Inside Audiovisions’ Custom Experience Center
Audiovisions in Lake Forest, Calif., embraces design as a key value add, along with technical expertise. The focus on design is most apparent in its custom showroom.
Julie Jacobson · December 9, 2013
The day I visited Audiovisions in Forest Lake, Calif., the 24-year-old integration firm was preparing to host an Architecture Appreciation group - a local networking club composed of like-minded architects, home builders, designers and consumers.
The Audiovisions Experience Center seemed the perfect venue for the bunch. It has a nice kitchen, living area and multipurpose media room with a home theater, bar and pool table. Plus, it has eager sales associates - Audiovisions calls them systems designers, because they are also that - ready to serve their prospective clients and trade partners.
And then there’s the fact that Audiovisions’ mock home is a designer’s delight with interior features so inspiring it often compels clients mid-construction to rearrange their media rooms in the style of Audiovisions.
It is no surprise that Audiovisions co-founder and president Mark Hoffenberg is the son of an architect.
“In my home growing up, my Dad had gone to great lengths to custom-integrate many of the details into the overall architecture of the homes,” Hoffenberg says. “Light switches were cleverly hidden in door jambs. Our refrigerator was custom-painted by an auto painter to match the rest of the kitchen. The ironing board was built into a homemade contraption that pulled out from underneath a counter.”
Like father, like son. In the Audiovisions Experience Center, light switches blend into walls via Trufig architectural mounts and bezels. The refrigerator melds into the cabinetry thanks to custom work by sister company Pacific Sales (both are owned by Best Buy). Faux-painted temperature sensors fade into walls, screens drop down, speakers disappear into ceilings, and TVs blend into the background in six different ways.
How prescient that Audiovisions trademarked the term “Integrating Design and Technology” back in 1989.
“When co-founder Bob Walpert and I wrote our business plan for Audiovisions,” Hoffenberg says, “we envisioned a services company focused on engineering high-performance integrated systems into the home in a manner that was in harmony with the interior design and architecture.”
One section of the business plan read: “Audiovisions will work in conjunction with the client’s architect, interior designer and contractor to deliver a single-source, integrated solution.” As Hoffenberg says today, “these things are obvious now, but they certainly weren’t to many people in 1989.”
Hoffenberg’s thing for design and technology stretches way back to 1976 when he was attending San Diego State University, paying for college by building bi-amplified subwoofer/satellite systems. An entrepreneur who bought a system for his home hired the two-man company to outfit his discotheque.
“Our design was radical for its time,” Hoffenberg recalls. “The popular concept in the disco era was to use huge, unsightly JBL or Altec Voice of the Theater speakers prominently displayed in the club environment. We took a different approach. We hid a large number of custom-built, folded horn subwoofers in a low bench surrounding the dance floor, and hung powerful but discreet custom-built ‘satellite’ speakers completely concealed as planters, focused on the dance floor.”
The system was powerful and articulate, but completely hidden, according to Hoffenberg, who says that “careful attention to acoustics led to a rapid fall off in SPL between the dance floor and the bar.”
Flash forward about 30 years and Audiovisions has even more acoustical and aesthetic tricks up its sleeve. In the family room of the Experience Center, bookshelves are cleverly designed to tame the first reflections from LCR speakers.
In the multipurpose entertainment space, the home theater looks like a recipe for acoustical disaster, with its round dimensions and what looks to be a hard-surface architectural disk floating above the seating.
But the theater isn’t really round and that disk isn’t drywall. When Hoffenberg illuminates the space behind the curved fabric to the left and right of the room, we see not only the audio components but also the real walls that form an acoustically optimal rectangular space.
“We created the illusion of a round room in a rectangular space,” Hoffenberg says. “We like to show architects and designers we can do what they need us to do and still do the right thing acoustically.”
The design element above the seats looks like solid Sheetrock but in fact is a round frame wrapped with Eurospan, a stretchy acoustical material that can be dyed or painted to match the décor.
“It can span long spaces without sagging,” Hoffenberg says. “Visually it reads like drywall but it completely hides the acoustics and speakers in the ceilings and walls.”
The Eurospan is also found in the multipurpose entertainment area, as well as the pool room and bar, facilitating stellar home theater sound and dampening noise and conversations nearby.
Translating Design into Dollar
It’s all very nice to showcase good design and promise to play well with design trades, but where’s the money in that?
Certainly, you get superior results and strong referrals but there’s more to it than that. Behind the scenes, Audiovisions generates extensive engineering drawings and project-management schedules using homegrown software 20 years in the making. These are shared with architects, builders, interior designers, lighting designers, HVAC contractors, carpenters and other trades that factor into an audio, video and automation system.
Dedicated project managers ensure that everything goes smoothly - and Audiovisions charges for that.
In the early days of the business, “our engineering-based value proposition of providing detailed CAD drawings and specifications and working closely with the design team resulted in superior results, and strong referrals from the design trades,” says Hoffenberg. “This fueled our business and allowed us to justify our engineering and project management line items in our proposals, which none of our competitors had.”
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Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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