Fulstow explains: “He has a good morning scene for example that he can press in the master bedroom, and that sets a path of light down the stairs and into the kitchen. It also turns on the kitchen TV. But not only that, it also presets all the coloured lighting in the house into a sunrise scene, which starts as a deep, burnt red colour, like crimson, then over the course of 20 minutes, it transitions through burnt orange, normal orange, yellow and then to white. It then leaves the lighting on white until a change is made.

“The same thing also happens in reverse with a good evening or good night scene that turns all the lights from white to yellow, through to burnt orange and finally to red before gradually turning off. This is all done through one button press and is dependent on the time of day.”

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The cinema room incorporates advanced programming to ensure correct set up every time

The functionality extends beyond specific scenes, with the homeowner able to set a colour scroll for whichever room they are in. The colour scroll will cycle through the preset colours. All rooms throughout the house are also synchronised so they will match the colour that has been set elsewhere. 

This is not only for the lighting inside the house, there is also a lot of exterior lighting which is also synchronised with the rest of the house, including a light up water feature in the patio that is controlled through the lighting system. “There is RGB lighting outside, multiple zones throughout the entire property, a separate building within the grounds and it’s all synchronised together. Some of the rooms also have high and low scenes for the colour because the LEDs are very bright when they are on full. So, there’s some logic going on that switches it onto a low colour mode in the evening so it’s not too blinding.”

For a project with such complex lighting, the integrator wanted to use a system that they had the most experience with, and so went with Lutron. The client had also had Lutron in his previous two houses so was already familiar with the system. 

In addition to the complex lighting, the client also requested something unique and unusual – a CoeLux artificial skylight which is installed in the master suite. According to Fulstow, at the time of the install, there were only a couple in the country and this project was one of the first in the UK to have one. 

Fulstow added: “The artificial skylight is truly unique and very realistic. It is like the sun is beaming down on you as you walk underneath it. It has a Mediterranean colour sun that creates these shadows across the floor and it’s got this infinite distance effect so as you walk underneath it, the sun appears to move as it would if you were looking at the sun in the sky. It also has an evening mode where it switches to a moon and the moonlight casts down across the room. Again, this is all integrated with the lighting control systems.”

Master Suite
The mater suite features a discreet 5.1 system, mirror TV and the unique CoeLux artificial skylight

Technology design
By SONA’s standards, they were brought into the project later than they would have liked. By the time they got involved, the architectural stage was complete, which could have caused some issues for the integrator. Luckily they already had a really strong working relationship with UBER Interiors and were able to work with them to avoid any problems. 

“We were brought in after all the steel had gone in and all the structure was formed, which is later than we would usually like,” admitted Fulstow. “But as soon as we were on board, we were able to have detailed conversations with the interior designers to ensure we could still give the client what he wanted. It was through these discussions that we transitioned all the coffer lighting from single coloured tuneable white so that it could match the colour temperature of their decorative lights, for example.”

He continued: “There’s a lot of motorised curtains and blinds in the property, with every window having a treatment on it and in some cases, multiple treatments, blinds and curtains. Again, the architectural style of the house is very contemporary and minimal so we would have liked to have that detailed at the architectural stage so that we could have integrated it all in then. But, because we have such a close relationship with the interior designer and we developed a good relationship with the main contractor, we were able to integrate a lot of it in other ways. We’ve got plastered in curtain track profiles and blinds that were able to be built up into the heads of ceilings, even though the steel had already gone in. In some rooms, you wouldn’t even know there are curtain tracks and blinds there and that’s thanks to the relationship we had with the interior designer and main contractor.”

“Our issue was the complexity of the circuits and how to control it all; we needed a control system just to consolidate it and make it efficient.”

