There are some home electronics projects that get planned out in detail weeks ahead of time, where all the equipment is ordered, the installers scheduled, and the final unveil happens in a flourish. There are also the ones that follow a different evolutionary path.
The audio, video and control renovations of this 18th century log and stone farmhouse falls mostly into the latter category, much like the evolution of the house itself.
The center of the house in the property now called Shaggy Bark (named after a type of tree in the area) is a 1744 log cabin, likely one of the oldest in that part of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It saw some additions and upgrades in that time, but nothing like what the present owners, with the help of World Wide Stereo, Montgomeryville, Pa., did with it. What started out as a plan for a good music system has, over the course of about seven years, turned into an extensive whole-house music system with Elan g! controls and an advanced Lutron lighting upgrade.
Homeowner Victoria Graves said the plan for the new system started when her husband walked into World Wide Stereo with the intent of having someone install their present audio gear into the new home they just purchased. “His world revolves around having music everywhere,” says Graves about her husband. Easy access and music everywhere are two concepts that World Wide Stereo specializes in, so it wasn’t hard to convince the couple that what they really needed was a whole-house system. “He had boxes and boxes of CDs stacked up, thousands,” remembers World Wide’s Mark Jones.
That was seven years ago, and at the time Escient was state-of-the-art in music servers. World Wide sent Graves’ boxes of CDs to Escient for ripping. Since then the Escient systems has been replaced with an Elan system that not only offers access to the Graveses’ extensive CD collection, but also gives them satellite radio and Pandora.
Integrating modern technology into an antique structure (which includes old reclaimed barn beams even in the newer parts of the house) posed a significant challenge, especially when you want to preserve the rustic charm of the home. “The biggest challenge was fishing wires to the different places,” says Jones. “When we started the project, wireless wasn’t an option.” There was some conduit that allowed wiring from one part of the house to be run outside and back to another part of the house. Prior to the construction, the home had no useable crawlspace, so while the kitchen was being rebuilt, a crawlspace was added.
Victoria Graves, who is an interior designer, also wanted to make sure all the high-tech upgrades they were putting in the house remained as hidden as possible. Instead of the big Martin Logan freestanding speakers the couple had in their other home, Shaggy Bark was outfitted mostly with in-ceiling or in-wall Bowers and Wilkins speakers, plus Bowers and Wilkins bookshelf speakers in the bedroom and Sunfire speakers in the original cabin section of the home. When World Wide Stereo first installed an Elan control system, it came with touchpanel controllers all over the house. When they recently upgraded that with the newer Elan g! system, iPads replaced most of the in-wall touchpanels, which meant less visible technology to contrast with the house. All of the source and control components are hidden in in a Middle Atlantic rack in cellar closet.
A total of 13 audio zones were integrated, including multiple zones outside. World Wide Stereo used Lexicon amplifiers to drive the speakers both for the sound quality they provide and to deliver the volume the owners sometimes like to reach.
Outside, around the large patio, garden and pool area are Sonance outdoor speakers. Keeping in the hidden tech theme, the Sonance subwoofer is actually buried in the ground, and several of the patio planters and even a sitting bench are actually Madison Fielding speakers.
One of the reasons this project didn’t start out with an end-plan in sight is because Victoria Graves has a designer’s instinct and likes to experiment and make changes. “It was totally design built” says Graves laughing. For example, the World Wide Stereo team arrived one day to do some wiring work and found that the entire center of the house was gone. What had been the kitchen was demolished so a new kitchen with an additional level could be added. “It was an evolution,” says Graves.
With a large house filled with designer elements, lighting was bound to be an important factor. World Wide Stereo integrated a Lutron HomeWorks system that offers the homeowners control over every light in the house via their iPads or keypads. Multiple lighting scenes were programmed so Graves could change the mood of the house with the touch of a button. There’s a breakfast scene which lights up the coffee area without making the rest of the kitchen too look to bright. A cooking scene brings the lights up high to make preparing dishes easier. A dining scene lowers the kitchen lights and sets the proper level over the large dining room table. At night, the Graveses press one button to turn off all the home’s lights.
This project is a work in progress, so upgrades are always on the table. That’s what happens when homeowners who are open to new things meet an integrator they trust to keep their best interests in mind. It’s about evolution, letting the system or systems grow with the homeowners’ needs and the technology’s possibilities.