This garden showroom changes the landscape for outdoor AV

Creating a garden showroom gave Potters Home Digital the chance to forge partnerships with other suppliers and take on a whole new approach to selling outdoor AV.

Tucked away in a picturesque village in the English countryside is the showroom of smart home and entertainment technology integrator Potters Home Digital.

The design and installation company deals in the latest technologies and entertainment systems to modernise and automate homes, showing off its capabilities and possibilities for home technology installations from an historic Grade II listed showroom.

For years this showroom adjoined an unused and overgrown garden which the company always intended to renovate to show off outdoor loudspeaker technologies.

But, initial plans to smarten up the space took on a whole new level when Alex Jones, director of Potters Home Digital was inspired by research from the US that indicated a nascent, growing market for outdoor technology.

“What caught my eye was the answer to a research question: ‘If you were going to undertake a new garden renovation or outdoor project, what would your top ten things be?’,” says Jones. “Lighting came in at number one, audio was four and video five, Wi-Fi was seven and wireless charging came in at number ten.”

The technologies that Potters Home Digital were integrating in homes were clearly in hot demand for outdoor projects in the States, and as Jones points out: “Generally in the UK, we’re about two years behind the trends in the US.”

After spotting the opportunity, the ideas for how to transform the garden attached to the Potters Home Digital showroom took on a whole new shape and plans got underway to create the Smart Home Garden.

The research that had caught Jones’s eye was backed by speaker company Sonance and the first port of call for Potters Home Digital was to discuss with their supplier what products they had forthcoming for outdoor AV projects.

With ideas for the technical aspect of the garden starting take form they also reached out to an RHS Chelsea award-winning landscape designer, Laura Anstiss of Oakmore Green, to plan a collaborative space that took just as much care over other aspects of garden design as it did for the technology.

These collaborations would be key to creating this unique space as Jones explains: “We were able to lean on Laura and technology partners, including Sonance, to collaboratively work to create something that hadn’t been done before.

“We were having conversations with people in the landscape sector and architecture sector about outdoor space so that rather than someone creating a nice garden and us putting technology in after, it was considered as a complete package. The result was a design-led project where we were able to make sure the technology we integrate worked in the space.

The landscape industry was extremely excited because they are often asked for technology but don’t have that specific expertise, so the partnership worked in both directions.”

Landscape partners included London Stone, the UK’s biggest landscape materials provider, and Masters of Stone, All Green Group.

The resulting Smart Home Garden contains a fully functional outdoor kitchen, seating and entertaining area with outdoor cinema and a large smart office/garden room. Smart technologies are woven throughout the space with an automated eco lighting system, hidden audio zones, smart care of water irrigation, motorised blinds and hidden panels.

A URC control system - accessed by touchpanel, smartphone app or voice - was deployed to deliver cohesive control over the whole space, which is also integrated with the control systems in Potters Home Digital’s indoor showroom. 

A security system protects the space and uses AI camera technology, while a private garden entrance has a Doorbird entry panel so visitors don’t have to come through the indoor showroom.


Picture perfect

Jones comes back to the design-first approach when he outlines the discreet outdoor cinema set up. “The space could just be a dining room, it could just be an outdoor entertaining space,” he says. “But, at the touch of a button metal Corten steel screens open on a mechanism by Future Automation and behind there is a waterproof TV with full surround sound system. Speakers are all hidden in the planting, while the subwoofers port out underneath the seating under trees.

“We’ve completely hidden all of the technology and have a full outdoor seven-channel surround sound system which you don’t see until you touch a button and it opens up. There’s a lot of magic in that immersive experience.”

While the space operates easily and seamlessly, a lot of effort went in behind the scenes to build custom walls, mechanisms that sync with the TV and ensure that was all automated with simple operation.

Of course everything had to be waterproof and, from a technical perspective, one of the interesting aspects of this project was a surprise launch from Samsung.

“While we were doing the build, Samsung released its outdoor TV product called Terrace,” says Jones. “This didn’t exist when we started out so, when a company like Samsung launched into this space during our project, we thought ‘we’re really on to something here’.”