Part of the project’s success was down to the documentation, something they were awarded for at this year’s CEDIA Awards. Having a good design and documentation tool is necessary for a big project like this. “We use D-Tools for all our proposals and documentation,” he adds. “But we also complement that with CAD and Microsoft Office Suite. We use Domotz for remote monitoring and we have some project management cloud software that we use for actively running a project on a day to day basis. As I’m sure most integrators do, you build up a toolbox, not only of physical tools but of software and other tools that enables you to develop a process that works for you.”

SONA took home six CEDIA Awards for this project, including Best Integrated Home Global

Not on show
Sticking with the hidden theme, the client wanted to disguise as much of the technology as possible in order to complement the modern architecture of the house. As well as hiding curtain tracks and blinds and having minimal controls on the walls, the homeowner also wanted the AV to be hidden. 

“The client didn’t want to see any TVs, so we hid them all behind custom mirror frames. They’re not off the shelf, they’re all bespoke and made specifically for this project. Obviously, that then gave us a limited choice for which TVs we could use as the TV speakers are hidden behind the mirror frames, so the TV audio had to run through the ceiling speakers.”

Although not quite a dedicated cinema, this property does have a room with cinema equipment where they watch films. Again, trying to hide as much as possible, the integrator used various technologies to do this. Incorporating more advanced programming, the room hides a lot of the system and is programmed with different settings depending on how the room is set. 

Lighting dominated this project, as can be seen in the spa area 

The walls are covered with timber panelling, with the front wall having a Future Automation moving panel mechanism that hides the TV. “When you walk into the room you see the distressed timber wall, and when you turn the system on, that panel slides up to reveal a 77-in TV,” says Fulstow. 

There is also a discreet 5.1 system in the room which is also hidden. It uses a soundbar which is underneath the TV, in-ceiling speakers, and a hidden subwoofer that fires out through a grille in the side wall that you can’t really see. 

In addition, the back wall of the ‘cinema’ room is floor to ceiling glass, which is not ideal acoustically for a cinema room. To make it as acoustically sound as possible, SONA has integrated motorised blinds into the room and the amplifier has been calibrated for the room with the blinds closed and with the blinds open. Fulstow explains: “To ensure the client is getting the performance without actually having to do anything himself, when he switches the system on, the amplifier will detect whether the blinds are open or not and switch to its calibrated settings for that profile. It all happens in the background and gives a much better sound to the room.”

The master bedroom is a very big room which has a separate sitting area with an L-shaped couch and mirror TV. This is also where the CoeLux skylight is featured. Again, the room has a 5.1 system using in-ceiling speakers and a hidden subwoofer firing through a discreet grille in the wall. 

Main Lounge
The main lounge 

Music man
Something that was very important to the owner was having enough speakers throughout the property, which he was also keen to achieve in his previous two homes. Although the spaces in the house are vast with tall ceilings, it is only a four-bedroom house. However, there are just under 100 speakers installed throughout this property, most of which are Origin Acoustics speakers installed in the walls and ceilings to keep them discreet and aesthetically pleasing. 

“In some rooms, you wouldn’t even know there are curtain tracks and blinds there and that’s thanks to the relationship we had with the interior designer and main contractor.”

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a big four-bedroom property, but it just gives you some perspective as to how important this was to him,” Fulstow says. “Rather than just putting a pair of speakers in each room and have them running loud, we took the approach of having multiple speakers and running them at a lower volume to give a much more even distribution of sound.

“In the main lounge, there are six speakers, in the kitchen there’s eight, in the bar dining area, there are 12 speakers. They are not just ticking the box in terms of providing music to that room; the client wanted music in every room but for it to sound really good at the same time. He said, ‘I don’t want it to sound like the system is straining at any point, and if I have a party and I really do push it, I want to know that the system is capable of handling that’ and multiple Origin Acoustics speakers made that possible.”


