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Bridging the Gap Between Design and Tech

An architect’s unique concept home provides a challenging proving ground for AV and smart home integration.

Architects are known to be incredibly exacting when it comes to adding AV and smart home technology to their clients’ houses. Imagine how particular they are when adding to their own.

When architect Dan Brunn, principal of Dan Brunn Architecture (DBA), bought a parcel of land in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles, CA, he imagined renovating the existing home, which was situated on one side of a brook that flowed across the property. Then he got inspired, and Bridge House was born.

Bridge House
The Bridge House gets its name from straddling a brook on the property.

Bridge House is a modern 4500-square foot home that lives up to its name, straddling the brook. “I started with a motor court, and the bridge evolved because of the structure,” said Brunn. “I could go right over the river instead of biasing the whole house on one side. Instead of a first floor and second floor, you think of it in terms of length.”

The architectural design exemplifies Brunn’s signature minimalist aesthetic, which he hoped to complement with an AV and control system that mirrored the philosophy. To realize his vision, Brunn brought in Michael Izatt of technology design firm OneButton, who already had a relationship with the architect, although it didn’t start off all that smoothly.

“I met Dan a couple of years ago,” says Izatt. “When I initially met him, he told me, ‘I don’t like your industry, I don’t like you guys. The clients always come back to me with It doesn’t work, or I’m getting bad service.’ But within a few minutes of me explaining to him OneButton’s approach and how we like to keep things simple and put in just enough equipment to make it easy to use, he said he liked that and told me about the project. I said, ‘Let me see what I can do.’”

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Bare BONEs
When Izatt arrived on site, the structure had already been framed using BONE Structure, a patented steel construction system whose components are pre-manufactured and assembled on site without the need for cutting, eliminating waste. The Bridge House project marked BONE Structure’s first deployment in Los Angeles, but the metal frame didn’t pose a problem for Izatt. In fact, he is a fan.

“It was really flexible in terms of pulling the wire around,” he says. “Also, the way the house was built over that creek, it was possible to pull wire along the bottom of the house even after everything was done. So the build of the house and the structure lent itself to what we needed to do very well. The BONE Structure stuff is really neat — like Legos.”

Compiling AV
Although Izatt was there at the very beginning of the project, he wasn’t able to spec equipment, as Brunn was using sponsorships to complete and fill the home with the brands that he trusted and had established relationships with. As a result, the majority of the audio components — amps and speakers — were provided by Yamaha, the lighting was the Legrand Adorn System, shades were by Somfy, televisions by Sony, and appliances and security came from Bosch.

The challenge for Izatt was to get these separate systems to work together to create a cohesive smart home. Fortunately, he was able to bring in Savant as a sponsor, and used that framework to tie most of the tech together.

To keep with the home’s minimalist feel, more than 20 Yamaha speakers were placed in the walls and ceilings. While not completely hidden, they blend seamlessly into each room in which they were placed. Bridge House has two media rooms — the Creek Theater, which has a 7.1 surround system, and the master bedroom, which has a 5.1 surround system. The audio system also extends to the patio and pool areas. Brunn, a music enthusiast, has a Yamaha Disklavier ENSPIRE grand piano in a prominent spot in the house. The Savant system is able to control it all.

“We had to engineer the Savant system to control the Yamaha WXA-50 streaming amps,” says Izatt. “Fortunately, they were IP-controllable, but they still required some massaging to make them work in a way that was seamless. Basically, we’re using Savant as a source and then sending that out to any of the different Yamaha devices and controlling the volume. We didn’t use Yamaha’s MusicCast as a streaming solution because we wanted to keep the overall system as simple as possible, so we used Savant for control throughout.”

The Creek Theater’s 7.1 system is as discreet as the rest of the audio in Bridge House. Unobtrusive in-wall and in-ceiling speakers handle the majority of the sound, while a small Yamaha floor-standing subwoofer hides beneath the couch to provide LFE. A Yamaha AVENTAGE receiver serves as the brains of the system. The master bedroom has a similar setup, without the ceiling speakers.

“It turned out to be a very balanced and discreet system,” says Izatt. “Even though there are no invisible speakers, the speakers are not noticeable. The speakers in the den and the master bedroom blend in with the wood paneling, both in their shape and the color. They accentuate the design and the color of the space. And the use of the little Yamaha sub in those rooms is great — they hide under the furniture.”

Ongoing Integration
The systems are now all in place, but Izatt’s job is not done yet. “We didn’t install the Legrand Adorn system, and we are waiting on them to finish and provide the integration hardware necessary so we can add it to the Savant system,” he says. “We are also waiting on the shades to be finished so we can add them. Then there is the Bosch security system — we are waiting for the vendor to give us what we need to put in the cameras.”

So even though he was there at the start, integration is still an issue. Fortunately, most of the supplied gear should be able to talk to Savant after some tweaking from the OneButton team.

“It’s almost as though we came in at the last minute, even though we came in early,” says Izatt. “Because of that — and because we were dealing with disparate systems that were not specified by us — we didn’t have any influence over it. We had to work to reach our goal of simplification, ease of use, and reliability.”

But getting in when he did allowed him to place the speakers where they needed to be and arrange proper zoning for the music, keeping it consistent throughout the house and creating a cohesive space. Izatt says of the installation, “You feel like you’re in one space, but it’s a big open space. You get nice, polished sound throughout the outdoor and indoor spaces that blends together. In California, the whole indoor/outdoor living space is a big thing.”

Considering the challenges placed before Izatt and OneButton, and the team’s success in handling them, one hopes Brunn’s impression of integrators has changed for good.

Related: Someday We’ll Find It: The Design Connection