When the old meets the new

Given a modern makeover, Amy Wallington looks at how home automation is used to give a period home a high-tech update.

Situated in the West End of central Edinburgh, this historic home offers a great deal of character through its period style architecture and classic interior design. When the young homeowners got in touch with integrator IDES about discreetly installing Sky into the property, discussions soon began about modernising the house while still complementing the classic look and feel.

Deciding to go ahead with a complete renovation, work began in January 2019 to install a whole home automation system with security, control and AV included, with the project completing in December last year.

Stephen Kerr, technical director at IDES had previously worked on other jobs for the client’s close family so they knew they were in good hands. “The homeowners are planning on selling the house in five years so wanted a high-tech renovation that would still be working well when it goes on the market,” he says.

Working with the homeowners, the integrator was able to specify kit that he knows well and will meet the needs of the client. Kerr says: “We try to only use products that we have used in our demo room or in our own homes. KNX has been our default building management product for over 20 years, so that is always the first item on the spec. The client on this project was shown the ABB Tacteo wall-mounted controller which was brand new at the time. They were very impressed, so that was also installed throughout.”

As well as KNX, IDES has also been using URC products for 10 years and was able to specify Total Control for this project as it works well with the other components of the system. As Kerr explains: “We followed the development of the Total Control product very closely. We needed it to work with KNX, HEOS, Hikvision, and have an entry phone option. As soon as these boxes were ticked, we were on board.”

Old age problems

When working on such an aged property, planning well is even more important. However, it doesn’t completely prevent problems. As is with a lot of old buildings, ceiling heights are often too low or too high and certain aspects are listed or cannot be changed.

“It wasn’t a major issue but the design of the rear ground floor changed a few times during the build due to planning constraints so there were several revisions to the original design,” Kerr shares.

“We try to only use products that we have used in our demo room or in our own homes.”

Furthermore, there were issues with where the equipment would be housed. “There was a second-floor attic room that was being converted into a utility/boiler room. We always try to avoid the boiler room but always seem to end up there anyway! There was a height restriction here so we had to use a half size SANUS rack to hold the AV and network equipment and wall mount any other equipment where we could. The KNX lighting panels are housed in this area to serve the top floors of the house. A second KNX lighting panel is in a discreet cupboard in the hall which serves the ground floor.”

Kerr adds: “Discreet AV was expected everywhere, so we installed the lounge AV receiver in a local cupboard with ventilation to simplify the wiring and improve the connectivity options. Occasionally we get asked to install AV amplifiers in the main rack which is not the best option.”

The audio distribution also presented some challenges. “There were a few head scratching moments deciding how best to distribute the audio from the various video sources (Sky and Roku),” he admits. “Stereo PCM was required in the multiroom music rooms while Dolby surround sound was required in the lounge. A combination of various audio processing devices, utilising the audio breakout on the video matrix, and use of the HEOS local inputs solved the problem nicely. The URC system automates the entire process so the client only needs to press one button.”

Total Control

The URC Total Control system does what it says on the tin; the homeowners now have ‘total control’ of the automated functions in their home. A ‘Welcome Home’ button near the front door switches on several light scenes at once throughout the property and the kitchen’s TV and audio system switches on the Sky box. The client has the ability to set, save and recall their own lighting scenes within the system.

If someone is at the door and presses the call button on the door phone, any music playing in the house is muted so that the homeowners know someone is at the door. Releasing the door lock then unmutes the audio.

The security system is programmed in such a way that intruders would be unlikely to get very far. Kerr explains: “If the intruder alarm is activated, all of the house and garden lights switch on, as does the master bedroom TV to show the CCTV images to quickly establish if there is any reason to be concerned.”

When leaving the house, the homeowners can arm the intruder system which then sets the heating temperature to eco mode.

“The URC system automates the entire process so the client only needs to press one button.”

As a user interface, the client opted for the large 10-in wall-mounted touchscreens in four locations throughout the home. Kerr says: “They give a very clear, easy to read display and are especially useful for answering the door phone.”

Expecting frequent guests once the pandemic is over, visitors are also able to have basic controls of certain areas when staying at the house. “The guests have Freeview TV with access to basic streaming apps. They can also alter their room temperature from the KNX wall switch, but the homeowner has overall control from any touchscreen, remote or app.”

Classic meets contemporary

One of the standout features in this property is the magnificent spiral staircase leading to the various floors of the home. At the very top is a cupola, which is unusual in itself nowadays in residential properties.

But to define it even more, Tryka LED colour changing tape was added around the rim of the cupola, giving the period architecture a much more modern look.

The magnificent spiral staircase leads to a cupola finished with colour changing LEDs

The bathroom is another place where classic design meets a modern finish. While relaxing in the stylish bathtub, the homeowners can enjoy video content through the Videotree 27-in TV which is mounted into the wall.


It would be foolish to say modernising a period property with home automation technology is straightforward, but IDES has fulfilled the client’s brief and exceeded expectations. The homeowners are able to manage the system day to day, while IDES is available for any technical support or maintenance required.

“Looking back, the client asked us to complete the electrical installation for him which we were happy to do, so ideally, we would have been the general electrical contractor from day one,” adds Kerr. That being said, the client owns a number of properties in the city and discussions are already in place to add some additional security as well as basic AV upgrades to these houses in the near future.


Tech Spec

ABB Dimmers

ABB Switched Actuators

ABB Tacteo Wall Controllers with Thermostat

Blustream Custom Pro UHD 5 x 5 Matrix

Denon 3600H AV Receiver

Discreet Heating Zones with ABB Heating Controller

DoorBird D201 Flush Entry Phone with Secure Electronic Lock

DrayTek Router

HEOS Links to Stream Deezer

Hikvision UHD Cameras

Hikvision UHD CCTV Recorder

KNX Lighting / Heating Control Platform

Origin Acoustics D32 In-Ceiling Loudspeakers

Origin Acoustics D33 In-Ceiling Loudspeakers       

Pyronix Enforcer Monitored Alarm with App Control

Rel Acoustics T/5i Subwoofer

Roku 4K Players

SANUS Half Size Rack

Sky Q Box Running at 4K

Sky Q Mini Box HD

Sky Q-ready IRS

Tryka LED Colour Changing Tape in Cupola

UniFi PoE Managed Switches

UniFi Wi-Fi Access Points

URC DMS 6 Zone Audio Amplifier

URC Mac Filtering Switch

URC MRX-15 Advanced System Controller

URC TGW-KNX Total Control Gateway KNX

URC TKP-9600 10-in In-Wall Touchscreens

URC TRC-820 Single Room Remotes

URC TRC-1080 Multi Room Remote

Videotree 27-in Bathroom TV

Wall Mounted PIRs

Water Leak Detection System around Boiler and Heating Controls