Before the Samsung launch Jones says the only option open to them when it came to waterproof TVs were from specialist companies and carrying the price tag of around £14-15k. “Then Samsung brings one out for £6,000,” he says. “That really opened up the market. Before lots of customers were priced out, now they can get a display product that doesn’t swallow up their entire budget and we can talk to them about fitting the audio and everything else that goes alongside a TV installation. When Samsung released Terrace we realised we were doing the right thing investing nearly a quarter of a million pounds in this garden show room.”

In addition to the outdoor cinema, there’s a second TV zone in the garden near the kitchen where Potters installed a Proof Vision 55-in display.


Soundscape meets landscape

The garden contains 10 audio zones. “We worked with Sonance to design the balance of audio throughout the garden,” says Jones. “If you take a distributed approach to speaker placement and use smaller satellite units, you fill a space at a lower volume and don’t disturb the neighbours.”

To demonstrate this, Potters installed two loudspeakers to the exterior of its showroom building emulating a common technique homeowners choose. If the speakers are turned up to a volume that can be heard in the garden the sound is far too loud. It then provides a useful contrast with the satellite speakers that deliver better and more controlled audio. “The result is phenomenal,” says Jones.

There are a couple of distributed speaker set ups around the garden; one called the Garden Series comprising eight speakers and one sub, the other the Patio Series made up of four satellites and a sub. Another audio zone is used to demonstrate rock speakers.

One of the zones contains the Smart Bench. This installation was a collaborative effort between All Green Group (Masters of Stone), Potters Home Digital and Sonance owned brand James Loudspeaker. A large piece of stone was hand polished and cut into a bench with two speaker positions cut in the front that house marine grade loudspeakers.

“Before we made the cut out for the speakers in the bench we took an image of the face of the bench and hydro dipped the speaker grille to match the image we’d taken so it all blends in,” explains Jones.

“We then lifted the bench to make it look like it’s floating, put an LED strip into the bottom and had a matching piece of stone made into a water feature. The water pump was automated. It’s a fully smart product with integrated fan system, integrated lighting, integrated water feature that is app controlled and could be sold on its own.”

The fire table demonstrates another integrated product. “We worked with luxury fire table company Luume and integrated a pair of 8-in speakers and a marine grade sub to create a smart table,” says Jones. “It’s got lighting integrated and we’ve also put in wireless chargers in the granite top. The point is again it’s not just a table; we’ve integrated everything and it all works on the overall control system for the garden, it is the only one on permanent display in the world.”


A room with a view

The final piece of the garden is the garden room which works as another demonstration area as well as a consultation room for clients. Audio is delivered through the Sonance Invisible series plastered into the rooms’ walls. Lutron lighting control (for the 30 circuits of lighting in the garden and three in the garden room) and Lutron blinds can be demonstrated from the garden room.

“We’re using Dali lighting control in the garden and we’re using a new protocol called Dali-8 that allows us to control the temperature of the lighting and demonstrate circadian rhythm lighting,” says Jones. “That demonstration is really powerful and then we can turn the conversation to the other lighting circuits in the garden and how they can be automated and zoned.”

The garden room is also a space to show clients samples of technology products such as shading materials or keypads, as well as products from Potters Home Digital’s partners, so stone, porcelain and other landscaping materials are on show here as well.


Inspired by nature

With the outdoor showroom up and running Jones is seeing the benefits: “The garden inspires people, they start talking, we take the ideas and create something from them. It’s just been great.”

The project also picked up the CEDIA Excellence in Innovation Award as well as being Highly Commended for CEDIA’s Best Show Room category.

Jones says the Smart Home Garden is the first space of its kind in Europe and he points out that the approach to customers is unprecedented too. “Working with our partners such as the landscape designer, a sculptor, landscape materials suppliers and the garden room company means we can offer one point of contact to customers for their entire garden project. Our partners use the space to bring clients and hold events so it’s beneficial to all of us.”

As for the research that initially inspired the garden project, Jones says his predications are coming true: “We’re seeing a big rise in investment in outdoor projects and people thinking more about how to use outdoor spaces. Covid also accelerated that trend when people spent more time at home, placed greater value on private outdoor spaces and put investment into residential projects.” It seems the Smart Home Garden was definitely the right project at the right time.



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