Mediterranean greenhouse
Separate from the house, there is a glass box that has its own scene programmed to it.
Fulstow says: “It’s like you’re in Ibiza because it’s kept at a constant temperature as they grow lemon trees and other plants in there. They wanted a Mediterranean beach bar feel for the room so we created a scene exactly for that. When they go down the stairs, there is a single button that when pressed, activates the room scene. It picks a playlist from their Tidal account which will start playing throughout the basement area, which is the pool, the gym, and the lobby. It also starts a preset colour sequence lighting in all spaces that can be seen from the glass box room, including the lighting on the outside of the house and in the garden, as well as adjacent rooms.”

Pushing boundaries
The project really is unique in terms of the technology used and how it is programmed to enhance the spaces. It gave SONA the chance to push the boundaries of what they usually do in people’s homes to create such an exceptional smart home. 

“I don’t think there are many projects like this outside of London if I’m honest,” admits Fulstow. “It’s rare you get a client who buys into the concept of what technology can do, but he’s also really considerate of performance.” 

Bar Dining Area
The bar/dining area

He adds: “It’s nice as an installer to have that level of interaction and feedback from the client where they’re really pushing it. Usually, we get to use normal lighting scenes, but here we’ve really had the opportunity and the client has really pushed us to go beyond what we usually would. Part of that came from him wanting minimal controls. It means that a single button press is maybe carrying out 100 actions per scene, some of which are then carrying on sequences, resetting other rooms to make sure they are in sequence with another area, etc, etc. There’s so much going on behind that button, but all presented in a very simple way to the client. 

“These are not just gimmicks to show off to his friends, he genuinely uses them every day.”
You can also watch this project come to life in HiddenWires’ Virtual Event sponsored by Invision.

Tech Spec
Amazon Echo Dot Smart Speakers
Anthem 5.2 Channel AV Receiver
Anthem 11.2 Channel AV Receiver
Apple iPad Mini 4s
Apple iPad Pro 10.5
Apple TVs
Artcoustic Multi Soundbar
Autonomic Music Server
CoeLux Artificial Skylight
Crestron Audio System
Crestron Audio Expanders
Crestron CP3 Control Processor
Crestron TSR-310 Handheld Remote Controllers
CYP Audio Interface
Danlers PIR 24V In-Ceiling Sensors
Domotz Remote Monitoring System
Doorbird Entry Panel
Future Automation PS40 40-75-in Wall Mounts
Future Automation SPS1300 Sliding Panel Mechanism
Future Automation Universal Speaker Mount
Heatmiser neoStat Programmable Hot Water Controller
Heatmiser neoStat Programmable Thermostats
Heatmiser neoUltra Central Controller
Heatmiser Remote Sensors
Hikvision Network Video Recorder
James Loudspeaker 1200PT-2MDF Subwoofers
James Loudspeaker M1000 Subwoofer Amplifiers
Lutron Lighting Processors
Lutron Motorised Blinds
Lutron Palladiom Keypads 
Lutron Wired International seeTouch Keypad
Luxul Router/Firewall
Meridian DSP8000 Floor Standing Speakers
Middle Atlantic 8U Equipment Rack
Middle Atlantic 44U Equipment Rack
Oppo 4K UHD Blu-ray Player
Origin Acoustics C67 In-Wall Speakers
Origin Acoustics C68 In-Wall Speakers
Origin Acoustics D65EX In-Ceiling Speakers 
Origin Acoustics D83DT/SUR In-Ceiling Speakers
Origin Acoustics D87 In-Ceiling Speakers
RGBW LED Controller
Ruckus Access Points
Russound BSK-1 Bluetooth Source Kit
Russound BTC-1 Bluetooth Control Unit
Russound BTC-1x Bluetooth Remote Transceiver
RV Astley Nereus Mirror Frames – 55-in & 65-in
Sonos Connect
Sony LED 4K UHD 43-in TV
Sony OLED 4K UHD 55-in TVs
Sony OLED 4K UHD 65-in TVs
Sony OLED 4K UHD 77-in TVs
Starscape Fibre Optic Light Source